An on-leave professor brings many different disciplines together to solve common problems
Professor Sauleh Siddiqui uses his many outlets of research and elected representation in communities to solve systemic issues facing DC
From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's November 2022 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
For Sauleh Siddiqui, wearing many hats has helped him find his passions. Siddiqui, an environmental science professor at American University, is currently on a two-year leave from AU to take on the role as chief energy modeler for the Energy Information Administration, as well as continuing his research on the Multiscale RECIPES project and running as a commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C.
Siddiqui said he found his focus, despite being involved in many things, by learning something new and bringing people together to resolve pressing issues of the day through researching for the RECIPES project and working as an ANC commissioner for over two years.
“They're busy, but they're also very exciting and you know, I can extract joy from them, which is I guess what counts,” Siddiqui said.
Siddiqui said he had never been able to find an academic home because he was always interested in multiple areas of study.
“Many students come to me to be like, ‘what major should I pick?’” Siddiqui said. “I’m probably the bad per- son to ask that because my opinion is that you don’t have to put yourself inside this.”
His work with the Multiscale RECIPES project has been especially important in bringing together people from different backgrounds and across multiple institutions.
“Now what we’re seeing is that more and more of the problems that we are tackling in society don’t have to do with one discipline,” Siddiqui said.
The team working on the RECIPES project continues to strive toward expanding knowledge on food waste in order to, as Siddiqui said, find a whole new way of looking at the food system.
“This is not just a supply problem or demand problem. It is a systemic problem,” Siddiqui said. “And so instead of addressing the symptoms, what this project does is it says let's reimagine the food system and let’s rethink how we look at the food system.”
Siddiqui said the RECIPES project was also focused on maximizing “sustainability, equity and resilience” while making sure that the information on their website was accessible for disabled individuals.
Rachel Weiss, program manager at the Center for Environment, Community, and Equity — AU’s new center for environmental studies — who also oversees the grant #2115405 from the National Science Foundation on food waste, found working with Siddiqui challenged her breadth of knowledge and introduced her to a more interdisciplinary work environment.
“He’s very open to working and helping and supporting everybody,” Weiss said.
Weiss said it was refreshing to work with Siddiqui because he was always trying to bring diverse perspectives into work conversations. She added that he is committed to his students and has given up multiple weekends to conduct all-day workshops with them.
Siddiqui said he remains dedicated to his students despite being on leave and encourages them to learn about relevant issues.
“You're going to college because you want to make society better and you want to learn new things, right,” Siddiqui said. “The best way to learn new things and figure out how to make society better is to tackle the most important problems of our time.”
Ethan Ziegler, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a student researcher for the RECIPES project, agreed with Siddiqui on the importance of working on knowledge production tackling some globally fundamental issues, especially food waste.
“We are the future. This is going to be our problem to deal with so may as well start now,” Ziegler said.
As a student in Siddiqui’s Biodiversity and Ecosystems class in fall 2021, Ziegler said he felt comfortable and respected because of the inclusive environment fostered in the classroom.
Outside of the classroom, Siddiqui was dedicated to committing positive change through bettering the community in Cleveland Park in which he resides as the commissioner for ANC 3C05.
Siddiqui said he saw a need in his neighborhood for leadership as housing prices were rising and businesses were being closed down. He joined a volunteer committee and then community association before running for elected office over two years ago.
“There was a huge desire to be able to improve where I live and make where I live better,” Siddiqui said.
Cleveland Park has historically been segregated with 74 percent of the neighborhood white. Siddiqui said he realized a lack of participation by him and others in the community meant those in power could keep the neighborhood the way it was.
“I am very surprised that even though we live in D.C. and we live in the richest ward in the city and one of the richest neighborhoods, at a local level politics can get very regressive,” Siddiqui said.
Editor’s note: The views expressed by Siddiqui do not represent the Department of Energy.