MIL-OSI USA: Student-Led Sustainability Projects Funded by UConn Office of Sustainability

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Source: US State of Connecticut

Sustainability cuts across many disciplines and the third round of the Environmental and Social Sustainability Grants (ESSG) showed just how creatively sustainability can be applied. 

Started by the Office of Sustainability, within the Institute of the Environment, in 2021, the ESSG program competitively funds student-led initiatives that enhance environmental and social sustainability for UConn communities.  

“The Environmental and Social Sustainability Grants Program provides essential funding for students to explore and address challenges that have both an environmental and societal impact here in Connecticut.  Students co-design projects with support from faculty and staff mentors to improve environmental and living conditions.  This program has resulted in lasting impacts and improvements both on and off campus, such as a composting privy at Spring Valley Student Farm, a Swap Shop aimed at reducing plastics waste and extending the life of clothes, and a Gleaning Corps which collects excess produce from local farms and delivers it to various food pantries in the Willimantic area for people suffering from food insecurity,” says Patrick McKee, Interim Director of the Office of Sustainability. 

Grantees Lucy Ledesma ‘26 (BUS, COE) and Audrey Larson ‘25 (COE) are co-leading a hydroponic farming project in Storrs. They plan to educate fellow students on how to grow fresh produce with gifted mini hydroponic farming units. “We are excited to explore the topic of food insecurity. We hope that by the end of our program, students will be able to address food insecurity both in the world and in their own lives,” they shared. 

Eight projects were awarded funds due to their interdisciplinary nature and ability to advance both sustainability and equity. 

Feeding UConn Stamford Students Sustainably 

This project aims to address the high rates of food insecurity identified at the UConn Stamford campus by providing students with free access to essential vegetables and nutrients. A new flex farm will be installed and used to grow food for Husky Harvest in Stamford. 

  • Students: Victoria Almazan ‘26 (SSW), Joanna Pirog ‘24 (SFA, BUS) 
  • Faculty Mentors: Laura Bunyan, Associate Professor-in-Residence of Sociology, Rosa Rizzo, University Specialist in Stamford Campus Operations 

Bringing the Buzz Back to UConn Community Garden 

This project looks to create an accessible beekeeping space for students and the greater Mansfield community at the previously managed UConn Community Gardens site. Grantees will provide education on pollinators, honey production, and mindfulness through the embodied experience of beekeeping.  

  • Students: Trevor Donahue ‘25 (CLAS) 
  • Faculty & Staff Mentors: Phoebe Godfrey, Professor-in-Residence of Sociology, Tina McCarthy, Director of Nursing at Student Health and Wellness (SHAW), Dr. Peter Davis Smith, Medical Director at SHAW, Jessica Larkin-Wells, Farm Manager, Spring Valley Student Farm 

 Soil Screening to Inform Environmental Justice and Promote Sustainable Urban Farming in Hartford 

Soil testing at vacant lots, parks, urban gardens, and backyards in Hartford will identify lead pollution and help evaluate native soil suitability for farming, supporting residents and non-profit organizations and promoting environmental justice.  

  • Students: Haley Clos, PhD candidate in Environmental Engineering, Gaylene Frere ‘26 (COE), Victoria Duffy ‘24 (CAHNR, CLAS) 
  • Faculty Mentor: Marisa Chrysochoou, Department Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

 Spring Valley Student Farm Solar Tie In 

This project will connect an existing solar PV array to the electrical grid to power aquaponics and greenhouse operations at Spring Valley Student Farm. The tie-in will also be able to power Oak Cottage, where some student farmers live. 

  • Students: Andrew Carter ‘25 (BUS) 
  • Staff Mentors: Jessica Larkin-Wells, Farm Manager, Spring Valley Student Farm, Brian McKeon, Electrical Engineer at Facilities Operations 

Proof of Concept: Micro-Hydropower Generation at UConn Water Resource Recovery Facility – Chlorination Contact Weir 

Micro-hydropower is an emerging market, and this project will provide an opportunity to research the cost-effectiveness and practical challenges to installing a generator at the water resource recovery facility outlet at UConn Storrs. Creating clean local power is an important facet to a sustainable and resilient future for students and facilities alike. 

  • Students: Steven Matile, PhD Candidate in Structural Engineering, Lucy Li, PhD Candidate in Structural Engineering 
  • Faculty & Staff Mentors: Wei Zhang, Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Katie Milardo, Associate Director of Energy & Water Compliance in Facilities Operations. 

 Community Seed Library 

Seeds nourish our bodies by giving us food and feed our souls by allowing us to connect with ourselves, nature, and one another. The UConn Seed Library will enhance the physical health of the community and give us an opportunity to gather, learn, and grow… together! 

  • Students: Iris Armstrong ‘25 (CAHNR) 
  • Faculty Mentors: Jill Desimini, Associate Professor and Program Director of Landscape Architecture 

Fighting Food Insecurity with Individual Hydroponic Farming 

Food insecurity exists for many UConn students. This project seeks to empower those affected and give them the tools (hydroponic systems, nutrition lessons, etc.) to grow their own food and combat the problem’s effect on their own lives. 

  • Students: Lucy Ledesma ‘26 (BUS, COE), Audrey Larson ‘25 (COE), Lianne Duran ‘25 (CAHNR) Anthony Prior ‘26 (COE) 
  • Faculty Mentors: Johnathan Moore, Executive Director, Digital Frontiers Initiative, Director of OPIM Innovate Labs 

Swap Shop 

The Swap Shop provides clothes a second life, through exchange, resale and repair services on the UConn Storrs campus. By offering affordable and sustainable clothing options, along with educational opportunities on clothing stewardship, the project directly benefits the university community and aligns with growing environmental concerns. 

  • Students: Laura Braddick ‘24 (BUS), Madeline Kizer ‘24 (BUS)  
  • Staff Mentor: Heather Parker, Academic Advisor, Department of History 

Students will present their project findings and impacts at the Climate Change Café on December 4, 2024. 

For more details on the Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants Program, please visit: https://sustainability.uconn.edu/environmental-social-sustainability-grants-program/  

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