Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund: Year in Review

By Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund manager

During the 2019-2020 academic year, the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) provided more than $100,000 to 19 projects designed by University of Utah community members. The projects covered a range of issues, from concerns about equity and accessibility, to water-use reduction, air-pollution awareness, and more. Project funding is approved by an allocation committee comprised of students, staff, and faculty.

Alt Breaks Zero Waste Spa, $702

Project manager: Sara Matlock  |  Advisor: J Swanger

The Zero Waste Spa, hosted by the Bennion Center, provided students with the raw materials they needed to make their own self care products. A SCIF grant covered the cost of materials.

Campus Stormwater Modeling, $976

Project managers: Aaron Meyer, Ryan Johnson  |  Advisor: Steve Burian

The Campus Stormwater Modeling project connected students from Civil & Environmental Engineering with the Facilities Management stormwater management team in order to create precise models of stormwater on campus, which will aid future planning decisions.

Sustainability in City Building Video Games, $990

Project manager: José Zagal

José Zagal, a professor in the Entertainment Arts & Engineering, received funding to research the representation of sustainability in city building video games.

Future Clinicians for Clean Air, $1,000

Project manager: Liza Kasavana  |  Advisor: Teresa Garrett

The Future Clinicians for Clean Air grant funded an event that focused on the health effects of poor air quality and how it impacts the work of clinicians. The event featured a lecture by Trenton Honda, associate professor and division chief for Physician Assistant Studies, which focused on the systemic effects of air pollution on the human bodies.

Inland Port Info Session, $245

Project manager: Malachai Bateman  |  Advisor: Adrienne Cachelin

The Inland Port Info Session brought Deeda Seeds, senior Utah field campaigner at Center for Biological Diversity, and Jonny Vasic, executive director for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, to talk about the potential environmental and health impacts of the Inland Port.

Air Quality Art Installation, $980

Project manager: Angelina L. DeMarco  |  Advisor: Meghan Dovick

The Air Quality Art Installation received funding to visualize the public impacts of air pollution through an art display. The project will be included in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts’ forthcoming Air exhibition.

Xerxes Bee Campus, $1,000

Project manager: Hailey Keller  |  Advisor: Amy Sibul

The Xerxes Bee Campus project used SCIF funding to enroll the University of Utah as a Bee Campus, a status that reflects the history of campus work with bees.

Observation Bee Boxes, $783

Project manager: Zachary Higgins  |  Advisor: Amy Sibul

The Observation Bee Boxes project earned SCIF funding to construct pollinator boxes that allow people to see how native bees nest. These boxes will be installed at the Edible Campus Gardens.

Cover of the Sights & Sightlines journal

Students put together the Sights & Sightlines journal.

Sights & Sightlines, $3,040

Project manager: Michelle Wentling  |  Advisor: Jeff McCarthy

The Sights & Sightlines project used funds to print a journal. Each contributor chose a site on the University of Utah campus; they’re articles focused on a site’s physical characteristics, inhabitants, and history, as well as interviews with people passing through the site. The journal highlighted the issues of environmental justice, deep time, the urban-wild interface, human and animal migration, natural disasters, and land use all focused on the locale of Salt Lake City.

Equitable Vogmasks, $9,996

Project manager: Sydney Boogaard  |  Advisor: Jennifer Watt

The Environmental & Sustainability Studies department used SCIF funding to purchase and distribute Vogmasks at a subsidized cost for the Equitable Vogmasks project. The sales of the masks were so successful that the money earned was used to purchase and sell more masks.

Sustainability & Equity Pledge, $2,250

Project manager: Sydney Boogaard  |  Advisor: Jennifer Watt

For the Sustainability & Equity Pledge, students from the Environmental & Sustainability Studies department purchased green cords for the commencement ceremony that would reflect the students’ pledge to live a sustainable life. The idea is that the visual display of students’ commitment to sustainability will help spread a culture of sustainability across campus.

UKids Accessibility, $10,000

Project manager: Divya Chandrasekhar

Divya Chandrasekhar, assistant professor in City & Metropolitan Planning, used funds to run a safety and accessibility assessment for the area that surrounds the U Kids facility on Guardsman Way. When dropping off her own child, Chandrasekhar noticed she could not access the facility through any means of transportation other than a car. The goal is that the assessment can highlight potential solutions for the accessibility and safety issues.

