2016 Mini Grants

Following are brief descriptions of the 2016 spring and fall Mini Grant-funded projects. For more information, email ione@umn.edu.


Angler survey: Feasibility study of interest in research participation

Ryan Hueffmeier, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth

A promising alternative to collecting fish for scientific study is using fish already caught by anglers. This project will enlist student workers to survey anglers at the St. Louis River Estuary near Duluth to determine feasibility of angler participation in a research program using their daily harvest. Survey data will provide information on how much participation might be expected as well as angler success and species harvested.

Carless tailgating: A safe and sustainable alternative to a sporting tradition

Tiffany Richardson, College of Education and Human Development and Institute on the Environment Educator 

University of Minnesota sports researchers and professionals will study carless tailgating at University of Colorado Boulder. The research would be the first in sport management literature to explore the implementation of environmentally friendly programming and events in a collegiate sport environment. The project team will apply lessons learned to a pilot project at UMN next fall.

Ecosystem services and inequality in urban watersheds

Kate Derickson, McKnight Land Grant University Professor, College of Liberal Arts and IonE Associate

While substantial advances have been made in recent years in accounting for the economic value of ecosystem services, far less is known about the distribution of ecosystem services across socio-economically diverse and geographically segregated urban environments. The project team is interested in developing a proposal for the National Science Foundation Coupled Natural Human Systems call to investigate these processes. The Mini Grant will cover travel and lodging for intensive team workshops in Atlanta and the Women’s Environmental Institute Eco-Retreat Center in North Branch, Minnesota, to prepare and collaborate on the NSF grant proposal.

Energy, water and community engagement: A transdisciplinary approach to research and teaching

Elizabeth Hill, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota Duluth, and IonE Educator

The grant will be used to bring faculty and undergraduate researchers to the St. Louis River summit in March 2017, and to host three meetings to advance the creation of a model for leveraging student and faculty transdisciplinary research to address significant community sustainable energy needs in the Western Lake Superior Region.

Exploring ecology: Camera traps in the classroom

Craig Packer, College of Biological Sciences and IonE Fellow

This project will lay the groundwork to duplicate the successful “Snapshot Serengeti,” a long-term monitoring program that captures the dynamics of charismatic African species through 200-plus camera traps deployed in Serengeti National Park. The Mini Grant will fund travel to Botswana to meet with two African-based nongovernmental wildlife protection organizations, where they will develop the classroom and field components of the project.

 Girls can code in science: Let girls learn

Mohamed Yakub, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

Coding and bioinformatics are important components of data analyses in environmental and agri-sciences, especially as data sets get larger and more complex, while computing has become well-established in daily life. Yet the gender gap in computing continues to widen. This project aims to mend the gender disparity in the field by hosting a course consisting of 10 workshops in which experts teach the basics to graduate students, who then instruct and engage undergraduates, who pass along their knowledge to high school students.

Learning from the experts: How to implement renewable energy technology at the community scale

Alison Hoxie, CSE UMD and IonE Associate 

This Mini Grant project will send two graduate students to visit communities abroad that have successfully adopted renewable energy technologies, one in Switzerland and another in Germany. There, they will meet with policy-makers, educators and plant operators and learn about the successful drivers for making energy technologies more financially attractive, gain understanding about getting buy-in from community members, learn how to disseminate energy knowledge at all levels of education, and study the daily challenges and benefits of developing sustainable communities.

Living collections as a tool for plant conservation

Daniel Stanton, CBS

The project will focus on building a cross-disciplinary team of researchers interested in plant conservation through horticulture. To accomplish this, the team will host a symposium on conservation horticulture featuring prominent experts in spring 2017, and develop and teach a fall 2017 course on conservation horticulture for upper-level interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate students.

Minnesota American Indian Rights Research Tour

Mary Oldham Hanneman, Institute on the Environment

The Mini Grant will support 20 American Indian middle school, high school and college students on a four-day civil rights research tour across Minnesota to visit sites significant to Dakota and/or Ojibwe people including Fort Snelling, Mankato, Lower Sioux Indian Community, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Sugar Point, Sandy Lake, Fond du Lac and Duluth. The tour combines experiential learning, participatory research, and exposure to indigenous ways of knowing and relating to the land to empower native students to share and communicate their stories.

