Gift funds professorship and research in energy, environmental policy

James Ajello and Pete WilcoxenA $250,000 gift from Maxwell School alumnus James Ajello ’76 MPA will create a new professorship in energy and environmental policy, while supporting interdisciplinary research projects in that field. The gift, with an initial term of five years, also funds opportunities — both training and research — for graduate and undergraduate students.

Peter Wilcoxen, professor of public administration and international affairs, Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence, and director of Maxwell’s Center for Environmental Policy and Administration (CEPA), will serve as the inaugural Ajello Professor in Energy and Environmental Policy. Wilcoxen, also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, studies the effect of environmental and energy policies on economic growth, international trade, and the performance of individual industries. He has published more than 70 papers and has co-authored books on the design of an international policy to control climate change, on the design and construction of large-scale economic models, and on using environmental taxes as part of fiscal reform in the United States.

As Ajello Professor, Wilcoxen will oversee an ambitious array of research projects and opportunities for student involvement in CEPA. Funded initiatives will include interdisciplinary pilot projects connecting Maxwell School faculty with colleagues from across Syracuse University, thus linking Maxwell-based expertise in energy and environmental economics, environmental policy and sustainability, climate science, behavioral economics, data integration and analytics, geographic information systems, and other areas with University-based expertise in such fields as electricity generation and distribution, renewable energy, cybersecurity, information technology, and regulatory law, among many others.

The Ajello Professor will also train graduate and advanced undergraduate students in research methods and involve those students in interdisciplinary projects sponsored by the professorship. Via research apprenticeships for graduate students and undergraduate internships geared to experiential learning, students will play a role in developing solutions to real-world energy and environmental problems.

CEPA will assemble an advisory group of government and industry experts, providing real-world input to Maxwell on energy and environmental issues. These committed experts will provide input and help shape the Center’s priorities for energy and environmental research, while advising Wilcoxen on skills most needed by students interested in working in the sector.

According to Wilcoxen, the new funding will contribute directly to the strategic plans of Maxwell and the University, which emphasize interdisciplinary research. The Ajello Professorship “not only builds on Maxwell’s strengths in the social sciences, but also goes beyond that to provide resources and support for interdisciplinary work involving the natural sciences, engineering, information technology, and law,” he says. Wilcoxen sees interdisciplinary work as particularly important for environmental and energy issues which are “deeply interdisciplinary, because they occur where social and natural systems meet. It’s impossible to address these issues without understanding them from multiple perspectives.”

The donor, James Ajello, is a retired energy industry executive who, until last year, served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI). He previously served as chairman of the U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Advisory Board; senior vice president of business development at Reliant Energy (2000-09); and in various positions, including managing director for energy and natural resources, at UBS Financial Services (1984-98). Based in Houston, Ajello now serves on the board of directors of American Savings Bank, a subsidiary of HEI, and is also on the Board of Crius Energy in Toronto, Canada. He has served for many years as a member of the board of trustees of Hawaii Pacific University.

Ajello says his gift ties back directly to work he had done as a Maxwell student. “About 40 years ago I did research in Harry Lambright’s class on this very topic — multidisciplinary approaches to energy and environmental issues. As I look back on my career,” he says, “virtually every job I’ve had since Maxwell, in the public and private sectors, has immersed me in this very interesting topic.

“Yet there is so much more to learn to achieve an energy efficient and sustainable society,” Ajello adds. “This work is more important than ever, and that is why I am delighted to support training and research at Maxwell in this valuable field.”

“We are deeply grateful to Jim Ajello for his generous, forward-thinking support,” says Dean David M. Van Slyke. “As a school with a deep history working at the intersection of theory, policy, and practice, Maxwell is the perfect location for the Ajello Professorship. I cannot think of a better, more qualified teacher and researcher to serve as the Ajello Professor than Pete Wilcoxen. I look forward to seeing the many great results that come from Pete, our students, and from CEPA as a result of Jim’s investment in the mission of the Maxwell School to use research and teaching to inform and advance policy.”