Sustainability Scholars

Research that seeks innovative results

By addressing large-scale problems we're cultivating stronger communities and better lives. Students selected for this program work side-by-side world-class researchers in the field of sustainability, and shape the future—for themselves and the environment.

Description of the video:

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Abby Zieliski:
I had absolutely no idea that I wanted to do anything with sustainability, but I thought it was important to reach out and figure out what I could do and this opportunity arose and I definitely took it. I've learned so much so far and it's definitely interesting.

We're studying the quality of the Jordan river and we're using physical, chemical, and biological indiciators to determine that. We're seeing how campus infrastructure and student population affects the quality of the river.

Thomas Simon:
2020 Sustainability scholarships is really meant to advance scholarship and education and research for undergraduates. The main idea is really to help focus applied questions, to really start figure out what we talk about in the classroom can be used on the ground and how this actually becomes a career field and career pathway for the students.

Ecological health is such an important component, especially the Jordan river being such an iconic river in the middle of campus, everybody's aware of it. So, to make sure we have ecological health was, I thought, very important. So that's the approach I wanted to take advantage of.

Abby Zieliski speaking:
Dr.Simon selected me to be his undergraduate researcher for the 2020 sustainability program. The other people in the lab are in SPEA and sustainability work. It's so much fun to interact with other colleges and the students there and Dr. Simon. His history is so extensive on what he's done with water quality and collections of bugs and fish. It's amazing to work with someone that knows so much about what I'm just beginning to learn about.

Thomas Simon:
To be able to get to work hand in hand directly for a period of time, if it's just one semester. That really opens their eyes to how much other things are involved and what more they can do.

Abby Zieliski:
It just important to be able to work outside the classroom, in a lab, in the field, working with other people and working independently. I feel like it's a very diverse process that allows you to grow as a person and as a scientist. I think it's just a fantastic opportunity to do it now.

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Redefine Your Classroom

Students selected as Sustainability Scholars will receive a $500 scholarship each semester, based on successful work with their assigned mentor.  Students are required to:

  • Engage in 8-10 hours per week of research with their assigned mentor.
  • Attend the Sustainability Scholars orientation.
  • Begin meeting with their mentor mid-fall semester through the end of the spring semester.
  • Create an approved research work plan in collaboration with an assigned faculty mentor by the conclusion of the fall term.
  • Enroll in the 2-credit hour Sustainability Scholars course for the spring semester.
2018 Mentors Seeking Scholars
MentorResearch Topic
Dr. Daniel Knudsen, Professor, GeographyThe Agricultural Paradox: Case Study of South Central Indiana
Kan Shao, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Public HealthInvestigating health risk imposed by environmental emergency-related contamination events
Dr. Norman Makoto Su, Assistant Professor of Informatics, Human-Computer Interaction DesignHow are new data-driven technologies being developed to support sustainable practices of farmers?
Dr. Suzannah Evans Comfort, Assistant Professor, JournalismHow do scientists use their training in an advocacy context?
Stephen ‘Chip’ Glaholt, SPEA Professor and ResearcherCan our locally grown algae based biofertilizer (created from the emission stacks of IU’s Central Heating Plant) provide the necessary nutrients to grow healthy crops on IU’s Campus Farm and help the Campus Farm achieve organic certification?
Professor Scott Shackelford, Chair of the IU-Bloomington Cybersecurity Program, Director of the Ostrom Workshop Program on Cybersecurity and Internet GovernanceMeasuring Sustainable Cybersecurity: How Benefit Corporations Can Help Protect Privacy, Boost Cybersecurity, and Promote Cyber Peace
Jon Eldon, Lecturer, School of Public and Environmental AffairsSustainable agricultural practices to renew degraded urban soil
Dr. Angela Babb, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Ostrom WorkshopReal Food on the IU-Bloomington Campus
Dr. Angela Babb, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Ostrom WorkshopHoosier farming histories and sustainable futures
Dr. Kelly Eskew, Clinical Associate Professor, Business Law & Ethics, Kelley School of BusinessHow can utilities and governmental units further the acceptance of water reuse and recycling while maintaining positive public relations and sustainable profits?
Dr. Kurt Waldman, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography; Dr. Stacey Giroux, Associate Research Scientist, Ostrom WorkshopMaking sustainable food consumption decisions
Dr. Khalid Khan, Assistant Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Public HealthEffect of motivational text messages and e-brochure on recreational noise related knowledge, attitude and behavior among undergraduate students at Indiana University Bloomington.
Dr. Natasha MacBean, Assistant Professor, Department of GeographyTracking Human Land Cover Change
Professor Ellen D. Ketterson and Dr. Devraj Singh (postdoctoral fellow), Environmental Resilience Institute, Indiana University, BloomingtonImpact of environmental challenges on seasonal phenology of dark eyed Juncos
Dr. Priscilla Barnes, Associate Professor, Applied Health Science, School of Public HealthExamining Barriers and Benefits of Physical Activity Resources in Rural Settings: A Four County Case Study
Dr. Robert D. Montoya, Assistant Professor, Information and Library ScienceMuseums and Archives in an Era of Climate Change
Stephanie C. Kane, Department of International StudiesInvaders or Homecomers: Toward a Nuanced Approach to Non-Native Plants in Landscape Design on Campus and in Adjacent Neighborhoods

