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.

Applications for 2022-2023 are open and will be accepted until Monday, September 26, 2022 at 8 AM ET.

Apply Now

Meet our recent Scholars

Browse through the slideshow to meet recent Sustainability Scholars and to learn more about their research projects.
Scholar Alisha Ahmed is a freshman studying both Marketing and Law Ethics and Decision Making at Kelley. Together with researcher Angela Babb from the Ostrom Workshop, they're working on "Local food purchasing by Indiana Institutions".
Scholar Rose Beecher, a freshman studying Environmental Science is working with Alex Jahn on "The role of bird migration in the dispersal of zoonotic diseases in Indiana and Beyond". Their work includes examining previous blood and physical data from robins to find patterns.
Sophomore Mackenzie Bowlen is majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and minoring in Flim Production. This year, alongside James Shanahan and Ellen Ketterson, Mackenzie is creating a podcast for the "Radio documentary: Birds and Indiana" Project.
Scholar Sarah Carter, a sophomore majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies, is working with Dr. Jon Eldon on the "Historical tree analysis of IU Bloomington campus". With this project, she is working to digitize the Olmsted paper map of campus from 1929 to be compared with newer data and evaluated.
Hannah Jones is a junior studying Comprehensive Design and Sociology with a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. With her mentor, Brian Forist, they are completing project "Sustainability Planning for Site Interpretation at Beck's Mill", to analyze the sustainable management of this property.
Seongju Kim is a freshman studying Environmental and Sustainability Studies and working on the "Supermarketization of Africa" project with Kurt Waldman and Jordan Blekking. Seongju assists by researching specific store locations, geolocating them, and developing maps of the locations.
Scholar Hannah Lorenzo, a sophomore majoring in Journalism and working on "Research on equity and justice implications of US Energy Transition" with Sanya Carley and David Konisky.
Zoe Swanson is a freshman scholar majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and minoring in Spanish and Water Resources Management. Zoe is working with Stephen "Chip" Glaholt on "Innovative Ways to Reduce IU's Carbon Footprint" by studying the current algae species.
Scholar Grace Tripathy, a freshman majoring in Information Systems and Operations Management working with Julio Postigo on "(Un)sustainable Transformations for Sustainable Futures". For this project, Grace is completing a qualitative analysis of the research papers.

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

Applications for the 2022-2023 cohort are open and will be accepted until Monday, September 26, 2022 at 8 AM ET. Apply HERE.

Open the door to your future

With the Sustainability Scholars program, the door of sustainability is opened for new and exciting possibilities at IU and beyond.
2019-2020 Scholar Matthias Benko used his experience with GIS from the Sustainability Scholars program in his studies of Sustainability and Tropical Ecology in Costa Rica with CIEE Monteverde in the Spring 2022 semester.
2020-2021 Scholar Lauren Ulrich was introduced to environmental journalism with her project on U.S. environmental journalism history alongside her mentor Dr. Suzannah Comfort. Following her Scholars experience, she served as an Indiana Daily Student writer and an intern at the Arnolt Center for Investigative Journalism.

2022-2023 Research Project Details

Faculty Mentor: James Damico
Professor of Literacy, Culture & Language Education

Project Description:

The Confronting Climate Change Denial Project focuses on working with two faculty members to help develop a website for students, educators, administrators, and parents. The website (initial launch date is September 1, 2022) is based on the forthcoming book, How to Confront Climate Denial: Literacy, Social Studies, and Climate Change. Primary data collection will likely emphasize: conducting interviews with students and educational leaders and then editing the audio and/or video clips; and curating media and social media posts for analysis. Expected outcome for Spring 2023 semester is a well-developed website.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

Strong reading and writing skills, familiarity with website design, strong interpersonal skills, good organizational skills and file management (to create, organize files), ability to work independently and complete tasks thoroughly within agreed upon timeframes, and interests in climate change education. Creativity skills and abilities also valued.

Faculty Mentor: James Damico
Professor of Literacy, Culture & Language Education

Project Description:

The project, How Religious Communities are Responding to Climate Change, explores how religious leaders and their congregations view the causes and consequences of global climate change and how to best respond to climate-related threats and crises. The initial research site is Athens County in southeastern Ohio though the project might expand to include sites in Indiana. Key tasks include: assisting with finding and summarizing scholarship relevant to the project, assisting in aspects of data collection (including interviews conducted via Zoom), assisting with data analysis, and writing for publication. Expected outcomes for Spring 2023 semester include a co-authored conference paper, presentation, or journal article.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

Strong reading and writing skills, strong organization and communication skills (keeping track of work, organizing and managing files, responding to e-mail in timely fashion), and ability to work independently and complete tasks thoroughly and on schedule.

