New Student-Supported Fund Draws Wide Range of Applicants for Green Initiatives

A bike rack in front of Olsen Hall that will be replaced Image by Ed Brennen
Thanks to a $10,000 S.E.E.D. Fund grant, students will soon be able to take advantage of new and improved bicycle racks on North Campus.

By Ed Brennen

New and improved bicycle racks on North Campus, digitized course evaluations and student energy efficiency ambassadors are among the first nine projects to be awarded a slice of the university’s new $50,000 Sustainability Encouragement & Enrichment Development (S.E.E.D.) Fund.

Supported by students’ optional $10 sustainability fee, the fund provides up to $10,000 in grants to projects led by students, faculty or staff that advance the sustainability goals outlined in the university’s 2020 Strategic Plan.

The fund, which is managed by the Office of Sustainability, drew 16 applications for the first round of grants this spring. A S.E.E.D. Fund committee made up of students, faculty and staff evaluated the applications using five scoring metrics: impact on campus sustainability goals, feasibility, interdisciplinary or cross-departmental interaction, project visibility, and longevity and potential for future funding.

"It's an exciting time to announce these grants as UMass Lowell's sustainability efforts continue apace,” says Joanne Yestramski, senior vice chancellor for finance, operations and strategic planning. “From deep carbon reductions on the facilities and operations side, to cutting-edge research and academic programs, we are immensely proud of the progress we have made. To see this student-led initiative result in such a strong set of projects is encouraging and certainly sets us up for continued progress.” 

“We were blown away by the response for Round 1,” adds Assoc. Director of Sustainability Ruairi O’Mahony, who says the goal of the fund is to get people thinking about sustainability in new and collaborative ways. “We want to provide people with the tools that get them more involved, and this provides the framework to do that.”


A kayaker on the Merrimack River Image by Ed Brennen
Kayak Center participants will have the option of helping clean the Merrimack River as they go with supplies purchased from S.E.E.D. grant funding.

O’Mahony says the application deadline for the next round of S.E.E.D. grants will likely be midway through the upcoming fall semester, with the grants awarded during the spring 2018 semester.

“It’s a nice way to give students a say about sustainability here on campus,” he says. “Their sustainability fee is staying here on campus and being put back out there for their benefit.”

Here’s a closer look at the nine projects chosen for a total of $48,908 in funding (the balance of the fund is rolled over to the following year):

North Campus Short-Term Bicycle Parking Update: To address the shortage of bicycle parking on North Campus, a $10,000 grant will be used to purchase and install new racks to accommodate up to 135 bicycles. The plan calls for the replacement of defective racks at Kitson, Olsen and Pinanski halls and Costello Gymnasium, as well as the installation of additional new racks at Lydon Library’s south entrance, Olney Science Center and Ball Hall.

Lowell Energy Ambassadors: This project will use $8,000 to create a team of student “energy ambassadors” to help those living in Lowell’s low-income, multifamily housing complexes learn how they can benefit from state-funded energy efficiency programs. Led by mechanical engineering lecturer Michele Putko, seven engineering students will conduct a group energy efficiency project with the Lowell Transitional Living Center this fall before doing individual projects with housing complexes in the spring.  

Digitizing Course Evaluations: Led by newly elected Student Government Association President Lisa Degou, the project received $1,100 to research and develop a university wide online course evaluation system to replace the current paper system. “We would cut down on the university’s paper usage as well as the processing time of collecting data from the evaluations one by one,” says Degou, whose proposal estimates that nearly 75,000 sheets of paper are used each semester for course evaluations. 

Building Cross-Disciplinary Academic Minors in Sustainability: To bolster the university’s two sustainability-related minors, “Environment and Society” and “Climate Change and Sustainability,” a $10,000 grant will be used to free up time for a faculty member to focus on academic programming. The chosen faculty member will identify and develop new courses, establish internships and service learning possibilities, and update online resources for the minors.  

Sustainable Curricular Development Video Resources:George Joseph, associate professor of accounting, will use a $6,500 grant to develop a series of professionally produced online videos that highlight the university’s sustainability efforts and facilitate the integration of those efforts into the curriculum. Potential video topics include sustainable buildings on campus, toxic use reduction and social issues related to sustainability.  

Hazardous Chemical Identification and Substitution in Organic Chemistry Labs: Led by chemical engineering major Alec Golas, the project will use $8,208 to investigate potential substitutes for hazardous chemicals currently used in undergraduate organic chemistry labs. “The primary goal is to find replacements for methylene chloride and toluene, the two most hazardous chemicals in the teaching labs,” says Golas, whose project will utilize the Toxics Use Reduction Institute’s hazard evaluation software to test the current inventory of chemicals.  

Kayak Center and Outdoor Adventure Program Merrimack River Cleanup: As part of its increased focus on environmental stewardship, Campus Recreation’s Kayak Center and Outdoor Adventure Program are now offering participants opportunities to clean the banks and waters of the Merrimack River. Their $1,500 grant will be used to purchase supplies such as gloves, bags and grabbers, as well as T-shirts for a Merrimack River Cleanup event this summer. 

Student Study Area at Community Garden: This $3,000 grant will go toward the creation of outdoor study areas at the new East Campus urban agriculture site and greenhouse, located behind Donahue Hall. The funds will go toward a pergola, benches, picnic tables and outdoor whiteboards, which are intended to drive student interest in the new garden space.

Recycling Database: Building on his final project in his “Designing the Future World” ethics class, computer science major Koby Noguchi-Uribe will use a $600 grant to work on a mobile application that connects students, faculty and staff to a database with information about recycling on campus. “We want to inform users about what can and can’t be recycled and where they can go on campus to dispose of their waste properly,” says Noguchi-Uribe, who hopes to eventually “gamify” the app to boost usage.