HomeEducationSustainability EducationDesign, expression & mental health take prizes at 2016 Sustainability Symposium

Design, expression & mental health take prizes at 2016 Sustainability Symposium

The Institute on the Environment hosted the 5th Annual Sustainability Symposium on Friday, April 15th.

This event showcased thirty research and creative projects from students across the University of Minnesota campuses. Students could choose to present in the form of posters, lightning talks, or creative work and were evaluated on the effectiveness of their communication to a broad audience and their ability to connect their work to the complex challenges in sustainability.

AwardsCeremony2016The afternoon started with a keynote from Jean Larson, Manager of Nature-Based Therapeutic Services at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and Assistant Professor in the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the U. Larson discussed the role of self-care in sustainability work and social change. She stressed how “self-care can only happen when we believe our own feelings, needs and thoughts are important and of value”, and that everyone working in the realm of sustainability should be striving for this. 

The work of twenty-eight students and an IonE assistant scientist and their associated research teams were featured. They gave talks ranging from cognitive psychology and sustainability to mathematically modeling the transport of iron oxide chemicals in pesticides sprayed on agricultural fields. Stephanie Harris, CFANS student, geeked out in her lightening talk about new sustainable polymers in biodegradable and compostable plastics, while graduate student Kate Flick challenged us to consider absent narratives in our experience and shared a mixed audio clip telling the story of wild rice with different voices from her research with the Minnesota Humanities Center. Minutes after, Bryan Cashman tackled the proposed mining operations in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), and sought to increase awareness about this specific problem. Students’ presentations catered to audiences interested in data, math and science as well as art, sociology and narratives.

The engaging topics didn’t stop after the lightning talks, though. IonE scientist Marie Donahue presented a poster on how our surrounding environment is impacting mental health and University of Minnesota-Morris student Ramitha Rupasinghe shared his innovative research in converting spent coffee grounds into biodiesel fuel. Finally, Hans Bremhorst brought attendees to a Modema, Sierra Leone with his colorful photos, videos and audio recordings of a community building an early childhood environmental education center on a permaculture food forest.

It was inspiring to see students from a wide range of colleges present their work related to sustainability at the symposium. Students represented the Carlson School of Management, College of Science and Engineering, College of Liberal Arts, College of Design and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources at this event.

The Sustainability Symposium offers an opportunity to present innovative, interesting sustainability research or creative work done by University of Minnesota students from any disciplinary background, including biophysical and social sciences, humanities, arts, law, health and public policy, at either the undergraduate or graduate level, and including research, applied research, art, video or other creative work.  Students must be able to explain their work  to a general, interdisciplinary audience, avoiding the use of jargon, technical terminology or acronyms.


A special shout out to the three winners of this year’s Sustainability Symposium: Michael Barnes, Rebecca Limerick and Erica Vanden Busch. Michael presented a lightning talk on his experience in talking to public land managers about their opinions on converting municipal and private yards to low-input turfgrasses. A few posters over, Rebecca Limerick went the more artsy route as she shared her research and inspiration from Rachel Rosenthal, performance artist who addresses the need for healing environment, feminism, and combating animal cruelty and nuclear disaster through performances. Finally, talented design student Erica Vanden Busch (who happens to be the amazing graphic designer for Sustainability Education team) showcased her work in linking creativity/art and sustainability through visual art.

>Thank you to keynote Jean Larson, participants, judges and staff who each contributed to making this year’s symposium a huge success! The afternoon couldn’t have been pulled off without the engaged students, attendees and judges. See you next year!

Co-written by Moriah Maternoski and Mary Hannemann. Photo credit: Mary Hannemann

Educational Coordinator


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