Originally published on the UMN’s Institute on the Environment website on February 3, 2016 by Monique Dubos
BY MONIQUE DUBOS
Children are the future, goes the familiar adage. Here at the Institute on the Environment, our projects are like our children. We invest in them with the expectation that their ideas and actions will change the world for the better.
“IonE’s mission of seeking solutions to grand environmental challenges spurs us to invest in innovative projects that will have major impacts,” says Lewis Gilbert, IonE managing director and chief operating officer. “The Resilient Communities Project, for example, is changing how we think about engaged teaching. We see our investments as catalysts for evolution at the U of M writ large.”
IonE has invested in many promising activities that have gone on to live independent lives of their own, supported through our funding vehicles, including Project Grants (formerly Discovery Grants), the Initiative for Renewable Energy & the Environment, and Mini Grants. Just like proud parents, IonE has nurtured the following programs and sent them out into the world to do good.
Each year, the Resilient Communities Project organizes yearlong partnerships that connect a Minnesota community with University of Minnesota expertise to tackle community-identified sustainability projects. The program was launched with a $30,000 IonE Discovery Grant. The following year, RCP partnered with the city of Minnetonka on 14 projects that engaged 25 classes and more than 200 students across eight colleges at the University. Student work helped the city advance initiatives to reduce phosphorus and sediment pollution in local lakes and rivers, evaluate and improve local housing assistance programs, plan for transit-oriented development around future light-rail stations, reduce traffic congestion, and increase engagement with local residents. Other partners include North St. Paul, Rosemount and Carver County.
“The IonE Discovery Grant in 2012 was instrumental in launching the program and that provided key support during RCP’s first two years of operation,” says RCP director Mike Greco. “Thanks to IonE and the U of M’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, RCP has connected more than 100 graduate and undergraduate courses across 11 U of M colleges and more than 1,000 students with meaningful experiential-learning opportunities during our first three years of operation. Those students have provided assistance with 59 community-identified projects that help to advance local sustainability in the Twin Cities metro area.”
The project is now evaluating its early operations and looking for ways to encourage implementation of the sustainability initiatives that come out of the partnerships.
College of Education and Human Development Ph.D. student Doug Moon is currently conducting a comprehensive evaluation of RCP’s first three partnerships. “We hope to use insights gathered from this process to inform how we can best support our community partners in implementing their sustainability efforts once the formal RCP partnership has ended, as well as how we might modify the program to better meet the needs of participants,” says Greco.
RCP is an initiative of the Sustainability Faculty Network at the University of Minnesota, with funding and administrative support provided by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.