Meet Saleem H. Ali ’96 MES, Chair of the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences and the Blue & Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware. 

In this Asian American and Pacific Islander Month Alumni Identity Spotlight, Ali shares how his binational identity played a role during his time at Yale and looks ahead to how the Yale community can continue to serve the world. 

This feature is part of a series focused on amplifying the voices of alumni who are making an impact today and illuminating how the identities we bring to Yale transform both our community and the world. 

What is your most enduring memory of your time at Yale?

Out of my three alma maters, Yale had the most memorable impact on me as a professional. The Yale School of Environment had such a strong community feeling. We had over a 100 people in our class year, and I knew everyone by name.

How has your identity shaped your Yale experience?

Saleem H. Ali at graduationLiving in New Haven gave me an appreciation of how an academic institution can have an impact on a community for better and for worse. I became much more aware of inequalities within the United States but also the immense potential which learning can have on positive economic transformation.

What is your hope for the future of the Yale alumni community?

The Yale alumni community has immense potential for global service impact. There is a certain personality type which is attracted to Yale as compared with other elite universities in more bucolic locations. It is no wonder that Yalies have such a strong service ethic exemplified by the Yale Day of Service. I hope this spirit of service can be scaled across borders at a global level, perhaps with Yalies supporting universal education through open-source programs. 

What advice would you give to fellow or future Yalies? 

Always look beyond the cliche of “thinking globally and acting locally” — you need to multitask and think and act globally at multiple levels for meaningful impact in this world. Your Yale education will give you a certain privilege for life but with that comes a responsibility. Just as Yale’s name may open many doors for you, always be willing to subsequently open doors for others who may be just as capable.


Saleem H. Ali was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts but grew up in Lahore, Pakistan until his college years, receiving his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Tufts University, and his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in environmental policy and planning at Yale and MIT, respectively. He is Chair of the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences and the Blue & Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware. He is also a member of the United Nations International Resource Panel. Before embarking on an academic career, Prof. Ali worked as an environmental health and safety professional at General Electric Corporation. His laurels include being a National Geographic Explorer, with field experience in more than 160 countries and all continents; being selected as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum and serving on the boards of notable non-profit charitable organizations including RESOLVE, Adventure Scientists and Mediators Beyond Borders International. His books include "Soil to Foil: Aluminum and the Quest for Industrial Sustainability" (Columbia University Press), “Earthly Order: How Natural Laws Define Human Life” (Oxford Univ. Press) and “Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future” (Yale Univ. Press). Dr. Ali is a citizen of the United States of America by birth; Pakistan by parental lineage; and Australia by naturalization.

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