2019 Research Project Details

Mentor: Dr. Angela Babb, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Ostrom Workshop


Our current industrial food system is unjust and unsustainable. The Real Food Challenge (RFC) is a national student movement to transform our food system to one that is healthy, sustainable and fair for all. This initiative involves building relationships with local food producers, and strategizing how to shift food procurement to support more just, sustainable food systems.

In this project, a student will be asked to analyze existing food purchases by IU-B dining services and identify opportunities for sustainable products shifts. The student will be expected to interact regularly with existing and potential vendors and distributors as well as staff from IU Dining and the Real Food Planning Committee.

The key tasks are working with distributors to increase transparency and Real Food options, working with local farmers and dining directors to build relationships, and identifying key product shifts and other strategies that would increase our Real Food percentage at IU-B. The end goal by spring 2020 would be to have a strategic 5-year plan for increasing the amount of Real Food at IU-B to 25% by 2025. The REU student would be working alongside another Sustainability Scholar and Dr. Babb

Desired skills and interests: Must be dedicated, hardworking, and detail orientated. Must also have great social skills. Some experience with Excel is desired, but not required. A very strong interest in sustainability and food systems is desired. Some knowledge regarding sustainable food systems is preferred.

Mentor: Dr. Angela Babb, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Ostrom Workshop | Jodee Ellett, Community Engagement Lead, Sustainable Food Systems Science

Institutional buyers of food, such as universities, K-12 schools, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities are an important part of re-establishing regional food systems. Guided by sustainable values such as local, Organic, non-GMO, allergen-free, artificial ingredient-free, healthy, etc., some institutions have the opportunity to redirect food purchasing to Indiana farms and food businesses. The Indiana University SFSS team, as part of the Indiana Farm Connect USDA Local Food Promotion Program Grant, is surveying institutional buyers throughout Indiana to determine the potential economic impact of shifting these purchases toward local and sustainable. For the 2019-2020 academic year, we are seeking a sustainability scholar to assist with this research project. The Scholar will be completing a number of important tasks, which may include compiling contact lists, outreach to institutions, managing survey data in spreadsheets, conducting interviews, recording data, and understanding the big picture of the role of institutions and the impact they can make on the food system using sustainable purchasing values. By the end of the academic year, the Scholar will be able to focus on at least one sector of these institutions, such as hospitals, and summarize the geographical landscape of buyers in Indiana, quantify their collective purchasing power, outline their values for food purchasing as well as incentives and motivators for purchasing local and the real and perceived barriers for making changes.

Desired skills and interests: Must be dedicated, hardworking, and detail oriented. Preferred skills include data organization and analysis, report writing, and interpersonal communication. Desired skills include GIS. A strong interest in sustainability and food systems is preferred.

Mentor: Dr. Gina Depper, Assistant Research Scientist, School of Public Health & Dr. Diane Henshel, Associate Professor, O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs

 Climate change has already caused increased storm events, both drought and floods, and increased days (and nights) of temperature extremes. These climate-related effects are projected to increase over the next decades. Many coastal communities have not yet developed resilience strategies to help them weather the proposed climate changes with minimal adverse impact. Further, most of the work that has been done on helping communities understand and plan for the climate changes has focused on urban communities rather than suburban and rural communities. The student working on this project will: 1) help identify the projected climate-related changes (water level changes, extremes of temperature, storm severity and impacts) across the Great Lakes watershed, and will focus especially on the changes in the Lake Michigan watershed; 2) help map out the projected changes to identify the communities at highest risk of multiple adverse effects; 3) help quantify the climate related impacts across urban, suburban and rural communities in the Lake Michigan watershed using a semi-quantitative scale the team will develop.

