HomeGrantsCelebrating 10 years of transdisciplinary transformations: Meet IonE’s Spring 2021 Mini Grant recipients

Celebrating 10 years of transdisciplinary transformations: Meet IonE’s Spring 2021 Mini Grant recipients

Twice a year, the Institute on the Environment awards Mini Grants of up to $3,000 to interdisciplinary teams of staff, faculty, and students from across all five University of Minnesota campuses. Proposals are evaluated on the level of interdisciplinary collaboration and the strength of the project’s goals, design, and budget, with additional points given for impact. 

“The Spring 2021 Mini Grant cycle marks our 10 years anniversary in the mini-grant business, which amounts to over 300 projects, $1.75M in funding, and touching each of the UMN system campuses,” shares April Snyder, Administrative Director at IonE. “With President Gabel’s commitment to community and belonging, it is no surprise that we saw a marked increase in the intersection of the environment and diversity, equity, and inclusion in this cycle’s proposals.”

This spring’s 10 Mini-Grant winners showcase great innovation and a wide variety of approaches to sustainability – from imagining new designs for a solar array on the West Bank to studying how Indigenous thought can be better included in education and research.

Below, take a look at this spring’s winning selection of proposals:

Story-mapping of municipal and school composting activities in northern Minnesota

Composting is a great way to reuse food wastes and residues and an essential activity for sustainable farming. While our daily life generates food wastes and residues all year round, composting in the Minnesota winter can be challenging due to extreme cold weather. Our team of interdisciplinary researchers and students at UMD and College of St. Scholastica aims to interview large-scale composting facilities in northern Minnesota, with a focus on municipal and school settings, collect critical information about their operations and problems, and make an information archive in the form of an interactive, visually pleasing story map that will be published online The outcome of the research can be used in classroom settings and for public outreach, which will also aid the composting facilities. The information will also help UMD plan for a closed-loop compost utilization system between the dining services and the Land Lab.

Principal Investigator (PI): Teresa Bertossi, Assistant Professor in ES and Geography, Director of Research Education and Outreach at the UMD Land Lab

Team Members: Tsutomu Shimotori, (UMD Swenson College of Science and Engineering, IonE), Jonna Korpi (UMD Sustainability), Stacey Stark (U-Spatial), Camryn Appert (UMD CLA), and Austin Armon (College of St. Scholastica)

Transdisciplinary engagements with contemporary Indigenous thinkers

This project focuses on engaging contemporary Indigenous thinkers to explore how Indigenous thought can be made more central to education and research. The goal is to influence thinking on a wide range of topics, from how research and education are carried out to who benefits from and participates in research and education. We expect that this project will engage and impact a broad range of programs and disciplines within the UMN System. The project includes events featuring thinkers who cross conventional interdisciplinary boundaries, including, for example: Chickasaw poet, novelist, and essayist Linda Hogan; Potawatami botanist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer; Ojibwe/Odawa education scholar Dr. Roxanne Gould; and local Anishinaabe artists such as Vern Northrup, Wendy Savage, and Moira Villiard. Events will include classroom visits, student engagements, gatherings with faculty and staff, and public events. The project will culminate in an “Action Plan for Strengthening the Presence of Indigenous Knowledge Perspectives in our Teaching and Research.”

PI: David Syring, Professor of Anthropology & Director, Master of Professional Studies Program; IonE Educator

Team Members: Jennifer Liang (UMD SCSE), Katy Chapman (Math, Science, and Technology Center for Sustainability; IonE Educator ), Peter Levin (IonE)

Projecting the potential social, environmental, and economic impacts of climate migration on Duluth

Climate scientists have labeled Duluth, Minnesota, a climate sanctuary – meaning a place well-positioned for people to migrate to, in order to escape increasing temperatures worldwide. Subsequently, this label has been amplified by the national news media. Will Duluth be able to sustainably accommodate an influx of 1,000 people? 10,000? In order to plan for an increased population, we need to better understand climate migration and anticipate the social, environmental, and economic impacts of migration. Furthermore, planning should be driven by data. We propose conducting a literature review in addition to interviewing and convening stakeholders in order to develop a model of potential climate migration to Duluth as well as any corresponding social, environmental, and economic impacts on the region. This seed money will help engage relevant stakeholders around data-driven research that could ultimately be used to sustainably plan for the future.

