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Opinion

Campus Sustainability Day highlights student and faculty accomplishments

October 17, 2013

Campus Sustainability Day at UW-River Falls will be on Wednesday, Oct. 23. One way to observe the day is to honor the work of members of our community that have been conducting scientific research and creating solutions for local sustainability.

Part of the Pathways to Distinction Strategic Plan and initiated by the Sustainability Working Group, the Sustainability Incubator Initiative (SII) projects are funded by the Undergraduate Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity program. The SII aims to support research that takes a holistic approach to sustainability, encourages locally sustainable jobs and economic development, and provides opportunities for creatively sharing the findings with the community.

Jabez Meulemans and Holly Dolliver were awarded funding through SII. Their project, “Implications of land use change on soil organic carbon and sequestration opportunities in Western Wisconsin” provides locally relevant data on a global problem, specific to Pierce County.

There are previous soil science studies that compare soil organic carbon and land use across the country, states and different soil types. Uniquely, this project controlled the soil texture, soil order, and parent material when comparing the effects of land use, decreasing variability while making the data relevant to our local soils.

In their study, agricultural fencerows were treated as undisturbed soil, where it was assumed that continuous vegetation and no tillage was present over the past 60 plus years. The disturbed soil was within 60 meters of the undisturbed soil and comprised of soil in continuous production for grain crops, specifically soy and corn. Fencerows were chosen because no native, pristine prairies remain local to the soy and cornfields in question.

Data analysis is currently being conducted at the University of Minnesota. Meulemans and Dolliver sent tiny foil-wrapped soil samples complete with catalysts to the lab to be combusted. The resulting vapor will be analyzed for soil organic carbon content. Though they are waiting for the conclusive analysis, the undisturbed soil’s more abundant dark black color is significant.

“Anyone off the street could tell by looking at it that there is a drastic difference in depth concerning the organic matter content,” Meulemans said.

Although Meulemans’ favorite part of the project was the rewarding and hot days spent collecting samples in the field, he is also concerned about the next step.
Meulemans expressed a concern for translating the research into action to make the data impactful to the people of Pierce County.

Pakou Mua and professor Dan Paulus participated in the SII through their “Promotion of Gardening and the Benefits of Local Produce as a Sustainable Practice” research. They worked collaboratively, meeting with leaders in the local food movement to uncover the most successful and appropriate methods to sway the community’s habits.

The project’s aim is to create an original public awareness campaign to promote self-sufficiency, growing local produce, establishing a local market and increase the demand for local products by swaying people’s buying habits.

“This research brought about a better understanding of the context and potential for enhanced local media strategies to promote sustainable practices. I’ve been grateful to create an educational advertising campaign for the community in regards to sustainable gardening,” Mua said.

The third and final project supported by the 2012-13 SII is a Green IT initiative headed by Benjamin Hosch and Arpan Jani. Hosch has worked to identify best practices related to Green IT, studying available literature as well as other applicable models at universities. The project’s aim is to identify and apply sustainable internet technology practices to UWRF, the local community and the local school district.

The St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development (SCISCD) and the Office of Sustainability welcomes you to come and show appreciation for the effort of our community members whom are actively working to build a more sustainable future for UWRF and beyond. SCISCD and the Office of Sustainability are hosting events in the University Center’s Kinnickinnic Theater.

From 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the national Campus Sustainability Day keynote broadcast will focus on the theme “Climate Adaptation: Resilient Campuses & Communities” and will feature contributors from a variety of university campuses. A questions and answers portion will follow.

The 2013-14 Cohort of Faculty Fellows will have posters displaying their Sustainability Across the Curriculum projects in the lobby of the theater. People are encouraged to view the posters at any time, but a break is especially built-in to learn about their work from 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

From 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., the panel of students and faculty engaged in the SII will take place.

This will be a great event to learn more about what is already taking place on campus, as well as a springboard for people interested in networking new ideas for sustainable initiatives in our community.

Molly Breitmün is a non-traditional student majoring in conservation with a minor in GIS. Her interest in campus sustainability was fostered by becoming an undergraduate fellow for the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development as well as by her peers in the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture.