April 30, 2019 No Comments

Campus Sustainability Grants: UGA Recycle Education Initiative

Incoming freshmen at the University of Georgia receive lessons and training on a few important topics before coming to college, notably alcohol and drug abuse and sexual assault and misconduct. UGA students Mira Bookman, Aditya Krishnaswamy and Raquel Hazzard think that something else should be added to the roster of pre-college educational materials: an online tutorial that teaches students proper recycling techniques.

The trio is using the funds from a Campus Sustainability Grant to design and implement an educational module to increase student awareness of recycling resources. They hope to implement the short module into First Year Odyssey Seminar classes to reach and inform students who are just beginning their college journey.

The ultimate goal of this educational initiative is to reduce the proportion of recyclable materials that end up in the landfill. Last year, UGA sent 5,474 tons of material to the landfill and recycled only 1,200 tons. The EPA estimates that over 75 percent of the U.S. waste stream is actually recyclable.

Similar educational modules have been implemented with success at colleges such as the University of Wisconsin-Stout and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both of which have been guiding examples for the UGA module.

The recycling initiative team will be hiring a couple of computer science interns this summer to help create the module, which they are hoping to start testing this summer to get feedback. The module will include an interactive game to help train people on what is and is not recyclable.

The team said this project fits into the idea of sustainability because it aims to change people’s habits. This project will eliminate the confusion around what is and is not recyclable to hopefully create a more sustainability-minded campus in the future.

Written by Jordan Meaker


April 1, 2019 No Comments

Confetti on campus creates problems for local environment, campus grounds crew

Spring in Athens is an exciting time for many as the weather warms up, flowers start blooming and the end of the semester draws near. For many students, the end of the semester also means getting ready for graduation and taking graduation photos at iconic locations on campus such as the Arch, the Founders Garden and the Herty Field Fountain.

While graduating seniors might be tempted to create Instagram-worthy photos using colorful confetti, this confetti comes with a dark side. Confetti litter negatively impacts our local environment because it can run into our waterways and also confuse wildlife that might think the colorful pieces are food.

Confetti creates an obstacle for the University of Georgia Facilities Management Division Grounds Department in its efforts to keep campus clean. Since the pieces are so small, the confetti must be removed with a blower or a shovel, and sometimes even lawnmowers. Grass clippings are usually composted, but clippings with confetti mixed in must be taken to the landfill.

With this in mind, there are plenty of biodegradable alternatives to using traditional confetti that will help sustain our campus’ beauty while also helping students take beautiful graduation photos.

Here are some confetti alternatives to use this graduation season:

  1. Flower petals: Flower or rose petal confetti is a great alternative to paper or plastic confetti that will make for some absolutely gorgeous grad photos while also keeping our campus clean.
  2. Plant or bird seeds: Seeds are an eco-friendly option that can either lead to more flowers being planted or provide a snack for local birds.
  3. Vanishing confetti: You can take the DIY route by creating this vanishing confetti that disappears when it gets wet.

When you’re taking grad photos this year, remember that confetti is litter and although it might make for one or two fun pictures, it’s negative effects remain in our local environment for much longer than the couples of minutes it takes to make a photograph.

Written by Jordan Meaker

March 21, 2019 No Comments

Campus Sustainability Grants: The Urban Pollinator Project

The Green Roof Garden on top of the Geography-Geology building at the University of Georgia has flourished since 2007, hosting not only a productive fruit and vegetable garden, but also a pollinator garden full of native plants. But when Joshua Grier, a senior Biology major, visited the garden with one of his classes, he noticed a lack of bees, one of the most important pollinators.

Grier grew up working with his grandparents’ bees and wanted to connect his knowledge of beekeeping with his Campus Sustainability Grant project. Grier’s project will bring honeybee hives to the Green Roof Garden so the bees can pollinate local plants and serve as an educational and research opportunity for the campus community.

“What I really love about the rooftop of Geography-Geology is that it’s accessible to the public,” Grier said.

Grier is hoping to unite students and faculty from all academic fields, from biology professors to business students who can learn entrepreneurial skills related to urban agriculture. Grier also plans to kickstart a UGA Honey Bee club to unite people who love bees and spread more information about the importance of honeybees as pollinators.

Rooftop gardens are becoming more common throughout major cities because they allow for the growth of crops on limited amounts of space. The Green Roof Garden at UGA has the additional advantage of being centrally located on campus, making it more accessible to students and faculty.

Bees are extremely important pollinators and are crucial to the growth of most fruits and vegetables, and some estimates say one-third of the food we eat relies on pollinators to grow.

Bees have faced many threats to their numbers over the years, such as mites, pesticides, Colony Collapse Disorder, monocultures and climate change. Grier’s project aims to boost honeybee health right on UGA’s campus. Grier said the health of bees is supported by people taking an interest in them.

The more people that have their hands in it, the more people are going to be passionate about it and the more we can prevent things from happening,” Grier said.

The rooftop will be buzzing soon, as the bees settle into their new home and start pollinating the spring flowers.

Written by Jordan Meaker

March 5, 2019 No Comments

Campus Sustainability Grant Projects: Trash Music

As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. But for Ciyadh Wells, one person’s trash is another’s music. Wells’ Campus Sustainability Grant project, titled Trash Music, is challenging musicians and composers to think outside the box about what music is and how it can be created.

“I really want people to think broadly but simply about what trash means and what music means,” Wells said. “Someone was like hey, what if we take an empty chip bag and rub it between our hands, is that trash music? And I said oh, yeah.”

Wells was inspired to start this project by the zero-waste, low-impact movement. The project is meant to draw attention to how materials can be reused and repurposed to create something new and useful.

“As a musician, I was wondering what else I could do in the sustainability movement that would also tie in my love of music,” Wells said.

Trash music is bringing together composers, builders, and artists from the University of Georgia and Athens communities. Their efforts will culminate in a Trash Music performance in April.

“I really want people to think broadly but simply about what trash means and what music means." - Ciyadh Wells

Wells hopes the project and performance will get people, especially musicians, thinking about being mindful of the Earth.

“I hope that it’s getting people to think deeper about our natural resources and how we use those as they become more scarce,” Wells said.

Written by Jordan Meaker

March 5, 2019 No Comments

Campus Sustainability Grants: Assessing and reducing the use of palm oil at UGA

Odds are, if you pick up any processed snack food, cleaning product or cosmetic product inside your home right now, it will probably contain palm oil, or a palm-oil derivative. Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is nearly ubiquitous in common household products. It contains no trans fats, which makes it a more attractive option for American consumers who are thinking about healthier food choices. It’s also a high-yield, efficient crop.

However, there’s a darker side to this pervasive ingredient. Palm oil plantations cause the destruction of rainforests, lead to the decline in endangered species such as orangutans and tigers, release a large amount of carbon pollution through the clearing of rainforests by fire, and displace indigenous people from their native lands.

Kristen Morrow, a Ph.D. student in Integrative Conservation and Anthropology, is looking to raise awareness on campus and in the community of the problems caused by palm oil production.

“The idea is to help [UGA Campus Dining Services and Vending] get a better understanding, with regards to palm oil sustainability, where do we stand as an institution and what changes we can make.” - Kristen Morrow. 

Morrow’s Campus Sustainability Grant project has two objectives: to work with Campus Dining Services and Vending to identify products that contain palm oil and provide a list of alternative suggestions, and to conduct research and host focus groups on student awareness of palm oil. Eventually, the project will lead to an outreach initiative involving social media, film screenings, tabling at events and more.

“The important thing to know about our project is it’s not a boycott of palm oil because to do so is unrealistic. It’s a globally important commodity and a lot of people’s livelihoods depend on the production of that product,” Morrow said. “But there are certain ways to consume palm oil more sustainably than others.”

Morrow is working with a team of undergraduate students to comb through UGA’s food products to discover the extent to which palm oil is present on campus.

“We’re really grateful that [UGA Dining Services] is working with us and doing this because it’s a really large database of products that they have … and often switching to more sustainably sourced products is more expensive,” Morrow said. “The idea is to help them get a better understanding, with regards to palm oil sustainability, where do we stand as an institution and what changes we can make.”

For individual consumers, it can be difficult to identify products with palm oil because the oil can go by hundreds of different names. Sometimes, palm oil can even just be labeled as vegetable oil, making it challenging to avoid using palm oil even if you’re being vigilant.

Nevertheless, Morrow stressed the importance of taking incremental steps and making an effort to make sustainable choices when possible.

“My approach to the issue is to try and be as pragmatic as possible ... where do we stand, where can we make incremental improvements and what’s the easiest way to do that to make ourselves more sustainable and provide better options to our consumers,” Morrow said.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that boycotting palm oil and switching to a different ingredient such as coconut oil might actually be worse for the environment. Palm oil is a high-yield, efficient crop because it produces a large amount of oil per unit of land. The conversation around palm oil has shifted from boycotting the crop to finding ways to grow it more sustainably.

“Conservation and sustainability issues involve really hard trade-offs and really powerful influences like major global corporations and an entire western hemisphere that wants to consume processed food that is most cheaply produced with palm oil,” Morrow said. “In the shorter term of coping with these issues, the solution needs to be focused on making palm oil sustainable.”

One place to start making more sustainable choices is through purchasing products that have the RSPO label. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is an organization that assesses products on a set of environmental and social criteria and issues certifications to companies that meet these standards. Companies can use the RSPO label to indicate that the palm oil used in their products is sustainably sourced.

“If companies receive pressure from consumers [saying] ‘I only want to buy your products if it has sustainably sourced palm oil,’ that’s where change can start to happen,” Morrow said.

Although the issue of palm oil production may seem complex, helping to conserve and protect the wildlife and people who are harmed by the palm oil industry starts with providing education on the topic and encouraging sustainable choices when they’re feasible.

Written by Jordan Meaker

March 5, 2019 No Comments

Campus Sustainability Grants: Building better businesses through the B Corp framework

University of Georgia MBA student Zack Godfrey is challenging business owners in Georgia to rethink their practices and consider using their companies as a force for good.

Godfrey’s Campus Sustainability Grant project connects students with businesses to help companies improve their social and environmental impact on their communities by implementing sustainable practices. The ultimate goal of this clinic is to help local businesses improve their operations and to give students tools to be able to make a difference in their careers.

The B Corp certification is granted to businesses with the “highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose,” according to the B Corp website.

To become B Corp certified, businesses must earn at least 80 points out of a possible 200. Businesses are scored in categories like workers, customers, community, and environment.  

The B Corp assessment is completely free, so businesses can get assessed to see where they stand and then work to improve their scores in any lacking areas.

Godfrey’s project connects MBA and sustainability capstone students with local companies looking to improve their scores. The students act as consultants for the companies, assisting them in solving problems and pinpointing areas for improvement.

“If you want to grow and be better, we have people here in place at the university who want to plug in and help those businesses,” Godfrey said. “It’s one of the best ways a company could choose to go through the process is by engaging students who want to help.”

There are currently 13 B Corp certified businesses in Georgia, and students are working with three more Atlanta and Athens-based companies that want to achieve this certification.

“Cutting your costs, being more efficient operationally, building more loyalty by having these programs in place that make you an attractive business, that’s how you keep your business going long term.”- Zack Godfrey

The Atlanta-based companies are the Sustainable Community Solutions Network, which provides consulting for Black-owned businesses, and The Come Up Project, an organization that provides at-risk youth with support, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. The third business, the Imery Group, is an Athens-based construction company that builds sustainable, efficient homes.