PI: Monica Haynes, Director, Bureau of Business and Economic Research

Team Members: Kim Nichols Dauner (UMD Labovitz School of Business and Economics), Daniel Ye, Ben Palmquist (UMD; Bureau of Business and Economic Research), John Bennett (Extension, Community Vitality)

Ecofeminist intersections: infrastructure and care in the city

This project envisions new directions for urban futures through an examination of the interlocking crises of aging physical infrastructure and the need for a more broadly imagined ethics of care – both for one another and for the environment. We’ll bring infrastructure and care in conversation through intersectional feminist theory and practice, with a focus on ecofeminism as an environmental philosophy that critiques dominant human-nature relationships, which are evaluated and reconstructed in terms of social differences such as race, class, and gender. We propose convening a series of three conversations on the themes of intersection, maintenance, and development, each led by two community-engaged experts with different practices and perspectives. Three key outcomes will emerge: the development of new and deepened interdisciplinary and collaborative relationships; the creation of an open-access syllabus geared towards designers, planners, engineers, and organizers that will synthesize theory and real-world examples; and the unfolding of opportunities for future projects that continue exploring themes from the conversations.

PI: Emily Stover, Affiliate Researcher in College of Design; Metropolitan Design Center, Interdisciplinary Design

Team Members: Ursula Lang (College of Design), six to-be-determined conversation participants 

Sustainability across the University

The proposed project will result in promotional materials (videos, webpages, and communication plans) that will highlight the importance of sustainability education across degree programs and provide easily accessible information about sustainability education opportunities on all of the University of Minnesota campuses. The landing page will include a video of students discussing sustainability across the UMN System and then provide information about how students on any campus can incorporate sustainability into their degree programs. Additionally, a guide will be developed for advisors/coaches working with students across the System so that they will have information about sustainability education opportunities at their fingertips. Along with this information, we will develop a communication plan to get all of these resources out to the faculty/advisors/coaches who interact with students interested in incorporating sustainability into their degree programs.

PI: Katy E. Chapman, Associate Professor and Sustainability Coordinator, Math, Science, and Technology Center for Sustainability; IonE Educator 

Team Members: Jonathon Holland (UMC Admissions), Jessie Barnett Schimek (IonE), Kristin Osiecki (UMR Center for Learning Innovation; IonE), Jonna Korpi (UMD Sustainability), Julie Etterson (UMD SCSE; IonE), Mary Oldham Hannemann (IonE), Beth Mercer-Taylor (IonE), Troy Goodnough (UMN Morris Office of Sustainability; IonE)

Blooming energy: engaging with students and the community on the dual-benefits of solar-plus-pollinator habitat

A solar array on the West Bank will be transformed with a focus on regenerative design and can serve as a model of University research and thought leadership in regards to solar energy landscapes. Where there are currently weeds and turfgrass, pollinator habitat will be planted to increase biodiversity, reduce stormwater runoff, and improve soil quality. This solar array sits on an easily accessible, prime location near the hub of the campus, yet it lacks a sense of place that results from integrated design. We propose hosting design charrettes where University students, faculty, community members, and external experts collaborate to formulate creative ideas through which to enhance and interpret this site to educate the public and explore regenerative solar innovations for greater Minnesota. The project story map will show how regenerative design approaches to our expanding solar landscape can be pragmatic, participatory, equitable, and beautiful.

PI: Aaron Hanson, Program Specialist for Leadership and Education, IonE

Team Members: Jonee Brigham (College of Design; IonE), Katie Legare (CBS), George Masson (CFANS, IonE), Paul Imbertson (CSE; IonE), John Koepke (College of Design), Trey Feuerhelm (CBS), Diana Dalbotten (CSE; IonE), Kathryn Milun (UMD College of Liberal Arts; IonE), Charlie Kidder (CSOM)

“How much and how much better?” A comparison of a Green New Deal home and a new code home

Zero-net-energy (ZNE) homes are neither a part of general public discourse or understanding nor are they commonly offered or supported by the building trades. However, new homes need to be ZNE in order for us to build a carbon-neutral Minnesota. Research supports the concept of ZNE housing as an inherent part of sustainable building development, but the general public needs to see evidence of this in a relatable format. To tackle these barriers, the UMD Office of Sustainability and local experts in residential construction and green building design will collaborate to undertake an in-depth analysis of a ready-to-build ZNE home and a comparison home that meets current codes and practices. The project will compare estimated annual energy use, associated CO2 emissions, cost of construction, and cost of ownership over a 30-year mortgage in order to clearly illustrate the benefits of ZNE homes.

