When Stacy Godfreey-Igwe was in the fifth grade, she designed a poster for a class presentation showing a world in which one half was in the present, and it was green and lush, while the other half, 50 years into the future, was dark and black.
“I knew then that I wanted to save the world but at the time I didn’t know how,” says Godfreey-Igwe, who recently completed a summer research program organized by Stanford Engineering before resuming her third year of undergraduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Godfreey-Igwe got a chance to start making good on that interest when she applied to take part in the 2020 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). The program enabled her to spend eight weeks — virtually, due to COVID-19 restrictions — working with Stanford civil and environmental engineering professor Craig Criddle, who is studying how to grow biodegradable plastics using bacteria. Guided by Jorge Meraz, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, Godfreey-Igwe studied the potential of a class of polymers called PHAs that could become a low-cost, reusable replacement for current plastics.
Now, Godfreey-Igwe is taking back with her what she’s learned about research and the career path to graduate studies. “Hopefully, there are ways that I can give back the information that I’ve learned about the graduate application process, in particular with a focus on minorities in STEM,” she says.
Godfreey-Igwe, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria, credits Paula Rilling, who mentored her at Lloyd V. Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas, for the extra attention that has helped her succeed. Godfreey-Igwe, who is majoring in mechanical engineering (concentrating in sustainability) and African and African Diaspora studies, is currently aiming for a PhD.
As an MIT undergraduate, she has tutored a low-income high school student and served on the board for the Black Student Union, and is involved with a living community called iHouse for students interested in social action and international development. She also works with SPXCE (Social Justice Programming & Cross-Cultural Engagement) and with the PKG, MIT’s public service center.