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 2020-2021 are due by September 20, 2020.
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.
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.
Can 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?
Invaders or Homecomers: Toward a Nuanced Approach to Non-Native Plants in Landscape Design on Campus and in Adjacent Neighborhoods
2020 Research Project Details
Faculty Mentor: Jessica O’Reilly, Associate Professor, International Studies
Project Description: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization to write definitive assessments of climate science. Now in the process of writing the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, the IPCC continues to produce high quality reports that policy makers use locally, nationally, and in the deliberations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body that negotiated the Paris Agreement. The Sustainability Scholar selected will become part of an international team of researchers who are studying the process of writing the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, analyzing how experts work together to communicate policy-relevant knowledge about climate change. The scholar’s tasks will include biographical research, textual analysis, interview transcription, and participation in team meetings.
Desired skills/interests: interest in social science methods for sustainability research, interest in connecting climate science to policy decision making. Ability to work independently and in a focused research team, strong organizational and communication skills.
Faculty mentor: Nikos Zirogiannis, Assistant Professor, Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University Bloomington
Project Description: Air pollution is an important environmental problem that is particularly severe in cities with a high concentration of industrial facilities. One such city, Houston, Texas is home to over 150 Concrete Batch Plants (CBPs) that produce concrete which is then used in building construction. The production process of CBPs results in emissions of Particulate Matter (PM), a pollutant regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since it has known detrimental effects to human health. PM consists of tiny solid and liquid particles that are found in the air and are so small (they usually have a diameter twenty times smaller than that of the human hair) that they can penetrate our lungs or enter into our blood stream and cause a series of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
CBPs are of particular concern in Houston since they can be located very close to residential areas, increasing people’s exposure to dangerous releases of PM. The goal of this research project is to gather detailed information on yearly releases of PM emitted from CBPs and estimate the resulting health impacts to nearby communities. In addition, the project will explore the environmental justice implications of CBP operation, by examining the demographic characteristics of the communities that are in close proximity to them.
Desired skills/interests: The selected undergraduate researcher will: 1) assist in primary data collection by downloading and cleaning CBP permit data, 2) examine the environmental justice implications of CBP operation, and 3) assist in the preparation of a research manuscript that will estimate the health risk to nearby communities associated with the operation of CBPs.
Applicant qualifications: Strong analytical and quantitative skills. Knowledge of Microsoft Excel is a requirement. Interest in air quality and the health impacts of exposure to air pollution. Interest in environmental justice. Willingness to learn statistical techniques. Ability to download, manipulate and clean data.
Faculty Mentor: Rodrigo X. Armijos MD, Sc.D., Associate Professor, Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, School of Public Health, Bloomington, IN
Project Description: Drinking water pollution is a growing worldwide threat specially affecting low-income communities. In America, minority populations and rural communities are receiving a direct detrimental impact of heavy metals, pesticides, and other chemicals contaminating their drinking water. This situation will become even more critical as climate change progress and intensify. Currently, more frequent torrential rains, flooding, wildfires, hurricanes are spreading through water and air chemicals loose from farm, homes, industrial waste that could lead to long-term negative health and environmental consequences. South Central Indiana is not free of this ongoing situation. To evaluate the presence of these environmental contaminants in drinking water of peri-urban and rural households of the Monroe County, we will collect blood, urine, and drinking water samples from them. Additionally, we will collect information about participant’s blood pressure, anthropometry, and health status. The data generated from this project will be the bases to understand the current situation of drinking water quality in peri-urban and rural community in our county. Thus, we can generate ways to ameliorate the negative impact of these pollutants in human health. This pilot data will support future related research.
Desired skills/interests: The undergraduate research assistant (RA) will be part of a multidisciplinary research group and will participate in various research activities including collecting urine and water samples, applying the health status interview, data entry, processing serum from blood samples and storing serum and urine aliquots at -80oC. The RA will also assist during the characterization of serum, urine, and water pollutants. RA will be able to present a poster with preliminary data by Spring 2021.
Applicant qualifications: The prospective RA need to be knowledgeable of basic environmental sciences, RA needs to have natural curiosity and be eager to learning research methodologies and follow commands. The research team will offer adequate training.
