Category Archives: Education

Student start-ups win 2015 Acara ChallengeAcara Challenge participants explain their projects to attendees during an afternoon poster session. Photo by  Brittney LaFond.

Student-run impact ventures focused on solar-powered microgrids for rural India and environmentally friendly feminine hygiene products have been selected Gold Level winners of the 2015 Acara Challenge, a competition held by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School of Management. The top-level teams and other awardees will have the opportunity and resources to further develop their innovative business solutions for environmental and social challenges. Continue reading

10 things we learned about sustainability & happinessFlickr: Photo by Andreas Klinke Johannsen (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Along with being one of the happiest nations in the world, Denmark is known for being one of the most environmentally friendly. Which raises the question: Is a happy society a more sustainable one? After spending time in the country for a course last summer, Sustainability Education coordinator Beth Mercer-Taylor; Mallory Thomas, an evolution and behavior student in the College of Biological Sciences; and Stephanie Claybrook, an art student in the College of Liberal Arts, put together 10 pillars of Danish happiness. Can we use these tools to work towards sustainability at home?

1. Social security. Compared to the United States, the wealth gap of Denmark is very small. This may be due to the fact that Denmark boasts one of the highest income taxes in world, about 60 percent. In return, its residents receive security, flexibility and unemployment benefits.

2. Trust. You might not realize how untrusting we are until you take a look at Denmark. It’s common for bikes to remain unlocked, violent crime rates are very low, and parents tend to give young children more freedom than is common in other countries.

3. Wealth. We all know money can’t buy happiness, but as one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the people of Denmark have some peace of mind.

4. Civil society. Civil society is highly valued in Denmark. Roughly 35 percent of Danes preform unpaid voluntary work.

5. Freedom. Where words fail, unconventional entertainment might succeed. Nothing says freedom and fun more than small trampolines in the sidewalk.

6. Work. While many Americans operate on a 40-hour work week, the Danes generally work 33 hours. Even though most don’t work on farms, Danes feel connected to rural life because 60 percent of Danish land is agricultural.

7. Democracy. With numerous political parties, Denmark isn’t a replica of our system in the United States, but democracy is important to Danes.

8. Balance. A shorter work week gives Danes more free time. While hard work is important, they also value a healthy balance between work and life. For many, this may mean taking advantage of the long summer days by relaxing at a local park.

9. Hygge. Hygge is a Danish word that might be translated as a state of being cozy and comfortable. Although hard to describe, this is a huge part of how Danes see themselves and it helps to inform the decisions they make.

10. Design. From creatively shaped buildings to foosball tables in the streets, Denmark has a look all its own. The Danes have already start to recognize the opportunity to use design to promote environmentally conscious behavior.

So what does happiness have to do with sustainability? Do the Danes have something figured out? It’s hard to say for sure, but they do seem to be onto something. As a small nation of 5 million, translation of Denmark’s successes into a U.S. context won’t be easy. In addition to being vastly different sizes, each nation comes with their own culture and history. In Denmark, sustainability has become a way of life instead of a concept or vocabulary word. Creating this cultural shift of our perception of sustainability might be key if we want to follow their lead.

Photo by: Andreas Klinke Johannsen (Flickr Creative Commons)

4 things we learned about the human–environment bondevents_frontiers_feb_18_2

In the second of this semester’s Frontiers in the Environment talks, IonE resident fellow Jonee Kulman Brigham, a visiting scholar in the College of Education and Human Development and Sustainable Design Program faculty member in the College of Design, taught us to question our relationship with natural resources and suggested ways we could rebuild our bond with the environment. Here are four things we learned:

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A course of a different colorImage © wildpixel (iStock)

Each spring semester since 2011, scholars from places as diverse as Mexico, Brazil, Arizona and Minnesota have met in a virtual classroom. They hail from many disciplines and represent diverse cultural perspectives. Despite their differences, they convene under a common goal: the study of sustainability science.