Godfrey said Georgia is behind on its number of B Corp businesses when compared with other southern states like North Carolina, which has around 50 B Corp businesses.

“It’s really interesting because it usually takes somebody being a champion and saying we need to put ourselves to the test,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey sees this push from businesses that want to improve their score as necessary for not only the sustainability of businesses, but also for the sustainability of the community as a whole.

“Cutting your costs, being more efficient operationally, building more loyalty by having these programs in place that make you an attractive business, that’s how you keep your business going long term,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey hopes to engage people from all across the university to use their skill set to help with this project.

“You don’t have to be a sustainability expert to be a part of this,” Godfrey said. “It takes people that care and want to take a stand to make this work.”

Written by Jordan Meaker

March 5, 2019 No Comments

Campus Sustainability Grants: Bicycle-powered vermicompost sifter

UGArden, a community garden at the University of Georgia focused on creating a sustainable food system through teaching people about sustainable gardening practices, runs like a well-oiled machine. Volunteers and interns work year-round to help grow food, but these volunteers also receive help from some small, wiggling worms as well.

UGArden utilizes a vermicomposting system to transform waste into a nutrient-rich soil supplement. UGArden intern Victoria Luna’s Campus Sustainability Grant project is aimed at creating a bicycle-powered vermicomposting system to reduce compost sifting time from eight hours to only about 30 minutes.

The vermicompost system works like this:

  • Food scraps are placed in a vermibed, a 3x10 box full of bedding materials and worms.
  • The worms eat the food scraps and poop them out, creating nutrient-rich castings.
  • Volunteers sieve out the castings to use as a fertilizer and split the worms into two separate boxes, starting the process over again.

To create the new bicycle-powered system, Luna is using a donated bicycle from BikeAthens to create a large trommel to separate the dirt and worms from their castings. The bicycle-powered sifter will not only assist UGArden in their food growing efforts, but will also help fulfill the garden’s mission of education community members.

“We have so many kids that come out, like the Athens area middle schools, and they interact with the whole farm … so it’s going to be cool because they’re going to get on a bike and sift some compost,” Luna said. “That one thing of getting on a bike that they’ve done a million times is going to connect them to this whole other form of how they can deal with their waste.”

Improving the efficiency of UGArden’s composting methods directly impacts another goal of the garden, which is to grow and donate food to members of the community who are in need. In a service-learning approach, UGArden trains volunteers to be able to serve the community in a more informed, competent way.

“You’re getting food to people who are transitioning out of homelessness and giving to women that are in need and the elderly. You’re doing all this by educating yourself on sustainable practices,” Luna said.

Luna said in her view, sustainability is an all-inclusive viewpoint that takes into consideration the Earth, future generations and marginalized populations.

“Sustainability and a wholesome view are synonymous to me,” Luna said. “If you’re going to look at some system, you can’t just look at a part of it.”

A pile of worms might seem like a small part of the UGArden system, but these little animals play a huge role in the overarching mission of the garden to create a sustainable food system and address needs within the community.

Written by Jordan Meaker

March 5, 2019 No Comments

Campus Sustainability Grants: Speaking with nature at Lake Herrick

In 2002, all water activities at the University of Georgia’s Lake Herrick ceased. Declining water quality due to human activities at the lake required putting an end to all swimming, boating and fishing that had taken place at the lake for many years.

But with this reduction in human activity at the lake came a resurgence in the lake’s natural beauty and the many animals that call the lake home such as beavers, turtles and at least 200 species of birds. After dedicated revitalization efforts, Lake Herrick was opened to the public once again for passive recreation in October 2018.

Renovations at Lake Herrick included the construction of a new community pavilion. (Photo: Nicole Schlabach)

Graduate students Alexandra Hofner and Elizabeth Wrobel want to celebrate the abundant wildlife and natural beauty of Lake Herrick through a collaboration between artists and researchers who study Lake Herrick. Their Campus Sustainability Grant project will reach across the traditional divisions between the arts and sciences.

“There’s a big push for scientists to be able to translate their research in a way that the public can understand, and I think that’s really important,” Wrobel said. “What’s the point of doing research to improve the world if you can’t get that message across?”

Hofner and Wrobel have paired researchers with artists and asked them to find a way to display the researchers’ information in an artistic format. Beyond that, the pairs have the freedom to create whatever they want with no boundaries.

“It is rigorous science, but it’s situated in a broader, emotional experience of people.”- Alexandra Hofner

At first glance, it might seem difficult to conceptualize how hard science can translate into art, but Hofner and Wrobel agreed that the pairs are finding compatibility through a mutual love for Lake Herrick.  

“I think it’s a combination of, the artists who have agreed to work with us are really interested in environmental issues, inherently, then the researchers are working with Lake Herrick and they have a very emotional connection to that space,” Hofner said. “It is rigorous science, but it’s situated in a broader, emotional experience of people.”

Lake Herrick reopened to the public for passive recreation in October 2018. (Photo: Nicole Schlabach)

The pairs of researchers and artists will be using most of the spring semester to create their art projects which will be displayed at an art festival at Lake Herrick in April. Attendees of the festival will not only be able to view the finished projects, but also create art right on the spot.

“There’s a big push for scientists to be able to translate their research in a way that the public can understand, and I think that’s really important."- Elizabeth Wrobel

The festival is also meant to break down the barrier between Lake Herrick and the larger Athens community. Hofner and Wrobel prioritized not only including UGA artists, but artists from all around Athens as well.

“Going into this project, we wanted to break down that barrier and bring in the wider community of Athens to utilize that space and to not view it as just a part of UGA,” Wrobel said. “It’s also a place for them to go and connect with nature.”

The art created through this collaborative project will be on display at a festival at Lake Herrick in early April. Check back at sustainability.uga.edu for updates on the festival.

Written by Jordan Meaker

March 5, 2019 No Comments

Campus Sustainability Grants: Guarding Gorillas through Electronics and Elementary Art

Gorillas, old cell phones, and hundreds of third graders. While at first glance, these three things might not have a lot in common, one Campus Sustainability Grant project is bringing all three together to engage the University of Georgia and Athens communities around an effort to consider how our actions have a wider impact beyond just us.

Caroline Jones, a Ph.D. student in psychology, and Carrie Siegmund, the director of instructional technology at Northeast Georgia RESA, are working with third-grade classes from around Athens to teach them about the link between recycling cell phones and helping gorilla populations in a project called Guardians of the Gorillas.

A Zoo Atlanta graphic explains the link between recycling cell phones and protecting gorillas.

Cell phones contain a metallic ore called coltan which is mined in the Congo. The mining process for coltan often includes the destruction of gorilla habitats and the hunting of gorillas for food. Also, conditions are poor for the miners themselves, as the industry is often militia-regulated, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation.

“Third graders are unique because they’re very curious, and they’re very passionate about this project." - Caroline Jones. 

Jones and Siegmund have created a project-based program to first educate the elementary schoolers all about gorillas, then inspire and empower them to take action to create a movement around recycling cell phones.

“The Guardians of the Gorillas started with the idea of empowering students to action,” Siegmund said. “I was at a session at Zoo Atlanta at a conference and they were showing the connection between gorillas and cell phones. I knew the students could help with that.”

Ozzie (Ozoum), the oldest male gorilla in the world, born in 1961.

Mija (Mijadala), two years old, is the youngest gorilla at Zoo Atlanta. Photos by Caroline Jones.

Jones conducts research on gorillas at Zoo Atlanta and first started teaching the third graders after she was contacted by Siegmund.

“Third graders are unique because they’re very curious, and they’re very passionate about this project,” Jones said. “When I go in, I play devil’s advocate, and I say ‘gorillas are in Africa and you’re here in Athens. If they’re dying over there, it’s not really affecting you, so why should we care about them?’ And they’re like ‘No! We need them!’”

During the education phase of the project, the students read a book about gorillas and create a replica of a gorilla habitat. The students create educational flyers and zines to share what they’ve learned about gorillas and how recycling cell phones can reduce the demand for coltan. Then, Siegmund said the students make the connection that right here in Athens, they can take actions to help gorillas that live across the globe.

An example of a gorilla habitat diorama created by third-grade students.

“It’s pretty cool when they make the connection that they are going to be able to help, instead of being just sad,” Siegmund said.

For the culminating event of the project, about 250 third graders will visit UGA’s campus at the end of March to share their knowledge with the UGA community. The students will work with a journalism professor to learn how to communicate their message of helping gorillas through cell phone donations to a wider audience, and then head out to interact with UGA students and faculty.

“They’re really excited and passionate about the choices that they make and what they should tell other people about the choices they’re making to protect our environment,” Jones said.

The Tate Student Center is hosting a donation box for old cell phones.

To support the students’ goal of collecting 500 cell phones, there is a donation box at Tate Student Center where anyone can drop off their old cell phones. In addition, the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials accepts cell phones all year round and is providing support for the guarding gorillas initiative.

If a third grader approaches you asking to chat about gorillas, here them out — they’re all experts on the topic now — and consider recycling your old cell phones.

Written by Jordan Meaker

January 30, 2019 No Comments

Q&A: Talking trees, llamas and more with campus arboretum intern Kendall Busher

You might not know it, but nearly anywhere you go outside on the University of Georgia's campus, you're standing in an arboretum. An arboretum is, simply put, a collection of trees. This semester, the Office of Sustainability has implemented a new internship position, the campus arboretum intern, in order to support and develop UGA's arboretum. We talked with campus arboretum intern Kendall Busher to learn more about this new position, but we also ended up talking llamas, an environmental English class and the meaning of sustainability. Check out the conversation:

What is your year, major, and where are you from?

I’m a second year horticulture major from Thief River Falls, Minnesota. I moved to Georgia my senior year of high school. I spent a year working on different farms, then I came to school here.

Did you take a gap year?

It was a gap semester. I took classes at the University of North Georgia, and I was working on an organic farm at that time. I fell in love with doing that, so then I worked on a llama farm in Tennessee for awhile, and then a goat farm in South Carolina.

Did you ever picture yourself working on farms?

No, not at all — I was interested in a lot of different things. I wanted to be a vet for a long time, so that’s how I started working on these different animal farms. I was kind of all over the place — I wanted to be a fashion designer, then doctor and vet were always in the back of my mind. Then I started working on this vegetable farm, and I was like, ‘plants are so cool.’ I fell in love with horticulture, and at UGA I’ve fallen in love with it even more.

How did you hear about this new internship position and why were you interested in working in this position?

I wasn’t even aware the campus had an arboretum, but I took a landscape and woody plant identification class last semester, and so that kind of changed my life and I really became obsessed with trees after that class. The professor that taught the course is also the horticulture interim department head. He approached me about midway through the semester. He was saying ‘Hey, I finally have the ability to redo the arboretum, I want to create a position with the Office of Sustainability, what are you doing for work next semester?’ I was lucky that it kind of fell into my lap. This position was created because Dr. [Tim] Smalley, the interim department head, has been wanting to do work on the arboretum for a long time. It hasn’t been touched for basically 18 years since it was developed.

What is an arboretum?

An arboretum is a garden or collection of trees. UGA’s arboretum is really special because we don’t have one specific place necessarily — our arboretum is set up across the entire campus. We have really historic, beautiful trees on different parts of our campus. Our arboretum is split up into walks. The trees that we have featured on our walks are really beautiful or unique specimens that we have, or just trees that we feel that people should know about. It’s a lot of different species — there’s a lot of natives and a lot of trees that aren’t native but still important to the campus or very beautiful.

