BRIGHT LIGHTS UNDER A DARK SKY

Originally Posted on February 12, 2018 in @theU By Abeni Czajkowski, communications specialist, Planning Design & Construction

You don’t need to wait for the
yearly walk to report an area
you think needs to be
addressed. To report a lighting
issue, click here.

A report can be made at any
time via your phone. Simply select
the lighting condition,
describe the problem and
identify the location using
the interactive map.

The safety of all students, faculty and staff is a top priority for the University of Utah. For the past 18 years, administrators, safety experts and volunteers have worked together and focused on ensuring a well-lit and safe campus at night. At the same time, recent sustainability and environmental measures have increased focus on reducing light pollution and helping the U to become compliant with the dark sky initiative of minimizing light trespass and skyglow with specially approved light fixtures.

Walk after dark

When identifying areas of campus that are too dark or seem unsafe, it’s best to experience it first-hand. Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS) sponsors an annual “Walk After Dark” during which participants walk every sidewalk on campus to identify areas of concern. Team members use their phones to mark exact GPS locations where they find potential safety issues with lighting.

“The walk occurs in the fall after the sun sets, the leaves are full and the moon is hidden — a night of ‘optimal darkness’” said James Stubbs, associate director of OEHS. “We also identify uneven pavement, broken light fixtures, areas of perceived darkness versus actual darkness and landscape elements that interfere with the light or could provide a potential hiding place. We then analyze the data found in order to find solutions to the problems.”

Ensuring proper lighting across campus was a priority of the Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety, which requested and received $125,000 for that purpose in this year’s budget.

Light pollution mitigation

The first steps in preventing light pollution is understanding what it is. One example of an inefficient light fixture is the “lollipop light pole,” which distributes uncontrolled light. These are being replaced with more efficient fixtures that keep campus areas brightly lit while also reducing light pollution from “sky-glow.”

“Light pollution is wasted energy in the form of artificial light that impairs one’s ability to see the night sky,” said Bill Leach, sustainability projects coordinator with Facilities Management. “It’s not as simple as just turning off the lights in a campus setting. It’s not just about getting rid of lights but it’s controlling light, working to make sure it’s going where we want it to go and not outside of its parameters.”

Light pollution not only affects the night sky but it affects our bodies as well as the surrounding environment and the inhabitants within it. Motivations to become a Dark Sky Compliant campus include health-related concerns, the environment, wildlife and sustainability efforts.

So how do you control light?

The University of Utah is replacing current fixtures with Dark Sky-Friendly LED lighting. LED light beams travel in a more linear path and therefore can be easier to control. These fixtures don’t allow the light to escape above its horizontal plane. The new fixtures help to minimize contributions to sky glow through spectrum intensity, color temperature and shielding.

“There is no black and white answer for what is adequate because light levels in a given area are perceived differently by each individual,” Leach said. “We can help people feel more safe using lighting but we cannot give it a one-size fits all answer. The night sky is there but people don’t often get to see it in an urban setting. We are working hard and will continue doing so to find a balanced solution.”

Resources

The U offers a number of resources that allow campus community members to raise concerns with lighting safety, which can be found here. Campus police also are available to escort you to a residence hall or vehicle at night, which can be arranged by calling 801-585-2677.

  • Report a light out by clicking here
  • Lighting safety information can be found here
  • SafeU website
  • Campus Police: 801-585-2677

For more campus resources on Dark Sky Compliance:

Farmers Market by the Numbers

Each Thursday during the first seven weeks of school, the University of Utah Farmers Market transforms Tanner Plaza from a sitting area to a thriving community. For anyone who has walked through the space, it is easy to see why the farmers market is a favorite fall activity for students, staff, faculty, and community members alike.

The Double Your Dollars program returned for the fifth year, thanks to support from U of U Health. This program enabled students and SNAP recipients to purchase $1-for-$1 tokens that could be used on grocery-like items.

