Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 70.12
Liaison Amir Nadav
Submission Date March 5, 2021

STARS v2.2

University of St. Thomas
AC-8: Campus as a Living Laboratory

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 3.20 / 4.00 Elise Amel
Faculty Director
Office of Sustainability Initiatives
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Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Campus Engagement?:
Yes

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Campus Engagement:

The St. Thomas Pollinator Path and the Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP) collaborated with a Biology courses to develop a Pollinator Pathways Activity Guide (34 pages, fully illustrated) and an SCP arts exhibit Pollinator Pathways, hosted by the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization in Summer 2019 and hosted by the St. Thomas Department of Art History in Fall 2019. Both exhibitions included community events to learn more about pollinators at the different locations. On campus, there were tours of the Pollinator Path throughout September to engage the campus community. The Activity Guide can be used anywhere - on the St. Thomas Pollinator Path or beyond - to learn about pollinators. About Pollinator Pathways: https://www.stthomas.edu/osi/scparts/installationsandexhibits/pollinatorpathsummer2019/


Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Public Engagement?:
Yes

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Public Engagement:

Society and Sustainability (ENVR 212) collaborated with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) and the Natural Heritage Project (NHP) to explore people's experiences of the Mississippi River through an online survey and stories. Students analyzed online survey themes and translated their research into artwork with SCP Artist-in-Residence Sarah Nelson. This artwork was displayed in the Symbiosis exhibit at the University of St. Thomas.

Coming in 2021: Students collected people’s stories of the Mississippi River through NHP’s Elm Tree Story Booth, which traveled to different locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul to collect stories from diverse voices. NHP and SCP are pairing local artists with individual stories collected through the Elm Tree Story Booth to feature at the MWMO in Fall 2021. Research findings from both the online survey and the stories will inform the MWMO’s engagement and outreach programs.

The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) also hosted Pollinator Pathways at their Stormwater Learning Center to celebrate pollinators and their habitat. St. Thomas students in General Biology Labs (BIOL 101) and Plants, Food, and Medicine (BIOL 315) applied their ecological knowledge to develop interactive activities to engage people of all ages to observe and identify pollinators and flowers - to bring this knowledge. Their activities were included in a 34-page fully illustrated activity guide, “Exploring Pollinator Pathways,” available at the exhibit, and their activities were the basis for the exhibit artwork. The exhibit invited people of all ages to observe pollinators closely, to learn about their relationships to flowers, and to ponder their value to society. It featured drawings, photographs, and activities that seek to inspire wonder, joy, and appreciation for the diversity and value of pollinators in the Twin Cities and beyond to life. https://www.mwmo.org/learn/visit-us/exhibits/pollinator-pathways/


Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Air & Climate?:
No

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Air & Climate:
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Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Buildings?:
No

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Buildings:
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Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Energy?:
Yes

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Energy:

The St. Thomas Center for Microgrid Research houses the UST Microgrid, which is a multimillion dollar research facility that opened in the Fall of 2019. The microgrid consists of a 48 kW solar PV array, 50 kW biodiesel generator, grid-connection to Xcel Energy and 125 kW/396 kWh lead acid battery storage. The microgrid also has test equipment that can emulate different electrical sources or loads and can test third-party equipment up to 125 kW.

The vision for of the Center for Microgrid Research is to be one of the premiere applied engineering research centers in the area of distributed energy resources and microgrids enabling a secure, resilient and carbon-free electric grid for the 21st century.

The University's electrical engineering programs engage with the Center for Microgrid Research--in particular, the St. Thomas Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, which offers concentrations in Power Systems and Smart Grid and Electric Vehicles. These programs prepare power engineers to lead the way in decarbonizing the electric grid and electrifying the transportation industry.

Between 2018 and 2020, the center has engaged six undergraduate and six graduate students in research projects such as: power system protection, automation and control. The research projects included generator paralleling, which is important for island-mode operation of microgrids.

The real-world experimental data from the microgrid is also used in multiple graduate classes. Case studies include: transformer operation and in-rush, paralleling of electrical generators and fault analysis. These case studies show students how theoretical and foundational knowledge is applied in a real-world setting within electrical engineering. Students also learn about the effects of electricity generation on climate change. Electricity generation is one of the leading contributors to CO2 emissions. Students learn how renewable energy can help reduce CO2 emissions.

Additional information about the Center for Microgrid Research is available at: https://www.stthomas.edu/microgrid/


Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Food & Dining?:
No

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Food & Dining:
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Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Grounds?:
Yes

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Grounds:

The University of St. Thomas has a Stewardship Garden and Pollinator Path, both through the Department of Biology, that serve as living laboratory resources for students. The University of St. Thomas' Sustainable Communities Partnership has partnered with the Pollinator Path to develop course-based projects in other disciplines that add ecological and educational value to the Pollinator Path, while at the same time providing students from other disciplines the opportunity to engage with the Pollinator Path on campus (see campus and public engagement).

Projects during the 2018-2020 timeframe included: Creating Interactive Activity Guides and Designs for Experiential Engagement for the St. Thomas Department of Biology Pollinator Path (BIOL 101 and BIOL 315); Designing Pollinator Path Gardens as an Immersive Experience; Modeling Pollinator Movement and Behavior (Center for Applied Math); Surveying the Pollinator Path on South Campus (ENGR 160).