This unique course, known as the Sustainability Science Distributed Graduate Seminar, focuses on core theories of sustainability science, an emerging field of problem-driven research dealing with interactions between humans and the environment, says Jeannine Cavender-Bares, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. With support from the Institute on the Environment, Cavender-Bares and Steve Polasky, Regents Professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and a director of IonE’s Natural Capital Project, developed the course four years ago when they recognized that a diverse body of research would need to be integrated to meet the challenge of improving the well-being of future generations while conserving the planet’s life support systems over the long term. They have been teaching it ever since, bringing together faculty and graduate students from different disciplines,  universities, and cultures to discuss key concepts and controversies in the field, drawing upon research from earth systems science, resource economics, institutional analysis, ecology, evolutionary biology, geography, development studies and engineering. Continue reading

6 things we learned about connecting kids with natureFrontiers in the Environment Children November 12

Why should we help children connect to the natural world? And how can we best do so? Cathy Jordan, University of Minnesota Extension specialist and associate professor of pediatrics in the Medical School and Sarah Milligan-Toffler, executive director of the Children and Nature Network, shared their thoughts on the subject at this week’s Frontiers in the Environment talk. Here are six things we learned:

Screen time is full time. Studies suggest that children spend up to 60 hours per week indoors. This mirrors the growing trend of being disconnected from natural world. As technological devices become more prevalent and children are becoming increasingly overscheduled, we’ve reduced the amount of time they’re spending outside. Continue reading

Acara: from idea to enterprisenews_AcaraSp15_main

University of Minnesota students: Do you have an idea for a business that could help solve a social or environmental problem at home or abroad? Whether that idea has been bouncing around in your brain, written on a napkin or is in the planning stages, IonE’s Acara social venture program can help you make it a reality.

Acara guides students through the steps it takes to turn ideas into viable enterprises. Through course work, competition and collaboration Acara prepares the next generation of leaders to develop practical business solutions that address some the world’s most pressing challenges. Here’s what they have in store for spring and summer 2015. Continue reading

Resilient community on the risecourtesy of City of Rosemount

Only one month into the fall semester there is already an unseasonable chill in the air. But things are heating up in classrooms across the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Duluth campuses as more than 200 students in dozens of classes begin work on an impressive array of projects with the City of Rosemount, this year’s Resilient Communities Project partner community.

RCP, an initiative of the Sustainability Faculty Network at the University of Minnesota, with funding and administrative support provided by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and the Institute on the Environment, organizes yearlong partnerships between the University and Minnesota communities. The partnership is bringing the expertise of hundreds of graduate students to sustainability-related projects identified by Rosemount city staff and community partners. Continue reading

Earth science for your viewing pleasurePhoto by Will von Dauste

Did you know that humans eat more water than we drink? That tidbit is explained in “Eating Water,” one of four three-minute films that use data and imagery to explain scientific concepts. The films were created by the Science Museum of Minnesota as part of Science on Sphere, a project of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration that aims to explain complex environmental concepts in easy-to-digest portions. Continue reading

Boreas is a stew of leadership opportunitynews_booya_main

The Boreas Leadership Program is gearing up for its fall programming. Boreas is a co-curricular leadership development opportunity at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. We invite all U of M graduate and professional students to participate in Boreas programming, which helps students catalyze environmental solutions.  The program is idealistic in its aim of helping emerging leaders at the U develop into the world-changers they want to be and world-changers society needs.

The program is also pragmatic in its approach; leadership skills workshops are a core part of the programming. A schedule of workshops is offered each semester in four areas: communications and media, public skills, integrative leadership, and systems thinking and tools. Continue reading

Big questions: Frontiers’ fresh lookbig questions

This fall, the Institute on the Environment is refreshing our popular Frontiers in the Environment series. We’ll ask some Big Questions and host solutions-focused conversations about the next wave of research and discovery.

Each week, we’ll ask a pressing question such as, “Can we build a more resilient food distribution system?” Researchers and other experts from IonE and the greater University and Twin Cities’ communities will dive into the topic, sharing cutting-edge insights to move us closer to the answer. Continue reading

Sustainability studies: Something for everyonenews_students_outside

Sustainability. It has become such a common word, we take it for granted that everyone knows what it is and how to practice it. But what is it, really?

Sustainability is the concept that humans use natural resources to meet current physical, social and economic needs while maintaining adequate resources for future generations.

In our homes, schools, communities and businesses we incorporate sustainability into our day-to-day lives. Some things are so ingrained we hardly think about them anymore: flipping off the lights when we leave the room; tossing bottles into the recycling bin; taking shorter showers. University of Minnesota Twin Cities undergrads from any major who want to do even more can make sustainability part of their academic program — and eventually, their career — through the sustainability studies minor.
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