More than $35K Awarded to Student, Faculty and Staff Initiatives Through S.E.E.D. Fund

SEED awards Ruairi O'Mahony and Gloria Donkar Image by Brooke Coupal
Rist Institute Executive Director Ruairi O'Mahony awards Ph.D. student Gloria Donkor a S.E.E.D. Fund certificate.

By Brooke Coupal

As the highest-ranked campus in Massachusetts for sustainability, it’s no surprise that students, faculty and staff at UMass Lowell are passionate about the environment.

To help advance the UML community’s innovative sustainability ideas, the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy recently awarded five projects a total of $35,500 in funding through its Sustainability Engagement and Enrichment Development (S.E.E.D.) Fund.

“The Rist Institute and all entities on campus are invested in seeing these projects succeed,” says Ruairi O'Mahony, the institute’s executive director.

The projects, which range from increasing bicycle parking to implementing reusable containers at a to-go dining hall, were selected by a 22-member committee, the majority of whom are students.

“As a committee, we looked at if a project was a good application of funds, could genuinely improve sustainability and help the environment and directly impact the student body,” says first-year political science major Sean Simonini.

SEED awards recipients Image by Brooke Coupal
S.E.E.D. Fund recipients pose outside the Allen House with Executive Director O'Mahony.

This year’s S.E.E.D. Fund recipients were recognized during a recent ceremony at the Allen House. The projects include:

Sewing Workshop: In response to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection adding textiles to its list of materials banned from disposal in landfills, global studies Ph.D. student Gloria Donkor plans to develop a workshop for the university that goes over resources for mending apparel and upcycling textiles.

“This will give the community a chance to fix clothes that would have otherwise been disposed of as a result of rips, stains or fades,” she says. “They can be repurposed for other things like rags.”

According to state officials, residents and businesses across Massachusetts dispose of about 230,000 tons of textiles annually. Donkor’s project, which received $4,000 in S.E.E.D. funding, looks to reduce that textile waste.

Handprint Assessment: Jasmina Burek, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, and mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Alana Smith ’22 were awarded $7,000 to develop a method, known as a handprint assessment, to measure the positive impact that S.E.E.D. projects and other campus initiatives have on sustainability, such as reducing greenhouse gases.

“This project will increase measurability and traceability of sustainability hands-on projects on campus,” Burek says.

Burek and Smith will partner with UMass Lowell’s Ground Operations to estimate the carbon footprint of UML. They will then validate their method by quantifying the positive impact on sustainability that comes with turning a university lawn into a food forest. The food forest was funded by a $7,500 S.E.E.D. award last year.

Short-Term Bicycle Parking: Kevin Soleil, assistant director of outdoor and bicycle programs, is working to improve bicycle parking across campus. Through two previous rounds of S.E.E.D. funding, outdated bike racks have been removed and nearly 200 new bicycle parking spaces have been installed on campus. This number is set to increase, thanks to an additional $10,000 in S.E.E.D. funding.

SEED awards Ruairi O'Mahony and Kevin Soleil Image by Brooke Coupal
Executive Director O'Mahony congratulates Assistant Director of Outdoor & Bicycle Programs Kevin Soleil at the S.E.E.D. awards ceremony.
“This project helps make the campus more friendly to bicycling,” Soleil says. “With a better bicycle infrastructure network, we encourage people to commute in ways that save carbon emissions and promote healthy activity while doing so.”

In addition to addressing the quantity and quality of bicycle parking, Soleil plans to use the funds to pilot parking options for electric scooters.

Reusable To-Go Containers: Sandra Ocampo, a master’s student in the Department of Public Health’s dietetics program, wants to eliminate disposable takeout containers from UML dining halls. She received $10,000 to roll out reusable containers at Rowdy On The Fly on South Campus. Members of the UML community will be able to opt in to use the new containers.

“The rationale for the proposed work is that using 100% reusable containers for takeout meals will significantly reduce the environmental impact of packaging associated with food service,” she says.

Ocampo hopes the reusable containers will eventually be implemented in other to-go dining halls at UMass Lowell.

Cultivating Sustainable and Culturally Responsive Practices: Public health senior Sopheavin Sin was awarded $4,500 to create workshops on a variety of culturally responsive, sustainable techniques for gardening, harvesting and cooking Asian cuisine.

SEED awards Sopheavin Sin and Ruairi O'Mahony Image by Brooke Coupal
Senior Sopheavin Sin, second to left, talks about her S.E.E.D.-funded project with Executive Director O'Mahony, right.

“Sharing food is at the heart of Asian culture,” says Sin, a wellness student coordinator for the Asian American Center for Excellence and Engagement. “The project allows students to learn about Asian cuisines while also learning techniques such as how to regrow ingredients like green onions.”

Sin anticipates that the workshops will help teach people how to reduce food waste and encourage them to take fewer trips to the market, therefore reducing their carbon emissions.