By Ed Brennen
They represented academia, industry, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Some traveled all the way from Ireland but all were united by their shared focus on sustainability — and the potential of receiving up to $20,000 in grant funding.
As 65 participants attending the 2016 National and International Partnerships in Sustainability Workshop huddled around tables at University Crossing’s Moloney Hall and brainstormed ways to advance their respective sustainability missions, Ruairi O’Mahony looked on in approval.
“It’s amazing to see the amount of literacy and understanding of sustainability and climate change in this room,” said O’Mahony, the university’s associate director of sustainability. “All we needed to do was bring them together and it took off on its own.”
The inaugural two-day program, a collaborative effort between the Office of Sustainability and the Center for Irish Partnerships, was designed to help workshop-goers enhance their current sustainability initiatives, increase awareness of funding opportunities and stir dialogue around innovative new ideas.
To support these efforts, the UMass President’s Office made a $25,000 financial commitment: $5,000 to enable faculty and students from across the UMass system to attend the workshop at no cost and $20,000 for a grant program to seed projects coming out of the workshop.
“The grant funding is an incentive to keep things moving forward and to keep the collaboration going,” O’Mahony said.
Ireland’s University College Cork, an international partner institution of UMass Lowell and a global leader in sustainability education, sent a delegation to the workshop to explore ways for the two schools to co-develop an academic sustainability program.
“This is the beginning of an important step,” said John O’Halloran, vice president for teaching and learning at College Cork. “The world is in need of people to show examples and to find solutions to big problems such as climate change and food safety. Universities, together with their communities, must be the place where that happens. We have the ideas to make real changes to real lives.”
Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Julie Chen discussed funding opportunities for sustainability projects, telling participants “it’s important that the ideas coming out of this workshop have a path forward.”
Rather than targeting one funding source that “magically fits what you want to do,” Chen encouraged attendees to seek several smaller funding opportunities for particular pieces of their project. “Think of them as pieces of a bigger picture,” she said.
In addition to students and faculty members from a variety of disciplines across the UMass system, the workshop drew representatives from the City of Lowell, Casella, Café Solar and community groups such as the Coalition for A Better Acre and Mill City Grows. The workshop kicked off with the seventh annual David Lustick Climate Change Teach-In and culminated with the Day 2 session at Moloney Hall, where participants broke out into five groups to produce strategic action plans on various issues and projects.
One of those projects was the Eco-Sonic Playground, a Music Department initiative to build musical playground structures (with imaginative, integrated elements like drums and horns) using mostly recycled materials found in the community. The project’s co-designers, Asst. Prof. Elissa Johnson-Green and visiting lecturer Christopher Lee, were joined at the workshop by their research partner, senior music education major Tyler McMillan.
“We discussed at our table how the diverse aspect of cross-disciplinary action is somewhat limited in the built-in curriculum,” said McMillan, whose experience as an Emerging Scholar has helped him overcome that obstacle. “While this project is music-based, I have the opportunity to look into environmental sciences with recycling and sustainability, and even engineering.”
Junior political science major Zayna Basma, who is coordinating this year’s move-out donation program for the Office of Sustainability, said the workshop gave her new ideas on how to develop the program and market it to students.
“Being here has made me more aware of the sustainability aspect” of the program, she said, “and that’s something I want to bring back to the UMass Lowell community.”