HomeNewsYear in Review: Building – and broadening – our collective impact

Year in Review: Building – and broadening – our collective impact

IonE is a community of changemakers – people who are driven to work on our world’s most pressing environmental challenges. But setting one’s sights at this scale comes with a caveat: Individual actions can feel small compared to the need; progress, incremental compared to an ever more urgent timelineWhich is why, at the end of any year – and maybe especially this one – we want to reflect on the achievements of our community and the steps we’ve taken at IonE to enhance our collective impact. Here are some of those highlights.

2018 held no shortage of exciting firsts for IonE. We began the year by collaborating with partners across the University to host the first-ever Speaking Science conference, designed to help University of Minnesota faculty, researchers, post-docs, and graduate students better communicate their work. In September, we were thrilled to formally announce IonE@UMD, a new Institute on the Environment hub at the University of Minnesota Duluth, reflecting that campus’ strengths in sustainability and community-engaged research. Also this fall (and accompanied by special panels, River Walks, and celebrations!), the statewide traveling exhibit We Are Water Minnesota visited the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, giving attendees a chance to add their own water experiences to the interactive mix.

One other big first this year: IonE’s mission is to lead the way to a future in which people and planet prosper together. That path has perhaps never been clearer but we also know we won’t make it as far without an ambitious, focused direction. So in 2018, with the help of our advisory councils, along with the input of our whole affiliate, staff, and student community, we came together to define three IonE core capabilities – and launch our new IonE Impact Goals. These are ambitious initiatives that, as they roll out over the coming year, we hope will engage the entire IonE community – in ways big and small – in the pursuit of safe drinking water, a carbon-neutral energy transition, and sustainable land-use.

As always, we were also a community on the move. One of our IonE mini grants helped support a UMN delegation at the One Water Summit, and both faculty and student members of our community recently headed to Katowice, Poland, for COP24, sending us their powerful dispatches. Our community grew, too: We welcomed 41 new IonE Affiliates, announced another batch of Acara Challenge winners, and hosted another an outstanding cohort of Right Track interns. To reflect the growth of our community, we also launched our pilot Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Grant program in November.

Members of our community also had countless individual milestones this past year. Founding IonE Fellow and CFANS Regents Professor Peter Reich was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, while IonE Fellow and Humphrey School Assistant Professor Bonnie Keeler and her network of collaborators won the national NAFKI Challenge. And just in these past two weeks, Deborah Swackhammer, IonE’s founding director, was surprise-honored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab in its 2018 Disobedience Awards, for speaking out about meddling with scientist advisory panels of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Two of IonE’s in-house thought-leaders, Director of International Partnerships Sabine Engel and Director of the Energy Transition Lab Ellen Anderson, were also recognized this year for their contributions to clean energy. Anderson was honored as a Critical Collaborator at the Environmental Initiative Awards, while Engel was recently given the University of Minnesota Award for Global Engagement. Engel was also the recipient of a Midwest Regional Emmy Award, vis-a-vis the Twin Cities-TPT documentary Climate Smart: Cities Working Together. And speaking of great content: The Ensia story “Hot Spots” was a finalist in the 2018 Online Journalism Awards.

Our community members were also news-makers – and media experts. Throughout the year, affiliates and IonE staff contributed to various significant global and national reports, including Jeannine Cavender-Bares, who was a coordinating lead author on a global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services, organized by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The landmark report also included work from Forest Isbell, Laura Dee, Kate Brauman, Lee Frelich, and Susan Galatowitsch, among others. Later in the year, Grant Domke was a lead author on the Forests and Land Use and Land Cover chapters of the fourth National Climate Assessment.

Our Global Landscapes Initiative-led study on global grazing lands was picked up by Scientific American, via E&E News, while Craig Packer got the final word in a National Geographic story on the threat of snaring to African lions. Scott St. George’s Nature commentary on research on Mississippi River flooding was quoted by the Washington Post, while George Weiblen helped explain the significance of first-ever cannabis genome map to Bloomberg. Marla Spivak talked honeybees with National Public Radio, while brand-new IonE Fellow Kathy Draeger’s statewide project to spread locally grown produce was picked up by US News & World Report. And in just one of its many pieces of IonE coverage, the Minnesota Daily took note when Teddie Potter helped lead the first system-wide Diversity Data Deep Dive conference, designed to help make research more accessible to marginalized communities.

And after all that, 2018 went out with a bang, as the Ecolab Foundation announced a $5 million grant to the University of Minnesota, funding an endowed chair for the Institute as well as scholarships for students in sustainability-related fields. This unprecedented gift from the Ecolab Foundation to the U of M caps off a year of exciting external support for IonE programs, from the IonE Fellows who received LCCMR funding in June to a recent $50,000 gift to the Energy Transition Lab for research on pollinator-friendly solar.

As IonE’s Jessica Hellmann wrote in her final Director’s Almanac of the year, from the local to the global scale, 2018 was nothing short of tumultuous – making it all the more important to have been part of something positive. The road ahead is long, but we can get there together. And as we look forward to 2019 with a fresh and refocused perspective, we’re ready to broaden our horizons, expand our community, and continue to strive for a planet in which people and the planet prosper together.


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