Northwestern University is receiving a $25 million grant from the Howard and Paula Trienens Fund to advance global sustainability and energy solutions at one of the University’s flagship research institutes. The grant from the Trienens donor-advised fund (DAF) was recommended by University Trustee Nan Trienens Kaehler ’79 MS and Thomas R. “Kip” Trienens (’07 P), who were inspired by their late mother’s dedication to environmental stewardship.
The largest philanthropic contribution ever made to the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), it will provide critical investment in research, education and engagement for climate and the energy transition, as well as community resilience. In recognition of this extraordinary generosity, the University has renamed ISEN as the Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy.
“For more than six decades, the Trienens family has exemplified philanthropic engagement at Northwestern,” said Northwestern President Michael H. Schill. “Now, Nan and Kip are continuing their family’s incredible legacy by supporting the University’s commitment to comprehensively addressing global environmental challenges. The Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy’s University-wide reach makes it ideally positioned to achieve new heights for interdisciplinary collaboration across our strengths in engineering, natural and social sciences, business, law, public health and more.”
In allocating funds to the institute, Nan and Kip chose to honor their mother’s dedication to the natural world. Paula M. Trienens ’47 (’79 P) (’98, ’03, ’07 GP) cared deeply about conservation efforts, supporting organizations such as the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Field Museum and Glencoe Garden Club. She applied her landscaping expertise to Northwestern’s Evanston campus, overseeing the planting of trees along Sheridan Road to create a boulevard effect as well as the construction of Trienens Plaza, an area with flowerbeds outside of Cahn Auditorium.
“Mom was concerned about environmental degradation and climate change,” Nan said. “She would be thrilled to have her name connected to her alma mater and its efforts to find future solutions beyond the constraints of current knowledge.”
The institute has a well-established track record of innovation across Northwestern, including a decade-long history of leading federal energy research hubs, an undergraduate certificate and professional MS in energy and sustainability, and a global portfolio of partnerships with leading corporate, non-profit and NGO institutions.
The grant provides critical support for Northwestern faculty and students, including cutting-edge research in new and emerging areas of sustainability and energy, financial aid and fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students, and resources for commercializing the most promising technologies and projects emerging from the University.
“In order to accelerate equitable climate change solutions, we must drive discovery and education across diverse fields of inquiry,” said Michael R. Wasielewski, executive director of the Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy. “The Trienens grant significantly amplifies our capacity to advance meaningful solutions that support the future of all life on Earth.”
Northwestern’s vice president for research, Milan Mrksich, said the urgency to address climate impacts calls for historic levels of public and private investment. “The Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy will advance the speed, scope and scale of Northwestern’s impact in these fields,” he said. “It is clear that global solutions of this magnitude will require unprecedented collaboration within, across and between major research institutions and partners.”
Kip encourages others to join his family in bolstering the institute’s important work, to align with the tremendous scale of its mission. “Students and faculty alike want the University to lead, and with your support Northwestern can be the premier academic institution addressing sustainability and energy,” he said. “Together, we can safeguard life on Earth for current and future generations.”
About the Trienens Family
The Trienens family has a tremendous legacy of philanthropy at Northwestern.
Nan and Kip’s father, Howard J. Trienens ’45, ’49 JD, ’95 H (’79 P) (’98, ’03, ’07 GP), chaired the Board of Trustees and was one of the University’s most generous benefactors. He died in 2021 at the age of 97.
Howard received two degrees from Northwestern — a bachelor’s degree in 1945 and a J.D. in 1949. The University was where he met Paula M. Trienens (née Miller), who earned her bachelor’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in 1947. The two married in 1946.
Howard served as law clerk to Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of the U.S. Supreme Court before joining the firm Sidley Austin. For several years, he also served as senior vice president and general counsel of AT&T. He received an honorary law degree from Northwestern in 1995 and was awarded the Alumni Medal, the Northwestern Alumni Association’s highest alumni honor, the following year. In 2013, he was the first recipient of the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Howard joined the Northwestern Board of Trustees in 1967 and served as its chair from 1986 to 1995. He was a platinum member of NU Loyal, with 44 consecutive years of giving to the University.
Paula, who died in 2010 at the age of 85, also was deeply committed to her alma mater, founding and serving as president of the Northwestern University Women’s Board, and serving on the board of The Alumnae of Northwestern University and on the Medill Advisory Board. In 1978, she received the Northwestern Alumni Association Service Award.
The Trienens family’s philanthropy has benefited numerous areas across Northwestern, including Athletics and Recreation, Northwestern Medicine, the Bienen School of Music, Medill, University Libraries, Kellogg School of Management and Northwestern Pritzker Law. In addition, Howard’s colleagues at Sidley Austin established the Howard J. Trienens Chair and the Howard J. Trienens Visiting Judicial Scholar Program at the Law School to honor his service to the firm and to Northwestern.
In 1999, the family created the Howard and Paula Trienens Fund, a donor-advised fund (DAF), which has supported the continued growth of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. The family’s generosity also ensured the renovation of a state-of-the-art practice facility for basketball, volleyball and other programs, which was re-named the Trienens Performance Center.
Nan Trienens Kaehler is an active supporter of Northwestern. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Redlands in California in 1977 and her master’s degree from Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy two years later. She joined the Northwestern Board of Trustees in 1999 and has served on numerous trustee committees, including the innovation and entrepreneurship committee. Like her mother before her, she serves on the Northwestern University Women’s Board.
Nan has been a board member of Juvenile Protective Association (JPA) in Chicago, which serves abused children and their parents. She founded “What Women Want,” a fundraising event that has raised thousands of dollars for JPA. She is married to Wallace W. Kaehler and has held leadership roles in the family business, Kaehler World Traveler. Together, the couple has supported several areas of Northwestern, including the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine and the University’s entrepreneurial student space, The Garage. The Kaehlers have four children.
Thomas R. “Kip” Trienens is an artist who has studied various art forms across the country and in Mexico. He primarily creates stained glass designs using an ancient molten-lead method rather than modern copperfoil. In 1981, he opened the Westport Trading Company shop in New York, near Lake Champlain. He has also strongly supported Northwestern, including Weinberg College, the McCormick School of Engineering and the Morton Schapiro Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools. He is married to Marilyn R. Trienens, and they have two children, one of whom attended Northwestern.
Nan and Kip’s brother, John Trienens (’98, ’03 P), died in 2013. A fisherman and furniture maker, John and his wife, Chris Trienens, lived in Washington State, and two of their three children graduated from Northwestern Engineering.
Lisa Applegate is associate director of marketing and communications in Alumni Relations and Development.