Waterless Urinals, $2,941

Project managers: John Haraden, Ethan Black  |  Advisor: Bonita Austin

Students from the David Eccles School of Business used SCIF funds to purchase and install waterless urinals at the Marriott Library.

Solar Umbrellas Expansion, $5,645

Project managers: Cami Kenworthy, Ben ReMillard, Michelle Behrmann  |  Advisor: Jennifer Watt

Students from the Environmental & Sustainability Studies department received SCIF money to purchase another Enerfusion table umbrella with solar panels for use at Gardner Commons. The umbrellas allow the campus community to charge small electronics using the energy captured by the umbrellas’ solar panels.

Campus Community Food Project, $4,100

Project manager: Adrienne Cachelin

The Campus Community Food Project researched Glendale residents’ perceptions regarding an urban farm and their visions for how the farm might support food access. The project will move beyond the initial community inquiry, bringing the work full circle by reconnecting the findings with University of Utah campus programs, including the Edible Campus Gardens and University Neighborhood Partners. The project’s emphasis on community partnership positions the University of Utah as a conduit through which allied local government agencies and nonprofits can work together with diverse communities and support expressed needs.

Project Embrace, $5,645

Project manager: Gabrielle Hoyer  |  Advisor: Dean McGovern

Biomedical Engineering students secured funds to support Project Embrace at the University of Utah. Project Embrace is a student-founded and student-led start-up nonprofit that collects gently used mobility assistance devices to be sanitized, refurbished, and redistributed to marginalized and low-income populations. The funds purchased the supplies necessary to refurbish the equipment and market the program.

Medical School Community Garden, $2,070

Project manager: Alyssa Thorman  |  Advisor: Shannon Jones

The Medical School Community Garden, an ASUU-registered student interest group, received funding to build a community garden on the Health Sciences campus. The garden will cater to all students that are a part of the Health Sciences community in an attempt to combat food insecurity, provide a green space, and contribute to sustainability initiatives taking place on campus.

Fort Douglas Light Pollution Reduction, $20,000

Project managers: Kari Stoddard, Daniel Anderson  |  Advisors: Nate Bricker

SCIF awarded students from the Department of Health, Kinesiology, and Recreation funding to partner with the Sustainability & Energy Management Department in Facilities Management to identify and replace outdoor lighting in the Sage Point area of Fort Douglas. The selected fixtures are dark-sky compliant to reduce light pollution.

Bird-Strike Mitigation Continuation, $28,496

Project manager: Barbara Brown

Barbara Brown, professor in Family & Consumer Studies, received funds to complete work on the installation of anti-bird-strike films on windows in buildings on Presidents Circle to prevent the death of Cedar Wax Wings. In addition to the installation, Brown also published research regarding the factors for predicting bird-strike frequency and identifying hotspots on campus.

Humans of the U: Myron Willson

Janelle Hanson, managing editor, University of Utah Communications June 14, 2019

“I’m retiring as the deputy chief sustainability officer after being on campus for 10 years. I’ve seen a lot of change over the past decade. There’s a lot more support for sustainability efforts across campus.

In my former career as an architect and planner—plus trained in California in the 70s—the environment was always a component of my work. Realizing that the people in the buildings had far more of an impact over the building’s life than the building itself, I started getting interested in human behavior, which turned to looking at how those people got to the building and their commute patterns.

I was also an adjunct in the College of Architecture teaching design. I started volunteering and helped a student who wanted to add LEED requirements to all university buildings. And then I ended up leaving architecture to be more involved in the broader picture for campus.

In my mind sustainability is the poster child for One U. It cuts across all aspects of the university—from health care to Research Park and Commuter Services to Student Affairs. One thing I’ve really enjoyed being a part of was helping to rework the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, which had some barriers. It took us four or five years working with administration on a structure that would make it a truly revolving loan fund. Now, it’s approaching $500,000 to be invested in sustainability efforts and will continue to grow long after we’re all gone.

Sustainability is a collaborative effort. I’ve loved working with people to create solutions. There is a need and always a place for everybody at the table to get involved because some of our poor and more vulnerable communities are the ones most impacted by the decisions that the rest of us make.

After retirement, I’m going to travel a bit, but I will still be involved locally with sustainability efforts through a nonprofit called Heal Utah and get more involved with pedestrian and bicycle safety.”

—Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer, Sustainability Office

Campus is abuzz with innovation

Imagine a smoldering late-August day on campus. The pavement radiates heat and you struggle to find a place to take cover from the sun. The walk from the Union to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts seems unbearable and you wonder what will come first: The museum doors or your body in a puddle on the walkway. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see an oasis: a tree, shrubs, greenery. The space is alive with color and movement. And behold—a rock to sit on. You take the scene in.

It does not take long for you to realize that you are not the only creature taking refuge in this assemblage of habitats. Bees buzz around you, busy transferring pollen from flower to flower. Birds and insects swoop in and out. There are even a few other humans enjoying the space.  A growing community of plants, pollinators and Utahns.

This unique space is the result of an innovative student-led project funded through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF). SCIF is the university’s green grants program managed by the Sustainability Office that provides an opportunity for students, faculty and staff from all disciplines and departments to propose projects that enhance the sustainability of our campus and community. The College of Architecture + Planning and Facilities Management also contributed funds to the $11,850 project.

In spring 2018, a joint team of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students from multiple departments on campus including planning, engineering and biology submitted a proposal to replace turf adjacent to the architecture building with green infrastructure and a pollinator garden. There had been flooding issues in heavy rainstorms as runoff came off the sidewalk, down the slope and into the basement level of the architecture building. So, the team proposed constructing a form of stormwater green infrastructure called a bioswale to better manage this runoff. Green infrastructure is an approach to stormwater management that imitates the natural water system on the landscape; it captures runoff from impervious surfaces like roads and rooftops and directs it into the ground where it is filtered by soil and plant roots that take up some of the water and pollutants. Under the surface of the garden now is an 8-foot-deep trench filled with sand that allows water to soak quickly into the ground while filtering pollutants. On the surface is a rock-lined swale that slows the flow of water and directs it into the ground and away from the building.

In addition to mitigating flooding and improving water quality, a primary goal of this project was to transform the irrigation-intensive turf grass lawn in front of the architecture building into an ecologically and socially functional and attractive outdoor space by reducing water use, increasing biodiversity, creating habitat for wild pollinators and a beautiful retreat for humans. Water-wise native plants reduce irrigation needs while still providing benefit to humans and other species alike. This type of landscaping helps the university meet its goals of achieving water neutrality by 2020 and reducing stormwater runoff by 75% in the next 10 years.

A central component of the garden is its role in attracting and supporting a wide diversity of pollinators. Pollinators play a critical role in our ecosystem. They are an important part of plant reproduction with over 80% of flowering plants requiring a pollinator. This has direct impacts both on natural ecosystems and on agricultural production. One-third of all the food we eat, including some of the most delicious and healthy items like most fruits, nuts and vegetables, are the result of successful pollination. Unsurprisingly, pollinators are also responsible for the reproduction of many plants that provide food and habitat for wildlife. Yet, pollinator populations are in rapid decline as a result of multiple factors–especially habitat destruction. This garden counters that trend by providing a habitat haven for these important ecosystem players. Bees are the most common pollinator, and Utah is home to over 1500 native species.

The garden will also attract the three hummingbird species that commonly live in or migrate through Utah: broad-tailed, black-chinned and rufous hummingbirds. As a result, garden visitors will be able to partake in the enriching and connective experience of hummingbird viewing.

Together, the Green Infrastructure and Pollinator Garden will be a step toward the university’s master plan vision of smart open space, intelligent landscaping and water neutrality. It also provides a point of reference and education for students to see how sustainable systems like this work, it will serve as a living lab helping students convert sustainability principles learned in class into practice.

In honor of Pollinator Week (June 17-23), treat yourself to a walk in the Green Infrastructure and Pollinator Garden to relax, unwind and appreciate the buzzing life around you.


This article was originally published in @theu. The content was condensed from the original SCIF proposal submitted by: Sarah Hinners, Faculty (City + Metropolitan Planning), Amy Sibul, Faculty (Biology), Quaid Harding (Undergraduate Biology), Nick Kiahtipes (Undergraduate Urban Ecology), Amanda Dillon (Masters City + Metropolitan Planning, Real Estate Development), Nannette Larsen (Masters City + Metropolitan Planning), Debolina Banerjee (PhD Candidate City + Metropolitan Planning), Sue Pope (Campus Facilities) and Mason Kriedler (PhD Civil + Environmental Engineering).