Faculty mentor: Dr. Olga Kalentzidou, Geography, Lecturer
Project Description: Food insecurity among college students has been on the rise. Many universities in the US have responded to the need by establishing campus food pantries and engaging in conversations about meal plans and tuition cost, especially among minority and other disadvantaged groups. At Indiana University, food security responses have focused on establishing a campus pantry to conducting base-line surveys to the distribution of emergency meals during summer 2020.
This project asks the following questions: 1. What is the status of food insecure students at Indiana University? 2. How did the Emergency Meals Project address student food insecurity at IU? 3. How can we address the needs of students by pooling resources among the Campus Kitchen, the Crimson Cupboard and the IU Campus Farm? 4. How can we map the resources available at the IU Campus to better serve students in need? 5. How can we affect long term change without relying exclusively on emergency food responses?
Applicant qualifications: Skills needed to complete this project 1. Familiarity with data analysis – most of the current data from the Emergency Meals Project and Campus Kitchen data are in excel format awaiting further analysis 2. Willingness to engage with GIS and other mapping technologies (training will be made available) 3. Interest in food security and sustainable food consumption
III. Anticipated outcomes 1. Evaluate the Emergency Meals Project goals and results 2. Further research about student food security on the IU campus 3. Complete a story map based on the analysis of data from the Emergency Meals Project, Campus Kitchen and other campus stakeholders
Faculty mentor: David Stringer, Associate Professor, Second Language Studies
Project description: European and American imperialism has left a legacy of problematic power structures, knowledge systems, and education policies in many parts of the world. Decolonization is an ongoing process that is relevant not only in former colonies, but in the institutions and organizations of the Global North that continue to set global policies and practices (Maldonado-Torres, 2007; Mignolo, 2018; Pennycook & Makoni, 2020; Santos, 2018). This decolonial turn has profound implications for the field of environmental conservation, which has come to recognize that initiatives have sometimes failed catastrophically in the absence of local endorsement, and that the creation of protected areas in the 20th century resulted in the forced resettlement of approximately 20 million indigenous people (Dowie, 2009). The last decade or so has seen a major shift in consciousness in this regard. In the context of current attempts to re-evaluate the representation of diversity in research institutions and environmental organizations, this project examines the gap between the aspirations for and reality of decolonization in the field of biocultural diversity conservation. In particular, we will examine how indigenous perspectives on the linguistic encoding of environmental knowledge and culture-specific understandings of nature are represented in current publications by scholars, powerbrokers, and activists. This project will involve 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), as well as evaluating investigative journalism that sheds light on current relations between environmental organizations and indigenous peoples. We will draw out practical implications of indigenous perspectives in research, in education, and in conservation projects. Outcomes: the student will complete a number of short reviews of publications, research institutes, and NGOs, followed by one more detailed case-study.
Desired skills and interests: Interest in global cultural diversity, ecological sustainability, and linguistics; knowledge of at least one foreign language; critical thinking skills.
Faculty mentor: Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health
Project description: This project is investigating children’s risk of exposure to lead in houses getting their water from private wells. In previous research in North Carolina, my team found that kids relying on private well water had higher blood lead concentrations than kids with water from a city or town system. Lead exposure from private well water is an under-recognized problem, and preventing these exposures is important, because even low levels of exposure can damage the developing brains of children. We will be recruiting households in Indiana that get their water from private wells for free water testing. We also will be investigating the influence of lead in private well water on children’s educational outcomes. The student can be involved in recruiting households for free water testing, shipping the samples to a lab for analysis, and doing simple statistical analysis of the resulting data. The student also can help with obtaining and analyzing data on educational outcomes among children with private well water via an ongoing collaboration I have with a county education department in North Carolina.
Desired skills/interests: No prior experience is needed, although a prior course in probability and statistics would be helpful. Students also must be willing to contact potential research participants by telephone.
Faculty mentor: Suzannah Evans Comfort, Media School, Assitant Professor
Project description: This project examines how journalists have covered the environmental movement in the United States. Environmental activists need journalists to help spread their message and gain legitimacy in the eyes of political decision makers. However, journalists sometimes write critical articles that undermine environmental claims. Therefore activists must be strategic in their relationship with journalists in order to ensure coverage that supports the broader movement.
This specific project examines newspaper coverage of the campaign to save the Echo Park canyon in Colorado from dam construction in the 1950s. Using online archives, we will compare and contrast news coverage of this issue at the local and national levels. An interest in history, environmental advocacy, and/or journalism is suggested. Good organizational skills are required.
