Sustainability Center awards grants to student-led sustainability projects
One of the major dilemmas society faces today is the rapid depletion of natural resources due to unsustainable practices, said Stevie Steely, University of Idaho Sustainability Center projects coordinator.
The UISC is combating environmental destruction and encouraging sustainable practices by awarding grants to student-led sustainability projects.
The Sustainability Center first began awarding grants in 2006. Since then, the program has funded 41 student-led projects on campus.
“This year, we’ll be awarding over $7,000 to our grant recipients, but overall we’ve awarded about $100,000,” Steely said.
The funding for grants comes from a budget the Sustainability Center sets aside at the beginning of each academic year.
All students are eligible to apply for grants, including graduate, professional and law students. Steely said UISC looks for applicants who are sustainably minded and ready to initiate sustainable change within the community.
“The whole focus of the grants is to promote efforts to create an active culture of sustainability,” Steely said. “We’re committed to developing and maintaining a constructive learning environment.”
These student-led projects can range from taking steps to implement carbon neutrality on campus to improving public transportation.
“We would like to see projects that involve implementing solar energy on campus or increasing the number of bike stations,” Steely said. “It begins with small changes here and there, and they really add up to create a more sustainable environment.”
The three 2014-2015 grant recipients, Kelsie Smathers, Brita Olson, and Patrick Johnson, are each involved with projects contributing to different aspects of campus sustainability.
Smathers, a first semester graduate student in family and consumer sciences, said she is using the grant to fund a project combining sustainability with economics.
“People often think of sustainability in terms of food or energy, but not necessarily finance,” Smathers said. “No one usually associates it with economics.”
According to Steely, the grant guidelines include pillars of sustainability and one of them involves sustainable economics. Smathers, whose projectcenters on teaching students financial skills, is a recipient categorized under the pillar of economics.
“For my project, I am working with the Student Success Center to host monthly finance workshops for students,” Smathers said. “I give them tips on how to budget and manage student loans … part of it is teaching students how to manage their finances, but it’s also about teaching them how to apply sustainable financial practices to post-college life.”
Other recipients, such as Olson, are using the grant to aid pre-existing projects.
An undergraduate ecology and conservation biology major, Olson is active with the Soil Stewards Farm, an organic farm seeking to promote sustainable food systems within the community.
“The Soil Stewards club is using the grant money we received to purchase tools and move supplies from our old site that is farther away from campus to a new site that is much closer to campus,” Olson said.
She said the new Soil Stewards farm will be equipped with solar lights to enhance its sustainability practices.
The final grant recipient, Johnson, a law student who strives to use legal mechanisms to conserve natural resources, said he seeks to promote sustainability on campus by using landscaping as a means of aiding water conservation.
Johnson and a group of student volunteers will use the funds to replace current campus vegetation with native and xeriscape plants, which are drought tolerant and require very little water.
“The Theophilus Tower is being used as a pilot area for the project to see if these xeriscape plants can be aesthetically pleasing while also functioning as a way to aid water conservation,” Johnson said. “If the pilot is successful, we hope to implement this new landscape throughout the entire campus.”
Johnson said without the support of UISC, his goal of increasing water conservation on campus would be nearly impossible.
“I can’t say enough about the Sustainability Center’s grant program,” Johnson said. “It allows students that have big ideas to implement them … it is such an important part of the campus to have this fund and I just can’t thank them enough.”
Corrin Bond can be reached at email@example.com