“It was a great year to be part of the market! Our vendors provided opportunities for students to take home community-based food, and with the Double Your Dollars program these options become more affordable for students” said Jessica Kemper, Farmers Market Manager

Here is a look at the successes of the 2017 season, by the numbers:

10 Seasons

10 Seasons
Picture 1 of 4

10 seasons of increasing access to fresh food and engaging local farms and small businesses. While increased access is still at the forefront of the market's mission, the market expanded this year to include more nonprofit organizations and campus partners.

 
 

USING NATURE AS OUR GUIDE: FIVE PLANTS THAT IMPROVE INDOOR AIR QUALITY

Katie Stevens, Sustainable Utah Blog Writing Intern.

Living in Salt Lake City, we are no strangers to air pollution and its harmful effects.  Breathing in toxic air can cause a range of health concerns including increased asthmatic symptoms, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and more.

It is no surprise that we often retreat into our homes to catch a breath of fresh air; however, sometimes our indoor air quality could be improved. Common indoor air pollutants include benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia. There are certain plants that can combat these indoor air pollutants, according to a study done by NASA.

Here are five plants that can improve your indoor air quality: 

  1. FLORIST’S CHRYSANTHEMUM (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
  • Helps to rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and ammonia.
  • Care: Keep the plant in cooler temperatures and keep the soil moist at all times. Requires bright light.
  • Toxic? Chrysanthemum leaves are toxic so keep this in a safe spot away from any furry friends and youngsters.
  1. PEACE LILY (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
  • Helps rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and ammonia.
  • Care: Average room temperature is good for this plant. Keep the soil evenly moist and be sure to have a pot with a drainage hole. Bright light is recommended, but not direct sunlight.
  • Toxic? Yes
  1. ENGLISH IVY (Hedera helix)
  • Helps rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene.
  • Care: Keep under bright light, preferably fluorescent. Soil should be kept moist spring through fall and a bit drier in winter. Ivy likes cool to average room temperatures.
  • Toxic? English Ivy leaves are toxic if eaten and can irritate the skin; it is always a good idea to wear gloves while handling this plant.
  1. BARBERTON DAISY (Gerbera jamesonii)
  • Helps rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, and xylene.
  • Care: This plant requires bright light to full sun and thorough watering. Prefers cool to average temperatures.
  • Toxic? Non-toxic.
  1. BROADLEAF LADY PALM (Rhapis excelsa)
  • Helps rid the air of: Formaldehyde, xylene, and ammonia.
  • Care: Keep this plant in bright, but indirect light. Soil should be kept evenly moist in the spring and summer and should be dried out between watering in the winter.
  • Toxic? Non-toxic.

I invite you to create your indoor air sanctuary with these plants and test out your green thumb this winter!

 

Cover Photo Via Pixabay CC0

 

10 YEARS OF SUSTAINABILITY

Originally posted in @theU on Sept. 22, 2017.

By Amy Brunvand, Sustainability Librarian.

The University of Utah Sustainability Office turns 10 years old this year, and it is truly amazing to look around campus and realize how much has changed for the better in the past decade. Nowadays, there are campus vegetable gardens with ripe tomatoes and hives of buzzing bees, solar parking canopies that provide both power and shade, electric vehicles plugged into charging stations, crowds of students arriving on TRAX light-rail trains, tasty vegetarian and vegan options on offer at the cafeteria, water bottle refilling stations in most buildings, and plenty of recycling bins to divert waste from the landfill.

The curriculum has changed, too. Undergraduates can earn a number of sustainability-focused degrees and minors, while graduate students in any field can add an Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability to their credentials.

Over the years, students, staff and faculty have all contributed to a vision of making the University of Utah a better place. In September, the Sustainability Office will celebrate these milestones and achievements with a Sustainability Showcase highlighting current programs and resources, and a special presentation by Dr. Vandana Shiva who advocates for traditional agriculture, and environmental and social justice issues worldwide.

Join us at the Sustainability Showcase on Friday, Sept. 29, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on the Marriott Library Plaza for food, live music and fun activities. Later this fall, Dr. Vandana Shiva will present a public lecture at Libby Gardner Concert Hall on Saturday, Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m., as part of UtahPresents 2017-18 season. Tickets are available now.

1991-2006: Early Beginnings of Sustainability

Ten years ago, the transition to campus sustainability had barely begun, although a few major milestones laid the foundation. The first big sustainable change was a side effect of trying to cope with limited parking; in 1991, Commuter Services launched the Ed Pass program to give a UTA transit pass to every student and employee on campus. Not only did this encourage people to leave their cars at home, it helped expand Salt Lake City’s light rail network when enthusiastic transit riders from the U showed up at City Council meetings to press for construction of the Red Line TRAX, which opened in 2001.

In 1996, a biology professor named Fred Montague started an “unofficial” campus vegetable garden to teach students about his ideas for ecological gardening. That unofficial garden became the foundation of today’s Edible Campus Gardens, which teaches volunteers how to grow food, supports organic gardening curriculum and sells produce at the University of Utah Farmers Market. By 2006, the university had also constructed the Spencer F. and Cleone P. Eccles Health Sciences Education Building, the first LEED-certified building which incorporated efficient use of energy and water, waste reduction and consideration of human health in the building’s design, construction, operations and maintenance.

These efforts were significant, but they weren’t yet part of a unified drive to implement sustainability on campus.

2007-2014: The Sustainability Office Forms

Divergent efforts began to coalesce in 2007, with the formation of the Sustainability Office (then called the Sustainability Resource Center), underneath Facilities Management.

Something like the Sustainability Office doesn’t happen without visionaries. The idea was originally proposed by students, but it was City & Metropolitan Planning faculty member Craig B. Forster who led the effort to make the idea work. Forster, who became the first director, was a natural fit with sustainability. He was interested in facilitating interdisciplinary research and bridging the gaps between science and public policy. He also had a talent for bringing people together and was deeply involved with the local community. In the summertime, he was often seen at the Pioneer Park farmers’ market playing cimbalom (a kind of hammered dulcimer) with his Hungarian Táncház band.

With only one full-time staff member and some volunteers, the Sustainability Office got to work organizing recycling at football games, installing the first solar panels on campus, setting up a campus farmers’ market, making sure that sustainability was included in the Campus Master Plan and developing a student fee to support student-led sustainability projects through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. On Earth Day 2008, University of Utah President Michael K. Young signed the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment, dedicating the university to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The year ended in tragedy, though, when Forster died in a hiking accident.

Despite the loss of Forster, the university persevered with a vision for making sustainability integral to its operations. In 2009, after a competitive nationwide search, architect and planner Myron Willson was appointed the next director of the office.

2014-2017: Sustainability is Integrated into Academic Affairs

In 2014, the Sustainability Office made another big change to adapt to the growing campus. Originally, the office was on the organizational chart under Facilities Management with the idea that university employees would take care of recycling, xeriscaping, transit passes and such.

But then an interesting thing happened. Students were getting more and more interested in sustainable change. They wanted to try out their ideas, and the campus was the most natural place for them to do so. With the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) now up and running, grants were available for student-led sustainability projects. The university had become a living laboratory for sustainable change, and sustainability-focused courses had popped up in academic departments all over campus. With so much involvement in interdisciplinary research and learning, the Sustainability Office moved into Academic Affairs, and Associate Vice President for Faculty and law professor Amy Wildermuth was named Chief Sustainability Officer in 2014. Wildermuth added Adrienne Cachelin, Environmental & Sustainability Studies faculty to the team as the director of sustainability education to guide burgeoning sustainability education efforts across campus.

Under Wildermuth, the Sustainability Office also joined forces with the Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC), founded in 2010 by biology professor Jim Ehleringer to foster interdisciplinary sustainability research. Nowadays, under Director Brenda Bowen, Geology & Geophysics faculty, the 129 faculty affiliates of the GCSC represent nine colleges. The center supports graduate students through grants and fellowships, offers an interdisciplinary research seminar series, faculty networking opportunities, assistance for large interdisciplinary grants and core courses in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability curriculum.

