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2022 Student Impact Award Winners: Food Sustainability

This year the Institute on the Environment and the Office of Sustainability hosted the inaugural, system-wide Student Impact Awards. These awards honor student efforts to lead the way towards a future in which people and planet prosper together. Meet three of the winners, whose leadership efforts focus on local and sustainable food systems.


Marisa Kingsbury’s pumpkin drive creates a cauldron of compost and reduces ghastly gasses

On Halloween night, you might be visited by lots of young ghosts and goblins, but the real fright may not begin until the next day, when toothy-grinned pumpkins go from seasonal decor to detritus and head for our nearest landfill. At the University of Minnesota Duluth, environment, sustainability, and geography student Marisa Kingsbury saw an opportunity for those pumpkins to live on – not as ghoulish zombies, but as compost for UMD’s Land Lab

When organic materials like pumpkins go into landfills, they break down slower than they would in a natural environment due to low oxygen levels. That slow breakdown produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And, the organic materials can’t be reused. When composted, these pumpkins won’t take up space in a landfill, won’t contribute to methane emissions, and can return their nutrients to the environment in a low-cost way for the university. 

Kingsbury also coordinated and organized the Morgan Park food giveaway. Throughout the summer, she helped harvest, pack, and distribute fresh foods. She is committed to food security and justice, working as a research assistant on the Healthy Foods Healthy Lives project and with Community Action Duluth’s mobile food access truck


Justice is a critical part of the earth to table (and back to earth!) food system for Lily Sugimura

Lily Sugimura, environmental studies and English major, embodies the University of Minnesota’s commitment to serving both our campus communities and the state. Sugimura does this through her steadfast commitment to ensuring that ongoing sustainability efforts are rooted in just and culturally inclusive processes.

On the University of Minnesota Morris campus, Sugimura is the student co-coordinator of the Intercultural Leaders Program, a cohort of students that identify as belonging to marginalized communities and are interested in sustainability. The group gathers to learn from sustainability leaders of color and identify ways UMN Morris can approach its sustainability mission in more inclusive, anti-racist, and anti-colonial ways that are centered on justice. Sugimura is also a  Center for Small Towns Food Systems intern and has contributed to a campus food recovery program and helped develop resources to address student food insecurity, helping all to more fully participate in campus life and academics.

As a Local Foods, Local Places Program intern for the city of Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, Sugimura was involved in collaborating with the community to improve access to fresh locally grown produce. She also helped foster cross-cultural dialogues, connect local farmers with regional farmers markets, and identify how locally grown foods drive the regional economy and how to increase participation in local food movements by  persons of color, recent immigrants, and refugees.


Sneha Sinha’s leadership helps Engineers Without Borders reach new heights after being grounded by COVID-19

Sneha Sinha was the president of the University of Minnesota chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UMN) when international travel restrictions due to COVID-19 significantly disrupted travel plans. This halted plans for EWB-UMN members to go abroad and implement water system projects. She helped the student group navigate COVID-19 restrictions and expanded its focus on international projects to include local engineering projects with environmental justice goals. Under her leadership, the international projects continued through remote efforts, carried out by the community members under the guidance of the EWB-UMN students and the chapter initiated a local project with the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance (UFGA). 

In the summer of 2021, Sinha led a project at the Peace Sanctuary Garden in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, which included installing permeable pavers compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to increase accessibility to the garden, a rainwater system to harness rainwater for reuse, a greenhouse to extend the growing season, a solar energy system to provide lighting, and an educational component to accompany all of the engineered installations.

EWB-UMN has about 100 student members and about 20 professional engineers that serve as mentors. Sinha created the Community Context Committee to understand historical contexts of EWB partner organizations globally and build the socio-technical skills that help members become ethical engineers.

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