Faculty Mentor: Nathan Ensmenger
Associate Professor, Informatics

Project Description:

Data centers are significant, but largely invisible, consumers of energy.  Internet activity currently accounts for about 2% of energy consumption in the US. If “the Cloud” were a country, it would be the sixth largest consumer of electricity on the planet. Certain new technologies, particularly cryptocurrency, are fundamentally dependent on cheap energy. In many post-industrial sites across the world, older and often inefficient forms of energy production are being reactivated in the service of the digital economy. And even the most-energy efficient data centers use enormous amounts of both energy and water. There are some maps of data center locations, but in general companies are secretive about both the location and energy requirements (and energy sources) used to power data centers. In this project, we will gather public sources of information about data center location and resource consumption, with the goal of ultimate generating a publicly available map.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

Strong Google-f and experience with Excel are a must, some familiarity with R and ARC-GIS would be an asset, but not required.

Faculty Mentor: Brian Forist
Lecturer -- Parks, Recreation, and the Outdoors

Project Description:

This project, while primarily involving historical research, will also discern lessons for contemporary public health and sustainability applications, including those in heritage interpretation and museum management. During the Great Depression, nationwide unemployment was about 25 percent. On Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, the unemployment approached 80 percent. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was one federal response, employing millions of Americans. This project began as an investigation of a set of floor looms currently housed in a historical museum in the small community of Gay, Michigan. They were built for women employed by the WPA to weave rag rugs for sale to tourists. That initial investigation has led to questions about other women’s projects administered by the WPA, the status of women and families, the WPA role in tourism development, and the ways WPA employment, particularly for women, impacted family health and community sustainability. Through perusal of secondary literature, archival research including historical newspapers, and analysis of U.S. Census data, this research project is designed to understand the range of WPA projects employing women on the Keweenaw Peninsula, the economic benefits this afforded to women, their families and communities, and sustainability lessons for today. This project is intended to result in academic and practitioner-focused manuscripts that the Sustainability Scholar would co-author.


Desired Skills and Interests:

Ideally, the Sustainability Scholar working on this project would be interested in history and archival research as well as the experience of women. They should be an interdisciplinary thinker. The Sustainability Scholar would have the ability to carefully read and summarize academic and other literature. They would also be flexible, creative, and detail oriented. They would be able to work independently, using a variety of primarily web-based resources such as newspaper archives and U.S. Census data.

Faculty Mentor: Jessica Steinberg
Director, Environment and Natural Resource Governance Program, Ostrom Workshop; Associate Professor, International Studies; and Adjunct Professor, Political Science

Project Description:

Elinor Ostrom explored how cooperative institutions for natural resource management can facilitate the long-term viability of a resource such as forests or fisheries. How do these institutions operate in conflict, post-conflict, or fragile regions, and to what extent can these localized institutions build or facilitate stability and peace in these regions? Preliminary evidence from Casamance, Senegal suggests that these institutions can facilitate trust at the local level, but much more research is needed to understand if and how local common property institutions can facilitate peace. This project is in its early stages, and the Sustainability Scholar will work to achieve the following two tasks: a) exploring and cataloging existing literature linking common pool resources, violent conflict, and cooperative behavior, b) cataloging colocation of violent conflict (using existing conflict events databases) and common pool resource management (as detailed by Lin Ostrom over the course of her career).

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

The Scholar should have an interest in international contexts, conflict, and the environment. They should also have excellent synthesis and writings skills and proficiency in Excel. Experience with GIS is desired but not necessary.

Faculty Mentor: Landon Yoder
Assistant Professor, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Project Description:

Because farming is a visible activity, the decisions that farmers make about their management practices can become opportunities for positive or negative comments from their peers. These interactions can lead to pride or peer pressure around what types of practices constitute “good farming.” If a farmer implements a new practice but the result looks bad or is financially costly, other farmers may respond with criticism or refer to the outcome critically, as a cautionary tale to be avoided. This dynamic can discourage farmers from trying new practices and having sufficient time to learn how to manage them well. Research on cover crops, for example, suggests that this dynamic is one possible reason that cover crop adoption remains low. Yet, research on why farmers do or don’t adopt environmentally friendly practices has rarely looked at social norms (i.e., acceptable behaviors) as an influence on farm management decisions. This project is a literature review on farm management research that has included social norms as a variable, either through quantitative or qualitative methods.