What does your job entail on a day-to-day basis?

Right now, since the arboretum hasn’t been touched in 18 years, we’re trying to figure out what needs to be done to modernize it. We’re trying to develop a new website. We want to use a different system where it’s easier for people to walk from tree to tree on a self-guided tour. I’m going to be taking pictures of all the trees once they get their foliage in the spring. I also have worked with Dr. [Ron] Balthazar’s Environmental English class. I helped develop some curriculum with him. The class is focused on people’s relationship with trees. I picked 25 trees I felt that the students would have a connection to, and they’re really beautiful or historic trees on North Campus. I assigned a tree to each student and took the whole class on walks where I walked them to each tree.

What is your favorite tree?

I love all the trees on campus. We have a really nice Deodar cedar on North Campus, right behind Old College. That tree is really beautiful, it’s really magnificent-looking. There’s a really great ginkgo tree in front of Old College, and that one is really beautiful in the fall. It’s the huge, bright yellow one in the fall. There’s just way too many trees — I could literally talk to you for hours about all the trees I liked on campus.

Did you already know about trees before starting in this position?

At the beginning of fall semester last year, I couldn’t tell you the difference between an oak and a maple, but then I took the identification course with Dr. Smalley. You kind of walk through life, before you take these identification courses, and you just pass by these trees, but once you learn about them and you know their history, meaning and impact on the environment, it totally changes. In a way, it changes your world and opens your eyes to other things.

How can people become more aware of and mindful of the trees on campus?

Just learning about the trees changes your life. Learning about the trees and their significance, it makes you care about them a lot more. What I’m hoping with our arboretum too is that people learn about the trees in our arboretum, but that inspires them to learn about trees elsewhere and inspires them to preserve those trees and recognize the impact of trees everywhere.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability is protecting and caring for what we have right now, and preserving it for future generations. Sustainability doesn’t even have to do with the environment, it has to do with the community. It’s all about creating spaces and environments that can be available to people for years to come. By highlighting these trees and educating people on these trees, it’s going to make them want to preserve them and sustain them for years and year, and to keep them alive on our campus.

If you're interested in checking out UGA's arboretum for yourself, here's a walking tour you can take to find the most notable trees on campus: http://hort.caes.uga.edu/research/uga-arboretum-walking-tour-of-trees.html.

Written by Jordan Meaker

November 30, 2018 No Comments

Campus Kitchen’s annual Turkeypalooza unites campus organizations for can drive

The week before Thanksgiving break, while many students crammed for pre-break tests and last-minute projects, volunteers at the Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia were hard at work on a different project: helping unite organizations all across campus for the common goal of collecting food items to create Thanksgiving meals for Campus Kitchen clients.

This year’s Turkeypalooza Can Drive featured almost 40 UGA departments and organizations all helping to gather the necessary food items for the perfect Thanksgiving meal, like pumpkin puree, stuffing and cranberry sauce.

Student volunteers gathered to sort cans into meal bags.

The annual can drive is a collaboration between the Campus Kitchen at UGA, a student-run hunger-relief program housed in the UGA Office of Service Learning, and the Athens Community Council on Aging, a non-profit that provides services and programs to support older adults.

Participating organizations were given set goal amounts for items collected, and then had about two weeks to gather all of the items before volunteers from the Campus Kitchen collected the bins of food on November 16. Campus Kitchen volunteers roasted turkeys overnight on November 17 and 18.

Can drive fast facts:

38 participating UGA organizations and departments

2,964 total food items collected

284 Thanksgiving meal bags

82 meals prepared for clients

“We have consistent volunteers or organizations that are willing to volunteer,” said Alaina Buschman, a senior psychology major and Campus Kitchen intern. “It’s also around Thanksgiving, so I feel like a lot of people want to do something to be a part of the community or help the community. Having Turkeypalooza is a place for that to happen.”

Volunteers helped cook full Thanksgiving meals for clients.

This year’s can drive raised almost 3,000 food items, allowing the Campus Kitchen to pack packed 284 meal bags and prepare 82 Thanksgiving meals for clients all across the community.

Doing this fall event and allowing families who normally wouldn’t have a chance to celebrate this holiday properly, celebrate it through giving from others, really fits into the Campus Kitchen model of giving and making sure everybody understands that they have worth,” said Ali Elyaman, a junior history, political science and religion major and vice president of administration at the Campus Kitchen.

Meal bags are prepped and ready to be delivered.

Although Turkeypalooza is the Campus Kitchen’s main fall event, the organization is always looking for more volunteers and shift leaders to help organizing meal preparations and distributions. Check out https://uga.givepulse.com/group/7739-The-Campus-Kitchen-at-UGA to find ways to give back to the community this holiday season.

Written by Jordan Meaker

November 5, 2018 No Comments

UGA Costa Rica offers a model for a sustainable campus

For the University of Georgia’s Costa Rica campus, located in the vast rainforest of San Luis de Monteverde, sustainability is more than just a buzzword. When the architects and administrators of the campus gathered to start the planning process for construction in 2002, thinking sustainably was simply what made the most sense for the campus.

“The environment there leads naturally towards thinking about sustainability,” said Fabricio Camacho Céspedes, the general manager and associate director of UGA Costa Rica. “The idea at the beginning from the landscape architect was to keep it as natural and Costa Rica-looking as possible.”

UGA Costa Rica, the only UGA residential center offered to faculty and students in Latin America, covers 153 acres, and the majority of the land is protected forest. The campus not only hosts about 250 UGA students each year for study abroad and experiential learning programs, but also about about 1,000 students from other schools and 400 visitors, according to the UGA Costa Rica website.

A view of the morning sun at UGA Costa Rica. Photo by Jordan Meaker.

The campus features three classrooms, a field lab, a Geographic Information System lab, residential facilities, a student union and a cafeteria. 

Camacho, who has worked at UGA Costa Rica since the beginning and been involved in the major steps of the development process, described several of the major sustainable initiatives taking place on campus, including:

Community involvement

“We used sustainable, locally sourced wood,” Camacho said. “Wood that is sustainably harvested from plantations or forests is a clean, carbon-neutral sustainable material.”

Additionally, UGA Costa Rica hired local people from the surrounding town of Monteverde rather than outside crews, and Camacho said many people who were hired to work on the construction of the campus remained employed there in other positions after the construction was completed.

Wastewater management

Initially, managing solid waste and wastewater at UGA Costa Rica was a challenge. But through education of the staff and students and the development of recycling and composting programs, now only 8 percent of solid waste goes to the landfill.

Wastewater, on the other hand, presented a unique challenge. Treating wastewater in Costa Rica can be difficult because of the large amount of rain the country receives per year (about 100 inches on average, whereas Athens, Georgia receives about 46 inches on average per year).

However, the administrators at UGA Costa Rica discovered the benefits of using a biodigester to treat wastewater.

A view of the UGA Costa Rica farm. Photo by Jordan Meaker.

“We developed, along with other Costa Rican engineers, a gigantic biodigester that processes all the wastewater from the dorms and the cafeteria,” Camacho said.

The biodigester takes in wastewater and breaks it down using microorganisms which turn waste into methane gas. Camacho said the by-product is 99 percent clean water. In addition to clean water, the methane gas that is also produced in this process is piped into the kitchen where it is utilized in cooking — the kitchen’s two burners run completely on biogas from the biodigester.

Campus farm

UGA Costa Rica also contains 30 acres of farmland where much of the food consumed on campus is grown or harvested. Camacho said all of the campus’s milk and pork is produced on the farm as well at 20-25 percent of all of the fruits and vegetables eaten on campus.

The food purchasing strategy for UGA Costa Rica is what Camacho calls a “concentric circle purchasing policy.” The campus grows everything it can at the on-campus farm, and if something can’t be produced at the farm, UGA Costa Rica looks within the local community to find the products. If the products can’t be found in the community, then the campus looks to the region.

“We inject capital in the local economy,” Camacho said. “The vast majority of our food is sourced directly from the farmers at market price so the farmer doesn’t have to sell at a lower price to an intermediary.”

Solar water heaters

The vast majority of energy produced in Costa Rica is renewable energy — reports say about 99 percent of the energy comes from wind, water, geothermal, biomass and solar energy.

“The energy is already renewable from the grid, so what we’ve done is try to reduce energy consumption,” Camacho said.

To accomplish this, UGA Costa Rica switched from electric water heaters to solar water heaters, taking advantage of the sunlight that’s ever-present during Costa Rica’s dry season which lasts from December to April. With this initiative, Camacho said UGA Costa Rica’s electricity bill hasn’t increased in the last three years.

Challenges still on the horizon

Even with these sustainable initiatives, many obstacles are still present in the efforts to become fully sustainable. Camacho said UGA Costa Rica is not a fully sustainable campus, and it’s probably too soon to be able to measure the effects of the sustainable campus initiatives.

The country of Costa Rica is also facing challenges in its sustainability efforts.

“Costa Rica is a global leader in sustainability and environmental stewardship,” Camacho said. “But when you come to Costa Rica, you realize it’s a place of dichotomy. You have something really nice and something really horrible.”

Camacho said because transnational companies in Costa Rica grow many pineapples and bananas, pesticide use becomes a dangerous problem when pesticides start ending up in rivers and eventually the ocean.

“We have a lot of really good things in terms of sustainability, and huge challenges,” Camacho said. “Everyone has the image of Costa Rica being green, and it is like that, but at the same time there are hidden things happening.”

Looking forward

Although these challenges still prevail, the country aims to be the first carbon-neutral country in the world.

A waterfall in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Photo by Jordan Meaker.

“There is a global consensus that we have to start reconfiguring our economy that so that it becomes more in tune with carrying capacity of the planet,” Camacho said. “If we take out more resources and more energy than we’re putting back, we’re compromising our own capacity to satisfy future needs.”

Even though it seems daunting, adopting a sustainable mindset happens one step at a time.

“There is not a recipe,” Camacho said. “The most important change that needs to occur is becoming aware and serious about it ... At a personal level, the most important thing is to inform yourself and create your own system.”

Whether it’s eating less meat, utilizing public transportation or carpools, or shopping at thrift stores for second-hand items, each person can adopt their own system for mitigating environmental damage. All of these actions start with a simple first step — to become aware of the problems, and to care.

UGA Costa Rica is accepting applications for 2019 programs. Find a program here.

Infographic on UGA Costa Rica's sustainable initiatives:



Written by Jordan Meaker

October 22, 2018 No Comments

The UGA Office of Sustainability’s five tips for how to green your Halloween

Halloween is right around the corner, and although your costume or party might be scary, thinking sustainably doesn’t have to be! Here are some tips and tricks to help green your Halloween.

Rethink your costume. Check out local thrift stores like Project Safe, Goodwill or America’s Thrift Store for secondhand items to complete your Halloween look. You can also raid the closet or a family member, borrow from a friend or revamp last year’s costume to avoid buying new items.

Use all of your pumpkin. Pumpkins can offer way more than just a canvas to carve a spooky design. You can roast the seeds for a tasty snack — check out this recipe for honey roasted pumpkin seeds. You can use the pumpkin to make soup, bread, and cookies (although you probably want to get a pie pumpkin, which has less water, to make pumpkin pie with). When you’re done, you can compost your pumpkin in two easy steps.

Image courtesy Liz West via Flickr.

Use things you already have at home to make Halloween decorations. Blank white sheets, empty bottles and milk jugs, and tin cans can all be repurposed to make a variety of party decorations. Find plenty of DIY ideas here.  