PI: Jonna Korpi, Activities Coordinator at the UMD Office of Sustainability

Team Members: Rachel Wagner (Green New Deal Housing, SBC), Josh MacInnes (1LLC), and three to-be-determined undergraduate students 

Determining the effects of a new class of environmental pollutants produced during wildfires in Minnesota

Wildfires burn approximately 4% of the Earth’s surface every year, producing more than 280 million tons of charcoal. Wildfire charcoals react in the environment to form a class of biologically damaging pollutants known as environmentally persistent free radicals (EPFRs). Despite decades of research uncovering the harmful effects of EPFRs on environmental health, there is little research on EPFRs produced during wildfires. We seek to perform a series of laboratory-scale experiments to evaluate the conditions that affect EPFR formation during wildfires on Minnesota’s expansive, mineral-rich soils. Through University and governmental collaborations, we will assess the scope of the problem, inform the public of the potential risks, and equip future scientists to develop solutions aimed at preserving our natural resources. Because climate change has caused a drastic increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires, it is imperative to fully understand this overlooked phenomenon to ensure access to safe natural resources for all.

PI: Matthew Berens, Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI)

Team Members: Bridget Ulrich (NRRI), Kevin Berens (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources), Tadele Haile (NRRI)

Healthy Places: mapping environment and health through community storytelling

Human health is deeply entangled with the health of our environments. In the metropolitan Twin Cities, different social groups have created and maintained many healthy and health-giving places, including some specifically for medicinal plants. Healthy Places is a pilot storytelling and community archive project that looks at the deep histories of several of these sites. This project is unique and essential since its conceptualization is capacious enough to address a range of sites, from Mashkiikii Gitigan community garden to Mastel’s Health Foods. These are diverse spaces in which environmental relationships between humans and other-than-humans have been scripted as healing by different communities. The project asks how nature-based health places have held particular historical and contemporary value, how medicinal plant access is a function of a healthy urban environment, and how medicinal plants have represented interstices of health and nature for Native, settler, and migrant social groups.

PI: Emily Beck, Assistant Curator at Wangensteen Historical Library

Team Members: Macey Flood (CSE), Sara Nelson (CFANS), Sammie Ardito Rivera (Marnita’s Table, Inc., Sin Fronteras Farm & Food), Carolyn Smith (North Country Herb Guild), Brenda Child (CLA)

Green Neighbor Challenge test and launch

The Green Neighbor Challenge is a social media campaign and web tool designed to help consumers quickly identify, understand, and sign up for green energy programs, and also to challenge friends and family to do the same. Since winning the Acara Challenge two years ago, we have secured fiscal sponsorship through the youth-centered Power Shift Network, grown our team to include 14 volunteers, and expanded our innovative database of green pricing programs to include 47% of US households 

A majority of our team is affiliated with the University of Minnesota as staff, students, scholarship-funded interns, and alumni. And while we’ve struggled to raise money for our effort, our progress has continued unabated. We anticipate our web tool will be ready for nationwide testing this June, and if all goes well, a public launch alongside non-profit coalition partners in the fall, with the intention of helping 1.8 million homes switch to green energy.

PI: Aaron Hanson, Program Specialist for Leadership and Education, IonE

Team Members: Andrew Butts (CFANS), Lilly Richard (CFANS), David Mercer-Taylor (Green Neighbor Challenge), Emily Mehr (Minneapolis Community and Technical College), Jessica Lynn (CSOM), Sophie Blumenstock (HHH), Ankita Arora (University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus), Alec Porter (CEHD), Melissa Varga (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Rupsa Raychaudhuri is a junior at the University of Minnesota, studying Political Science and Economics, with minors in Statistics and Psychology.

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