A Georgetown student tends to the Hoya Harvest Garden.
Called to Be: Health & Environment

Title:$5M gift to endow a faculty chair fuels growth of Earth Commons

Author: Camille Scarborough
Date Published: December 4, 2023

Georgetown’s Earth Commons Institute (ECo) received its largest gift to date from an alumna and her husband who live in San Francisco’s Bay Area.

The $5 million gift funds a new endowed chair for ECo, the university’s hub of innovative education, groundbreaking research, and transformative action related to the environment and sustainability.

“Gifts like this one help us find the faculty talent to inspire our students, do the transformative research, and help us build Georgetown University as the place to go for environmental education,” says Peter Marra, dean of the Earth Commons and Laudato Si’ Professor of Environment and Biology. 

“We are very grateful for this expression of support for Earth Commons, an effort that brings together faculty, staff, and students, and alumni from across Georgetown to address complex and urgent environmental challenges,” President DeGioia says. “Inspired by our Catholic and Jesuit tradition, we are called, as a University community, to care for our common home, and this significant gift will enable us to deepen the context for our students and scholars to pursue innovative, ambitious, and solutions-oriented research, scholarship, and teaching on the environment.”  

Pete Marra teaches students while out in the field.
Pete Marra teaches students while out in the field.

Supporting ‘humility and curiosity’

The donors live in California, where climate change is on everyone’s minds.

“My husband and I have been supporting one organization that addresses multiple environmental challenges,” shares the alumna, who graduated from Georgetown in 1995 and gave the gift anonymously. “Earlier this year, the university held its annual John Carroll Weekend in San Francisco and we attended a panel discussion about Georgetown’s environmental efforts, including a fascinating alumnus who is a seaweed farmer. It’s amazing to see the combination of intellectual curiosity, confidence, and entrepreneurial spirit that Georgetown nurtures.” 

They spent time with Dean Marra and were impressed by ECo’s interdisciplinary efforts. 

“When you think about Georgetown’s strength in public policy, ethics, law, and medicine, it’s the perfect place to educate people who are the future healers of the environment,” she says.

ECo works with undergraduates, graduate students, fellows, faculty, and partners across disciplines to raise awareness of environmental challenges and work towards sustainable solutions.

“At the heart of Georgetown’s mission is humility and curiosity,” the donor adds. “I believe ECo is demonstrating humility and curiosity in every program and event they organize. They are inspiring the next generation to take action.” 

Reaching people’s ‘hearts and minds’

Pete Marra speaking at an event.
“My calling is to bring people back into the fold.”
-Earth Commons Dean Peter Marra, Ph.D.

ECo was established in 2021, with Marra as its leader.

“We’ve been greeted with open arms by everyone in the community,” says Marra. “Everyone wants to help, so honestly it’s been easy to build and lead the institute. Everyone knows how important it is and there’s help everywhere I turn.  This has truly been a community effort.”

They have been busy setting up new degrees and programs, most of which are interdisciplinary. One example is the new M.S. in Environment and International Affairs, a partnership with the School of Foreign Service.

“We are growing by leaps and bounds,” he adds, noting that applications for our programs have doubled. “The endowed chair that this gift makes possible will be not just for a great scholar but also for a great environmental communicator.”

Marra is excited about this leadership gift and hopes it will inspire others to do the same. 

“Philanthropy is critical to the growth of the Earth Commons—to our degrees, our faculty, and to what we can achieve at such a great university,” says Marra. “No one is immune from the environment. We are part of it and it is part of us.  We need to foster that kind of ecological belonging.” 

“This isn’t about me or you,” he adds. “It’s all about the future, the legacy we leave for others.”

Learn more about Earth Commons >

Read about the seaweed farmer in Common Home, the magazine of Earth Commons >

Read about the institute’s launch in Georgetown Magazine >

See other health and environment initiatives in Called to Be: The Campaign for Georgetown >

Learn about the new undergraduate degree on environment and sustainability >