HomeNewsIonE 2021 In Review: Connect, Inspire, Grow

IonE 2021 In Review: Connect, Inspire, Grow

In 2020, the IonE community learned how to adapt to the challenges and obstacles of a pandemic. This year, despite the continued challenges we faced, we’ve expanded our work and grown our community by keeping our focus on connection, partnerships, and making an impact at the community, state, and regional level. Thank you to our community for coming along with us and being part of this work. Let’s take a look at what we accomplished together:


We kicked off 2021 awarding a total of $100,000 to three projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in agriculture, forestry, and other land-use sectors. 

The project proposals were created during the fall 2020 Agriculture Climate Solutions Workshop and are supported by the McKnight Foundation. One team, led by IonE Fellow Kathy Draeger, is identifying challenges in small-scale meat production and creating equitable access to farming practices that reduce GHG. Another team, led by Fritz Ebinger from Clean Energy Research Teams, is tackling the need for green fertilizer production by measuring if an ammonia facility in Minnesota is economically, geographically, and technologically viable. The third team, led by IonE Associate Jessica Gutknecht, is identifying and cataloging the progress and remaining gaps in various GHG-reduction efforts in Minnesota.


We celebrated 10 years of awarding mini-grants and continued our DEIJ grant program because great projects come in all shapes and sizes. 

With the announcement of our Spring 2021 recipients, IonE has awarded more than 300 grants (of up to $3,000) in the past decade to support interdisciplinary teams taking novel approaches to sustainability. We also supported three project winners through our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) grant program, established in 2018 to fund projects addressing systemic inequity at the intersections of environmental issues. We value the big impact this collection of small projects is having and we are excited to start 2022 by announcing our Fall 2021 mini-grant recipients


We saw IonE community members create change through sustainable decision-making. 

A new software tool called Urban InVEST, developed by the Natural Capital Project with contributions from multiple IonE staff and affiliates, launched this year. The tool assists city planners and developers make good decisions related to the benefits nature can provide to communities. 

Temperature and precipitation maps from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center got a new look thanks to a collaboration between IonE, the University of Maryland Cooperative Institute for Satellite Earth Systems Studies, and NOAA.  The new maps – used by millions of people – better communicate climate outlooks across the US.


Our Affiliate network continues to provide leadership and impact across the state. 

IonE Fellow Sarah Hobbie is leading a new Urban Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in the Twin Cities in collaboration with community partners and a number of IonE affiliates and staff. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation through a six-year $7.1-million grant to the U of M.

IonE@UMD lead Julie Etterson, along with IonE Fellow Briana Gross, are leading the Forest Assisted Migration Project, supported by a 2020 IonE Impact Goal Grant and Northeast RSDP. The five-year project aims  to cultivate “climate-smart” forests. 

On the Twin Cities campus, IonE Fellow and U of M Director of Sustainability Shane Stennes celebrated a significant milestone when the U of M cut its climate-change emissions in half since 2008 – a notable achievement done through the collective and sustained efforts of several staff, students, faculty, and partners.


To continue connecting with others in a mostly virtual workspace, we focused on partnerships within the IonE and U of M communities. 

This summer, IonE launched a new salon series on our Impact Goals, critical outcomes we focus on over a three-to-five-year period. The salon series features the diverse perspectives and expertise of environmental leaders in the community who are working towards the same goals. This fall, we launched the STEP Seminars x IonE Environmental Justice Speaker Series, a partnership with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, led by IonE Graduate Research Assistant Khaled Abdellatif. The series brings in speakers from around the world to talk about the intersection of climate change and social justice.

Around the same time, IonE partnered with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on The Swain Climate Policy Series, a new event series honoring community leader Thomas H. Swain to engage and energize students across the U of M. IonE Staff Megan Voorhees and Executive Director Jessica Hellmann worked together with IonE Affiliate Gabe Chan to create the series.

Last fall, Chan also played a significant role in the execution and design of the Energy & Equity in the Twin Cities Workshop together with IonE staff Heidi Ries, Melissa Kenney, and Kimberly Long. The third installment of Minnesota’s Clean Energy Futures series, the workshop gathered approximately 50 participants to create a shared understanding of energy justice and the actions needed for long-term community empowerment. Stay tuned to learn about the awarded project proposals!


And finally, we’re looking forward to an expanded portfolio in 2022. 

In 2021, IonE welcomed 23 new members to our Affiliate network – hailing from the Duluth, Rochester, and Twin Cities campuses, as well as the Nature Conservancy, MN350, and Macalester College. 

Many IonEers are collaborating on a new project: The Dashboard for Agricultural Water Use and Nutrient Management (DAWN). The forthcoming dashboard will help Corn Belt farmers make informed, evidence-based decisions by providing relevant and reliable information through an innovative forecasting and risk analysis system. 

The new Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, dedicated to advancing actionable science in response to the climate crisis in the Midwest, will be hosted by IonE in close collaboration with the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences; Extension; and the Natural Resources Research Institute. 

And finally, thanks to the enthusiasm and support from a generous donor, our Leadership & Education team recently launched a new Clean Energy Leaders program to help students be the energy leaders we all need.


As always, IonE looks forward to another year of growing our communities, creating change, and working together to make an impact locally and globally. IonE Director Jessica Hellmann shares her vision for the new year:

“In 2022, we are going to build on everything we’ve learned over the last two years, but it will not be a year of looking back. We know the problems that must be addressed and we will strive tirelessly to bring forth viable solutions that work for our communities and allow our planet to prosper. And, at the heart of it all, we will continue to teach, inspire, and connect the people that make change happen.”

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