Faculty mentors: Angela Babb (Assistant Research Scientist) / Kurt Waldman (Assistant Professor) / Julia Valliant (Research Fellow)
Project description: Truly sustainable food systems must support dignity and equity among people. To examine these human dimensions of agriculture and food, IU’s team of Sustainable Food Systems Science researchers has several studies underway about how food systems interact with, create, and respond to racism and discrimination, historically and in the present day. These studies represent a range of academic disciplines, for example geography, anthropology, economics, history, public health, and informatics, and they span the supply chain for food. Some look at farming. Some look at farm labor and food processing. Some look at household food access and consumption. The Sustainable Food Systems Science team has committed itself in 2020-21 to synthesizing an anti-racist research platform from these various studies, and funding that research, with a focus on Indiana’s food systems. This Scholar will focus on the social science research needed to achieve this synthesis. The Scholar will complement and work as a team with the two other Scholar placements proposed by Drs. Babb, Suttles and Ipsen. Key tasks: (1) Collect and analyze mixed, quantitative and qualitative data by (a) Collating information from existing secondary data sources and creating visualizations, and (b) Phone interviewing Indiana’s BIPOC farmers about their perspectives and their suggestions for research priorities, and analyzing these interview data. (2) Participate in the research community by attending interdisciplinary team meetings (2x/semester) and weekly meetings with mentors. (3) Build this research into public outputs, which will include a web page and a StoryMap.
Desired skills/interests: We’re looking for a student who enjoys working solo and in a team, who enjoys working with quantitative and qualitative information, who is willing to produce a rough draft and then improve it, and who is open to meeting people for the first time on the phone while reflecting on and integrating what you’re hearing from them.
Faculty mentors: Carl Ipsen (Professor of History and Director, IU Food Institute), Jordan Blekking (PhD Candidate, Geography)
Project description: It is more and more common in academic and other venues to offer an acknowledgement of the indigenous peoples that once inhabited spaces today occupied by universities, cities and other entities. Those acknowledgements, while recognizing the brutal removal of indigenous peoples, tend to view the past in a static or binary fashion: once there were indigenous peoples here; now there is the neo-European society that displaced them. Instead we know that all parts of the globe were once free of human population. As humans evolved they migrated, split into groups, hunted, gathered, established agriculture, battled one another, recombined, migrated some more, and, in the case of the Americas, experienced the trauma of European conquest (European expansion in to Africa, Asia and Oceania took on different if at times similarly tragic forms). Our aim then is to present a more nuanced picture of land use in Indiana over time, from the first arrival of humans, to the establishment of indigenous groups and their various movements and food economies, to conquest and displacement to the evolution of land use since that conquest and inclusion of Indiana in the United States. Indiana has not always been corn and soy and may not be so indefinitely into the future. And the ethnic make-up of the state continues to evolve. Expected outcome is an interactive web site and map(s) to link to the IU Food Institute web site (and elsewhere as interest dictates).
Desired skills/interests: history, geography, agriculture, migration. Preferred skills: GIS and mapping skills, an interest in on-line and library/archival research.
Faculty mentors: Angela Babb (Assistant Research Scientist) and Shellye Suttles (Assistant Professor)
Project description: This project investigates how historical discriminatory policies contributed to the inequalities of our current food system on the topics of wealth accumulation in farm and business ownership, poverty in food sector labor, and food insecurity in socially disadvantaged households. Understanding the policy mechanisms perpetuating and exacerbating inequalities in our food system can help us build a more equitable and sustainable food system. Key tasks of this project include secondary data collection and analysis, literature review and writing. Specifically, collection and analysis of secondary data on farmland ownership, food business ownership, food assistance, and food sector labor are needed, as well as literature review support. Expected outcome is submission of a co-authored academic journal article.
Faculty mentor: Aaron Deslatte, Assistant Professor in O'Neill
Project description: Local governments of all sizes are facing increasing threats to their fiscal and economic health, community well-being, and environmental resources. Addressing these challenges requires a litany of economic, ecological and societal governance adjustments. However, it also assumes local communities can either develop new organizational capacities or divert resources away from more traditional services and activities. This project aims to develop a better understanding of the processes through which local governments identify sustainability goals, find the resources needed to achieve them, and assess their performance. This requires a flexible research design to observe communities in both urban and rural contexts which fall along the entire spectrum of sustainability: those attempting to formulate long-term sustainability strategies; those attempting to develop the capacities needed for implementation; and those attempting to track their progress and adapt.
