By Ed Brennen
A sloped garden of flowers and vegetation behind Allen House on South Campus to produce much-needed pollen and nectar for bees and birds. New air condensers to eliminate water waste in organic chemistry labs. A pilot program to provide fresh produce from the university’s greenhouse to the community.
These are just a few of the projects — led by students, faculty and staff and some involving community partners — that were awarded grants from the university’s Sustainability Encouragement & Enrichment Development (S.E.E.D.) Fund this spring.
Supported by students’ optional sustainability fee and administered through a student-majority committee, the S.E.E.D. Fund provides up to $10,000 in grants to projects that advance the sustainability goals outlined in the university’s 2020 Strategic Plan.
The fund, managed by the Office of Sustainability, drew 22 applications this year, up from 16 in its first year.
“It is fitting that we announce these grants during Earth Month,” says Joanne Yestramski, senior vice chancellor for finance, operations and strategic planning. “To have a student-majority committee award funding to 10 fantastic projects that will benefit both the academic and operational functions of the university speaks volumes about the strength of our sustainability program at UMass Lowell. We continue to make great progress with our sustainability and climate goals and are so encouraged by the increased involvement of the student body in helping to drive these goals forward.”
Students, faculty and staff on the S.E.E.D. Fund selection committee evaluated the applications based on five scoring metrics: impact on campus sustainability goals, feasibility, interdisciplinary or cross-departmental interaction, project visibility, and longevity and potential for future funding.
"I was really encouraged to see so many student and faculty proposals focused on achieving sustainability, with so much thought and effort involved in each one,” says Climate Change Coalition president and junior biology major Sean Cloran, one of the half-dozen students on the S.E.E.D Fund committee. “This is the best way that the student sustainability fee could be used — in turning ideas from our community into reality. I just wish there was enough funding to bring them all to reality.”
“We received an outstanding set of grant applications this year,” adds Director of Sustainability Ruairi O’Mahony. “What is most encouraging is the mix of applicants — students, faculty, staff and Lowell community members. Every year we see huge progress with sustainability at UMass Lowell, which doesn’t happen by accident. Chancellor Jacquie Moloney’s consistent leadership on this issue, as documented in our 2020 Strategic Plan, is key and sets us up for continued progress on all fronts.”
Here are the 10 projects that received a total of $50,120 in funding for the 2018 fiscal year:
UMass Lowell Community Supported Agriculture Program: A joint initiative between the Office of Sustainability, the Center for Public Opinion and Mill City Grows, the project received $7,500 to help run a six-month CSA (community-supported agriculture) pilot program to provide locally grown organic produce to the university community. Twenty students, faculty and staff will be invited to participate in the pilot, which will run from May to October. Each participant will receive one box of produce per week (grown at the East Campus Greenhouse and Mill City Grows’ Urban Farm) in exchange for providing ongoing survey feedback. The goal of the pilot program is to build the foundation for a formal CSA at the university.
Promoting Sustainability in the Undergraduate Organic Teaching Lab: Eliminating Water Waste by Incorporating Super Air Condensers: Continuously running water is currently used in organic chemistry labs to cool vapor in a technique called “refluxing.” To save water, this project will use a $9,920 grant to purchase 31 specialized, super air condensers called Findensers that require no water. According to project lead Jessica Garcia, a chemistry lecturer in the Kennedy College of Sciences, the new condensers will be used by nearly 600 chemistry, biology, biomedical engineering and chemical engineering students. They will eliminate up to 85,500 liters of water waste each year.
Construction of Pollinator Habitat Sites Across the UMass Lowell Campus: Pollinator habitats are areas of flowering vegetation that provide nectar and pollen sources, as well as nesting areas, for species of birds, butterflies, bees and more. The project will use $8,000 to develop the university’s first pollinator habitat site behind Sheehy Hall and the Allen House on South Campus. Facilities Management and the Office of Sustainability will collaborate to establish the site this year, with the long-term goal of adding more sites around campus.
Climate Change in the High School Classroom: Led by Lori Weeden, a lecturer in Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, this project received a $6,000 grant to host a 10-hour professional development workshop on climate change education for area high school teachers this summer. The project will develop a series of modules that science and non-science teachers can replicate in the high school classroom. The workshop will look at climate change through the disciplines of science, engineering, political science, economics, public health and sociology.
UMass Lowell Community Repair Café: A repair café is a periodic event at which people bring broken items such as personal electronics, small appliances, furniture and clothing to be repaired by volunteer experts and student apprentices from the community. This project, led by Linda Barrington, coordinator of service learning in the Francis College of Engineering, will use $2,500 to buy tools and supplies for repair cafés at the university. The events are led by members of the Society of Women Engineers.
Sowing Seeds for Greater Pollinator Support in the City and on Campus: Bee City USA is a nonprofit that raises awareness of pollinators by recognizing “Bee Campus USA” and “Bee City USA” locations. This project — a collaboration between UMass Lowell, the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust and the Lowell Sustainability Council — will use a $1,200 grant to cover the application fees for the university and city in the Bee City USA programs, as well as for signage. UMass Lowell would be the first college campus in Massachusetts recognized under the program.
Accessing Biodiversity on Campus and on Adjacent Property: To help the university protect and manage natural habitats on and around campus, this project will use an $8,500 grant to perform an assessment by the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Ecological Extension Service. According to Sustainability Program Coordinator Tyler Arrigo, who is the project lead, the comprehensive evaluation will build upon existing reports the university makes to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection related to facilities planning and grounds maintenance projects.
Interdisciplinary Sustainability Lecture Series: Led by Climate Change Coalition vice president and senior English major Kale Connerty, this project will use $3,000 to fund eight to 10 guest speaking events on sustainability during the 2018-19 academic year. The lectures will be designed to appeal to a broad range of majors on both North and South campuses, incorporating topics such as gender equality, poverty, climate change, globalization, urban ecology, art, technology and psychology.
Sustainability Recon Series: This project will employ a $500 grant to help cover expenses for environmentally focused student excursions around the region. Led by Cloran, the Climate Change Coalition president, the project will use funds for equipment rentals (such as vans and tents) from the university’s Outdoor Adventure Program. Planned trips include the Walden Woods Project and Thoreau Institute in Concord, Mass., and Green City Growers and Harbor Islands in Boston.
UMass Lowell Short-Term Bicycle Parking Update, Round 2: After receiving $10,000 to install new bike racks on campus last year, Campus Recreation staff members were awarded $3,000 this year to make further upgrades. Facilities and Campus Recreation will both provide $3,000 in matching funds to increase support for bicycle parking to $9,000.
Two other project proposals — “Think Outside the Trash: Recycle” ($8,000) and “Get Movin’ with Move-Out” ($5,000) — received high scores from the S.E.E.D. Fund committee. But since they are both associated with core functions of the Office of Sustainability, Executive Director of Administrative Services & Environmental & Emergency Management Rich Lemoine offered to fund them directly.
The S.E.E.D. Fund committee is planning to host a kickoff event next fall for students, faculty and staff interested in applying for the third round of funding. Applications will be available during the spring 2019 semester.