 Desired skills/interests: Students need to be interested in climate change, be willing to learn how to do a deep dive into the literature and search for available data on the web, and be willing to learn or become familiar with GIS, working with spreadsheets, and brainstorming. A willingness to learn how to develop and validate semi-quantitative assessment metrics (i.e. how to compare the differences in projected impacts on different communities) will be helpful. An interest in communicating effectively will also be helpful.

Mentor: Dr. Jon Eldon, Lecturer, O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs

 IU Bloomington has recently invested in the development of an industrial-grade on-campus composting facility to handle the approximately 4000 tons/year of landscaping waste that is currently being removed from campus. Once established, this facility will also be able to incorporate other campus waste streams that are currently being sent to a landfill. While composting campus food waste is an important future goal, it is also logistically difficult product to manage. Paper towels, on the other hand, are a relatively clean waste stream and could likely be easily incorporated into the current processing facility. However, composting  paper towels is a relatively new and undervalued approach in the United States, and some preliminary research is required before it can be adopted at IUB. This includes surveying the relevant literature, investigating existing facilities and practices, interviewing associated facility managers, and conducting a pilot study on the IU campus to learn more about the current waste stream and relevant behavioral patterns. This information will be used to guide experimentation with paper towel composting at the new IUB facility in the summer of 2020. 

 Desired skills and interest: Self-directed, good communication skills, ability to work well in groups and with diverse people, interest in practical solutions to sustainability issues

Mentor: Dr. Kevin Ellett, Research Scientist, Indiana Geological and Water Survey and the Pervasive Technology Institute

 The Bloomington Campus of Indiana University is “hot”—literally. Research over the past two years has led to the discovery of a geothermal heat reservoir underlying the IUB campus. This anomalous energy resource has developed from long-term heat loss from the buried pipes of the campus district heating system. The goal of this project is to provide guidance on how IU Administration or entrepreneurial student groups could effectively recover IU’s prior investment in this fortuitous energy resource and create a truly innovative, first-of-a-kind green energy program that could dramatically improve IUB’s sustainability. The project is envisioned as a catalyst for transforming IUB into a campuswide laboratory that would incubate numerous innovative projects centered on heat recovery and geothermal technologies. Example technologies include geothermal aquaculture/aquaponics systems and geothermal high- and low-tunnel systems to dramatically increase campus-based food production during the late fall through early spring months of the academic year. Other examples include direct use and heat exchange systems to improve the efficiency of campus building heat and hot water systems, particularly the campus’ large demand at residence halls. The small group of scholars (2-3) selected for this project will work as a team with their mentor to understand the geophysical characteristics of the energy resource and conduct research to identify the most promising technologies available for tapping this resource. Our team will then collaborate with faculty from SPEA, as well as with Courtney Bidwell, Director of the Kelley School’s Institute for Social Impact, to engage with Kelley School faculty to help guide scholars in their economic assessments and the development of business plans for implementing green energy technologies at the IUB campus.


Desired Skills and Interests: Interest in renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency, business, entrepreneurship and/or geosciences is required. Familiarity with spreadsheets and business planning is desirable.

(2 positions available)

Mentor: Dr. Kelly Eskew, Clinical Associate Professor, Business Law & Ethics, Kelley School of Business


The issue of plastic pollution and single use plastics has gained prominence in the minds of people around the world as we see images of plastic contamination in the ocean and on beaches, as well as in the guts of marine life and aquatic birds, concurrent with global challenges of adequate recycling sites. Communities and businesses have, piecemeal, begun to eliminate single use plastics like shopping bags and plastic straws. There are innovative grocery stores who have eliminated most plastic from their shelves. However, there are attendant costs, and the push-pull of profit maximization and environmental stewardship impedes efforts that might lead to a more energized response. Alternatives to plastic are at least perceived to be more expensive (and often are), and consumer attitudes vary from supportive to actual political opposition. Furthermore, these plastic bans have faced criticism as alternatives are sometimes found to have a larger environmental impact.
Indiana University is like any large corporation. Plastics come into the system through various purchasing entities and in a number of forms. A commitment by one generator area, e.g., IU Dining, to reduce waste does not impact the purchasing decisions of a department that stocks its kitchen with plastic water bottles and dinnerware.