Sustainability is You: The Next 10 Years

Today, the Sustainability Office team includes fourteen faculty and staff members as well as numerous student interns and volunteers and continues to expands its scope. Though much progress has been made, sustainability is an ongoing effort, and there is still a lot of work to do.

This year, the Sustainability Office celebrates 10 years of dedicated efforts of faculty, staff and students from across campus. The next 10 years of sustainability at the university will be guided by those in our community who get and remain involved. We invite you to be part of this important work. Join us at one of our fall events to learn about ways you can help make the U a better place for all who live, work and play here.

VEG OUT

Originally posted in @theU on Sept. 18, 2017.

By the Sustainability Office

While students are cramming for exams, working and completing homework, it can sometimes be challenging to find and afford fresh food. This semester, the Edible Campus Gardens and Feed U Pantry have partnered to place healthy, fresh produce in the hands of busy students at the Friday afternoon Produce Pickups.

U students with a valid uNID will find Edible Campus Gardens staff members and fresh harvested vegetables outside of the Feed U Pantry, on the lower level of the Student Union on Friday afternoons from 1-2 p.m., through Oct. 6.

Produce available for pickup may include huge heirloom tomatoes, basil, chard, beans, zucchini, rhubarb, cucumbers, herbs and more, all grown on campus and gathered by student volunteers and the Garden Stewards.

“Our goal is to offer fresh items for students at the food pantry. Everyone deserves local and healthy produce, students especially. I hope that the event only continues to grow,” said Jessica Kemper, Garden Program coordinator.

Supplying fresh vegetables to the university community is part of the mission of the Edible Campus Gardens. Produce harvested from the gardens is sold at the University of Utah Farmers Market and to different food vendors on campus. The gardens have historically donated unsold farmers market produce to the Feed U Pantry on Fridays in the fall. However, it has sometimes been difficult to distribute the produce before it spoiled.

When Kemper arrived on campus in summer 2017, she began working with the Feed U Pantry to transplant an idea from her alma mater UW-Madison that would get the produce in the hands of more students. This idea has become the Friday afternoon Produce Pickups.

In the first two weeks of the Produce Pickups, more than 20 students took 50 pounds of delicious vegetables home with them. Edible Campus Gardens staff members were also able to engage students in meaningful conversation about where the garden produce comes from, how to cook with it, and food resources available on campus, including the Feed U Pantry.  

“We are delighted to have fresh foods available through the Produce Pickups, and to help students become more aware of the resources the Feed U Pantry and Edible Campus Gardens have to offer,” said Nick Knight, executive director of the Feed U Pantry.

Current U students can check out the Produce Pickups for themselves and take home fresh, free vegetables. Don’t forget to bring your uNID (and a reusable bag) and head down to the basement of the Student Union this Friday from 1-2 p.m.

Another Year in SCIF

Another Year in SCIF

By: Emerson Andrews, SCIF Coordinator.

One more academic year has passed us by, and as people get ready for their summer adventures, now is a good time to reflect on some of the wonderful work that students did this year through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF). Since the creation of SCIF, the money available for projects has never been fully spent, however, 2017-18 marks a big change as all SCIF funding for this year was allocated to some awesome projects.

The following three projects are a small cross section of all the wonderful work that has happened through student energy and SCIF support this year. For detailed information about all SCIF projects, please stay tuned for the 2017-2018 SCIF Annual Report, which summarizes every project that was funded.