Mobile art engagement in Twin Cities communities of color

Jessica Lopez Lyman, College of Liberal Arts

Working with several community organizations involved in environmental justice campaigns and advocacy planning, the project team will conduct surveys on transportation and food systems planning in communities of color in the Twin Cities using a mobile screen-printing tool. The mobile art tool promotes interactive art-making to deepen relationships and is a valuable method for educating the broader community about social issues. The project will culminate in an art-based tool kit applicable to future transit and food systems research.

Morris climate education

Troy Goodnough, Office of Sustainability, University of Minnesota Morris

The project team seeks to expand on UMM’s multi-year project of energy conservation, clean energy, community resilience and climate education. This grant project will assess and expand climate and energy education in Morris area schools by building relationships with key school officials and teachers; assessing current efforts in K–12 education in energy and climate; studying how sister city Saerbeck, Germany, integrates climate and energy education into its K–12-equivalent education; and expanding UMM campus engagement with the Morris schools to provide new opportunities for students to learn about energy and climate issues.

Movement patterns of fishes in western Lake Superior

Andrew Bramburger, NRRI, UMD

This study will provide baseline information on the importance of the St. Louis River Estuary as habitat for migratory, transient and permanent fish residents. Knowledge gained through this study will help to inform management of estuarine habitats and pelagic fisheries. Immediate project outcomes will include the formation of a team of expert collaborators and development of methods for examination of otoliths (ear stones), which leave a record of water chemistry that may be used to infer residency and movement patterns.

Piloting structured decision-making workshops at IonE to help UMN bring solutions to local natural resource management problems

Eric Lonsdorf, IonE

The project team will pilot a three-day workshop addressing a local environmental issue that involves one or more groups of multiple stakeholders, guiding them through the steps of structured decision-making. The workshop would ultimately develop a first prototype of the solution for the issue and identify the information or data needed to inform and build confidence in a more formal decision.

Planting prairies: Collaboration to increase native seed for restoration

Ruth Shaw, CBS

Less than 1 percent of Minnesota’s native prairies remain, weakening the resilience of plant populations and impairing the ability of prairies to provide critical ecosystem services. The project team will use the Mini Grant to host meetings with Minnesota producers and large-scale consumers of native seeds to ascertain the major obstacles to seed production and propose steps for addressing these challenges, and produce a white paper summarizing participants’ views and consensus regarding native-seed production.

Putting suppliers on the map

Kelly Meza-Prado, Institute on the Environment Natural Capital Project

Securing freshwater by compensating upstream residents for land management actions that improve downstream water supply is an increasingly common type of ecosystem service project. This Mini Grant project team will study a water fund in Columbia MD to understand the perspectives of suppliers of ecosystem services, aiming to develop a model for ecosystem service programs that are sustainable and effective.

Solar arts workshop

Christine Baeumler, CLA and IonE Fellow 

The project team will host a day long, hands-on workshop exploring mobile photovoltaic applications suitable for sustainable public art projects. Solar Installation and design experts from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, local K–12 educators and artists will present examples of solar projects that range in size and impact from off-grid lighting and sound to educational outreach and curriculum, with the aim of providing practical resources for artists to use solar power in their work and open up new aesthetic spaces within urban and rural landscapes with limited or no access to power.

Sound and extinction: Noise pollution explored through acoustic ecology, sound studies and musical performance

Mark Pedelty, CLA and IonE Fellow

The project will bring together art and science to explain and explore sound pollution, drawing upon research by acoustic ecologists to visually and aurally illustrate what is currently known about the effects of noise pollution on bird, whale and human communities. The project team will create a musical composition, facilitate a live performance in the IonE Commons and produce a music video illustrating how anthropogenic noise disrupts animal communication.

Sponsorship support for 2017 Transportation Resource Board Committee on Resource Conservation and Recovery summer workshop

Lawrence Zanko, NRRI 

The project team will collaborate with the Center for Economic Development and the Minnesota Department of Transportation to cohost a summer workshop in Duluth. The workshop will provide an opportunity for researchers and practitioners from the region and around the country to interact and share their resource conservation and recovery experiences and practices relative to transportation, and will enable workshop attendees to learn the latest about related activities in Minnesota from the perspective of an interdisciplinary representation of participating UMN, state agency, and private and public sector stakeholders.