Following on the findings of the IU Waste Characterization Audit conducted in 2018-2019, this project will identify leverage points in reducing plastic waste, partnering with IU Dining and other relevant generator areas on campus to find the largest single use plastic item for each and then studying consumer and “corporate” attitudes toward use of plastic, proposing and trialing plastic alternatives. The student may also survey businesses and governmental actors in Bloomington to study cultural, political, and economic barriers to a robust reduction in plastic waste in the City of Bloomington.

Mentor: Dr. Stephen 'Chip' Glaholt, Adjunct Instructor and Researcher, O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs

In terms of effectiveness, how does the algae fertilizer grown at the IU photobioreactor at the Central Heating Plant compare to the standard synthetic fertilizers commonly used on IU campus? From previous studies we know that our bioreactor grown algae based fertilizer increases plant growth and flower production under controlled conditions. However, we have yet to experiment on the slow release of nutrients tied up in the algae cells, through decomposition, effect plant (e.g. crop) health and production. We hypothesize that this longer (more stable) release of nutrients over time would enhance growth, the production of flowers and fruiting bodies in plants, and even the quality of the food produced. Our experiments will explore how this more sustainable fertilizer may enhance nutrient delivery to plants compared to the more boom and bust delivery system of synthetic chemical fertilizers currently used on campus and around the world.

 Desired skills and interests: Dedicated, inquisitive, adaptable through the research process. Interested in a project that impacts campus.

Mentor: Dr. Matt Houser, Midwestern/Indiana Community Studies Fellow, Environmental Resilience Institute

Climate change has and will continue to present significant threats to Indiana communities. In order to reduce the risks posed by climate change, Hoosiers must adopt practices that increase resilience, or reduce vulnerability, to climate impacts at the household and community level. To this point, we have a limited understanding of what resilience strategies residents are currently pursuing, nor what policies they are supportive of. Moreover, social scientists still have much to learn about what factors (social norms, risk perceptions, values) shape public support for climate change adaptation, particularly community-level programs and policy. Toward gaining a thorough scientific understanding of these knowledge gaps, this comprehensive survey will document Hoosiers’ attitudes and adaptations to past, present, and future environmental change, including Indiana residents’ use of resources such as food, water and energy; their expectations for work, social and leisure activities; and their perceptions of risk related to environmental changes. Results are expected to be directly received by state-policy makers and city sustainability planners, as well as to be published in academic journals. For more information, please visit:

The selected undergraduate researcher will assist (1) with the analysis of a survey results, particularly related to data cleaning, the generation of descriptive results; (2) assist in results write-ups; (3) and will have the opportunity to explore the data to discover an original research topic related to the undergraduate researcher’s interest. The undergraduate will gain valuable experience and knowledge that is especially suited for those interested in pursuing a career in sustainability planning, policy/risk assessment and/or a graduate degree in an environmental social-science discipline.

Desired skills/interests: Climate change and public opinion; decision-making and environmental policy. Interest and/or experience with social science research. Interest in quantitative research. Desire to learn statistical programs. Excellent writing skills.

Mentor: Dr. Matt Houser, Midwestern/Indiana Community Studies Fellow, Environmental Resilience Institute

Agriculture in the Midwest both contributes to and is significantly threatened by climate change. Addressing these dual implications requires that farmers change their agricultural management practices, either voluntarily or because of effective policy and outreach. The Farmer Panel Survey is an annual survey, which began in 2017, that asks around 3,000 corn and soybean farmers from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois to report on their views of climate change, what environmentally significant practices they are using, experiences with changing environmental conditions and extreme weather events, and use of information sources, such as University Extensions, for making agricultural decisions. By gaining an understanding these processes, survey results shed light on what social and ecological processes are motivating farmers’ practice use decisions, whether experiencing climate impacts is reducing climate skepticism among this population and what communication strategies may most effectively encourage voluntary conservation practice adoption. These findings will contribute to future agricultural policy in the United States and novel insight to the existing literature on climate change views and natural resource management decision-making. For more information, please visit:
The selected undergraduate researcher will assist (1) with the analysis of a survey results, particularly related to data cleaning, the generation of descriptive results; (2) assist in results write-ups; (3) and will have the opportunity to explore the data to discover an original research topic related to the undergraduate researcher’s interest. The survey explores topics including farmers’ crop and nutrient management practices, risk perceptions, values, use of information sources, and beliefs about climate change. There is also the possibility the undergraduate would be able to work on in-review research projects that address a similar topic (depending on interest, evaluations and successful acquisition of funds).