Burned Out – $262.14

  • This grant funded the construction of an interactive sculpture installation that lit up when viewers interacted with it on the second floor of the Marriott Library. This sculpture encouraged people to discuss energy usage, indirectly bringing awareness to carbon dioxide emissions created by power plants which generate electricity by burning fossil fuels. The piece consisted of black structures – evoking industrial facilities – and had handles placed at varying points, which viewers were encouraged to touch. Cranking the handle hard enough caused a certain portion of the sculpture to light up. All four handles must be turned by different people at the same time in order to see the entire piece light up. This piece encouraged people to engage with energy production, and both physically and mentally reflect our current global crisis.

Food Recovery Network Operations Coordinator – $4,953.05  

  • This grant funded the pay and equipment necessary for a Food Recovery Network Coordinator. The coordinator recorded food waste data and gave it to Dining Services so that Dining Services could adjust their production scheduling and eliminate unnecessary waste at pre-production. This data included up-to-date records of inventory and preferred foods for delivery based on student/client preference and acquisition. Additionally, this process provided a larger variety of foods while giving students and clients healthier alternatives to existing dry and canned food options. All of these objectives helped to reduce the amount of edible food waste in the university’s waste stream; recorded hard data with respect to specific aspects of the campus food systems, and provided hungry students with healthy food options.

Sustainable Tech for Design Build Bluff – $35,535.00

  • This grant funded the purchase and acquisition of appropriate sustainable technologies to be used on the Bluff Campus. These technologies increased energy and operations efficiency, specifically through the use of a solar PV array – arrangement of solar panels – on an existing building, and an earth block press and non-toxic insulation machine for future university building projects on the Bluff campus and throughout the region. These are all demonstrable technologies in an area that is a confluence of students and locals — both who could benefit from exposure to, and training in, the workings of these technologies. In addition to their practical applications on a regional scale, these operational improvements bring sustainable outcomes to a U of U remote campus.

These three projects reflect the power of the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund to approach sustainability from multiple perspectives. SCIF truly allows students to experiment on the living, learning, laboratory that is campus through whichever lens they study. This ability is unique to SCIF and benefits everyone on campus.

For more information regarding SCIF, check out the website and please contact the SCIF Coordinator: Emerson.andrews@utah.edu

Taking the Lead

Originally posted on May 15, 2017.

By the Sustainability Office.

Ginger Cannon is no stranger to working in complex systems like the University of Utah. An experienced city planner, Cannon is the University of Utah’s first active transportation manager. Brought here through a unique partnership between Facilities Management, Administrative Services, Health Sciences, Student Affairs, Research Park and Land Administration and the Sustainability Office, Cannon will work to integrate active transportation into campus life.

Active transportation is self-propelled, human-powered transportation, such as walking, biking and skateboarding. Improving infrastructure for active transportation modes of travel to and on campus has the benefit of improving physical health, reducing road congestion and positively impacting air quality in Salt Lake City. Cannon’s goal is to help the U achieve its sustainable transportation goals, while increasing access to safe, convenient transportation options.

Cannon sat down with the Sustainability Office to talk about her new role and the ways in which she hopes to improve the active transportation experience for the U community.

Congratulations on your new position.

Thank you. Since my arrival, I’ve been impressed with how welcoming and helpful people have been. I look forward to meeting more students, staff and faculty and learning more about the university.

The active transportation manager is an innovative role involving partnership between multiple departments on campus. Which units have helped to make this position possible?

After hearing from students about the need for biking and walking improvements, a number of departments worked together on a strategy and funding mechanism for institutionalizing this work. These departments are Facilities Management, Administrative Services, Health Sciences, Student Affairs, Research Park Administration, and the Sustainability Office.

In creating the position, they agreed that there is wide consensus and support for a university-level manager charged with coordinating the U’s active transportation efforts. I happen to be that fortunate person and hope to exceed expectations in this new role.

It is exciting that so many departments are invested in sustainable and active transportation on campus. What are your future plans to improve campus mobility?

Active transportation is not new to the university; there are components in the Campus Master Plan, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, and the new Parking and Transportation Master Plan that are specific about goals, priority projects and related implementation phases. The university also supports innovative programs to increase student, faculty and staff transportation choices to and from campus.

