Energy technology and policy expert Rose Mutiso ’08, Thayer ’08, has been named the winner of the 2023 McGuire Family Prize for Societal Impact.
Mutiso is the research director for the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Energy for Growth Hub and the co-founder and former CEO of the Nairobi, Kenya-based Mawazo Institute.
The $100,000 prize, established through a gift from Terry McGuire, Thayer ’82, and Carolyn Carr McGuire, Tuck ’83, recognizes Dartmouth students, faculty, staff, alumni, or friends who are making a significant positive impact on humanity, society, or the environment.
“Rose Mutiso has built her career at the intersections of science, policy, gender equity, and international development,” says President Philip J. Hanlon ’77. “She brings to bear the power of diversity and inclusion in creating a sustainable energy future, bringing voices to the table who haven’t traditionally been heard. This is exactly the kind of societal impact the McGuire Prize was founded to amplify.”
Each year, the recipient is invited to campus to formally receive the prize and engage the community in a discussion of their work. This year’s McGuire Prize presentation will take place on campus in the fall.
Of receiving the McGuire Prize, Mutiso says, “It’s humbling. And it’s inspired me to do quite a lot of reflection. I’m hopeful the prize can help bring more attention to the issues I work on: amplifying African voices and agency in the shaping of Africa’s climate and energy future.”
Mutiso grew up in Nairobi, where, she says, her natural curiosity wasn’t always encouraged. She first heard of Dartmouth—and the term “liberal arts”—while studying in the United States on a high school exchange program.
“It completely blew my mind. There’s this education system where if you are curious about many things, you don’t have to pick one? I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do,” she says.
As an undergraduate, she majored in engineering and threw herself into everything the liberal arts have to offer. “It is just mind-boggling when I reflect on the intellectual journey I went on, and that’s because of the environment, the professors,” she says. “I’d never written a paper before and by the end I was the head tutor of the Dartmouth writing center. There were so many opportunities for growth.”
She went on to earn her PhD in materials science and engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and pursued a postdoc through the American Institute of Physics and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, working on energy and innovation policy issues in the U.S. Senate, followed by a role serving as a senior fellow in the Office of International Climate and Clean Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy.
“That was great, because it tied my engineering background to science and innovation policy,” she says. “I learned how science and energy research is funded and the kind of advocacy that scientists and others have to do to engage policymakers and the public.”
But Mutiso never forgot her Kenyan roots. With classmate Rachel Strohm ’08, she co-founded the nonprofit Mawazo Institute, which supports early-career African women researchers.
“I’m passionate about women in science and supporting women generally,” she says. “How can we have more female scientists in Africa who pursue their academic work at the highest level, but also have platforms to engage with society and use their expertise to inform public debates and policy decisions?”
Her current work at the Energy for Growth Hub centers on “using data and evidence to help solve the twin crises of climate change and energy poverty in developing countries,” she says. “The thing that connects everything up for me is the power of science and innovation to solve big problems.”
Activating the potential of science in society requires diversifying what are traditionally male- and Western-dominated fields, she says. “Women are 50% of the potential talent pool. We need to be part of science as this crucial driver for change. And from the African perspective, we’re at the forefront of climate impacts, and so we need to be able to leverage science and technology to build our economies and be resilient.”
Mutiso sees the McGuire Prize as less an award for past accomplishments than as a jumping-off point for what comes next.
“I don’t see this as simply a recognition of work done,” she says. “This is a very serious opportunity to share my work and my ideas. This incredible honor inspires me to look forward and ask myself: What can I do with this, to inspire others, in particular those with nontraditional backgrounds like me, and to further the work?”
In 2022, the inaugural prize went to former Geisel School of Medicine professor Jason McLellan, whose research on coronavirus spike proteins laid the groundwork for the development of effective COVID-19 vaccines.
This year’s prize selection committee was chaired by psychological and brain sciences professor Thalia Wheatley, the Lincoln Filene Professor in Human Relations. The committee included Scott Brown ’78, a partner and founder of New Energy Capital; Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business; Lorie Loeb, a professor of computer science; Mathieu Morlighem, the Evans Family Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences; and Sandra Wong, the William N. and Bessie Allyn Professor of Surgery at the Geisel School of Medicine.