Make homemade treats for your party instead of serving individually-wrapped candies to cut down on plastic waste. While Halloween candies are delicious treats, they often come in individually-wrapped plastic packages that can end up as litter on sidewalks. To avoid excess waste, cook up one of these yummy homemade Halloween treats.

Image courtesy Shari's Berries via Flickr.

Head to a farmers market or fall festival to purchase locally-grown fall vegetables. Fall is the perfect time of year to cook up hearty recipes like butternut squash soup or an autumn salad with roasted sweet potatoes. On Saturdays from 8 a.m.—12 p.m., you can browse the Athens Farmers Market located at Bishop Park, or the West Broad Farmers Market from 9 a.m.—1 p.m. Local foods have a lot of great benefits — they have more nutrients and buying local supports local farms and families. Read more on why buying local matters here.

Image courtesy Natalie Maynor via Flickr.

Written by Jordan Meaker


October 15, 2018 No Comments

PHOTOS: Lake Herrick renovations

Through dedicated efforts by University of Georgia students, faculty and staff, Lake Herrick will be officially reopened on Wednesday, October 17, after being closed to swimmers and boaters for more than 16 years. Renovations to the lake include an updated pavilion, new ADA accessible overlook dock, a terraced lawn for events and recreational uses, an expansion of the lakeside trail system and pond renovations. Check out the photos below for a look at the new-and-improved Lake Herrick. Photos by Jordan Meaker and Nicole Schlabach.

October 8, 2018 No Comments

Brumby Hall Waste Audit reveals recycling contaminants

"I think I have trash juice on my face!" is one thing you might only overhear at a waste audit. On Friday, October 5, the Office of Sustainability's zero waste intern, Caitlin Martin, led a waste audit of trash and recycling from the nine floors of Brumby Hall, a high-rise freshman dorm.

Interns teamed up with leaders from the University of Georgia's University Housing to conduct the waste audit. The volunteers picked through recycling in order to find materials that couldn't actually be recycled.

One of the biggest recycling contaminants was food, which cannot be recycled as it can ruin other recyclable materials and attract pests to the sorting facility. Food such as fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, grains, and eggshells can actually be thrown into compost bins, which help return nutrients to the earth.

Intern Caitlin Martin displays the weight of a bag of trash at the Brumby waste audit on Friday, October 5, 2018. Photo/Becca Wright

Another contaminating item in the recycling was pizza boxes covered in grease, which cannot be recycled. However, if the the greasy bottom is separated from the clean top, the top can be placed in the recycling bin. Check out our single stream recycling page for more information on what can be composted or recycled, and what has to go to the landfill.

Other pollutants of the recycling included plastic film, which cannot be recycled at the single stream sorting facility as it can get tangled and damage equipment. Plastic film items such as plastic bags can be recycled at the Athens-Clarke County Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM). Find out what else can be recycled at CHaRM here.

Interns Caitlin Martin, Ali LoPiccolo, and Nicole Schlabach sort trash and recycling at the Brumby waste audit on Friday, October 5, 2018. Photo/Becca Wright

Volunteers also picked through trash piles to find items that belonged in the recycling. Many bottles were found in the trash with liquid still inside, but after dumping out the bottles and rinsing out the inside, these items were ready to go to the recycling facility.

A total of 83 lb of garbage was sorted from all nine floors of Brumby Hall. By the end of the audit, 5.5 lb of potentially contaminating material was diverted from the recycling. Additionally, 4 lb of recyclable material was redirected from the trash bins into recycling bins. Check out these photos of the waste audit below, taken by intern Becca Wright.


Written by Jordan Meaker

October 1, 2018 No Comments

Sustainable Game Day Ambassadors connect with tailgaters on game days

Every home football game brings an electric vibe to the University of Georgia's campus — alumni return to cheer on their team, kids sit atop their parents' shoulders to watch the Dawg Walk, and tailgaters share food and laughter while preparing to watch the game. However, football games also bring loads of trash onto campus, and trashcans and recycling bins often overflow with garbage. But Miranda Moore, the Game Day Zero Waste intern, wants to change that.

Moore is coordinating Sustainable Game Day Ambassadors as well as volunteers to mingle with tailgaters, pass out trash bags, and spread information about recycling and game day waste.

Sustainable game day ambassadors pose for a picture before the Georgia game against the University of Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday, September 29, 2018, in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Jordan Meaker.

"That’s the big difference between this program and things we’ve done in the past is a personal connection," Moore said. "These people are going to talk to fans, alumni, and tailgaters and be like 'Hey, we know you love this school because you’re here. If you really love this school would you consider being more sustainable with your tailgating.'" 

Moore said she wants everyone coming to campus on game days to remember why they're here.

"It’s a lot more than the football. That’s why UGA is special," Moore said. "We like football, but we like our school and our community a lot more. So take care of it." 

Game day trash fast facts

In 2017, UGA home football games contributed 217.5 tons of waste to the ACC landfill; 59.5 tons of materials were recycled (23% recycling rate).

Read more about the sustainable game day program in this Red & Black article.

Written by Jordan Meaker

September 28, 2018 No Comments

Beekeeping behind bars: Georgia Prison Beekeeping program teaches inmates how to care for honeybees

Most maximum security prisons contain similar features within their fortified walls: rows of cells, prison guards and convicted criminals locked up for any number of reasons. However, at several prisons in Georgia, you might hear a buzzing coming from within the walls. Since 2014, the Georgia Beekeepers Association has pioneered a prison beekeeping program, teaching inmates the ins and outs of raising bees, all behind bars.

For the inmates in the program, the benefits of beekeeping are numerous. Inmates get the chance to learn a new skill that could help them find employment if and when they’re released. But beyond the educational benefits, beekeeping provides a more intangible perk — it gives people hope.

Students in the beekeeping class at Dooly State Prison. Photo courtesy Ben Rouse.

A number of [inmates] have come up to me and said ‘You’ve given me hope now. I didn’t have hope before,’” said Bear Kelley, former president of the Georgia Beekeepers Association. “That’s worth a million dollars to me right there, that they all of a sudden are different people. Now they have something they want to keep alive.”

The bees get booked

The Prison Beekeeping program began when Kelley heard that an inmate at Smith State Prison in Glennville, Georgia, was teaching a beekeeping class. Kelley initiated a partnership between the University of Georgia Honey Bee Lab and the Georgia Beekeepers Association to help the beekeeping program grow.

Kelley teamed up with Jennifer Berry, the lab manager for the UGA Honey Bee Program, and Gary Lister, the director of Vocational and Post-Secondary Education at the Georgia Department of Corrections. They organized a pallet of bees to be delivered to the prison along with books and donations, and recruited mentors and volunteers from local beekeeping clubs.

Since its founding, the Georgia Prison Beekeeping program has added five more prisons, including a women’s prison. Through its partnership with the UGA Honey Bee Lab, around 80 inmates have become certified beekeepers, Berry said. These inmates not only tend bees and collect honey, but also are ambassadors for the honeybee industry, giving a voice to these threatened insects.

“A number of [inmates] have come up to me and said ‘You’ve given me hope now. I didn’t have hope before,’” said Bear Kelley, former president of the Georgia Beekeepers Association.

Berry said many of the inmates have never had anything to take care of or call their own, so the honeybees become like pets. Just like a family dog, these bees are something they have to work hard to take care of and sustain. The honeybees depend on the beekeepers to stay alive, and the beekeepers come to depend on the bees as well.

“They become extremely compassionate and protective of these bees and these colonies,” Berry said “I think that’s something that is really important — they love something.”

The thought of inmates in maximum security prisons having access to metal hive tools and smokers might be a daunting one, but Berry found that the inmates were “compassionate and eager to learn.”

“Once I got in there, I realized that these are just folks who screwed up at one point in their life,” Berry said.  

The Prison Beekeeping program operates a class at Lee Arrendale State Prison, a women’s facility in Raoul, Georgia, where around 20 women were involved in the first beekeeping class.

Julia Mahood, a Georgia master beekeeper and Georgia Beekeepers Association committee chair for the prison program, teaches the class at the women’s facility.

“The women who participate are the most grateful people I’ve ever worked with in my life. They are super enthusiastic, they absolutely love the bees and the beekeeping, they’re so devoted to the program,” Mahood said.

According to Mahood, the beekeeping class has inspired a strong interest in honeybees and beekeeping not only among the inmates, but within the prison staff as well. The beekeeping students help raise awareness about threats to honeybee survival, including diseases, climate change and loss of habitat.

Beekeepers at Smith State prison. Photo courtesy of Ben Rouse.

“Every beekeeper in the program is a bee ambassador and they talk about how everyone wants to learn about the bees from them,” Mahood said. “It’s been great to raise general awareness about honeybees.”

Prisoners, honeybees, and art

UGA Idea Lab Mini Grant recipient and Masters of Fine Arts student Cristina Echezarreta has been working in close conjunction with the Georgia Prison Beekeepers program and the UGA honeybee lab in order to explore the similarities of prison systems and bee systems.  

Echezarreta had taken notice of the peculiar system of honeybee democracy. When honeybees want to leave their hive and scout out a new location, they share information with one another and come to a collective decision.

“It’s not just about the queen bee and she makes all the rules, it’s more so about the collective,” Echezarreta said.

Echezarreta took this idea and put it in practice within prisons.

“The way that relates in an artistic sense is how can we get individuals within prison systems to mimic that kind of behavior,” Echezarreta said. “How can inmates and just people work together to create one commonality, one project?”

Echezarreta takes photos at the prisons and helps gather supplies so inmates can create artwork together and paint hives, working together and helping each other, much like a colony of honeybees.

“They become extremely compassionate and protective of these bees and these colonies,” Berry said “I think that’s something that is really important — they love something.”

Through her work in Georgia prisons, Echezarreta said she enjoys the collaborative aspect of the project, which is a change from her solo projects.

“This is more of a different project, a more socially engaged project, a more collaborative project rather than me just being in my studio,” Echezarreta said.

Echezarreta said working with the Prison Beekeeping program has helped her learn to not stereotype and to see things from different perspectives.

Threats to survival

Just like honeybees themselves, the Georgia Prison Beekeeping program faces threats to its survival. Kelley says it comes down the problem of money, and that the program would benefit from the hiring of a state apiarist who can take up the reins for the Prison Beekeeping program. This person would coordinate volunteers and ensure the continuation of the program.

“The person who’s out doing this can visit the wardens, sites and clubs to coordinate and link all this together as a state program,” Kelley said.

The Prison Beekeeping program relies on dedicated volunteers to travel to the prisons and help teach the beekeeping classes, but Berry said it’s easy for volunteers to get worn out.

Their reward is seeing how they’re changing these lives. At the same time, it’s very tiring,” Berry said.

Although the program faces challenges, many other states have taken notice of these beekeeping classes and reached out to the Georgia Beekeepers Association to get information on how to start classes in their own prisons.

A label on a jar of honey that was produced at Smith State Prison. Photo courtesy of Ben Rouse.

“A number of other states — Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oregon and a couple of others — literally called me up and said ‘I heard about what you’re doing, tell me about it,’” Kelley said.  “The word’s out all over the country about what we’re doing.”

The Prison Beekeeping program strives to make its classes as sustainable as possible in all aspects, whether that’s raising queen bees that can be used by the facilities, to having inmates who’ve been certified teach classes themselves. Through this, the students can become the masters — literally. Inmates who have become certified beekeepers can work their way up to the master level of beekeeping, ensuring that they’ll carry with them appreciation for bees into the future and pass it on to fellow students. That way, honeybees — and hope — can continue thriving behind bars.