When you look at these plans and the transition to more on-campus housing, there will be increased demand for a robust active transportation network that serves to attract and retain high-performing students who call this campus their home. I envision a campus that has leveraged transit, strategic redevelopment and the arts to become a connected and vibrant place that’s a magnet for future generations. I realize it will take years to achieve that vision, but every physical change is an opportunity to improve mobility and move the U toward its sustainability goals.

You recently moved to Utah from Minneapolis. What drew you to the University of Utah?

I was born and raised in Salt Lake and spent most of my teenage summers on campus at basketball camp (I can still hear Elaine Elliot’s voice yelling ‘run faster!’ when I enter the Huntsman Center).  I wanted to work at the University of Utah for many reasons – the learning environment, the diverse culture and workstyles and a myriad of challenges for active transportation on and around campus.

It is an added bonus to live near my parents and siblings again (all U of U alumni) while enjoying an active commute to campus every day.

Your resume also includes an impressive array of experience developing long-range strategic plans and maintaining and building new public infrastructure. How will these experiences inform your approach to this new role?

Like many people, I have a diverse work history involving multiple professions – most of that work is related to urban design and planning, or what I like to call ‘the art of creating great spaces.’ I’m trained as a designer and horticulturist and most recently worked as a planner for the award-winning Minneapolis park system. It’s the people and placemaking of that city that taught me how connected active transportation is to my personal values regarding health, community and environmental sustainability.

Working out of the Sustainability Office is a great fit as I have led past projects that align with the department’s many functions, whether the topic is urban agriculture, energy efficiency, green building, waste management or public engagement. There are too many projects to list, but I am happy to have been involved in all of them, as each has contributed to a depth of experience that led me to this work opportunity.

When you’ve worked for a large city like Minneapolis, you really get a feel for how complex systems function and what you can do to best effect change in your role. I see the university campus as its own city with distinct boroughs. I am motivated by helping a project or initiative come to fruition, and then quantifying the positive impact of that effort on people’s lives. I can’t think of a better place to do that work than here at the U, where physical and programmatic transformations are shaping the campus experience now and into the future.

What do you find interesting or exciting about active transportation?

I observed Minneapolis change for the better due to a coalition of people who pushed for active transportation improvements, including the funding to maintain new facilities and expand biking and walking programs. My built environment provided a safe and enjoyable way to live life without a car, and getting places on my own two feet doubled for exercise, so I started to think there was something interesting about this active transportation world. You can’t observe people committed to biking and walking in Minnesota’s subzero temperatures and not wonder what kind of magic they are experiencing during their daily commute. Through this new role, I hope to champion and improve campus mobility, safety and access for all people who move through our shared spaces. 

Making Real Progress

Originally posted on April 24, 2017.

By Katie Stevens, Sustainable Utah Blog Writing Intern

In February 2015, President David W. Pershing committed the University of Utah to the Real Food Challenge — a goal to have 20 percent of the university’s food categorized as “real” by 2020. “Real food” is a newer term used to describe food that is local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane.

This semester “real food” labels have arrived in some campus stores, and the local New Roots Farm, which employs refugee farmers, has begun sourcing organic produce to the Peterson Heritage Center dining hall.

The new labels highlight the elements of “real food,” and are now on food items at Mom’s Café and Mom’s Pantry at the Marriott Library and the Counsel Café in the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

“These labels increase transparency about the food students are consuming,” said Emily Paul co-chair of the U’s Real Food Challenge student group. “This will give students the opportunity to make more sustainable and ethical food choices now and moving forward.”

In fall 2016, New Roots Farm provided 500-1,000 pounds of organic produce to Dining Services, according to Chris Natalie, farm incubator specialist at New Roots Farm. The farm operates under the International Rescue Committee, equipping people from refugee communities with garden beds through a community garden program and enabling them to grow food for their families. If individuals are moved into the farming program, they have the potential to make an income from farming.

