Climate change is often an abstraction — the plot of a disaster film or a report on the news from somewhere else, far away.
But Teja Venkatesa Perumal felt the effects firsthand growing up in Chennai, India. She lived with nine other people in a two-room house — two rooms, she is careful to emphasize, not two bedrooms — and watched as summers in the equatorial city on the Bay of Bengal got progressively hotter.
The cramped living conditions meant that simple things like opening a window provided no relief from the stifling heat. When it rained, the house flooded and raw sewage flowed in the street.
As a child, she thought little of it. This was life. It was only later, when she studied and worked in other countries, that she realized how unacceptable those living conditions were — and that she had the power to change that.
To do so, she is pursuing a doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focusing her research on converting carbon dioxide to valuable chemicals and fuels. And she is one of 100 scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians in the inaugural class of Quad Fellows, a program that fosters impact-oriented innovation in a wide array of fields — from bias-reducing artificial intelligence to neuroimaging to 6G telecommunications — and encourages connections among the next generation of STEM leaders.
The Fellows hail from four countries — India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. — and receive a $50,000 scholarship as well as mentorship, trips and workshops on themes such as ethics and innovation. The Quad Fellowship is an initiative of those four governments and is supported by Mastercard, among other corporate partners. Michael Fraccaro, the company’s chief people officer, serves on the International Advisory Board that is helping guide the programming and selection of fellows.
“Today’s global challenges require new thinking and ways of working in service of sustainable and inclusive growth,” Fraccaro says. “What an exciting opportunity to support the scientists and technologists that make up this inaugural class.”
The Mastercard Newsroom spoke to Teja about her STEM journey, how we need to rethink our approach to emerging technologies and what gives her hope in the battle against global warming.
Read more about Teja’s story at mastercard.com.