 The Sustainability Scholar would help with the analysis of this literature by synthesizing the findings of this body of research. The project has already identified a select set of journal articles to analyze. The Sustainability Scholar would help with (a) organizing a comprehensive table of statistical findings to show what effect norms have on environmentally friendly practices, (b) coding and analyzing qualitative findings of the effect of norms on environmentally friendly practices, and (c) contributing to writing sections of a manuscript for publication.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

Attention to detail; either good writing/analytic skills or familiarity with statistics (both is a plus but not essential); and an interest in farming, the environment, or behavior.

Faculty Mentor: Darren Ficklin
Associate Professor, Geography

Project Description:

Water temperature is a fundamental water quality variable that controls physical, chemical, and biological processes in flowing waters and, in turn, effects biota, human health, ecosystem services, and socio-economic benefits provided to people. Despite its importance, water temperature has been neglected compared with other water quality properties, with work largely focusing on nutrients and other contaminants. However, there is growing evidence that water temperatures are increasing across the globe in response to climate and other human drivers of change, and thus requires urgent attention. Current research on thermal dynamics in rivers focuses largely on near-natural catchments or reservoir management impacts, and primarily during the summer months over highly variable spatio-temporal scales. The inconsistent current state of water temperature research therefore limits our ability to sustainably manage river systems, protect ecosystems, and balance stakeholder interests. Thus, there are significant gaps in our knowledge about water temperature dynamics in human-dominated systems. To address this gap, this work will collect continuous water temperature measurements in multiple (~10) locations along the Campus River and its tributaries on the campus of Indiana University throughout the fall, winter, and spring. This will allow us to better understand the dynamics of water temperatures changes in a human-dominated system and will aid in the sustainable management of the Campus River.

 

The Sustainability Scholar will (1) assist with the placement of the sensors within the Campus River; (2) assist in data collection, cleaning, and plotting; (3) and have the opportunity to explore the water temperature data to discover a research topic related to the undergraduate researcher’s interest. The undergraduate student will gain fieldwork and computing experience that is particularly relevant for pursuing a career in the environmental sciences.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

Interest and/or experience with minor field work (wading in streams) and quantitative research. Desire to learn statistical programs and/or computer programming. Excellent writing skills.

Faculty Mentor: Chip Glaholt
Research Faculty, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Project Description:

After a hiatus due to Covid restrictions, our campus algae-based carbon capturing system needs renovations and installation of a new more accessible algae bioreactor. This project will work to both revitalize our 5-year-old system, as well as to construct a new algae bioreactor in a more accessible area in hopes that more students and community groups will be able to tour and learn from this simply yet innovative technique of reducing our carbon footprint on campus. The outcome of this project is to have one renovated algae bioreactor and a newly installed bioreactor. The Sustainability Scholar will also be responsible for collecting data on the efficiency of the newly installed bioreactor such as growth rate, ideal light levels, and pH monitoring. This data can then be compared to previous data collected on the older algae bioreactor system to determine future improvements to maximize algae growth and therefore carbon sequestration.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

I’m looking for a student motivated by thinking globally and acting locally, who wants to get their hands dirty with algae. No construction experience necessary, this will be a learn-as-you-go project. Other preferred skills: 1) ability to work independently or in a pairing, 2) ability to communicate the goals and process of the algae bioreactor project to student and community groups touring our facility, and 3) enthusiasm about reducing IU’s carbon footprint. Lastly, a positive attitude will go a long way in helping this project succeed.

Faculty Mentor: Ellen Ketterson
Professor of Biology

Project Description:

The project we have in mind is to measure the impact of exposure to artificial light at night (ALAN) on timing of migratory departure in a songbird.  We are predicting that birds exposed will depart earlier in spring than those exposed to natural night lighting, which may or may not be detrimental to the birds. The study builds on earlier research on captives in which exposure to ALAN led to earlier reproductive development in spring. That study was published in the journal Environmental Pollution. This year we will study migrant dark-eyed juncos, a sparrow.  They will be captured from the wild relatively late in the first semester after they arrive from Canada.  We will hold the birds at Kent Farm Research Station under one or the other light regime (natural or ALAN) until early March, then release them at Kent Farm after applying nano tags to track their presence-absence.  

