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Researcher at UMass Boston awarded $100,000 leadership prize

Rebecca Herst, director of the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMass Boston, has received the 2020 Zuckerberg Endowed Leadership Prize.UMass Boston

A UMass Boston researcher who works to protect marginalized communities from being disproportionately affected by climate change has been awarded a $100,000 prize to advance her work.

Rebecca Herst, director of the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMass Boston, has received the 2020 Zuckerberg Endowed Leadership Prize, the University of Massachusetts said Tuesday.

The prize was established in 2005 by Roy J. Zuckerberg, a UMass Lowell alumnus and former senior director of Goldman Sachs. Each year it is awarded to a faculty or staff member in the UMass system who “leads by serving, by giving, and by pointing the way,” officials said in the statement.


Herst works to prepare marginalized communities for the effects of climate change and develop sustainable solutions that consider their needs, officials said. She has been at UMass for five years and has led SSL for the last three.

“I commend Rebecca for her outstanding contributions to the university and society,” said UMass President Martin Meehan said in a statement. “Through her important work at the Sustainable Solutions Lab, she is putting the needs of the region’s underserved communities front and center.”

SSL is a partnership between five schools and four institutes within UMass Boston that aims to understand and assist these communities with issues related to climate change.

Officials said the $100,000 prize will go toward research, service activities, and a stipend. The award will also fund a climate justice conference hosted by SSL that will bring together researchers and activists from across the country to discuss inequalities surrounding climate change.

“COVID-19 has laid bare the deep racial inequities in our society," Herst said. “In a horrifyingly short period of time we have seen how disproportionately this crisis is impacting low-wealth communities and communities of color. Climate change is no different.”


“Now, more than ever, we need strategic coordination between researchers and people on the frontlines of the climate crisis,” Herst said. "Thanks to the Roy J. Zuckerberg Leadership Prize we will be able to bring together leading thinkers to chart a path forward.”

Herst has also worked at Boston Harbor Now, Harvard University’s Office for Sustainability, and the Urban Land Institute, officials said. She received her B.A. from Carleton College and has an MBA from Boston University.

“Herst is a jewel in the UMB crown,” said UMass Boston Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman. “Her dedication is widely known and tremendously appreciated. I am delighted she has been honored by this prize. It is richly deserved.”

Caroline Enos can be reached at caroline.enos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.