In the fall of 2020, the University of St. Thomas grounds supervisor and the Office of Sustainability Initiatives also partnered with faculty and students in the sustainability living learning community class (ESCI 132) to explore sustainable and organic lawn maintenance practices that could be considered for our campus. Students gathered information about other universities, golf courses, and businesses that have adopted sustainable lawn care practices and presented their recommendations to university staff.

The St. Thomas Stewardship Garden integrates research, teaching, and community service. Founded in 2011, the garden currently covers 3/4 acre of land on the St. Paul campus. The garden serves as a research site for undergraduate-faculty collaborations, engaging around 10 undergraduate researchers per year. Approximately 15 classes from eight different disciplines have engaged with the Stewardship Garden. Research conducted at the garden has produced over 10 presentations at national conferences and one publication with undergraduate student co-authors.

The Stewardship Garden is also the basis for a $700,000 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to Dr. Chip Small to study the effects of urban agriculture expansion and climate on nutrient cycling and loss in urban ecosystems. In 2020, the National Science Foundation awarded a $500,000 grant to Dr. Adam Kay to engage students in socially- and environmentally-connected science through urban agriculture. The grant will use the Stewardship Garden and other resources to develop educational experiences at St. Thomas and partner institutions, while also learning about, and incorporating ideas from, community farming and food organizations.


Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Purchasing?:
Yes

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Purchasing:

In the spring of 2020, students in a marketing research class partnered with the Office of Sustainability Initiatives on a class project to explore how the university can encourage student clubs and organizations to become more sustainable with their giveaway options. The students identified the types of items that clubs and organizations typically purchase for giveaways. They then conducted focus groups with students to understand what factors club leaders consider when making decisions about purchasing promotional items. The students examined sustainable giveaway guidelines from other universities and conducted a survey of St. Thomas undergraduates to explore which strategies to encourage sustainable giveaways would have the most support on campus. The students submitted a final report to the Office of Sustainability Initiatives and created a branded guide to sustainable giveaways that now appears on the Campus Life website as a resource for student clubs and organizations.


IIs the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Transportation?:
Yes

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Transportation:

Facilities Management at the University of St. Thomas and the University of St. Thomas Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP) collaborated between the fall of 2017 through the fall of 2018 to integrate projects related to encouraging bicycling to campus into courses. Facilities Management at the University of St. Thomas would like to develop a strategy to create a campus environment more conducive to biking, including physical resources/infrastructure (e.g., bike racks) and programs. The goal of this collaboration is to increase the number of students, faculty, and staff who bike to the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses year-round, especially members of the St. Thomas community who live within a mile or two of campus. St. Thomas seeks to encourage biking to campus to reduce pressure on parking, improve neighborhood relations, and reduce the University’s carbon footprint, while also improving the overall student, faculty, and staff experience at St. Thomas.

Five courses across four different programs/disciplines (undergraduate Engineering, Geography, and Marketing, and the MBA program) participated in this project between the fall of 2017 and fall of 2018, bringing campus as a living laboratory into their coursework. These include: Bicycling Maps for St. Thomas Students (GEOG 321, Fall 2017), Examining Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety on Campus (ENGR 466, Fall 2018), St. Paul Campus Bicycle Master Plan (MBA Client Consulting Program, Spring 2018), Designing Bike Racks for the University of St. Thomas (ENGR 171, Spring 2018), Minneapolis Campus Bicycle Master Plan (MKTG 340, Spring 2018).


Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Waste?:
No

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Waste:
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Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Water?:
Yes

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Water:

In 2020, the University's grounds supervisor partnered with students, faculty and the Office of Sustainability staff to explore the potential to conserve water used for irrigating campus lawns. The University awarded a summer research grant to a student who conducted an experiment to study the impact of irrigation on lawns. The student measured soil moisture and grass height weekly for the baseball outfield and for the lawns north of Summit Avenue. Both experiment areas were divided into zones. Each zone received the same amount of irrigation during the first month of the experiment, and in the second month of the experiment irrigation times were altered for the most of the zones.

In the fall of 2020, students in Environmental Problem Solving (ESC 321) completed a course project that analyzed the summer data to answer the following questions:
- How much water does the university campus use for irrigation?
- How much could we save by reducing irrigation, without detrimental effects on appearance of lawns?
- What additional data do we need to definitively answer these questions?


Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Coordination & Planning?:
Yes

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Coordination & Planning:

In the fall of 2018, the University of St. Thomas' Office of Sustainability Initiatives partnered with faculty in the departments of biology, marketing, and philosophy to engage their students in course projects to help inform the development of the University's first sustainability strategic plan. Across these courses, nearly 100 students conducted campus surveys, focus groups, and research to identify ideas that could be incorporated into the sustainability strategic plan's proposed goals, actions and vision. The students studied the University's existing sustainability initiatives, examined the efforts of our peer institutions and used scientific principles and market research to identify viable ideas for the University's sustainability strategic plan that align with the interests of our campus community.


Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Diversity & Affordability?:
No

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Diversity & Affordability:
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Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Investment & Finance?:
No

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Investment & Finance:
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Is the institution utilizing its infrastructure and operations as a living laboratory for applied student learning for sustainability in relation to Wellbeing & Work?:
No

A brief description of the projects and how they contribute to understanding or advancing sustainability in relation to Wellbeing & Work:
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Website URL where information about the institution’s living laboratory program is available:
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Additional documentation to support the submission:
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