Minnesota Daily: Students help county with projects

The Resilient Communities Project researches resource use in Carver County this year

By Melissa Steinken, The Minnesota Daily, September 22, 2015

A University of Minnesota project is sending undergraduate and graduate students to Carver County, Minn., this school year to help find better ways to use environmental resources.

The University partners with a Minnesota community each year as part of the school’s Resilient Communities Project, which enlists help from students to complete assignments throughout the state in return for class credit. This year, students will assist Carver County in 13 of its 34 programs designed to increase sustainability.

Over the 2015-16 academic year, students will work with the county to develop better transportation, housing and education — and they will earn college credit in the process.

The Carver County Board established five goals for the project, including creating safe communities, improving the county’s economic status and making county services more accessible to community members.

County officials — like Carver County Commission Chair Randy Maluchnik — say they hope using research to identify problem areas in their communities will lead to future decisions driven by data rather than political opinion. 

“There are questions about whether the University is driving this project,” Carver County planner Nate Kabat said, “but staff have identified these projects so the counties and cities could approach the common goals selected by elected officials.”

The projects will cost the county and affected cities about $55,000, Maluchnik said, while requesting money from private organizations would have boosted the cost to about four times that.

“Since we have limited resources, the best way in the long run to cut taxes is to cut costs,” he said.

Some of the University-led projects will focus on improving alternative energy practices and providing safer biking and walking routes for school children, Resilient Communities project director Mike Greco said.

University civil engineering classes will also work with the Carver County Water Management Organization to reconstruct dams that are preventing fish from traveling upstream, Greco said. He also added that some students will work on installing solar panels on school rooftops in Chaska, Minn.

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