Desired skills/interests: Climate change and public opinion; food and agroecological systems; decision-making and environmental policy. Interest and/or experience with social science research. Interest in quantitative research. Desire to learn statistical programs. Excellent writing skills.

Mentor: Dr. Kim Novick, Associate Professor, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Plant phenology is the study of the timing of bud and leaf emergence in the spring, flowering, and color change and leaf fall in autumn. In deciduous forests like those in the Southeastern US, the timing of these events determines the length of the growing season, which is an important control on many ecosystem services including tree growth, carbon sequestration, and water cycle regulation. While satellites can tell us a lot about how the average timing of these events across the landscape, we know very little about how different species regulate phenological timing, and how that varies from year to year. We are looking for a student who can help us implement a program for monitoring phenology of key eastern US tree species, growing in and around Bloomington. We will do this through individual effort, and also through coordination with local schools and other organizations through citizen science activities. The data we collect will be submitted to national phenology monitoring networks, where it can be accessed an analyzed by scientists all over the world.

Desired skills and interests: enjoys spending time outdoors, attention to detail, self-motivated, enjoys working as part of a team, good oral communication skills. Previous experience identifying trees desired but not required.

Mentors: Dr. Alex Jahn, Migration Patterns Fellow, Environmental Resilience Institute and Dr. Dan Becker, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Environmental Resilience Institute

 Our project seeks to understand how Indiana’s urban ecosystems are responding to rapid change, using a common backyard bird, the American Robin, as a 'sentinel' of the health of these highly dynamic systems. To address the question of how Indiana's urban ecosystems are changing, we collect environmental data such as temperature and forest/lawn cover, as well as data on the robins themselves, such as their health (e.g., immune condition and infection with Lyme disease) and their movements across the urban landscape. This information will provide a comprehensive evaluation of how robins are responding to urbanization, allowing us to develop models to use robins as sentinels of change in urban areas, ultimately informing policy decisions on how to manage urban areas (e.g., to limit human exposure to Lyme disease). Key tasks in the field include collecting environmental data (e.g., weather and vegetation data), observing robins to understand how they use the habitats on the IU-Bloomington campus, and possibly catching and collecting data on robins (e.g., morphological measurements, blood sample collection). Tasks in the lab include laboratory duties such as preparation of blood slides for hematology analyses, white blood cell counts, DNA extraction from blood, and pathogen diagnostics using PCR and gel electrophoresis. Expected outcomes by the end of Spring 2020 are a map of where robins are on campus and a dataset on the diseases they carry.

 Desired skills and interests:  We are searching for applicants for either the field component or the lab component of this project. Applicants for the field component should enjoy outdoor work, including an ability to work in cold and wet conditions for several hours, and have an ability to concentrate on a task for several hours. Potential tasks in the field include observing bird behavior, counting birds, and possibly catching and measuring robins. Applicants for the lab portion of this study should have experience with or an interest in learning basic laboratory techniques in quantifying wildlife health.

Mentor: Dr. Heather Reynolds, Associate Professor, Department of Biology

 Vegetative strategies (such as green roofs, urban forests, and urban agriculture) provide many benefits, including food production, lowering local temperatures in cities during periods of extreme heat, and absorbing stormwater. This research project will map green infrastructure in the city of Bloomington. The student will create a comprehensive map of downtown Bloomington’s food- and stormwater-related green infrastructure which will include urban food gardens, bioswales, retention and detention ponds, and edible trees. You will be taught how to conduct field observations, use geotagged photos, and create a database with descriptive information to house the data you capture/generate. Students will work with researchers affiliated with the Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge’s Urban Green Infrastructure team. | The accepted student will work with geospatial software to map urban green infrastructure in Bloomington, including local agricultural farms and green stormwater features. The student will learn ArcGIS software in order to spatially map the location of green spaces as well as to create the backend database taken from surveys.