St. Paul campus food forest

Michele Mansky, CBS

This project team will install a seven-layer food forest as a functional demonstration site for students, staff and the visiting public. The food forest is intended to supply campus communities with fruits, nuts, vegetables and herbs as well as serve as an outdoor classroom, teaching about edible plant identification, soil quality, water catchment systems, etc. The food forest will be a model that can be replicated in anyone’s backyard.

Sustainable systems for water resource management

Melissa Maurer-Jones, SCSE, UMD

Maintaining and managing sustainable water resources is critical to addressing global water scarcity and access. A group of UMD faculty who are interested in or are currently doing environmental water chemistry or water technology research will meet monthly throughout spring 2017 to facilitate and support conversations that lead to curricula development, interdisciplinary collaborations, and grant proposals for fundamental and applied water technology science.

University of Minnesota Sustainability and Energy Expo

Eray Aydil, CSE and IonE Fellow

Despite an impressive array of research and extracurricular initiatives, the UMN campus lacks a cohesive sustainability community. UMN Energy Club, in collaboration with IonE Sustainability Education, will host a campus-wide Sustainability and Energy Expo to highlight student initiatives and research across the University. The Mini Grant will partially fund the effort to create an environment for students to exhibit their work, discover each other, and connect to inspire friendships and collaborative works.


Environmental entrepreneurship models for institution building

Aparna Katre, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota Duluth

With an eye toward understanding how social ventures can empower social change for the disenfranchised, the project team will host a representative of Gram Oorja, an organization that helps implement solar and biogas micro-grids in rural villages in India, on the Duluth and the Twin Cities campuses. The representative will present a series of workshops and lectures about Gram Oorja’s vision and mission to solve energy problems and overcome challenges unique to remote villages.

Dissemination of antimicrobial resistance from wastewater treatment plants via wild birds

Randall Singer, College of Veterinary Medicine

Antimicrobial resistance is a well-recognized global public health threat, and wild birds that come into contact with wastewater treatment plants are thought to be potential disseminators of antibiotic resistant genes. This project will assess and quantify the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes in wild birds that are exposed to wastewater treatment plants.

Forest to fork: Optimizing food security, conservation and health

Dominic Travis, CVM and Institute on the Environment Fellow

Wild meat is a significant source of easily accessible protein for landless rural people throughout developing countries, yet there are concerns about whether it can continue to be replenished as a food resource and for its inherent value within its own ecosystem. The project will convene a transdisciplinary workshop to characterize the risks and optimize the benefits of wild meat in global food security.

Birds of a feather: A climate change workshop

Julie R. Etterson, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, UMD, and Kathryn Schreiner, Large Lakes Observatory

Climate change and its accompanying ecological, societal and environmental impacts are among the most urgent topics of our time. To address this important issue, a diverse group of UMD faculty who are interested in or are currently doing climate change research and outreach will attend a two-day workshop to cultivate meaningful conversations that lead to interdisciplinary collaborations, grant proposals for basic and applied climate change science, and local citizen and professional outreach.

Community water workshops at Water Bar

Kate Brauman, IonE’s Global Water Initiative

Managing our water resources responsibly and sustainably is fundamental to human well-being. Engaging citizens, both to teach them about the technical underpinnings of their water system and to learn from them about the water outcomes they value, is a critical step in sustainable water management. The project team will host a two-part workshop for a diverse array of stakeholders at Water Bar, a public art venue in Northeast Minneapolis that allows people to connect and communicate about local water issues.

The art and science of medicinal plants in Minnesota

Lisa Aston Philander, College of Biological Sciences

Many plant species are commonly used in healing arts by immigrant and indigenous people in Minnesota, yet as many as 400 species of medicinal plants are considered threatened. To promote support for biodiversity and conservation of medicinal plants, the project team will host a public tour around the University and the Twin Cities that showcases the links among plant use, environment, culture and the arts. The tour will include places such as the CBS Conservatory — which houses the most diverse collection of plants in the region — and select galleries, cultural centers and parks.

