By Sustainability Office

The Union Ballroom was abuzz on Feb. 15 with the sounds of 104 graduate and undergraduate students from 18 departments presenting research posters. Each spring, the Global Change & Sustainability Center’s Environment and Sustainability Research Symposium provides an opportunity for students to explain their interdisciplinary research to the U community.

Those who gathered for the annual symposium showcased an array of research on topics ranging from indoor air quality to the ecology of cooking with firewood.

During the event, the Sustainability Office and Alta Ski Area presented nine Alta Sustainability Leadership Awards to members of the campus community.

“Alta Ski area realizes we must encourage our future leaders because we need them,” said Maura Olivos, the sustainability coordinator at the Alta Environmental Center. “It takes more than passion and smarts to be a leader and maintain effort or progress. Leadership requires honesty, dedication, empathy, courage, communication and a shared vision.”

These annual awards honor sustainability leadership in the four areas of research, education integration, community partnership, and campus as a living lab. They include recognition as well as an honorarium. The campus as a living lab award is also supported by the Craig B. Forster fund, a fund established in honor of Dr. Forster, the Sustainability Office’s founding director.

The 2018 award recipients are:

Research Award

Richard Forster, associate dean in the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, professor, Geography

Forster was recognized for his interdisciplinary research on the effects climate change has on ice sheets, mountain glaciers, and seasonal snow. His research informs global climate models and enhances our understanding of the impact of global climate change on sea level rise. Some of the research Forster and his collaborators have worked on includes discovering a previously unknown storage of meltwater in the Greenland ice sheet, mapping glacier changes in the western U.S., Alaskan and British Columbiana, and Patagonian ice fields, and pioneering the first measurements of meltwater stream flow on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet. This work highlights the interconnectedness of water systems and explores how climate change affects the quality and quantity of our water.

Emily Nicolosi, PhD Student, Geography

Nicolosi was honored for her transdisciplinary research and active efforts to present her research to a wide variety of audiences. Nicolosi’s research on grassroots innovations for sustainability investigates community-based, ground-up approaches such as transition towns that help facilitate more sustainable environments around the globe. Nicolosi employs theories and methods from multiple disciplines in her research, and collaborates with researchers from various disciplines locally and globally. Her dissertation research explores how community-based action can help transform unsustainable systems away from fossil fuel dependence by creating alternative systems of production and consumption.

“I wanted to explore how grassroots efforts could contribute to climate change mitigation with my dissertation research,” said Nicolosi. “I’m excited by the possibility grassroots efforts have to not only address sustainability concerns, but also justice issues—through seeking out transformative, systems-level change. I cannot emphasize enough how thrilled and honored I am to receive this award!”

Education Integration Award

Jennifer Watt, associate director of Environmental and Sustainability Studies, assistant professor, Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program, adjunct assistant professor, Geography

Watt was awarded for her unfailing commitment to strengthening her courses and the Environmental & Sustainability Studies (ENVST) program, creating meaningful experiences designed to support all students. Watt’s important contributions include developing transformative courses such as Learning Abroad in Costa Rica, Field Experience, and a capstone focused on Land Management, Conservation, and Place. In addition to these courses, Watt has helped build a dynamic ENVST program through cultivating meaningful connections between the university and community with a successful internship program and field experiences.

“I’m so honored to be recognized with this award,” said Watt. “It’s great to be a part of a program that is based in expertise from all over campus because we know that one discipline can’t possibly solve the complex challenges that we now face.”

Community Partnerships Award

Amy Sibul, associate professor, Biology

Sibul was recognized for her long-term commitment to partnering with Hawkwatch International (HWI), and her role as the Community Engaged Learning (CEL) Program Coordinator for the U’s Biology Department. With funding from the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, Sibul and dedicated students built, installed, and monitored 16 nestboxes for kestrels and other raptors on campus. These nestboxes provided students with an opportunity to gain real-world science experience.

“Our partnership has connected the SCIF-funded Kestrels on Campus project with HWI’s American Kestrel study, expanding their data collection on kestrels to include 16 nestbox locations on campus,” explained Sibul. “CEL students from multiple biology classes monitor the nest boxes and learn from the HWI biologists, thus expanding their applied experiences and gaining skills in the field of conservation biology. I’m so happy that this project is receiving recognition for the mutually beneficial partnership between my CEL program in the biology department and this fantastic community partner.”

Jörg Rügemer, associate professor, Architecture

Rügemer was honored for his collaborative and interdisciplinary community research project the Field of Dreams Eco-Community (FOD). In collaboration with Salt Lake Valley Habitat for Humanity, a group of multi-disciplinary partners and Rügemer’s students, this project has provided to opportunity to design and develop ten affordable houses that excel in comfort and performance. The FOD is at the forefront of sustainable and affordable construction and will influence local practices as well as be able to be used as a model for Habitat organizations around the U.S.

“As a School of Architecture faculty that teaches, practices, lives and believes in sustainability, it has been an honor to provide this ongoing design, development and research service to Habitat for Humanity to make the Field of Dream Eco-Community come true over the past three years, and to share this exceptional opportunity with my students and fellow researchers,” said Rügemer. “After proving building performance by monitoring after the buildings are occupied, Field of Dreams will be at the forefront of sustainable and affordable construction, with the research findings expected to influence the construction market along the Wasatch Front and beyond.”

Craig B. Forster Campus as a Living Lab Award

Eric Blyth, Shay Meyers, Matthew Cranney, Julia Warner, students, Architecture + Planning

This student team has completed multiple linked projects on the University’s Salt Lake campus and the School of Architecture’s satellite campus in Bluff, UT. Some of their projects include developing workshops on renewable energy that cumulated in the installation of solar panels to generate power for the Bluff campus; the purchase of a cellulose insulation blower for future university building projects; as well as researching, building, and demonstrating an Open Source Compressed Earth Block Press. The team has also simultaneously worked to address natural, social, economic, and cultural systems through community engagement and dialogue, particularly through community workshops and panel discussions.

The Alta Sustainability Leadership Awards highlight the U and Alta Ski Area’s shared commitment to sustainability. Alta’s multi-year partnership with the U on the awards advances sustainability across campus.

“We’re so fortunate to have Alta Ski Area supporting our sustainability efforts,” said University of Utah Sustainability Education Director Adrienne Cachelin. “Alta understands that sustainability doesn’t stop with the property they manage and their investment in learning from the land and supporting both research and education continues to inspire. It’s wonderful to pair these awards with the annual Environment and Sustainability Research Symposium, to recognize the breadth of sustainability efforts both on and off campus.”

This year’s award winners come from a variety of disciplines, demonstrating that sustainability demands collaboration, creative thinking and expertise from across campus and community.

Join us in congratulating these awardees on their excellent work and look for a future call for nominations for this award in early 2019.