2015 Mini Grants

Following are brief descriptions of the 2015 spring and fall Mini Grant-funded projects. For more information, email ione@umn.edu.


Healthy bodies, healthy minds, healthy learners

Judy Myers, Children, Youth & Family Consortium, University of Minnesota Extension

This project will involve multiple partners in producing a detailed plan for creating and implementing natural, therapeutic learning spaces at Bruce Vento Elementary School in East St. Paul. Project partners will explore potential funding; develop a plan for involving school staff, students and community members in designing the learning spaces; and approach potential partnering organizations or vendors who could contribute to the creation and implementation process. 

The community ecology of diseases: work group on the anthropogenic impacts on avian influenza

Nicholas Fountain-Jones, College of Veterinary Medicine

Avian influenza is both an economic burden and a human health risk. Surprisingly little is known about how human forces, such as urbanization, affect the complex distribution of influenza strains in their host birds. This project will convene a two-day workshop aimed at understanding the ecology of avian influenza, with experts in epidemiology, veterinary medicine and molecular biology invited to interpret recent findings and direct future work on the disease.

Gidaazhoganikemin “We make a bridge”

John A. Koepke, College of Design/Landscape Architecture

The aim of this project is to build a trail and bridge — both literally and figuratively — between the Cloquet Forestry Center and the Fond du Lac Reservation to enhance communication and cooperation. A spring 2016 landscape architecture class will work with band and forestry center members to develop the vision.

Disease modeling in aquatic systems

Luis E. Escobar, College of Veterinary Medicine 

A three-day workshop will be held at the University of Minnesota for two visiting researchers from Latin America on disease modeling. Techniques shared in the workshop will be applicable for modeling disease outbreak and distribution in animals and plants in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, focusing on common diseases that infect human and fish populations in the researchers’ home countries.

National resiliency studio

Ozayr Saloojee, College of Design

This will be an interdisciplinary collaborative project with partners, faculty and staff from the University of Minnesota’s College of Design, Metropolitan Design Center, Center for Sustainable Building Research and the Center for Changing Landscapes. The group will convene over the course of the next year to competitively position itself to be chosen as one of three “resiliency studios,” a national project of the Architects Foundation and a major funding initiative slated for the Upper Midwest in late 2016. Resiliency studios are meant to be go-to bodies of expertise for the development of sustainable, resilient and regenerative community design proposals and initiatives.

Duluth sustainability energy workshop

Christina Gallup, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota Duluth

This workshop will assemble people, groups and organizations interested in building on the current momentum in sustainable energy in the Duluth/Superior region. The workshop will generate lively discussions among the many potential participants on issues related to solar and wind energy, biomass, energy storage, grids and how we can remove roadblocks to developing a clean energy future through innovative collaborations.

Workshop on “energy from renewables: envisioning a brighter future”

Ned Mohan, College of Science and Engineering

For this workshop, high school principals and science teachers will be invited to help develop a course to be taught in high schools as part of the College in the Schools program. The intent of the course will be to motivate young people to think about energy and introduce and discuss renewable energy options, such as solar and wind. This course could become a model for national implementation.

Morris ecostation planning

Troy Goodnough, Office of the Chancellor, Office of Sustainability, University of Minnesota Morris

This project will convene faculty, students and staff from across the University system, as well as people from the Morris community, to create a vision for some recently acquired property. Participants will be asked to survey the 140-acre site’s unique ecological features, consider its potential for research opportunities and assess its ecological diversity and health.

Knowledge to impact workshop for Grand Challenge Curriculum

Julian Marshall, College of Science & Engineering

The project will build on work being done in the U’s Grand Challenge Curriculum courses in which students propose solutions to environmental problems. Student teams from each of the four IonE-taught GCC courses will have the opportunity to workshop their proposed solutions and receive feedback on how to refine their solutions from their peers and experts from the Minneapolis-St. Paul professional community.

Designing, protyping and field testing community trust solar

Kathryn Milun, College of Liberal Arts, UMD

This project seeks to understand various forms of solar energy ownership. One phase involves a cross-cultural study of community trust solar in India. The project team will also solidify partnerships with solar projects already on the ground in Arizona and Minnesota, as well as establish new connections with people in city government, colleagues at Arizona State University and the U of M Law School, neighborhood groups and nonprofits.

Climate change, food security, poverty and political conflict in eastern India

Singdhansu Chatterjee, College of Liberal Arts 

This project will bring together an international team from diverse disciplines, such as political science, ecology and economics, to study how climate change affects food security and its potential to exacerbate poverty and social and political conflicts in eastern and northeastern India. Projected outcomes include bringing together multiple data sets from Indian and international organizations into a comprehensive system that will serve as a “proof of concept” for a bigger grant proposal and building a data resource linking climate data, agricultural yield data, political discourse and poverty.

Nature play meets accessible play

Linda Kingery, U of M Extension, Regional Sustainable Development Partnership

This project will bring a diverse set of partners into the process of creating an accessible natural play area at Ellen Hopkins Elementary School in Moorhead, Minn. Faculty and staff with expertise in access for people with physical disabilities, child development, and landscape and sustainable design will inform the design. It will use a community-based design process as the means for collaboration and learning to allow access and experience for all children, so it engages teachers, parents and students in the design process. This project is poised to serve as a prototype for assuring access to nature play for all in the northwest region.

Development of a nanoparticle-based mercury scrubber

Sandra L. Myers, School of Dentistry 

Mercury amalgam from human teeth melting during cremation contributes to mercury pollution in the local and global environment. As more people choose cremation, mercury pollution from cremation has been projected to rise steadily over the next several decades. Since smokestack scrubbers are not feasible for the numerous small crematoria operators, this project will use nanotechnology to construct a cost-efficient mercury-capturing device that functions within the casket during the cremation process.

Understanding the zoonotic risk of echinococcosis for a northern Minnesota tribal community

Tiffany Wolf, CVM 

This project will take an initial look at the prevalence of echinococcosis infection among wolves and domestic dogs to assess the risk of human exposure and to develop community-specific recommendations for prevention of echinococcosis in the Grand Portage Indian Reservation community. The project will fortify a developing collaboration among the College of Veterinary Medicine, School of Public Health and Grand Portage, as well as provide unique interdisciplinary graduate training at the interface of human and animal health.

Climate chaos: art, science and agency

Christine Baeumler, CLA 

This ecological and public art project will contribute to dialogue and transformative action on climate change in the University and Twin Cities community, to take place at the Northern Spark Festival, an all-night art festival focusing on climate change. The project will convene many partners, including the Weisman Art Museum, the Healing Place Collaborative, and IonE’s Undergraduate Leaders Program. The art projects will examine climate change science, with a particular focus on how climate change is expected to affect key ecological systems such as forests, farms and resources for vital biodiversity, such as pollinators, in our community.


Following are brief descriptions of 11 projects funded for spring 2015. For more information, email ione@umn.edu.


Invasive Species in the Galapagos Islands: Challenges and Solutions

George Heimpel, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
The project team will develop a workshop focusing on invasive species in the Galapagos Islands in June 2015. The workshop will bring together three units at the University of Minnesota — the Department of Entomology, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Biological Sciences — in a novel way. The public workshop will feature presentations and directed discussions on invasive species and conservation in the Galapagos.

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Creating Social Ecological Knowledge and Engagement Across Campus and Community: Inaugurating the Bulldog Food and Farm Festival

Randel Hanson, Program in Environment and Sustainability, UMD
The project team will hold a festival to highlight the interdependence of food, health and ecology on September 20, 2015, at the Sustainable Agriculture Project Farm at UMD’s Field and Research Studies Center. The festival will include a 5K run; a farmers market with area growers; various health- and wellness-oriented activities and education; campus and community based sustainability activities; food that features produce grown on the SAP Farm and prepared by UMD Dining Services; and tours of the SAP Farm to showcase organic agriculture practices, wind energy production, sustainable landscape management and habitat restoration.

Piloting Acara Impact Entrepreneurship Program in Rural Nicaragua

Brian Bell, Acara, IonE
IonE’s Acara program, EOS International and Iowa State University will partner to implement a class on human-centered design for an ISU study abroad program in San Isidro, Nicaragua, June 8 – July 3, 2015. Over four weeks, approximately 10 engineering and design students will work with Nicaraguan community members, EOS staff, and ISU and Acara–UMN instructors to design improved technologies and business models to address quality of life issues in San Isidro. Products in focus include a biochar reactor (energy access), water assisted ram pump (agricultural production, water access) and household rainwater catchment system (water access).

Diabetes Epigenetics: Detection of Environmental Drivers and Optimal Controls

Matteo Convertino, School of Public Health
The project is focused on the detection of the effective environmental factors leading to epigenetic generation of T1/T2 diabetes in developed and developing countries. The work is aligned to the research of the PI at IonE to find the environmental causes of syndemics for designing the environment via biological-based engineering methods in order to maximize population health. A comprehensive multiscale analysis of T1/T2 diabetes is proposed using complexity science models to infer universality, scale dependency, and interaction of diabetes causal factors.

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Climate Conversations in the Islamic Community

Julia Nerbonne, CFANS
The project team will develop a conversation model that works in Islamic centers and conduct group climate conversations. Team members will ask what participants know about climate change, what kind of information and services they have access to, and what their overall attitudes towards climate change are. They will also assess if there is a difference in attitude, knowledge and access to information based on location (rural/urban/suburban) and ethnicity/diversity of the community members.

World Wide Views on Climate and Energy

Daniel Myers, College of Liberal Arts 
On June 6, 2015, the World Wide Views on Climate and Energy program will convene citizens across the globe for a day of structured deliberation about climate and energy policy. The goal of the project is to host a WWV regional site, which will bring together 100 residents of Minnesota to learn, discuss and produce recommendations that will be disseminated to attendees of the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 21) and other policy-makers. This event will be a catalyst to increase regional interest in the COP 21 talks and in climate issues generally. Further, in collaboration with the four other WWV sites in the U.S., the event will produce invaluable data for research on citizens’ attitudes on climate issues and how these attitudes are shaped by discussion.

Design and Develop a Book for India Study

Fred Rose, Acara, IonE
The goal of the project is to design a book about design and development of environmental ventures in India. The book will be modeled after Design 4 Haiti, an effort by the College of Design, and be based on five years of students piloting and launching early-stage impact ventures in water, energy, food and agriculture in Acara’s program in India. 

Does Smallholder Use of Improved Irrigation Save Water?

Kate Brauman, Global Water Initiative, IonE
The project will explore the potential for water savings by smallholder farmers in southern India, home to 24 percent of the world’s farms. Contacts with farmers will be facilitated via project partner MyRain, an Acara-incubated distributor of drip irrigation systems. A second project partner, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, is also based in Bangalore.

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Green Infrastructure at Natural Resources Research Institute

Ryan Hueffmeier, NRRI, University of Minnesota Crookston
The Natural Resources Research Institute, located at the headwaters of an impaired designated trout stream, is seeking ways to utilize the facility as a living laboratory for stormwater management. The goal of the project is to help students produce a concept paper on developing a green infrastructure demonstration project action plan.

Women’s Leadership in Interdisciplinary Writing

Jennifer Schmitt, NorthStar Institute for Sustainable Enterprise, Institute on the Environment
The project aims to increase publication success of early-career women researchers by conducting an interdisciplinary writing workshop, providing mentoring and peer networking to help increase publication success. Research leadership in environmental grand challenges requires academic publication; excelling in this area is challenging due to the interdisciplinary nature of environmental research and the demands on early career female researchers.

Restoring the Health of Agro-ecosystems in the Ecuadorian Andes

Christian F. Lenhart, CFANS
The project team will organize a workshop on watershed management and soil restoration with Ecuadorian nonprofits, government agencies, farmers and local landowners to identify strategies that can be developed in partnership with the University of Minnesota. The workshop will take place in the Pedro Moncayo watershed northeast of Quito, Ecuador, in 2015. The project team will develop a white paper summarizing the findings of the workshop and outlining land rehabilitation strategies.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions on Phytoremediation Plots in France

Katy Nannenga, Math, Science and Technology, University of Minnesota Crookston
The project goal is to establish an international research/internship/teaching relationship between the University of Lorraine and the University of Minnesota Crookston. The relationship will allow a direct interaction between classes being taught at the University of Lorraine and classes being taught at UMC with students at both institutions working on a common project.

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Sugarbush Summer: Reflections, Readings and the Future of Snow, a Lecture by Louise Erdrich

Kevin P. Murphy, CLA
Louise Erdrich, recently awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, gave a lecture April 29, 2015, on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus focusing on indigenous resistance and reflecting on landscapes of the Upper Midwest and the new challenges facing Indian Country as communities cope with extreme fossil fuel extraction and other environmental injustices in their homelands.

Market Science – IonE Renewal Proposal

Ryan Briscoe Runquist, College of Biological Sciences
STEM based research is primarily conducted away from the public eye, and research results are usually disseminated only within a limited circle of STEM academics and professionals. While communication among researchers is vital to the scientific process, it does little to inform the general public about how scientific research is performed, who scientists are, or how research impacts their own lives. This leaves many in our communities unfamiliar with and skeptical of science. Our initiative, Market Science, enables dialogue between academics and the community at large through activities and discussions at Minneapolis’ Midtown Farmers Market (MFM).

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