 Desired skills and interests: A successful student working on this project should be interested in the environment and climate change. I am looking for a creative student who is comfortable thinking outside of the box, self-motivated and hard working. The student needs to be comfortable enough with technology in order to learn a new software program as well as work with data. Numbers should not scare them. This student should also want to work in the field as they will use mobile technology to collect environmental data from multiple environmental sensors as well as use mobile technology to document green infrastructure in Bloomington. Also, this person should feel comfortable talking with people as there may be a need to talk with farmers and community organizers to learn about their farms or other green spaces.

Mentor: Dr. Devraj Singh, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Environmental Resilience Institute


In past we studied latitudinal variation in the critical photoperiod and life-history states of dark-eyed juncos. Our results provide strong evidence about difference in the critical photoperiod and seasonal physiological response in Junco sub-species that migrate and breed in a broad geographic range and the other sub-species that breed on the same ground year round. This year we are testing how exposure to light at night might affect the seasonal phenology of dark eyed juncos. We caged birds in the indoor photoperiodic facility one with gradual increase in daylength from short 9 hrs light, 15 hrs of dark (9L:15D) by 1 hr every 10 days until the 16 hrs long days are achieved with dark nights and another group maintained in similar increasing day length schedule along with 0.2lux light at night. The measures of physiology related to migration and reproduction were monitored along with blood plasma to measure the hormone levels.

The preliminary data shows early elevation of cloacal protuberance volume (CPV) and fat score in the birds exposed to LAN in comparison to birds experiencing dark nights. We also observed a phase difference maintained in the CPV of LAN group resident and migrant birds. This provide preliminary evidence that juncos breeding at different latitude also show differential response on exposure to light at night.

The migrants showed more fat score in night light exposure and the locomotor activity might provide if there is any shift in the vernal migratory departure time. The undergrad student under Sustainability program will assist us in running hormone assays and analyzing the daily locomotor activity data. We can also train two students one for Hormone assays and another student to analyze the activity data to see daily variation in activity under different seasonal life-history states.

These preliminary evidences will provide sufficient ground to test the impact of night light exposure on the seasonal phenology and biodiversity consequently. This experiment will provide exposure to working with avian model system, hormone assay, activity logger data and eventually understanding how anthropogenic influence is affecting the wild life.

Mentor: David Stringer, Associate Professor, Second Language Studies

The world is currently witnessing a crisis of language extinction, with one language lost every two weeks and 60-90% of the world’s 7000 languages projected to disappear over the next century. Regions with the most language diversity overlap significantly with tropical ecoregions with the highest levels of biodiversity, such that many current environmental projects tie together language revitalization and biodiversity conservation. The relationships between humans and other species are often grammatically encoded in language when societies have a close connection to their local ecosystem (for example, the language Piaroa has over 70 grammatical markers specific to plants). Conversely, societies that have become more isolated from nature have fewer linguistic resources to reflect ecosystemic knowledge, with the result that much is lost in translation when communities shift to a newly dominant, postcolonial language. For this project, the student will develop an understanding of how ecological knowledge can be linguistically encoded, and then conduct more specific, original research on how grammatical concepts of personhood and animacy are extended to various categories of living and non-living things in the world’s languages. We will study the links between grammatical encoding, belief systems, and ecosystem management, and draw out implications for bilingual documentation in biocultural diversity conservation projects.

Desired Skills and Interests: Interest in global cultural diversity, ecological sustainability, and linguistics; knowledge of at least one foreign language; interest in interdisciplinary thinking; willingness to engage in basic quantitative research.

Mentor: Dr. Norman Makoto Su, Assistant Professor of Informatics, Human-Computer Interaction Design

 Eco-tourism has increasingly grown as a viable form of income for many populations. This project will examine how new platforms (e.g., AirBnB) have enabled alternative types of economies for rural populations in Indiana. Students will join a team of researchers interested in working on rural computing. Tasks will involve fetching and analyzing online discussions, descriptions, and posts to identify how designs can surmount the unique challenges (e.g., unstable internet infrastructure, limited resources, brain drain) and strengths (e.g., expertise with natural resources) of rural communities. Students will gain skills to understand user experiences from online data sources. 