Written by Jordan Meaker

September 18, 2018 No Comments

From the dumpster to the workshop

Materials we throw away aren’t trash—they are possibilities to create something new.

No one knows this better than the Office of Sustainability’s Reclamation intern, Abigail West, who tackles the issue of furniture waste by using landfill-bound materials to construct well-crafted  items of furniture.

“So many of us buy something relatively cheap when we move in somewhere,” West said. “That stuff hopefully gets donated, but we’re all familiar with the full dumpsters and parking lots full of furniture around move-out times.”

But discarded materials don’t have to end up in the landfill or the recycling bin. The life of unwanted materials can be extended by envisioning a new use for them.

The Facilities Management Division (FMD) of the University of Georgia, where West did an apprenticeship over the summer, came across 200 wooden doors unable to be used for the project for which they were originally ordered. Simultaneously, there was a need for workspace tables for a new entrepreneurship program called The Launch Pad affiliated with the Terry College of Business.

Abigail West and Heather Nelms, the lead painter of the Facilities Management Division at UGA, stand next to a table West constructed.

West created designs for three of these tables by incorporating the discarded doors, and she constructed one herself during the apprenticeship. That table is currently being used by the The Launch Pad program as a collaborative student workspace.

Preventing these items from ending up in the Athens-Clarke County (ACC) landfill is West’s way of making a local impact in a complex, national problem.

According to EPA estimates from 2017, up to 8.5 billion tons of office assets are thrown away each year in the United States. Just within the UGA system, 155 tons of material were sent from surplus to the ACC landfill between July 2017 and June 2018, making up almost 3 percent of UGA total landfill tonnage.

This amount of furniture waste within the university system is much more complicated than a simple cause-and-effect relationship.

“It’s no one person’s fault, it’s a systemic problem,” West said. “It makes me sad for the people who have to do the dirty work of smashing it up and hauling it off to the landfill.”

This is why, for West, the most effective way to approach the multi-faceted issue is by talking to one person at a time, constructing one table at a time.

For instance, West used an old bright yellow “windy road ahead” road sign to construct a corner table. It took only a couple of hours for her to create it with the help of employees from the FMD Sheet Metal Shop. She constructed a different corner table by combining a "two-way traffic" sign and an un-needed file cabinet.

A corner table constructed by Abigail West from an old road sign.

West says it’s all about thinking in terms of possibilities when presented with a piece of trash, rather than immediately throwing it away.

When producing a new product becomes necessary, it’s important to create a work of high quality.

“Good craftsmanship is inherently sustainable,” West said.

And sustainable craftsmanship doesn’t always mean avoiding harsh chemicals or using the “greenest” supplies. If craftswomen such as West use strong chemicals, the construction process may take less time and labor, and it may produce a work that lasts longer.

At the university, if a member within a department has quality equipment or materials they no longer need or is searching for used items, they may join the Surplus Listserv to communicate with others in the university community.

A corner table constructed by Abigail West using an old road sign.

However, there is a misconception about Surplus, and the space where the used items are sent.

Many staff members are under the impression that when they hire Support Services to transport furniture to Surplus, the items will be dropped off at a warehouse and reused by someone else within UGA. However, transporting furniture to Surplus doesn’t mean reuse will happen.

“If I could share one piece of information with everyone who works for UGA, it would be that there is no surplus warehouse,” West said.

Surplus is essentially a large office space with a loading dock, and staff do not have the physical room or resources to manage furniture for long before it is sent to the landfill to make room for other items.

With this in mind, UGA employees should avoid discarding furniture unless it is necessary, but if they do have materials to share they can join the listserv by emailing property@uga.edu to subscribe. Items on the Listserv are state property and can only be used for official university business.

“If we can rethink the way we buy and pass on furniture so that it’s more of a question of how best to reuse, we can conserve resources across the industry,” West said.

Written by Nicole Schlabach

August 27, 2018 No Comments

UGA student volunteers help clear trail, weed garden at Stroud Elementary for Dawg Day of Service

On Saturday, August 25, about 40 University of Georgia students volunteered at Stroud Elementary School for Dawg Day of Service, an event giving students opportunities to volunteer at locations all throughout Athens.

The students helped with trail maintenance, trash pickup, weeding, and cleaning up the trail’s boardwalk and bridge. Some students also worked to remove invasive species such as privet and kudzu from the forest surrounding the trail.

A student volunteer helps weed the pollinator garden at Stroud Elementary School in Athens.

The trail and small, unnamed creek at Stroud are one of Watershed UGA’s biggest projects this year, according to Liz French, Watershed UGA Coordinator.

The stream flows into Trail Creek, making it part of the general goal to restore the Trail Creek watershed. Trail Creek includes East Fork Trail Creek and West Fork Trail Creek and enters the North Oconee River as it flows through downtown Athens. The creek is listed as an impaired stream on the Clean Water Act list of impaired streams.

It all goes hand in hand,” French said. “Stroud is the example we’re using as a model for environmental education and getting the information out in the community. We can do really cool projects and hopefully clean it up.”

UGA students help clear the trail at Stroud of vines and invasive species.

Watershed UGA has been partnering with Stroud since fall 2016, French said. French works with a class of fourth and fifth grade students called the Problem Solving Team, conducting Watershed lessons and identifying a problem to work on in the community. Last year, the students chose a pollinator garden for their project and created a space to plant native species to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.

By weeding the pollinator garden and cleaning up the trail, the UGA student volunteers helped clear the space so teachers can take students out for lessons on the trail or in the garden without having to worry about debris or trash getting in the way.

Watershed UGA will be hosting another day of service at Stroud for Athens MLK Day of service in January.

Written by: Jordan Meaker

July 20, 2018 No Comments

UGA turns experiential learning vision into reality

Two years ago, the University of Georgia made a daring commitment: to provide all undergraduate students with a meaningful experiential learning opportunity. Beginning fall 2016, every incoming student has to fulfill an experiential learning (EL) requirement to graduate.

The initiative encourages UGA students to connect their academic foundations to the world beyond the classroom. To not just learn, but to learn by doing, whether that’s through an internship, faculty-guided research, study abroad, service-learning or a capstone project.

With this initiative, UGA became the largest university in the nation to tackle such a challenge and is now setting the standard for experiential learning in public higher education.

“We are doing this on a bigger scale and in a different way than anyone else,” said Vice President for Instruction Rahul Shrivastav, whose office is spearheading this effort. “So, we are writing the rules as we play the game. And that’s challenging, but it’s also fun.”

Since the initiative started, UGA has been approached by university representatives in the SEC, Big 10 and Big 12 conferences as well as dozens of other small colleges and universities about how UGA got the program up and running. The experiential learning initiative was also featured at the Southeastern Conference’s academic summit in 2o17, at a 2016 gathering of the Indiana University system, and in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Two years in, how is a flagship university with over 28,000 undergraduates fulfilling this promise?

Getting started

It started with setting a high bar.

The job of establishing guidelines for what qualifies as a certified EL opportunity went to a faculty subcommittee, with representatives from across the university. The committee came up with a set of demanding but flexible criteria based around targeted learning outcomes. It included, among others, the prerequisites that students must be mentored and be involved in a sustained or intensive activity.

In other words, not just any summer internship or service project will pass the test. To satisfy the requirement, EL opportunities have to be pre-approved by the student’s school or college and meet the guidelines.

With the criteria in place, the Office of Instruction built a database for storing and tracking the courses and non-credit activities that meet the requirements. So far there are more than 3,500 opportunities.

Experiential learning for arts and sciences

While experiential learning has long been part of many of UGA’s pre-professional programs, there was initial concern about the feasibility of ensuring science and humanities majors had a diverse range of opportunities.

In STEM disciplines, undergraduate research is the most coveted EL experience. But it would be impossible to provide UGA’s 2,000-plus undergraduate biology majors with one-on-one research apprenticeships.

For years, Erin Dolan, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Innovative Science Education, has been investigating this dilemma: how to make undergraduate research scalable and effective.

So, it not only benefits the students, it benefits the science.”

Dolan adapted a team-based research model called Vertically Integrated Projects, originally developed at Georgia Tech. It gives undergraduates the opportunity to individually work on a piece of a faculty member’s research — the kind that requires many minds and hands — while collaborating with faculty, graduate students and peers.

“You can tackle problems in a way that you wouldn’t be able to if it was just one grad student or postdoc or a handful of folks in a research group,” Dolan said. “So, it not only benefits the students, it benefits the science.”

And while humanities students like English majors are finding internships in publishing or presenting their original research at conferences, English professor Sujata Iyengar also adapted the Bard into a service-learning experience. In her Shakespeare in the Classroom course, students can earn their EL credit by working with eighth-grade English teachers on their Shakespeare curriculum of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Hilsman Middle School in Athens.

It not only helps her students determine whether they want to be teachers, Iyengar said, “They also have a much deeper understanding of the play, because in order to teach something you have to level up, you have to know it better than the people you’re teaching it to.”


Internships are a key component of experiential learning, and the university is working to adapt established internships into ones that meet the EL requirements.

That’s where UGA’s size becomes an advantage. Students have diverse opportunities within the wide-ranging non-credit UGA units, whether through the university’s Public Service and Outreach programs, the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Sustainability, or the university’s libraries and museums.

UGA is still working out how to maintain standards with external internships, but it is making progress by working with community partners. For example, the regional startup hub Four Athens, which supports 200 local businesses, is collaborating with UGA to create an internship program built around UGA’s experiential learning outcomes. In the program, a cohort of students are placed in local startups. To validate the learning experience, students regularly meet with their cohort and with mentors to share their work and experiences.

With the program entering its third year, opportunities abound, Shrivastav said. The challenge is ensuring that every student can find an opportunity that reflects their interests and goals. But Shrivastav thinks UGA and its faculty are up to the challenge.

“What has made this initiative successful so far is UGA’s strong culture that values teaching,” he said. “That’s a really distinctive feature at UGA, that we have people who are world-class researchers who also care about teaching.”

Written By: Aaron Hale

July 16, 2018 No Comments

Workers begin modification of White Dam

Under the direction of University of Georgia faculty experts and partners from multiple agencies, workers began modifying portions of White Dam, a stone and masonry structure that spans the Middle Oconee River upstream from its confluence with the North Oconee River.

The most significant part of the modification began on Monday, July 16, and will continue until the project is completed.

The dam is owned and managed by UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources, and Warnell faculty and students spearheaded multiple studies exploring how modification of the dam could improve aquatic connectivity and wildlife mobility.

During the early 20th century, the dam provided hydroelectric power for a nearby textile manufacturing facility, but it has been inoperable for decades.

“The dam doesn’t serve any economic or flood control function,” said James Shelton, an associate professor of fisheries in the Warnell school. “But we designed this process with historic preservation in mind. We will remove a portion of the dam and stabilize other portions that have the greatest historical significance.”

Workers will even use native stone used to construct the dam to stabilize remaining structures.

Perhaps the greatest impetus for modifying the dam is its effect on fish and other wildlife.

While there are two large breaches in the dam, it is difficult for many fish species to travel upstream, because they cannot swim fast enough through rushing water. Slowing this flow of water by modifying the dam will allow native fish, such as the Altamaha shiner, robust redhorse and the American shad, to navigate the river more easily.

A more open river will also allow for the easy passage of recreational watercraft like canoes and kayaks.