This research will assess the integration of sustainability planning, capacity-building, and performance management in Indiana municipalities. Each of these elements alone represent a complex system in which external and internal factors interact to influence organizational processes, routines and decisions. However, these systems also interact, reinforcing or destabilizing broader patterns of organizational behavior through feedback. The empirical context and timing of the project is critical as these systems are still infantile and evolving. Three phases of mixed-methods and longitudinal research designs will be used over five years: first, strategic planning will be analyzed through automated text-analysis; second, surveys and interviews will be used to assess capacity-building and implementation; and third, case studies and experiments will examine performance management and adjustment. The project will build infrastructure for future research by developing a comprehensive database of variables generated across the three phases. Additionally, outreach will be conducted to involve rural communities through the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement (CRE) and to participate in community workshops and webinars through the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI).
Faculty mentors: Dr. Heather Reynolds, Associate Professor, Biology & Dr. Samantha Hamlin, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Environmental Resilience Institute
Project Description: Today’s cities both drive environmental change and are highly vulnerable to it. By working with nature, tomorrow’s cities can be literally greener, cleaner and economically more vibrant places, designed to minimize environmental impact and maximize resiliency to environmental change. “Urban green infrastructure” (UGI) refers to biodiverse green spaces that are integrated into our built environments from streetscape to rooftop. UGI is a growing strategy for designing cities that are more energy- and resource-efficient and also more livable, economically vital, and resilient to adversity. The Prepared for Environmental Change Urban Green Infrastructure Working Group is developing GIS layers to help cities track and strategically develop their UGI for climate change resilience and overall quality of urban life. This research project will expand an existing GIS inventory and analysis of UGI in downtown Bloomington.
The sustainability scholar will identify, photograph and survey green roofs and walls and potentially other UGI sites, add data on site biophysical and social variables to an excel database, employ ArcGIS software to spatially map site locations, and build on a resilience analysis of the sites and an associated Story Map. Training will be provided in conducting field observations, use of geotagged photos, database curation, mapping and analysis.
Desired skills and interests: Attention to detail, good self-motivation, excellent writing skills, experience with plant identification. Interests in environment, community resilience and climate change and enjoyment of field work as well as data processing and analysis.
Faculty mentor: Jon Eldon, Lecturer
Project description: The IU Bloomington campus makes an excellent “living laboratory” for students interested in sustainability and environmental science, and there have been numerous related projects over the years, such as a recent tree inventory and mapping of invasive species. In addition, Landscape Services, Sustain IU, and other groups are continually advancing our understanding of the campus ecosystem. However, many of these projects and activities are done in relative isolation and are often unknown or unavailable to instructors. This position would work closely with the Environmental Quality and Land Use working group to compile a record of environmental research projects on campus and associated resources, identify potential future projects, and work with instructors to improve on-campus learning opportunities.
Desired skills: Ability to work independently, organize and managed data, and communicate effectively with diverse groups
Faculty mentor: Dr. Matthew Houser, Assistant Research Scientist, Environmental Resilience Institute
Project Description: It has been a year of crises. Early in 2020, the Unites States public became pointedly aware of the risks of communicable diseases such as COVID-19. Only a few months later, the death of George Floyd led to nationwide reckoning with racism and racial inequalities in our criminal justice system. Finally, recent data suggests we are experiencing of one of the most severe economic recessions in our country’s history. Despite the necessity of immediate public action to address these issues, other threats loom. Most notable among those longer-term threats is climate change, which if left unchecked poses an existential threat to global society. We must tackle these more immediate crises, while still preparing for the growing impacts of climate change. A major question now is if the immediacy of 2020’s crises have reduced public desire to address the future crisis of climate change.