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

The study will involve field work and animal care, and calls for a highly responsible person who is comfortable in the out of doors and handling animals.  We are seeking someone who communicates directly, and is interested in the impacts of environmental change on birds and biodiversity. Access to a vehicle is likely necessary for field work.

Faculty Mentor: Jennifer Lau, Professor of Biology
Graduate Mentor: Sierra Perez, Ph.D. Student in Biology

Project Description:

We study what makes plant communities resilient to global changes, like global warming, increased drought stress, and nitrogen deposition. While global changes might force some plant species towards extinctions, other plant species will be less affected and or might even benefit from a changing environment. Which species lose vs. win in a changing environment is determined by their traits--how well they compete for nutrients, how well they conserve water, or even how quickly they can flower and reproduce. Yet these traits are not static; they can change over time because the environment affects the trait (“phenotypic plasticity”) or because they can rapidly evolve. Our project will investigate the potential for these trait changes to rescue plants from the negative effects of global change. The undergraduate researcher involved in this project will help conduct a large greenhouse experiment where many species are grown in dry vs wet and high vs low nutrient conditions. The seeds used in this experiment originate from a long-term experiment where populations were evolving under different global change treatments. By measuring plant growth and plant traits, the student will be able to test whether plants have evolved in response to global changes and whether their ability to change their traits in response to environmental conditions (i.e., their “plasticity”) determines their success in the face of global change. By the end of their Sustainability Scholar experience, the student will have enough data to present their findings at an IU undergraduate research symposium or at a regional or national conference and to pursue an Honors thesis should they desire to do so.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

The student will need to be detail-oriented and organized, but will learn how to design experiments, analyze data, and interpret and present their results through this experience.

Faculty Mentor: David Stringer
Associate Professor, Second Language Studies

Project Description:

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) has been described by linguistics, anthropologists, and biologists not only in terms of culture-specific classification and systems knowledge, but also in terms of universals of language and perception (Atran, 1992; Berlin, 1990). However, in recent years, such claims of shared human cognition have been questioned, as part of a more general challenge to the academic power structures that are the legacy of European and American imperialism. Many scholars have argued that decolonization is an ongoing process in the institutions and organizations of the Global North, and that we should resist the promotion of unitary scientific explanations at the expense of equally valid indigenous knowledge systems (Maldonado-Torres, 2007; Mignolo, 2018; Pennycook & Makoni, 2020; Santos, 2018). Is there room for a balanced approach, incorporating both insights into our common humanity and its relation to the earth, as well as various distinct forms of environmental knowledge encoded in indigenous languages? This debate is currently playing out in research institutions and journals from Finland to New Zealand, from Brazil to Nigeria, as well as here in the United States. In this project, we will examine arguments from both sides, through a comparative analysis of selected texts from journals from the Global South (e.g. AlterNative, EcoREBEL) and more established research outlets (Journal of Applied Linguistics, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology). We will also evaluate investigative journalism that sheds light on current relations between environmental organizations and indigenous peoples. Outcomes: the student will complete a number of short reviews of publications, research institutes, and NGOs, followed by one detailed case-study of biocultural diversity conservation in practice.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

Interest in linguistics; ecological sustainability, and global cultural diversity; critical thinking skills.

Faculty Mentor: André Franco
Assistant Professor, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Project Description:

Our research seeks to understand how the changing climate is affecting soils and their carbon stocks across the country’s biomes, using an open-source database provided by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Soil CO2 efflux is one of the largest exchanges of carbon between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere, and soil emissions have increased in several ecosystems globally due to climate warming. This positive feedback between soil carbon and climate change may be magnifying the increase in atmospheric CO2 and global warming. We will use available soil and climate data products from NEON to assess (i) changes to soil CO2 efflux over the past 5 years, (ii) how these changes correlate with climate variables and the occurrence of extreme climate events (e.g., heatwaves, droughts), and (iii) how these patterns differ across various US biomes. This information will provide a country-wide evaluation of current trends of soil CO2 efflux under a changing climate. The Sustainability Scholar will assist with (1) data compilation from NEON’s data portal, (2) data analyses and visualization, and (3) results write-up.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

Applicants should have experience with or an interest in learning basic data analyses and visualization techniques and excellent writing skills. The student will gain valuable experience and knowledge that is especially suited for those interested in pursuing a career in any aspect of environmental sustainability and/or a graduate degree in an environmental science discipline.