“This is also a safety issue for us, because the current configuration of the water passageways through the dam is inherently dangerous for boaters,” Shelton said.

Another safety concern associated with the dam is the accumulation of debris. During high flow periods, woody debris collects on the two existing openings, and Warnell staff must periodically visit to remove the branches, scrap wood and garbage carried down river, which can be dangerous work.

“In a number of physical ways, this dam disconnects the upstream part of the river from the downstream,” Shelton said. “We want to reunite the river in a way that allows people to enjoy it safely, but also to provide a better habitat for our fish and other wildlife.”

University faculty and staff have worked on the project with a number of agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, American Rivers, Environmental Protection Agency and the Nature Conservancy. Personnel from UGA’s school of Ecology and College of Engineering also contributed to the project.

“There’s so much that goes into a project like this, and we wanted to make sure that we did everything right while also completing the project with minimal cost,” Shelton said. “I think we’ve achieved that, and I’m very grateful for the help we’ve received from our partners.”

Once completed, this project could serve as a model for other similar structures throughout the U.S. that are likely to be evaluated in the future.

Written by: James Hataway

July 13, 2018 No Comments

UGA installs green infrastructure project in Brunswick

Project uses native plants, aims to improve quality.

The area next to the soccer field at Brunswick’s Howard Coffin Park received a much-needed face-lift in the form of native plants and new soil.

The 3,000-square-foot tract is a large-scale stormwater demonstration project that the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant hopes will educate visitors on ways to improve water quality.

Protecting water quality

Jessica Brown, stormwater specialist at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, oversaw construction of the site, which is called, in technical terms, a bioretention cell.

“This project will serve as a case study and educational demonstration of a bioretention cell, which is a stormwater management practice that captures and treats runoff,” Brown said. “It’s a form of green infrastructure that helps protect and restore habitat by mimicking the natural water cycle.”

The bioretention cell, next to a tidal ditch, will act as a buffer for the park. When it rains, excess water from the soccer field will flow into the bioretention cell, which consists of layers of sandy soils, mulch and stone. Pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals applied to the playing field will be filtered out through these layers instead of running directly into the tidal creek.

When it rains, excess water from the soccer field will flow into the bioretention cell, which consists of layers of sandy soils, mulch and stone. Pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals applied to the playing field will be filtered out through these layers instead of running directly into the tidal creek. (Credit: UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant)

With population growth and increased land development in coastal Georgia, the use of green infrastructure has become increasingly important because it protects water quality and coastal habitats from pollution, Brown said.

Brown worked with the city’s engineer, Garrow Alberson, to design the bioretention cell. City employees constructed the project.

Alberson hopes the project will raise public awareness of green infrastructure practices.

“It seems that a lot of developers and engineers are hesitant to implement these practices because of factors like cost, long-term maintenance and effectiveness,” he said. “Hopefully, the construction of the demonstration cell will show that these practices can be effective for runoff volume reduction and water quality improvement, and that the practices can be cost-effective to install.”

Native plants

The final phase of the project involved installing native plants, selected by Keren Giovengo, EcoScapes program manager for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit. The EcoScapes Sustainable Land Use program promotes responsible stewardship of natural resources in Georgia through sustainable land development and landscaping practices.

“Because of the size of the bioretention cell, I was able to consider a variety of trees, shrubs, grasses and palms for the site,” Giovengo said. “They were selected to provide a diverse array of local deciduous and evergreen species that are low maintenance and can tolerate drought, flooding and salt.”

Hands-on learning

Twelve students participating in a landscaping course through the Job Corps Center in Brunswick assisted with the planting.

Job Corps, a no-cost education and career technical training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, helps young people ages 16 to 24 improve the quality of their lives through career technical and academic training.

“They’re in our program for roughly eight months and we help them earn their high school diploma or learn a trade and become certified,” said Kevin Brandon, landscaping instructor at the Brunswick Job Corps Center.

“We look for as many hands-on opportunities like this as possible because our goal is to get them a job when they complete the course,” he said.

Thanks to help from the students, all 216 native plants were in the ground in less than four hours.

Brown plans to showcase the demonstration site to environmental professionals and public works staff in surrounding counties.

“My hope is that we can do enough demonstration projects, such as this one, to better understand how they perform in a coastal environment and build capacity within the local workforce,” Brown said. “Fostering ownership of these type of practices at the local level will go a long way to support future implementation.”

Written by: Emily Woodward

June 21, 2018 No Comments

Scientists calculate impact of China’s ban on plastic waste imports

Over 100 million metric tons of plastic waste will be displaced because of the policy

While recycling is often touted as the solution to the large-scale production of plastic waste, upwards of half of the plastic waste intended for recycling is exported from higher income countries to other nations, with China historically taking the largest share.

But in 2017, China passed the “National Sword” policy, which permanently bans the import of non-industrial plastic waste as of January 2018. Now, scientists from the University of Georgia have calculated the potential global impact of this legislation and how it might affect efforts to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the world’s landfills and natural environment.

They published their findings today in the journal Science Advances.

“We know from our previous studies that only 9 percent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, and the majority of it ends up in landfills or the natural environment,” said Jenna Jambeck, associate professor in UGA’s College of engineering and co-author of the study. “About 111 million metric tons of plastic waste is going to be displaced because of the import ban through 2030, so we’re going to have to develop more robust recycling programs domestically and rethink the use and design of plastic products if we want to deal with this waste responsibly.”

Global annual imports and exports of plastic waste skyrocketed in 1993, growing by about 800 percent through 2016.

Since reporting began in 1992, China has accepted about 106 million metric tons of plastic waste, which accounts for nearly half of the world’s plastic waste imports. China and Hong Kong have imported more than 72 percent of all plastic waste, but most of the waste that enters Hong Kong—about 63 percent—is exported to China.

High income countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas account for more than 85 percent of all global plastic waste exports. Taken collectively, the European Union is the top exporter.

“Plastic waste was once a fairly profitable business for China, because they could use or resell the recycled plastic waste,” said Amy Brooks, a doctoral student in UGA’s College of Engineering and lead author of the paper. “But a lot of the plastic China received in recent years was poor quality, and it became difficult to turn a profit. China is also producing more plastic waste domestically, so it doesn’t have to rely on other nations for waste.”

For exporters, cheap processing fees in China meant that shipping waste overseas was less expensive than transporting the materials domestically via truck or rail, said Brooks.

“It’s hard to predict what will happen to the plastic waste that was once destined for Chinese processing facilities,” said Jambeck. “Some of it could be diverted to other countries, but most of them lack the infrastructure to manage their own waste let alone the waste produced by the rest of the world.”

The import of plastic waste to China contributed an additional 10 to 13 percent of plastic waste on top of what they were already having a difficult time managing because of rapid economic growth before the import ban took effect, Jambeck said.

“Without bold new ideas and system-wide changes, even the relatively low current recycling rates will no longer be met, and our previously recycled materials could now end up in landfills,” Jambeck said.




Writer: James Hataway, 706-542-6927, jhataway@uga.edu

Contacts: Jenna Jambeck, 706-383-7014, jjambeck@uga.edu, WhatsApp +1-706-851-9417

Amy Brooks, 404-502-9068, amylbrooks@uga.edu




June 19, 2018 No Comments

UGA partners with food bank to promote healthy eating

Teaching people to grow, cook and eat healthy foods is the key goal of a partnership between the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia and the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia. 

Camaria Welch, a graduate student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, has created a curriculum of lesson plans and activities to help people understand the connection between nature and food, and how to develop healthy eating habits.

During a summer camp at the garden, Welch used the curriculum, called Bee Smart Eat Smart, to help 5 to 10 year olds plant seeds, decorate aprons and read books such as “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey. They also did arts and crafts and participated in theater, acting out skits dressed as fruits and vegetables.

The campers made eggplant pizza, with a crust made from roasted eggplant, pasta with pesto (which helped disguise the cucumber, kale and other greens mixed in) and mango sunrise smoothies to introduce the children to fruits they may not have tried.

The importance of pollinators

“My curriculum is divided into five lessons, each featuring a fruit and vegetable, chosen specifically of their role in helping pollinators,” said Welch, who is earning a master’s degree in foods and nutrition. “Each day has its own color theme. The first day, for instance, is red, so we’re talking about strawberries and red bell peppers. I want to make kids excited about eating vegetables and find recipes that make them palatable.”

About two-thirds of crop varieties around the world depend on pollinators, so programs that feature these types of food plants increase awareness of the important role of pollinators and the need for pollinator conservation.

Pollinators are needed for many plants to grow, and they are in danger, bees in particular. In 2007, the U.S. Senate approved and designated a week in June as “National Pollinator Week,” as a step toward addressing the issue of declining pollinator populations. This year, June 18 – 24 celebrates the role of pollinators.

Cooking classes

In addition to the camp, Welch is implementing a modified version of Bee Smart Eat Smart at the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia’s site in Clayton, Georgia. She will lead cooking classes for parents and children in the teaching kitchen on the Food Bank site.

In April, State Botanical Garden Education Director Cora Keber and Heather Alley, conservation horticulturist at the garden’s Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Species, planted a pollinator garden at the Clayton food bank site, designed to draw bees, butterflies and other native pollinators to the vegetable and fruits growing outside the facility.

The food bank pollinator garden is part of a State Botanical Garden program called Connect to Protect. So far, more than 20 Connect to Protect gardens have been installed in Athens-Clarke County and surrounding areas, as well as in Macon and Atlanta.

At the food bank, the pollinator garden will be part of the lesson plan for local residents, said Cara-Lee Langston, the food bank’s teaching kitchen coordinator.

Grow and eat local food

“We’re all about teaching families where their food comes from,” Langston said. “Folks up here understand how important local food is.”

The lesson plans, activities and materials that Welch developed for the Bee Smart Eat Smart program will be distributed to schools where Connect to Protect gardens are planted, and used in the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s Alice H. Richard Children’s Garden, which is under construction and should open by early 2019.

Funding for Welch’s graduate assistantship at the State Botanical Garden was provided by the Pittulloch Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports programs for children. Foundation President Lynn Pattillo is a member of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia advisory board.

“My organization’s hope is that the State Botanical Garden relays Welch’s work to garden clubs across Georgia, so they can transfer the message into school systems and strengthen relationships with local food banks,” Pattillo said. “Providing ongoing education via seminars, speakers, cooking classes and classroom visits will further reinforce the important message that we are what we eat.”

written by: Leah Moss

June 14, 2018 No Comments

Research focuses on CO2 in streams

As global temperatures rise, streams are becoming less capable of storing carbon and are instead releasing greater amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to new research led by a University of Georgia ecologist.

The paper, published recently in Nature Geoscience, presents a model designed to predict how rising temperatures will affect streams and their abilities to absorb or emit carbon dioxide.

Streams are part of the carbon cycle, and they play a significant role in both removing carbon dioxide from and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, the planet warms and organic matter decomposes faster, releasing more carbon dioxide in a never-ending feedback loop.

“Recently people have started to realize the carbon flux out of the streams is an important source of that feedback loop,” said Chao Song, a 2018 Ph.D. graduate of UGA’s Odum School of Ecology who is now at Michigan State University. “Our study seeks to seal this knowledge gap, to understand how carbon from streams actually plays a role in this self-reinforcing cycle between warming and carbon dioxide being released.”

Song and his colleagues created a model based on data collected from 69 stream sites in six very different habitats, from arctic tundra to tropical forest. They used measures of light intensity, water temperature and daily fluctuations of the amounts of oxygen dissolved into the streamwater to determine how sensitive to temperature the processes of primary production and respiration were for each stream.