“I can see reaching the goal of having 20 percent real food on campus before 2020,” said Daniel Waters*, assistant to the executive head chef for University Dining Services and food sustainability coordinator.

GET INVOLVED: Use the Real Food guide to put your food to the real food test. If you are interested in the progress of the Real Food Challenge on the University of Utah campus or want to get involved, email realfoodutah@gmail.com.

*Editor’s Note: Since the time of publishing, Daniel Waters has moved on from the U. 

Animating Sustainability

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant

Lien Fan Shen is an Associate Professor in the Film & Media Arts Department at the University of Utah. She has published five manga (Japanese-styled graphic novels) in Taiwan, was awarded The Best Romantic Comic in Taiwan, and has won several international awards for her animation. Shen participated in the Wasatch Experience in 2015, and last month shared how she integrates sustainability into her courses at the interdisciplinary Sustainability Faculty Learning Community, a joint initiative of the Sustainability Office and the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence.

I sat down with Lien after her presentation to discuss current projects, teaching strategies, and what the Wasatch Experience has to do with it.

The Ukiyo-e landscape print “The Great Wave” by Katsushika Hokusai is considered an icon of world art. What inspired your current project of using 3D technology to create Ukiyo-e style prints of Utah’s polluted landscapes?

I am interested in Japanese prints. But, I am not a printmaking artist. I have a very limited knowledge in terms of producing printmaking artworks. I’m a 3D animator, therefore I am wondering about new ways to utilize 3D printing technology actually connecting to the form of art.

Historically Japanese woodblock prints were more like popular art than high art, such as comic books and movie posters today. They were produced for the general public. One major subject matter in Japanese woodblock prints are landscapes. At the time, people weren’t able to travel around. So, if they wanted to see something from somewhere else, they would look at prints, just like we look at landscape photos today.

At the same time, I love Utah. I have traveled many places in Utah, and I think the environmental issues in Utah are huge. We have such amazing landscapes but often they present complex environmental issues. I thought about how landscapes are such a big subject in Japanese woodblock prints and thought “Why don’t I bring Utah’s landscape to that medium of art with new ways of making?”

Utah does have some magnificent landscapes. I am always disappointed when I can’t see the Oquirrh Mountains or Wasatch during the inversion. What role do you see the digital arts, or the digital artist, having in sustainability conversations?

All artists are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. I don’t think that is something specific to the digital arts. And what is not “digital” now anyway? I think it is some driving force to try something new by connecting us to, more importantly, the new idea of the human interaction with the computer.

I am not aware of any other computer animation artists trying to build a connection between computer animation and sustainability. I have seen a lot of digital photography about sustainability, but not 3D technology and computer generated arts.  Computer generated images are often built upon a virtual world. When we talk about sustainability, we are talking about a lot of real issues in reality. We often separate the two—the real and the virtual world. I think this is a direction we should work on. We should connect the virtual world with the real world.

3D technology has been used widely in the issue of sustainability—as data-driven visual representation, serving specific scientific purposes, I would like to utilize this technology to incite some kind of feelings, expressions, emotions, that raises awareness of or challenges the unsustainable norms we have in society.

That is interesting idea—blending virtual and physical reality through sustainability. How do you incorporate sustainability into your animation courses?

In my animation production course, the students must learn the skills to make animation shorts. For our midterm project, I asked them to find a place that is significant for them and create an animation about it. Their final project is to create an interactive animation about a sustainability issue. To prepare, the students look for and analyze animation examples. What is the characters’ view of the environment surrounding them? What are the different points of view presented in this particular example of animation? I want them to see the complexity of issues in sustainability.

Animation/Film/Art is always about something. I try to design a project for students to get interested in the topics related to the environment. When I teach, I don’t call it sustainability. I get them interested in the environment and connect them with their environment.

Have you found any surprising connections to sustainability in your teaching?