In this project, we explore how, if at all, experiencing COVID-19, its economic fallout and the protests related to racial inequalities has impacted Indiana residents’ opinions, views, and preparedness behaviors related climate change. We also will study the extent to which individuals in Indiana were impacted by COVID-19, interacted with the Black Lives Matter Movement and whether the Indiana public is aware of the connections between racial inequalities, public health and environmental change. Toward this end, the project will re-survey the participants of the 2019 Hoosier Life Survey, which was completed in the fall of that year. This work will contribute to our understanding of the (in)stability of public pro-environmental concern and if the Indiana public perceives a connection between climate change, public health and racial inequalities. When delivered to external partners throughout the state, its findings will help to shape local rebuilding and outreach efforts necessary to avert the most severe health, ecological, and economic impacts of climate change coming to the midwestern United States. Results will also enable more informed outreach and education related to environmental justice/inequalities. Information about our first survey can be found here: https://eri.iu.edu/research/human-impacts-and-attitudes/hoosier-life-survey.html 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 and interests: Climate change and public opinion; decision-making and environmental policy. Interest and/or experience with social science research, public health, environmental justice. Interest in quantitative research. Desire to learn statistical programs. Excellent writing skills.
Faculty mentor: Dr. Matthew Houser, Assistant Research Scientist, Environmental Resilience Institute
Project description: Climate change will increase drought in many regions, including in the Midwest. Agricultural systems are already responding to increased drought through human decisions, such as a farmer installing irrigation, and through changes in the diverse microbial communities that inhabit every inch of agricultural soil, microbes in soils may respond to droughts in ways that help protect plants from drought, reducing the need for humans (farmers) to respond. As a result, irrigation has the potential to generate feedbacks that reduce the power of microbes to protect plants from drought and instead increase reliance on irrigation, reducing the future resilience of agroecological systems. In contrast, practices that promote soil health have the potential to increase protective microbial communities and cause feedbacks that increase long-term resilience; farmers’ bottom-line, local communities’ water availability and national food security would all potentially benefit. It is unclear, however, when such feedbacks are likely to develop, which agricultural management strategies or soil characteristics will prevent or promote such feedbacks and how farmers will respond to knowledge of the benefits provided by their microbial communities. In this transdisciplinary project, we explore how both farmers and microbes respond to drought, how farmer decisions influence microbial communities, and how microbial communities and the potential drought tolerance they provide might protect farmers from climate change and influence future farmer management decisions. The resulting data along with suggested strategies for promoting the capacity of microbes to protect their farms from drought will be shared with the Midwest farmers, as well as outreach organizations. The selected undergraduate researcher will assist (1) with retrieving contact information for Midwest farmers; (2) participate in the initial email/phone screening of farmers to determine who can/is willing to participate in the project; (3) and will have the opportunity to design their own research question related to the project and conduct interviews* with farmers that address this research question and other project aims. *Interviews will be phone/zoom or in-person depending on IU’s research guidelines at the time.
Desired skills and interests: Climate change, agriculture, decision-making and environmental policy. Interest and/or experience with social science research. Interest in qualitative and interdisciplinary research approaches. Excellent writing skills. The undergraduate will gain valuable experience and knowledge that is especially suited for those interested in pursuing a career in sustainable food systems, agricultural conservation/outreach, policy/risk assessment and/or a graduate degree in an environmental social-science discipline.
Faculty mentor: Dr. Gina Depper, Assistant Research Scientist
Project description: The Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands has developed online boater education courses for Everglades National Park and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in response to a concern for fragile ecosystems and natural resources. The aim of the e-courses is to train boaters to safely and consciously enjoy the park and sanctuary. In Everglades National Park the intent is to require participants to take the course prior to being able to obtain a permit to boat in the park. This project will examine evaluation and assessment data from the online courses at Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to better understand reactions to the courses and the degree to which participants learned the information provided. The research project will include a literature review of addressing natural resource concerns through education, with a focus on online education. This will be followed by an analysis of existing data and reporting of results in a policy brief.
Skills and Interests: An interest in education as a management solution to conservation of natural resources would be helpful. All of the required knowledge for the project can be taught.
Faculty mentor: Dr. Avram Primack, Lecturer, O'Neill
Project description: Creating and using crowd-sourced information about the environment using GIS for Indiana-- this project will use new tools in GIS called story maps. Story maps combine web page technology with map making that allows data collection. The objective of this project will be to create a story map on either the location of road kill or exotic species in Indiana. Examples of this kind of project can be found here: https://geocas.org/CitizenScience. This web page shows web based applications embedded in a web page along with information and a web map interface that allows.
The student chosen for this project will work on learning to write the story included in the map, find images that complement the story, and design the web based applications that will collect data and serve it back to the state. The data collected may focus on roadkill, exotic species, or any other suitable environmental topic. Interested students should not be afraid of computers, be interested in web design and environmental communication, and good writers.