Primary production occurs as the aquatic plants and algae use sunlight and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce carbon-based food for themselves, forming the base of the food web in streams. As they then use that food for energy, carbon dioxide is released in a process known as respiration. How much these two processes change in response to shifts in temperature determine their temperature sensitivity.

If, for example, the production of algae in a stream increases but the algae’s respiration does not, production has a higher temperature sensitivity because it showed a greater response to the temperature change than respiration did.

Once the model was parameterized using data from the 69 streams studied, Song ran simulations to assess to what extent carbon dioxide would travel in each direction—into and out of the atmosphere—as the water warmed by 1 degree Celsius.

The results suggest that as temperatures rise, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere globally by freshwater streams will increase disproportionately to the amount taken in from the atmosphere.

“Chao had the idea to look at this primary productivity-respiration comparison, and that was sort of the key idea or insight that allowed him to uncover this pattern initially,” said senior author Ford Ballantyne IV, an associate professor in the Odum School of Ecology. “Just him having that one good idea at that one point really opened up a whole new world of possibilities.”

Future research may probe into the mechanics of why some streams are more sensitive than others, or include other factors, such as increased nutrient loads, that may affect stream processes and that are common in human-managed lands and streams.

Knowing how temperature changes in streams can affect the amount of carbon dioxide in the air we breathe may be crucial to understanding how our planet will change as temperatures continue to rise.

“Carbon is the basis for life and this work predicts fundamental changes in carbon availability with higher stream temperatures,” said Amy Rosemond, a professor in the Odum School and one of the study’s co-authors. “Application of these findings will ultimately depend on how people value and support the management of freshwater ecosystems for future use and enjoyment.”

The paper is available online at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-018-0125-5.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the Scale, Consumers and Lotic Ecosystem Rates project.

A commentary by Jim Heffernan accompanied the paper in the online edition of Nature Geoscience. It can be found at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-018-0148-y.

Written by: Beth Gavrilles

May 31, 2018 No Comments

University of Georgia Wins the Ted Turner Drive Resilience Corridor Challenge

One of Atlanta’s most historic corridors, named after one of its most prominent citizens, will undergo a redesign focused on emphasizing its culture, environment and economy thanks to the input of students from the University of Georgia College of Environment and Design.  The students were part of a contest sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Resilience for proposals to shape the future of Ted Turner Drive that has been made possible by the recently passed T-SPLOST and portions of their design proposal will be implemented over the next several months.

Focused on five key sustainable strategies, this challenge provided an opportunity for college students to develop a resilient street design to help shape the future of Atlanta in five key areas: water, energy, sustainability, social cohesion, and mobility. Under the guidance of university professors, teams spent five months conducting research, working on design implementation, and canvassing the community.

Participating colleges included: Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Georgia Institute of Technology.

“We are so proud of the creativity and determination of our landscape architecture students who participated in the Ted Turner Dr. competition”, said Dean Dan Nadenicek, UGA College of Environment and Design. “This kind of challenge prepares them for life and work in our quickly changing world. I am very grateful to Mayor Bottoms and Atlanta’s Office of Resilience for this opportunity to engage our students.”

Student teams representing both Morehouse College and Georgia Tech, tied as the finalist teams. Council member Amir Farokhi awarded the winning team with $2,500 and the finalist teams with $500 each.

“From the beginning, Atlanta's history has been one rife with upheavals that have led to dramatic social, economic, and physical transformations. Even today, this city's propensity for change is reflected all around us, as it moves towards the sustainable, equitable, and resilient future we dream of”, said Kanaad Deodhar, Georgia Institute of Technology. “The redesign of Ted Turner Drive is an important step in this evolution, and this Challenge presented all of us an opportunity to make our mark on the city we love. We’d like to thank everyone who put the Challenge together, and we are excited to see what the future holds.”

“This experience was so foundational to the interests and goals of mine and my teammates. The ability to see encounter and develop actual solutions to actual equity issues was so invaluable”, said Jared Mitchell, Morehouse College. “We are grateful to the Atlanta Resilience Office, TSPLOST, and everyone else involved in orchestrating this opportunity.”

Lead implementation partners include Renew Atlanta and the Department of Parks and Recreation, with funding from Turner Enterprises, T-SPLOST and Rebuild by Design.

May 30, 2018 No Comments

In time for BBQ season, UGA helps create environmentally friendly lighter fluid

Whether they call it a “barbecue” or a “cookout,” Americans love backyard cooking, especially on Memorial Day weekend.

Grilling steaks, hamburgers, even veggie burgers, on a warm summer evening has become such a part of American culture that nearly three out of four adults own at least one grill or smoker.

Now, thanks to scientists at the University of Georgia College of Engineering and a company in nearby Monroe, backyard chefs can reach for a more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to petroleum-based charcoal lighter fluids.

Typically made from crude oil, lighter fluid can emit compounds that leave an unpleasant taste and odor on grilled foods. The new product manufactured by ESCOGO, EcoGreen Charcoal Lighter, is made entirely from plant-based products. It is now available in Home Depot and Target stores nationwide.

While ESCOGO has produced a natural charcoal lighter fluid designed to work on lump charcoal since 2009, the company wanted to offer a formula that worked equally well on charcoal briquettes.

“They had a product that worked great on lump charcoal but briquettes are much denser and the fluid would burn off before getting the briquette hot enough to ignite,” said Dan Geller, a research engineer in UGA’s College of Engineering. “We needed a product that burned really well and one that met the strict air quality concerns for volatile organic compounds.”

The product also had to be economically priced to compete with other options available on the market.

UGA and ESCOGO performed trials on more than 100 formulas and organic ingredients before finding a solution, an all-natural byproduct of the fermentation industry.

"We looked at a lot of different options that would burn, that we could buy in large volume, and that were natural byproducts of other industries,” said Geller. “This really was a classic engineering design problem because we were trying to figure out a way to meet all these specific constraints.”

The Center of Innovation for Agribusiness, a state agency that provides technical assistance and connections to academic, business and government resources, provided funding for the project.

“We didn’t have the research and development expertise or the budget to come up with this new formula,” said Rick Huszagh, a founding member of ESCOGO. “Working with the University of Georgia, with the grant money we received from the innovation center, allowed us to come up with a formula that works great and diversifies our product line.”

Written by: Mike Wooten

May 23, 2018 No Comments

Educational and Community Empowerment at UGArden

Sunlight fills greenhouses and illumes a flatbed truck hauling sylvan debris on a crisp February morning in Athens. Just an hour after sunrise, volunteers comb through crop fields and pick ripe bell peppers, leafy collards and purple-veined kale at UGArden—a community-based farm managed by University of Georgia (UGA) students and faculty situated near the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Morning harvesting is only one of many endeavors of UGArden: since its formation in 2010, the farm has become a locus for experiential academic learning and also distributes low-priced produce to families across Athens-Clarke County.

When a UGArden volunteer harvests collards from the farm, the vegetable could end up in various locations across the county. Clarke Middle School is one beneficiary of UGArden’s crop cultivation: through UGArden’s “Grow It, Know It” initiative, Clarke Middle School teachers and students create a three-course dinner using produce harvested from UGArden’s satellite garden—a four-plot garden at the middle school established by UGArden volunteers in 2012. Clarke Middle School teachers are also working with UGArden volunteers to incorporate gardening into their academic curriculums—gardening can help students get a better grasp on subjects like biology and the agricultural history of Georgia.

UGArden crops are also sold weekly at three community produce stands: Clarke Middle School, Athens Community Council on Aging, and Hilsman Middle School. UGAden volunteers sell produce to Athens residents—and even offer half-price produce for community members eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP). UGArden also donates portions of their produce to UGA student hunger relief organizations Campus Kitchen and the UGA Food Pantry. Selling inexpensive vegetables and donating produce to local charities displays UGArden’s commitment to not only benefit its surrounding community, but also combat hunger throughout Athens-Clarke County.

Academic instruction is another significant component of UGArden: five agricultural courses are taught at the farm, and undergraduate students can partake in a semesterly for-credit internship focused on cultivating crops and developing an accompanying research project. One course, taught near the farm’s storehouse, teaches students how to construct a fully-functional tiny house from square one. Students also conduct agricultural research at UGArden and have developed independent projects ranging from streamlining compost management to breeding disease-resistant zucchini.

One of the most prominent ongoing research projects at UGArden is the farm’s medicinal herb garden, which was founded six years ago and has enabled UGArden to cultivate and sell tea throughout Athens. “To me it’s about empowerment” says UGArden Herb Program Manager Noelle Fuller. “It’s been a really rewarding experience to work with students and people in the community and see the empowerment that comes with learning how to use these herbs to benefit their health.” Master gardeners like Fuller plant herbs and dry the leaves inside UGArden greenhouses. After drying leaves fully, UGArden volunteers mix tea leaves and herbs to form blends such as UGArden’s Feel Better Tea: a mixture of Lemon Verbena, Hibiscus, Mint, and Thyme that helps reduce cold and flu symptoms. UGArden tea blends, as well as their healing salves and oils, are available at their weekly produce stands and at Market at Tate on UGA’s campus. Eight years ago, university administrators were hesitant to approve a student-run garden near UGA’s campus. However, UGArden has exceeded the university’s expectations. The garden benefits UGA students who are eager to develop independent agricultural research projects and also provides a space for UGA professors to teach experiential agricultural courses. From establishing garden plots at nearby middle schools to donating crops to local hunger-fighting programs, UGArden has displayed a steadfast dedication to serving community members across Athens-Clarke County.


May 23, 2018 No Comments

Historic preservation plan to be implemented at UGA

The Office of University Architects at the University of Georgia unveiled a historic preservation plan to document and maintain UGA buildings 50 years and older on all campuses and across the state. After two years of research, the plan will be implemented at all of the university’s sites in Georgia. 

President Jere W. Morehead established the study to create the plan, which was implemented by College of Environment and Design Dean Dan Nadenicek and a steering committee. 

“One of the major strengths of the plan is that it provides a defensible and replicable process and a clearly articulated set of standard operating procedures,” said Nadenicek. “As steering committee chair, it was my pleasure to work with such a talented group of individuals who were all dedicated to providing the best possible historic preservation master plan for the University of Georgia.”

The president was in attendance at the April 11 reception to personally thank Nadenicek, the steering committee, faculty, staff and students who put in countless hours to create the plan.

The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia is the largest holder of historic resources among state entities, and UGA is the largest holder among USG units with more than 730 historic buildings and 55 cultural landscapes across 11 Georgia counties. 

“We want to ensure the Athens campus is taking steps toward preservation of historic buildings, but this goes well beyond the Athens campus,” said Scott Messer, director of historic preservation in the Office of University Architects. “All campuses are a part of this, not just Athens.” 

The process started with a historic resource inventory, which came to life with the help of faculty and students in the College of Environment and Design and consultant teams. The inventory includes a history, context, significance, condition and integrity of each historic building. 

Now that the inventory is in place, the university can follow the detailed process on all historic buildings for things like maintenance and upkeep. 

In addition to the benefits to the university’s legacy, the process provided experiential learning opportunities for graduate students in the College of Environmental Design. Nine graduate assistantships were created, and a number of internships were established in the historic preservation department to create the inventory and process.

At the reception, Nadenicek presented the college’s Dean’s Award to Messer for his work on the plan.