Faculty Mentor: Keitlyn Alcantara
Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Project Description:

Indigenous scholars critique contemporary sustainability movements for their roots in Western Conservation methods, which ignore the ongoing role of colonialism in displacing Indigenous land stewards. Yet for most U.S. trained scholars, being born into non-Indigenous cultures means we are often blind to conflicting values and worldviews between Indigenous science and Western science. In this research project, the Sustainability Scholar will work to answer the question – how do we create a pedagogical bridge between these two perspectives? How do we learn to “unlearn” Western science and “relearn” Indigenous perspectives? The student will split their time between 1) working hands-on in the Healing Garden (www.healinggarden.com) and with the First Nations Education and Cultural Center to help develop and implement embodied learning workshops 2) assist in developing surveys to identify measurements of “unlearning”, and measure workshop impact 3) identify projects, websites, and research papers to create a database of existing Black, Indigenous, and POC-led sustainability projects in the U.S., identifying their central perspectives, values, goals, and methods of engagement.

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

The ideal Sustainability Scholar is interested in creative and nontraditional approaches to science and sustainability, with skills in both traditional research (reading and synthesizing scientific papers) and community-based research (storytelling, community organizing, public scholarship). The student should also demonstrate a sustained commitment to decolonial and anti-racist perspectives, with an awareness of their own positionality within contemporary U.S. culture.

Faculty Mentor: Dana Habeeb
Assistant Professor, Informatics

 

Project Description:

Climate change is having a serious impact on human health around the world with extreme heat as a leading cause of climate-related deaths in the United States. In order to prevent heat related illnesses, cities must appropriately plan for the extreme heat crisis through comprehensive heat management plans. This research project is part of an on-going study to survey how cities across the country are preparing for and responding to extreme heat.  The Sustainability Scholar will work to identify city and county level plans and policies that focus on protecting their communities from extreme heat.  The student will learn about heat management frameworks and actions that communities can take to respond to climate change.  The student will collect and document plans, identify best practices and gaps/opportunities, and visualize results. 

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

The Sustainability Scholar should have an interest in climate change and community engagement. The student should be self-motivated, well-organized, a good communicator. The student should have excellent writing skills and not afraid to learn new technologies or skills. Spatial analysis skills with GIS is a plus. 

Mentor: Dana Habeeb
Assistant Professor, Informatics


Project Description:

Extreme heat events are responsible for more annual fatalities in the United States than any other form of extreme weather. This research project is part of a NSF CRII grant with the aim to monitor near surface air temperatures in Bloomington, IN. The Sustainability Scholar will support an on-going project to establish an environmental sensor network on the IU campus and in targeted urban agricultural locations in Bloomington. The project aim includes how to inform users of environmental exposures that are harmful to their health. The student will help to manage the current sensor network and help to install new sensors, as well as work with community stakeholders at a community garden and community orchard. Temperature, relative humidity, and soil moisture sensors will be deployed in differing urban form environments (i.e. along streets, in parking lots, and in community gardens) in order to measure how these environmental variables differ and change during heat waves. 

 

This research project aims to deploy environmental sensors in order to investigate two main research objectives. 

  1. To investigate how temperatures change in differing urban environments. 
  2. To investigate how to communicate local environmental information to targeted stakeholders. 

 The work planned includes:  

  • Surveying existing sensing platform and performing an environmental sensing literature review
  • Maintaining the current sensor network, through data collection and sensors maintenance and installations 
  • Replacing a new sensor at a community garden.
  • Working with environmental data to track trends in temperatures
  • Working with local stakeholders at a community garden and community orchard. 

 

Desired Skills and Interests:

Interest in environment, climate change and sensors. Interest and/or experience with working with large datasets, and outdoor field work. Interest and/or experience working with quantitative data, including visualization. Excellent writing skills.

Apply to be a Sustainability Scholar

Interested in working with a faculty mentor on a research project? Applications for 2022-2023 are due by Monday, September 26, 2022 at 8 AM ET.. 

Apply Now!

Become a Researcher

At the end of the Sustainability Scholars Program, students present their findings at the Sustainability Scholars Symposium in April of that academic year.

It is a way to consolidate all of your work from the year and gain new skills in the realm of academia and research.

Final Poster from Annetta Itnyre, a Sustainability Scholar from the 2020-2021 cohort. 

Sustain IU

Office of Sustainability
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Phone: 812.855.9195
sustain@iu.edu