Desired skills and interests: Interest in technology and computing, gig economy, alternative forms of work, rural communities, qualitative research, social science research

Mentors: Dr. Abigail Sullivan, Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Fellow, Environmental Resilience Institute

The economic, social, and biophysical impacts of invasive species on Indiana ecosystems are projected to increase with climate change. This research addresses the human dimensions of invasive species management with a focus on collective action, an understudied but critical area in invasive species management. Leveraging an existing Indiana network of cooperative invasive species management groups (known as CISMAs), this project will involve (1) creating a database of existing social and ecological data related to CISMAs and (2) selecting a subset of CISMAs to interview and observe. The research assistant will learn about synthesizing social and ecological data, and help design and conduct a social science study. Results will provide data to inform future efforts by citizen volunteers, state agencies, and non-profits to address new and existing biological invasions.

Desired skills and interests: Interest in social science methodology (including interviews and social surveys). Familiarity with accessing and reading scientific journal articles. Willing to call organizations to gather information. Interest and some experience with either qualitative or quantitative data analysis. Interest in invasive species and/or collective action.

Mentor: Dr. Stephen Wolter, Academic Specialist, School of Public Health


Approximately 85,000 public agencies steward parks and public lands in the U.S., along with an unknown number of non-profit local organizations such as land trusts. In many of these locales the parks agency, land trust, or a similar group is the only group who might be inclined to consider ‘greening’ operations, exploring changes of space to be more environmentally resilient, and/or designing new public land features to embrace sustainability.

The concept of climate friendly parks are generally ill defined and many different communities and professionals confuse the issue by advocating for ‘green’ parks, ‘green’ infrastructure, ‘resilient’ spaces, land banking, and/or sustainable development on public lands. As a result, no clear standards for climate friendly public land development and managements exists which results in confusion among public land managers, policy makers, and the general public. This project will focus on identifying best practices in sustainability that contribute to moderating climate change on public lands as sustainability standard setters for communities, serving as a source of pride for citizens, and an educational opportunity for the general public.

The selected undergraduate researcher will assist Indiana University’s highly regarded Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands with the creation, distribution, and analysis of a survey to public land managers from across the United States. The survey will explore the driving force(s) behind local agency’s addressing sustainability, resilience, green operations, and environmental improvements on parks and public lands. The key themes, practices, and outcomes observed-measured in the survey will be researched further in order to build a recommended collection of sustainability focused climate friendly management approaches to parks and public lands that will be entered into the body of literature on sustainability.


Desired skills and interests: Local sustainability initiatives around public spaces, parks, and land trusts; outdoor recreation policy; park and resource management.. Interest and/or experience with social science research. Interest in quantitative and qualitative research. Excellent writing skills. 

Mentor: Dr. Landon Yoder, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Environmental Resilience Institute

Conventional agriculture generates unintended consequences for water quality through the loss of nutrients that are applied as fertilizer, which can create harmful algal blooms and hypoxic zones that pose risk for both human health and aquatic ecosystems. There are a wide variety of conservation programs and water quality monitoring programs, but few studies systematically researching what and how these programs monitor water quality. This project will focus on reviewing existing scientific research and publicly available datasets of water quality monitoring projects involving agriculture. Sustainability scholars will be responsible for conducting a review of the literature and assisting with original research to understand the state of ongoing monitoring of water quality of agricultural nutrient losses. This project will address the following research questions:

  • What water quality outcomes are being monitored?
  • What are the water quality trends since monitoring began?
  • What are the temporal and spatial scales at which monitoring is conducted?
  • Are on-farm conservation practices voluntary or compulsory as part of the monitoring program? What are the incentives or penalties being used?


Desired skills and interests: Strong writing skills and ability to synthesize information. Natural science major with interest in environmental monitoring or hydrology.

Mentor: Dr. Landon Yoder, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Environmental Resilience Institute


Most incentive programs to encourage farmers to implement conservation practices rely on individual financial incentives. However, there are an increasing number of initiatives relying on collective incentives, whether financial or social, to motivate farmers to encourage implementation of conservation. This research project will focus on understanding the range of collective incentives that are addressed in the scientific literature and the conservation outcomes that have resulted. This project will address the following research questions:

  • What types of collective incentives have been studied in the scientific literature? Are they primarily social or financial?
  • What are the reasons scholars or practitioners give for why collective incentives are effective?
  • What have been the conservation outcomes measured, whether participation- or environment-focused?