Can migrants’ use of cellphones reduce the climate vulnerability of their community of origin?

Kathryn Grace, College of Liberal Arts

Perhaps no other communities on Earth are as vulnerable to the negative effects associated with climate change as subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. These farmers sometimes travel away from their communities of origin in search of economic opportunities, then communicate back via cellphone. In this project, the team will conduct five focus groups to evaluate how rural-to-urban migrants in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, use cellphones to share information with their rural communities of origin.

Labeling campus trees

Stan Hokanson, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

The University’s St. Paul campus has a wealth of diverse and important urban trees that can serve as tools to educate the public about urban environmental issues as well as create opportunities for public engagement in environmental research. This project will install signs around notable campus trees that provide taxonomical information and a QR code that links to a website containing practical, cultural and scientific information. The signs will also interface with an app that allows visitors to participate as citizen scientists by entering information about plant growth or seasonal changes, inspiring them to engage with science and feel a deeper connection to urban environmental issues.

Building biocatalytic systems for biomanufacturing

Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, CBS

By integrating biology and engineering we can harness the power of biological systems to manufacture products useful to humanity, including pharmaceuticals, fuel and chemicals, in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way. This project will establish an international multidisciplinary team with complementary skills to develop a biomanufacturing approach for the synthesis of commodity chemicals using cheap feedstocks from agricultural waste.

Sustainable food security programs in Jamaican schools

Petrona Lee, School of Public Health

The Trelawny Diabetes Management Project has assisted with breakfast programs in primary schools in rural Jamaica, West Indies, since 2010, where chronic food instability has increased cases of type 2 diabetes in children. This Mini Grant project will install chicken farming and aquaponics as a sustainable food source at three schools to serve as models for expansion of school-based farming in the country. Project leaders will host a two-week intensive workshop for Jamaican school principals in poultry farming and aquaponics on the University campus.

Soybean aphids & prairie butterflies: Unintended invasion outcomes

Heather Koop, Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center

Prairies butterflies in Minnesota are in decline, with some species, such as native skippers, nearing local extinction. The soybean aphid is a severe agricultural pest that invaded the Upper Midwest in 2000. This project will convene a roundtable of interdisciplinary faculty, researchers, land managers and public officials from around the state in fall 2016 to discuss the relationships between the invasive soybean aphids and the effects of pesticides on the Dakota skipper and other insect populations.

Reimagining the American Dream through tiny home systems

Tom Fisher, College of Design/Landscape Architecture

Tiny houses can represent a movement toward reimagining our relationship to Earth systems, meaningful lifestyle shifts and healthy, mindful living. This project will mobilize thought and action around housing for humanity and the environment through the platform of tiny houses. Among the artifacts the project aims to create for display during Welcome Week are an interactive art exhibit that features different cultural notions of house and space across the globe, childhood artifacts that may contribute to our cultural notions of home and a model of a tiny home vs. an average-size American home.

Minnesota aquatic invasive species

Chan Lan Chun, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, UMD, and Natural Resources Research Institute

Invasive species pose a common threat to the health, structure and function of aquatic ecosystems; damage human infrastructure; and reduce water recreational value. This Mini Grant will support a meeting at UMD in summer 2016 to promote communication, interinstitutional collaborations and external grant proposal preparation on aquatic invasive species research.

The Exchange Project: A collaborative design project in Entonet, Kenya

Kelly Watters, CoD/LA

The Maasai people have begun experiencing challenges that are redefining their way of life. Though traditionally pastoral with shared land management, they are becoming increasingly dependent on farming and a market economy. With the shift in land use, the Maasai have also seen an increase in communicable disease. They have identified a need for a public gathering space with health resources and space for training farmers, which the project team will help design during a two-week stay in the village of Entonet.

Developing a national network for society, scholarship and sustainability leadership

Kate Knuth, IonE’s Boreas Leadership Program

Institutions of higher education have begun to take on the work of transitioning society to a sustainable economic system. This project seeks to speed up creation and enhancement of efforts springing up around the country (Boreas and Acara at the University of Minnesota; Leopold Leadership Institute and Compass elsewhere) by convening a two-day workshop to explore the development of a national network of people working on leadership development at the intersection of society, scholarship and sustainability.

Planning for bees in the Twin Cities

Fernando Burga, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

The ongoing loss of honeybee colonies around the world signals the potential of an unsustainable future where food systems will be endangered by inadequate crop pollination. This project will forge an interdisciplinary team to address how the global honeybee crisis and the urgent need for pollinator planting can influence urban planning policy innovations. Using the Twin Cities as a case study, the project team will investigate existing urban planning policies across the U.S.

Early-career cross-disciplinary science communication group

Lindsey Sloat, IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative

Cross-disciplinary science communication is a critical but underpracticed skill for early-career researchers wishing to have a substantial impact outside of their specialty. With this grant the project team will form an interdisciplinary writing group for postdoctoral scholars and early-career scientists with the goal of improving writing of participants by increasing the quantity and quality of manuscripts, conference abstracts and grant proposal applications, as well as to engage an increasingly interdisciplinary audience — which will meet bi-weekly during the 2016–2017 academic year.

Sustaining local college collaborations in sustainability

Mary Hannemann, IonE’s Sustainability Education Program

The project team will identify the best method for maintaining ongoing communications among various colleges and universities to share opportunities and resources and build connections among sustainability research, education and outreach. Outcomes will include a survey and research of local and external sustainability networks and programs to determine if the local higher education network could be incorporated into their programs or if a separate network is needed. The team will also convene local sustainability faculty and staff to build relationships with those who are not already connected and provide feedback on the proposed mechanism.

Characterizing the distribution, co-occurrence and functional traits of plants and their associated pollinators in a fragmented landscape

Dan Cariveau, CFANS

Habitat fragmentation is a major issue in species conservation and is especially relevant in Minnesota prairies. With only 2 percent of native prairie habitat remaining, species endemic to this ecosystem are relegated to increasingly small and isolated patches. To better understand the factors that link the distributions of plants and pollinators, the project team will create a shared database that combines measurements of functional traits and occurrence for plants and pollinators to test hypotheses on the relationship between plant and pollinator distributions.

Quantifying water savings from drip irrigation

Kate Brauman, IonE GWI

Despite widespread interest in improving water productivity in agriculture and beyond, there are no comprehensive studies of the water and food impacts of switching irrigation technologies. Yet there is widespread interest and ongoing investment in improved irrigation for small farmers, who constitute nearly 70 percent of the world’s farmers. This grant will support a literature review that is already underway to provide information on the range of yield and water efficiency gains from drip irrigation and identify other variables (climate, soil type, nutrient limitations) that may narrow the efficiency response.

Community gardens strengthen healthy food access

Noelle Harden, Extension, Center for Family Development

Community gardens can support access to healthy foods, improve family economics, support the development of entrepreneurs and urban farmers, and contribute to local events such as farmers’ markets. This project will host workshops that aim to leverage learning and best practices from a network of gardens and develop partnerships with organizations within the University and across Minnesota currently conducting garden projects, such as the Northwest Regional Sustainability Development Partnership, the Clay County Cultural and Historical Society and Cultural Diversity Resources.

The data harvest

Gianna Short, CFANS

Farmers markets are central to urban food systems and serve as valuable intersections of society and the environment, yet there is a critical lack of data about them. This project will collect and analyze data from Twin Cities’ markets to demonstrate their collective social, economic and environmental impact. Products will include estimates of the capacity of farmers markets to generate income while providing social and cultural assets to communities and development of shared marketing tools such as a “Buy Local” marketing campaign to encourage support for local food systems.

Designing plants as environmental sensors and companions for health

Diane Willow, CLA

This project will convene a group of faculty, students and postdocs to envision and develop a project proposal to submit in the next round of Minnesota Futures research grants on the role of potted plants as environmental sensors and as agents for human health and well-being. While visually signaling the local state of air quality, the physical presence of living plants also embodies contemporary conceptions of nature with its associated positive, ambient effects on human health. Experimental studies confirm that people can access an increased sense of well-being from sensory interaction with a green potted plant.