HomeNewsFrom improv science to environmental justice: Announcing the Spring 2018 Mini Grants

From improv science to environmental justice: Announcing the Spring 2018 Mini Grants

At IonE, we believe that small efforts can make a big impact. You have to walk before you run and sometimes, it’s the first few steps that are the most daunting. Twice a year, we do our best to make those steps just a little more manageable.  

IonE Mini Grants are awards of up to $3,000 intended to spur new collaborative efforts taken on by interdisciplinary groups of faculty, staff, and/or students from across the University of Minnesota system. The program, which accepts proposals each spring and fall, is designed to encourage risk-taking and experimentation on environmental and sustainability topics.

“From seed funding for invasive species projects in Duluth to Morris climate education resources and Twin Cities workshops at The Water Bar, the work is always relevant, creative, and exciting!” says Jennifer Thissen, IonE Pre-Award Grant Coordinator. “It’s extremely satisfying to see how much good can come to so many, even with a relatively small monetary award.”

Past Mini Grants have helped fund everything from seed-based beers to environmental equity summits – and this spring’s recipients embody similarly far-reaching sustainability efforts.


Amplifying Significance of Environmental Justice in the Curriculum of the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities (Twin Cities)

Students and faculty who are motivated by the intertwined issues of social and environmental justice may find it difficult to explore these issues jointly within the University system, and find themselves confined to one side of the science/humanities divide. A proposed symposium in fall of 2018 would seek to remedy this issue by providing university affiliates and community environmental justice organizations the opportunity to explore the University’s role in environmental justice, as well as chances for the partners to work together. The initiative also proposes the addition of an Environmental Justice minor to the UMN Twin Cities curriculum. PI: Michelle Garvey, CLA Teaching Specialist and IonE Educator

Built in Health: Working Together for Sustainable Communities (Twin Cities)

Interdisciplinary advances towards designing environmentally sustainable and healthy communities are often hindered by a lack of opportunity to share ideas in public forums. Built in Health is a student-led event series that hopes to bridge the gaps in knowledge transition among academics and between academia and practice. By gathering together staff, students, and professionals across disciplines, the program will provide a chance to collaboratively brainstorm methods to positively impact the social determinants of health in an environmentally sustainable way. PI: Carissa Slotterback, Associate Dean of Humphrey School of Public Affairs and IonE Fellow

Hiding in Plain Sight: Using Drones to Protect Lands from Invasive Species (Crookston, Twin Cities)

A half-day symposium will gather together faculty across the University of Minnesota system who are utilizing remote sensing for the identification and distribution of terrestrial invasive species. The project aims to educate faculty about the use of drones to enhance research and to protect wildlife populations from the devastation of invasive species. PI: Heather Koop, Associate Director, Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center

Household Food Waste Generation and Recycling: Impact of Downstream Usage on Behavioral Tendencies (Twin Cities)

Households account for the highest proportion of food wasted in the United States. This project will study how socioeconomic, attitudinal, and behavioral factors affect patterns of household food waste, and attempt to educate families about the productive ways in which their discarded food can be recycled into economic resources such as biogas and compost. PI: Hikaru Peterson, Professor and Program Coordinator, CFANS, and IonE Fellow

Muskrat Hut: Developing decentralized infrastructure systems in support of Indigenous land-defense (Twin Cities)

The Muskrat Hut is an extension of the One House Many Nations project, which was founded in 2014 to raise awareness about, and provide solutions to, the housing crisis facing indigenous peoples in Canada. This work uses housing to build and share community knowledge, generate local economies, and develop architectures that enhance the health of the land. The “Muskrat Hut” is a design research project intended to create a piece of portable infrastructure to provide utility services and land defense functions to small-scale communities. PI: Jacob Mans, Associate Professor, College of Design, Twin Cities

Open Feasts Public Engagement Events (Twin Cities)

Open Feasts is a public engagement event series on the issue of food waste, which features dishes prepared by professional chefs using produce from farms, wholesalers, and retailers that would otherwise go to waste. IonE Mini Grant funding will offer operational support for events in conjunction with Minneapolis Open Streets, June 2018 – March 2019. PI: Barrett Colombo, Head Education & Communications Platform Development, IonE

Putting It All Together: Synthesizing Host and Pathogen Genetic Data to Understand Wildlife Disease Risk and Gene Flow (Twin Cities)