Desired skills and interests: Strong writing skills and ability to synthesize information. Social science major with interest in human behavior

2019-2020 Sustainability Scholars

Adam Weiler

Adam Weiler

MENTOR: Dr. Devraj Singh, Postdoctoral Researcher, Environmental Resilience Institute
RESEARCH TOPIC: Impact of light at night (LAN) on daily/seasonal hormone levels in dark-eyed juncos

Alex Crookshanks

Alex Crookshanks

MENTOR: Dr. Jon Eldon, Lecturer, O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
RESEARCH TOPIC: Expansion of Composting Facilities

 Amanda Cristophe

Amanda Christophe

MENTOR: Dr. Landon Yoder, Assistant Professor, O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
RESEARCH TOPIC: The role of collective incentives in monitoring the adoption of on-farm conservation practices

Ava Hartman

Ava Hartman

MENTOR: Dr. David Stringer, Associate Professor, Second Language Studies
RESEARCH TOPIC: Animacy and the Linguistic Encoding of Ecological Knowledge in Endangered Ecosystems

Charlotte McFerran

Charlotte McFerran

MENTOR: Dr. Matt Houser, Adjunct Assistant Research Scientist, Department of Sociology
RESEARCH TOPIC: The Hoosier Life Survey

Haiz Webb

Haiz Webb

MENTOR: Dr. Heather Reynolds, Associate Professor, Department of Biology
RESEARCH TOPIC: Mapping Urban Green Infrastructure

Isabella Yallapragada

Isabella Yallapragada

MENTOR: Dr. Matt Houser, Adjunct Assistant Research Scientist, Department of Sociology
RESEARCH TOPIC: Midwest farmers' view of, experiences with and responses to climate change

Ky Lewis

Ky Lewis

MENTOR: Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Fellow, Environmental Resilience Institute
RESEARCH TOPIC: Exploring collective action through invasive species management groups

Laura Gerber

Laura Gerber

MENTOR: Dr. Gina Depper, Assistant Research Scientist, School of Public Health
RESEARCH TOPIC: Communicating Projected Impacts of of Climate-Related Events to Communities

Liam Green

Liam Green

MENTOR: Stephen 'Chip' Glaholt, Instructor and Lab Director, O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
RESEARCH TOPIC: Evaluation the potential of algae based fertilizers to grow healthier food


Marie O'Neill

MENTOR: Dr. Angela Babb, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ostrom Workshop
RESEARCH TOPIC: Local Food Purchasing Among Indiana Institutions


Matthias Benko

MENTOR: Dr. Alex Jahn, Migration Patterns Fellow, Environmental Resilience Institute
RESEARCH TOPIC: American Robin as Indicator of Urban Ecosystem Health


Mitch Korolev

MENTOR: Dr. Kim Novick, Associate Professor, O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
RESEARCH TOPIC: Tracking the timing of spring and fall leaf development in Indiana's rural and urban forests


Sid Das

MENTOR: Dr. Angela Babb, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Ostrom Workshop
RESEARCH TOPIC: Strategic Planning for Sustainable Food at IUB


Stephanie Deyo

MENTOR: Dr. Kevin Ellett, Research Geologist, Indiana Geological and Water Survey
RESEARCH TOPIC: An Innovative Program to Increase IU's Sustainability using Geothermal Technologies


Trina Grogan

MENTOR: Dr. Kelley Eskew, Clinical Associate Professor, Business Law & Ethics, Kelley School of Business
RESEARCH TOPIC: Single Use Plastics at Indiana University Bloomington


Zoya Ehsan

MENTOR: Steve Wolter, Executive Director, Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands, Center for Rural Engagement
RESEARCH TOPIC: Climate Friendly Parks and Public Lands: Creating Sustainable Spaces in Local Communities

Apply to be a Sustainability Scholar

Interested in working with a faculty mentor on a research project? Applications and research topics for 2020-2021 will open in September 2020. 

Sustain IU

Office of Sustainability
704 E. 10th Street
Bloomington, IN 47408
Phone: 812.855.9195