I told them the idea of sustainability is open to your interpretation as long as you can convince me. I have some students working on the more personal side of sustainability. One project was about an eating disorder and more about sustaining herself as an individual. Another project was about depression. They argued it is about sustainable lives. One student did a great animation of silly/funny fights among characters. They were all shouting the word “sustainability” but they  weren’t really doing anything. I don’t want to limit them, so I let them do all kinds of projects as long as they present a case of their view .

In the end, I always have something that is quite fun and interesting

What challenges have you faced incorporating sustainability into your courses?

The learning objectives of my animation courses are to learn how to make animation. I don’t have a lot of time to discuss the issues, impacts, and why these issues are complicated. I asked my students to do their own research, but during the class time, we spend the majority of our time on learning animation techniques.

The class I incorporated the topic of sustainability in is actually a freshman/fundamental technique course. It is our basic course for animation students. So, I really hope we can have a more in-depth course where students already have the skills so they don’t have to spend too much time in terms of learning how to make animation and thus we can spend more time on investigating the issues they are engaged in their animations. So that is one of the challenges I am facing.

How has your involvement with the Wasatch Experience impacted your teaching?

By going through the Wasatch Experience, workshops, and chatting with folks, I received a lot of help in designing this course project. For example, I always have an assignment of animation analyses. I ask my students to analyze the techniques, story, character design, art styles, and other elements in order to understand the medium (animation) better. But after the Wasatch Experience workshop, I ask them to focus on the topics of sustainability while analyzing animation techniques, styles, character development, and other stuff. That was the idea from one of my Wasatch Experience peers during a group discussion. Implementing this made this particular assignment more solid and I think my students’ analyses now are more focused than before.

Also, my Wasatch Experience peers gave me a lot of accessible readings that I was able to incorporate into my assignments. I am not an expert on sustainability or environmental studies. I think not only I learned a great deal from others, but also now I am backed up with the network and resources for my teaching and research projects.

What advice do you have for faculty and teaching assistants who want to incorporate sustainability into their courses?

I think if someone wants to teach sustainability, the best approach is trying to not say the word. For a lot of students, this word becomes a barrier. In a way, you want to gradually bring them into what you want them to learn. Instead of telling them this big word that, in a sense, may mean nothing to them, my idea is always to think about how I can make them aware of their environment.

Image of Lien Fan Shen via the Utah Daily Chronicle article further highlighting her creative research and art-making.

Earth Week 2017

When we imagine the place where we live, we often think of our city, our state, or even our country. But Earth is also our home. We need the planet for more than it needs us. Activist and scientist Vandana Shiva reminds us, “You are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you.” In celebration of our home, the University of Utah will host Earth Week 2017 from April 10-14. The events of the week invite us to connect to our home through education and volunteerism. Join the festivities!

Earth Week is hosted by the Sustainability Office, ASUUthe Environmental and Sustainability Studies Leadership Committee, and U of U Tree Campus USA.

April 10-14

Campus Tree Tour
Monday, April 10
2-3:30 p.m.
President’s Circle

Learn more about the trees at the University of Utah—part of the State of Utah Arboretum—on a tour led by campus arborist Suzie Middleton. Meet at the flagpole on Presidents Circle.

Documentary Screening
Tuesday, April 11
6-8 p.m.
Union Theater

Watch “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” by award-winning documentary filmmaker Josh Fox.

Earth Fest: Party on the Plaza
Wednesday, April 12
10 a.m.-2 p.m. 
Marriott Library Plaza

Join on- and off-campus groups whose missions focus on the three pillars of sustainability: environment, social, and economic equity.

Social Soup
Thursday, April 13
12:30-2 p.m. 
Gould Auditorium in the Marriott Library

Social Soup is a semesterly reflection on social, economic, and environmental issues surrounding food. Free soup provided by University of Utah Dining Services.

Hoop-La: Hoop House Inauguration and Last Frost Kick-Off
11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Pioneer Garden

Eat, garden, and be merry. Celebrate the beginning of spring growing season while inaugurating our new hoop house. Free lunch for volunteers at 1 p.m. by El Sillero.