As habitat fragmentation threatens many species, scientists must consider both gene flow between populations and the resulting risk of disease spread when they plan effective conservation efforts. Though studied independently, these two elements are rarely, if ever, synthesized. This initiative will convene researchers to study genomics, viruses, and disease ecology in pumas with the broader goal of establishing a framework and methodology through which these crucial contributors to population flux can be studied together. PI: Nick Fountain-Jones, Postdoctoral Associate in the College of Veterinary Science

Queer Science (Twin Cities)

Queer Science is the first program of its kind to provide outreach to queer youth interested in STEM fields. Through hands-on experiments and personal interactions with successful queer scientists and researchers, Queer Science ensures that students from this underrepresented minority find their voice within the STEM field. Mini Grant funding will allow the program to expand on current offerings, create new opportunities for student engagement, and become a template for national queer organizations to follow. Principal Investigator (PI): Mohamed Yakub, CFANS Outreach and Education Coordinator

Speaking Science: Improv for Scientists Community (Twin Cities)

An addition to Boreas’ science-communication and community-building efforts, the Improv for Scientists Community will provide an engaging outlet for scientists to think creatively on their feet about their work. Scientists will learn to express their passion through the development of body control, audience engagement, and improvisational techniques. A partnership with local professional actors will create a transdisciplinary community in which participants will come to see their work in a new, creative light. PI: Kristi Kremers, Director of Graduate Leadership Programs, IonE

Strengthening Environmental Justice Teaching Across the University of Minnesota (Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Rochester, Twin Cities)

IonE Mini Grant funding will support the compensation of one undergraduate student as they assist with convening University of Minnesota faculty and instructors from all campuses and conducting small focus groups within these professionals to ascertain their current and planned teaching of environmental justice. The project aims to foster awareness of and engagement in environmental justice teaching across the University of Minnesota system. PI: Beth Mercer-Taylor, Sustainability Education Coordinator, UMN Twin Cities and IonE

Sustaining an Intergenerational Partnership with the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Twin Cities)

This project proposes a partnership between the U of M system and the State of Minnesota Environmental Quality Board to bring a youth voice to the EQB’s statewide programming. EQB will hire two student interns at UMM and UMTC to play a leadership role in planning several statewide meetings, including the statewide Environmental Congress. PI: Troy Goodnough, Office of Sustainability Director, University of Minnesota-Morris

Training the Next Generation of Researchers to Solve Problems Across Scale (Twin Cities)

Collaborators from CBS, CFANS, CEHD, and the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories will use high-temporal- and spatial-resolution aquatic sampling buoys and educational innovation to train a new generation of researchers passionate about studying environmental change in light of cultural and demographic shifts. IonE Mini Grant funding will be used to support participant costs, including lodging and laboratory fees. PI: Sehoya Cotner, Associate Professor, CBS

Turning Science into Action (Twin Cities)

IonE’s Global Landscape Initiative is conducting analysis it hopes will shape The Nature Conservancy’s priority regions and conservation strategies across Latin America. Turning Science into Action will provide undergraduate students and a postdoctoral fellow the opportunity to learn more about this research and the ways in which academic analysis can affect change. Undergraduate students and staff will hear a presentation on how science at IonE is impacting TNC, and a postdoc fellow will get the chance to attend a TNC strategy planning meeting to see the effects firsthand. PI: Paul West, Co-Director and Lead Scientist of IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative

Water Legacy: A Cooperative Board Game for Teaching the Science and Economics of Environmental Remediation (Twin Cities)

This project aims to develop a cooperative board game for middle and high school students that teaches the science and economics of environmental contamination and remediation. Focus groups of STEM graduate students, non-scientist adults, and secondary school students and teachers are proposed to critically develop the game, which will be supported by a partnership with five Minnesota schools. Games will ultimately be distributed across Minnesota. PI: R. Lee Penn, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, CSE, and IonE Fellow

Workshop and Webinar Series to Understand Institutional Arrangements for Decentralized Renewable Energy systems in India (Duluth)

Decentralized renewable energy-based mini-grids are expected to account for a substantial number of the future connections necessary to achieve universal electrification; however, little attention has been devoted to the efforts necessary to ensure their long-term sustainability. This project proposes a workshop in India to discuss one such mini-grid model with practitioners and policymakers, as well as a webinar series wherein other service providers will share their models with research teams to generate collaborative research inquiries. PI: Aparna Katre, Assistant Professor, College of Liberal Arts, Duluth, and IonE Associate


Grace Becker is the Communications Assistant at the Institute on the Environment and an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, where she studies Strategic Communication, sustainability, and Spanish.

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