The Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan awarded Catalyst Grants to four cross-disciplinary sustainability projects this January. Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the Graham Institute, said the winning projects embody the value of partnership and community involvement in research and will develop real-world applications over the course of the semester.

“What we hope in each case is that faculty and students working together with external partners generate research results that have real value and use in the world of sustainability,” she said.

According to Haverkamp, the collaborative nature of the sustainability projects will lead to effective sustainability applications in the areas of engineering, botany and public policy.

“Ultimately, the Graham Institute is focused on fostering sustainable solutions in the real world, which requires robust collaboration across sectors,” she said. “These projects are excellent examples of putting that mission into action and bringing U-M expertise to bear in partnership with practitioners and policymakers beyond the University.”

The research teams, which include faculty from the School for Environment and Sustainability, Stamps School of Art & Design, Ford School of Public Policy, the Earth and Environmental Science department and the Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering department, are beginning work with the $10,000 Catalyst Grants. The projects include Expanding the Renewable Energy Policy Initiative, which encourages local and state government officials to support equitable access to clean energy technology, and Cut or Keep: Farmer Perceptions and Tree Management in Forested Cocoa and Coffee Agriculture, which will help farmers in Ethiopia and Ghana decide how to use their land. The two other grant recipients are The Rust Belt Herbarium and Better Communicating Great Lakes Ice Forecasts.

All four will involve the development of environmental sustainability applications with partners and stakeholders.

Ayumi Fujisaki-Manome, principal investigator for Better Communicating Great Lakes Ice Forecasts, will be developing an improved interface for ice forecasts with the U.S. Coast Guard 9th District and Lake Carrier’s Association.

“Researchers and stakeholders will meet to discuss what’s needed for forecasting information,” Fujisaki-Manome said. “We are going to include an interactive graphic development system so we can improve the forecast graphic alongside stakeholders.”

The Rust Belt Herbarium project will document the flora of the greater Detroit area in order to fill knowledge gaps about urban plants, explained Anton Reznicek, herbarium curator and project co-director.

“For some of these species our information is thin,” he said. “Plants that are weeds of these kinds of urban settings are the most dynamic element of the flora … but we don’t have as much information as you might think.”

The herbarium project will also hold meetings with local stakeholders and create an Instagram account to share findings.

Daniel Phillips, a doctoral candidate in the School for Environment and Sustainability, explained the herbarium will be working with community stakeholders to hear their feedback. 

“The people who live in these neighborhoods have a vested interest,” Phillips said. “We will mediate between larger long-term goals and the immediate needs of the community. … The only way we can understand these needs is to have conversations with people.”

Business junior Elsa Borrello, a Graham Sustainability Scholar, reflected on the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to addressing sustainability issues.

“I think it’s really important to bring together people who are interested in the sciences, to share knowledge with business people who can bring new perspectives and solve a problem more holistically,” she said.

Haverkamp looks forward to hearing from future Catalyst Grant applicants and is hopeful about the research projects selected this January.

“We look forward to robust interest in the next round of grants and look forward to seeing the results of the grants that we just issued,” she said.

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