Two University of Utah students and two faculty members are the inaugural recipients of the first annual Alta Sustainability Leadership Awards. The honorees represent various disciplines across campus, demonstrating the breadth of sustainability efforts and research at the U.
The Alta Sustainability Leadership Awards are presented on the basis of excellence in fostering leadership and commitment to the health of the community and the planet through an understanding of, and actions to enhance, the stability, resilience and diversity of the intertwined natural, social, economic and cultural systems at the U.
This year’s winners—graduate students Youcan Feng and Rob Kent and professors Julia Corbett and Barbara Brown—were selected from 30 applications. Each winner receives a $2,500 award, which is co-sponsored by Alta Ski Area, the Global Change & Sustainability Center and the Environmental and Sustainability Studies program.
“The Alta Sustainability Leadership Awards give us a chance to recognize sustainability leaders across campus and reinforce the fact that sustainability is truly an transdisciplinary endeavor,” said Adrienne Cachelin, sustainability education director and coordinator of the awards program. “The honorees’ work stretches beyond the campus into the community, and their efforts demonstrate how sustainability can be understood and applied broadly and how universities can contribute to community.”
Campus as a Living Laboratory: Youcan Feng, doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering
Feng’s research helps us see the value of green roofs not only in terms of water management, but also in terms of their educational value. His study of green roofs at the Natural History Museum of Utah and the Marriott Library help us better understand both water and energy budgets. Instruments and explanatory signage can also be seen from the third floor of the library, creating high visibility for the project. His project received funding from a number of sources, including the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, the Global Change & Sustainability Center and the innovative Urban Transitions and Aridregion Hydro-sustainability program, also known as iUTAH. He worked with multiple stakeholders, including professors and staff from Facilities Management. His project is being implemented at other universities across the country.
Sustainability Community Partnership: Rob Kent, doctoral student in psychology
Kent, in collaboration with professor Carol Werner and the Salt Lake City Division of Sustainability and the Environment, applied his education and passion to improving the Clear the Air Challenge, an annual program aimed at reducing single occupant vehicle trips. Challenges such as these are used in many cities, often at great expense. Kent’s research aimed to reduce the costs of such challenges while increasing their effectiveness by providing insight into which strategies best facilitate long-term behavior change. Within the Clear the Air Challenge, Kent and his collaborators tested common intervention strategies using hundreds of participants and found that the key to long-term change is in helping participants make environmentally friendly behavior a part of their lives in interesting and meaningful ways. Kent recently presented his findings and will publish the results soon. He’s also been appointed to the University Committee for Parking and Public Transportation.
Integrating Sustainability Education: Julia Corbett, professor of communication
Corbett’s recognition for dedication to integrating sustainability into education isn’t about one single class; she integrates the concepts of sustainability into every class she has ever taught, according to her colleagues. While she currently teaches a variety of sustainability-themed courses, including climate change communication, environmental communication and introduction to environmental studies, she has also integrated sustainability across all of her courses, including public relations campaigns, introduction to quantitative research, advanced quantitative research and health communication. Corbett was bringing these topics into her courses even when it was not encouraged to discuss environmental and sustainability issues—she introduced the first environmental communication course to the university in 1997. More recently, she developed a climate change communication course with the aid of a Dee Grant, which she used to bring nationally renowned speakers to campus, as well as local scientists and journalists.
Sustainability Research: Barbara B. Brown, professor of family and consumer studies
Brown has been conducting research on neighborhood revitalization, environmental sustainability and healthy communities for more than 30 years. Her current research, in which she explores the effect of introducing public transit lines on nearby residents’ obesity rates, demonstrates her dedication to research that provides meaningful, concrete directions for how to improve local communities. Brown has also served as editor for the research journal Environment and Behavior since 2010 and is a distinguished fellow of the Division of Population and Environmental Psychology of the American Psychological Association. Brown’s research focus on environmental issues strongly guides her teaching and her service, including membership on university committees such as the campus planning advisory committee, the transportation task force and the university’s climate action plan. Her career has been dedicated to research that satisfies both human and environmental needs.