Students awarded grants for sustainability research

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

The IU Bloomington Office of Sustainability has awarded 12 Student Research Development Grants ranging from $2,000 to $10,000. This year’s awards totaled just over $50,000 and will aid student sustainability research focused on stewardship, mitigation of human activity’s environmental impacts and societal responses to environmental problems.

The grants help pay for research equipment, travel to research locations and living expenses while working, among other costs associated with individual projects.

Jordan Blekking (left) takes a turn at the blow while working in Zambia.

Jordan Blekking (left) takes a turn at the blow while working in Zambia.

A multidisciplinary team of professors selected the grant awardees based on several criteria, including sustainability framework engagement, social equity, innovation, timeliness and impact.

“With help from this grant program, past recipients have published in academic journals and anthologies, presented at conferences and received additional grant funding, such as from the National Science Foundation and the Waterhouse Family Institute,” said Kathleen de Onis, Ph.D. candidate in communication and culture and graduate intern in the Office of Sustainability’s Education and Research Working Group. “Having received this grant myself in 2014, I can say that this award is instrumental in offering the support necessary to move projects from ideas into action on the ground.”

The 2016 grant cycle ties with last year for the largest number of awarded projects in the program’s eight-year history. This is the second year that undergraduate students were considered for the award.

The grants help facilitate undergraduate projects from the research phase into the publication phase. The funds help graduate students add additional research components to their master’s thesis or dissertation that might be outside the funding from their faculty mentor.

“We wanted to honor the IU Bicentennial emphasis on engaged learning for all students, including undergraduates, and were aware of all the great outcomes that often come from undergraduate research,” said Andrew Predmore, associate director of sustainability. “We knew we would be launching an undergraduate research program, 2020 Sustainability Scholars, this academic year. Knowing this, we felt that opening up the grants to undergraduates would potentially provide some of the scholars support to continue the work they began in 2020 Sustainability Scholars program.”

The IU Education and Research Working Group evaluated the applicants and allocated the awards for both domestic and international research.

“These grants are highly competitive and offer students the financial resources and recognition needed to conduct quality sustainability research,” de Onis said. “Funded projects address diverse contexts, spanning from Indiana to Iceland to India.”

Grant recipient Jordan Blekking, a master’s student in the Department of Geography, will travel to Zambia to work on his research question, “Dryland Food Security through Diversification.” He became interested in Zambia’s food security issues while working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country for 3 1/2 years.

“I was always amazed at how far farmers would go to purchase seeds for their farms, sometimes using huge amounts of their savings and time to travel in order to buy them,” Blekking said. “To me, accessibility to resources seemed like an enormous constraint, and I wanted to know how those remote distances, and even what’s available by seed dealers, affects their ability to achieve food security.”

Blekking’s research will focus on a region grappling with climate change’s serious and palpable impacts on small farming operations.

“I’m really honored and excited about this opportunity,” Blekking said. “I think it speaks volumes about IU’s commitment to creating a better world that the university would fund projects based within the United States, as well as projects in such remote regions of the world, like mine in Zambia.”

Emma McDonnell works on her project in the Peruvian highlands.

Emma McDonnell works on her project in Peru.

Emma McDonell, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology, will also use the grant to look at global food systems. The grant will help fund her dissertation fieldwork on the development of quinoa in the Puno region of Peru as a local, traditional food grown for international markets.

“As indigenous communities around the world seek to simultaneously engage in global markets while preserving traditional ways through commercializing traditional foods, it is imperative we identify factors influencing the success and sustainability of these initiatives,” McDonell said.

McDonell’s project, “Creating Local Quinoa for Global Marketplace,” examines the sometimes conflicting nexus of local tradition and the global economy.

“I’m most excited about learning about the diverse experiences of those involved in creating a ‘local’ quinoa and how they see the potential for reconciling economic imperatives and local tradition,” McDonell said.

Additional recipients and their research projects are:

  • Corben Andrews, undergraduate environmental science major in SPEA, “Analyzing Turfgrass as a Pretreatment for Prairie Restoration.”
  • Martin Delaroche, Ph.D. candidate in public affairs, “Environmental Management: Decision-Making Processes Among Large-Scale Landowners in Brazil.”
  • Paulo Dos Santos Massoca, Ph.D. candidate in environmental science, “Fighting Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: Environmental Policy Effects on Landowners’ Decision-Making and on Land-Use and Land-Cover Change.”
  • Shree Harsha Sridharamurthy, master’s student in computer science, and Ian Ford, undergraduate major in computer science, “Water Works: A Game to Teach Water Systems Thinking.”
  • Jennifer Huang, undergraduate math and environmental anthropology major, “Group Formation and Stewardship of Renewable Energy Resources: A Case Study of Iceland.”
  • Jacob Mills, undergraduate environmental management major, “Cultural Competency in the Sustainable Agriculture Movement.”
  • Olivia Ranseen, undergraduate environmental management major, “Sustainable Production in Theatre.”
  • Tyler Schlachter, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geography, “Linking Household Perceptions and Ecosystem Impacts.”
  • Clair Wright, dual Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology and anthropology, “Soundscape Analysis of Human-Environment Interactions in the Cloud Forests to Ecuador.”

Those interested in supporting the Student Research Development Grants can donate online.


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