Written by: Kellyn Amodeo

May 23, 2018 No Comments

Wellbeing project analysis recommends smoking ban, more buses

Downtown Athens should become a smoke-free zone.

Bus routes should be altered so the poor or those who live in remote parts of Athens-Clarke County can more easily get to grocery stores.

People should be able to ride city buses for free on election day, so low-income voters can more easily get to the polls.

And a coordinated public relations effort would build public confidence in Athens-Clarke County police.

Those were some of the recommendations offered on Tuesday by University of Georgia graduate students studying health policy on UGA’s Health Sciences Campus.

They presented findings that grew out of a community research program called the Athens Wellbeing Project, which was launched about two years ago in a collaboration between UGA, the Clarke County School District, the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, along with other agencies and community partners.

Between September 2016 and January 2017, more than 1,300 Athens households participated in project surveys — enough so that the responses give an accurate reflection of the community, said Grace Bagwell Adams, a professor in the UGA College of Public Health and the Athens Wellbeing Project’s principal investigator.

Since then, students and other researchers have been combing through the survey information and related data to learn what it says about Athens.

Another set of students presented their research “white papers” last year, but feedback after that round asked students to take an additional step with their research; derive low-cost or no-cost policy recommendations.

Voting is a measure of something researchers call civic engagement, which actually leads to better physical health, among other benefits, said UGA graduate student Sonnie Looney, presenting research she’d done with students Warren Fraser and Shade Olowookere.

Another measure of civic engagement is volunteer work, and signing up to do volunteer work should also be easier than it is, they said.

Clarke County voter turnout is a little higher than the state average. But low-income households are less likely to vote, Olowookere said.

Several U.S. cities already offer free bus rides on election day, she said. The students didn’t find research on if fare-free bus rides increase voter participation, but estimated the cost at about $8,604 for Athens.

A downtown smoking ban is already in place in a few cities, including the college town of Boulder, Colorado, another student research team reported.

Such a ban would not only reduce people’s exposure to second-hand smoke, but could bring in additional income to the government through fines, according to the team of Stuart Barnes, Sai Nagula, Nikki Fillingham and Sunwoo Lee.

Georgia could also reduce smoking by imposing higher taxes on cigarettes; 48 states have higher taxes on cigarettes than Georgia, they found.

Another team presented survey results showing which groups expressed less public confidence in police. Of those surveyed, young adults showed the least amount of confidence in having positive interactions with police. However, college students with previous contact with police showed increased levels of confidence, the team found.

One way to increase contact would be for police to participate in more community events, according to the team of Michelle Bardgett, Florence Pham and Bhoomica Nagi.

Athens has a lot of food insecurity compared to the rest of Georgia and the United States, according to students Avery Greenspan, Samrina Jamal, Nicole Katapodis and Tracy Sun.

And the city not only has many more fast food outlets than grocery stores, but those groceries are concentrated in certain neighborhoods, For example, the Timothy Elementary School attendance zone has nine grocery stores. For purposes of the study, neighborhoods mirrored school attendance zones.

The team suggested lowering bus fares and adding more routes so those residing in areas with fewer grocery options can get to grocery stores. Besides modified bus routes, they said, pop-up grocery stands at bus stops could also help reduce unhealthy food consumption.

Written by: Lee Shearer

May 23, 2018 No Comments

Embark Georgia offers UGA’s most vulnerable students a helping hand

The program gives students from the foster care system and those experiencing homelessness the resources they need to succeed.

Margaret* hates the word homeless. But when she transferred to UGA in fall 2014, that’s exactly what she was.

Her father had been diagnosed with a terminal illness earlier that year. Doctors told the single parent he had less than a year to live, causing him to fall into a deep depression. He stopped paying the bills, and the bank foreclosed on the family’s house.

“I didn’t have anywhere to live where my family was at the time, so I told myself I might as well not have a place to live while going to school,” says Margaret, now 25. “I didn’t really have a plan or a place to live when I moved to Athens. A friend was nice enough to let me sleep on their couch, so I ended up sleeping on their couch for about eight months.”

The stress of working two jobs, going to school full time, and trying to make ends meet finally got to be too much. Margaret decided that maybe college just wasn’t in the cards for her.

Then she found Embark.

Launched in 2012 by UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership DevelopmentEmbark Georgia is a statewide network designed to identify former foster care or homeless college students and connect them to the resources they need to earn their degrees. Embark partners with representatives from numerous state and social service agencies to provide financial aid and other assistance to help students attend—and afford­—college.

“Students who have been in foster care are far less likely to graduate from college than the rest of the general population,” says David Meyers MSW ’96, one of Embark’s network directors along with Lori Tiller AB’01, MA’07. Both are faculty members at the Fanning Institute. “And we know that having a college education unlocks all kinds of opportunities in terms of income, leadership opportunities, and more. These students often don’t have the support that makes college seem like an option to them.”

In Georgia, there are around 14,000 children in foster care; about 300 of them will age out of the system this year. Another 36,000 students in Georgia have been identified as experiencing homelessness by the National Center for Education Statistics, with around 1,600 high school seniors designated as either homeless or unaccompanied, meaning they are emancipated or otherwise estranged from their parents. These students are significantly more likely to drop out of school, experience unplanned pregnancies, and end up in jail.

“Homeless youth and children in foster care are a very vulnerable population,” says Sara Blake Smith, homeless and foster care liaison for Fulton County. “These kids have so many obstacles stacked against them. The odds aren’t in their favor.”

Embark Georgia’s goal is to provide the support—financial and emotional—to stack the deck to ensure that students like Margaret don’t become statistics.

Collaborating with contacts like Smith in all the school districts across the state, Embark Georgia bridges the gap between high school and college for these students, giving them not only financial assistance but also connecting them to a caring adult on every University System of Georgia and Technical College System campus. That critical assistance is sometimes the difference between a student finishing a degree or dropping out.

Georgia leads the way in assigning a designated point of contact for foster and homeless students on every public university and college campus. Some schools, like UGA, have entire programs devoted to assisting these students.

Based out of the Student Affairs Department of Student Care and Outreach, UGA’s program is called Embark@UGA. Carrie Smith, assistant dean of students for student care and outreach, runs the campus initiative and is the designated point of contact for UGA.

Embark@UGA’s goal is to provide individualized networks of support for homeless students and those who’ve been in the foster care system. Staff help students find scholarships and grants for everything from tuition to health care expenses to rent and connect them to on-campus services like the UGA Student Food Pantry and Bulldog Basics, a free supply closet in Dawson Hall stocked with detergent, toothbrushes and toothpaste, toilet paper, and more.

Embark@UGA also provides something that’s intangible but possibly more important than the physical resources: a supportive adult presence.

“David was the one who told me to finish my degree, that it’s something no one can take from you once you have it,” Margaret says. “He was the support system I could call on if I needed anything. Having Embark and people like David, it made a world of difference for me.”

Margaret graduated with a degree in public relations in 2017. She now works for a nonprofit that connects youth who have been in foster care to scholarships and college preparatory programs. Embark helped Margaret’s college dreams become a reality. Now, she’s doing the same for others.

To protect her family’s privacy,Georgia Magazine is using only Margaret’s middle name. 

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Georgia Magazine.

Written by: Leigh Beeson

May 23, 2018 No Comments

Entrepreneurship program helps students turn ideas into reality

It starts with an idea.

Jesse Lafian’s idea promotes more efficient soil irrigation. Caleb Adams and Graham Grable’s idea translates high-performance computation into everyday uses. And UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program helped these ideas go from hasty math—on a napkin in Adams’ case—to viable prototypes.

“We are providing a mechanism where students who have an idea can experiment, try it and see how it works,” said Bob Pinckney, director of the Entrepreneurship Program. “Really, with entrepreneurship, it’s not taking a risk, it’s managing the risk.”

Approximately 400 students have learned how to manage those risks through the university’s Entrepreneurship Certificate Program, according to Pinckney. Many, like Lafian, Adams and Grable, also use other entrepreneurial initiatives at UGA to further develop their ideas.

“The program is very experiential, and the various program options are an integral part of the experiential learning experience available to students at the University of Georgia,” Pinckney said.

Lafian, who received his Bachelor of Science in agriculture in 2017, put his initial idea—a soil moisture sensor first mentioned in a soils and hydrology lab—through UGA’s Idea Accelerator, an eight-week “business boot camp” that takes place twice a year. His idea also went through the university’s I-Corps program, an intensive six-week program to help teams identify, test and validate customer segments and arrive at a value proposition that fits their product and market. Lafian said the funding he received through I-Corps was crucial because it allowed him to go to trade shows and talk with potential customers.

“That is the heart of being an entrepreneur, in my opinion—allowing someone to tell you about their problem without you trying to show them your solution,” Lafian said.

Jesse Lafian’s work centers on promoting more efficient soil irrigation. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)

Those conversations led to a pivot. Now, Lafian is focusing his company, Reservoir, on creating valve attachments that allow landscapers and horticulturists to control valves remotely and wirelessly, saving time and money. Reservoir recently closed a seed round with Macon-based Central Piedmont Investment Group that will allow the company to complete field tests with 10 clients.

Adams, who graduates with a Bachelor of Science in computer science this year, and Grable, who also graduates this year with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering, took part in UGA’s Summer Launch program, where four to six teams receive a dedicated workspace and $5,000 to grow their business and compete for an additional $5,000 at the end of the program.

They’ve worked on their mission, the Multiview Onboard Computational Imager, since 2015. It has a high-performance computation unit and graphics processing unit on board. The goal is to take the type of technology that is used in autonomous driving and put it into space, where data transmissions tend to lag. It will allow analysts to retrieve data faster, such as photographing a mountain and reproducing a 3-D model of it. Their project is in Phase B with the Air Force Research Lab, and they will continue their work with a $750,000 grant through 2020.

“We’re right on the forefront of where the industry is,” Adams said. “This funding we’ve received from the Air Force validates our lab not only nationally but also internationally as being something to be taken very seriously.”

Adams and Grable also recently co-founded Hyve Robotics, which will focus on building autonomous robotics systems. For their first venture, they partnered with Cosmic Delivery, another product of UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program founded by Trent Walls and York Delloyd, who both graduate with computer systems engineering degrees this year, on autonomous food delivery. According to Grable, their experience in computation and satellites translates easily into robotics systems.

“This is where we can take our experience in the lab and translate it into something that can be easily commercialized and used on a wide scale,” Grable said.

The University of Georgia is really good at being able to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs or anyone, really, to do something cool.” — Graham Grable

Lafian and Adams also participated in UGA’s Next Top Entrepreneur competition. During this event, teams pitch their existing business plans or business idea in front of a live audience and a panel of judges. At the end of the competition, one winning team is awarded $10,000. Lafian took the top prize in the 2017 competition, and the 2018 competition is set for April 12 from 5-8:30 p.m. at Hotel Indigo’s Rialto Room. The event is part of Athens StartUp Week, April 9-13.

“I think you should look at all of your opportunities and constantly pick the best one to move forward,” Adams said.

“The University of Georgia is really good at being able to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs or anyone, really, to do something cool,” Grable added.

UGA’s Entrepreneurship Certificate Program prepares students to become successful and dynamic entrepreneurs in private, public and nonprofit sectors. It is open to all UGA undergraduates with at least 30 credit hours and a 3.0 GPA. The program is 15 credit hours—nine in the Terry College of Business and six in electives defined by the student’s school or college.

“Employers love to see the entrepreneurship certificate on the college transcript of their potential hires,” Pinckney said. “It is an indication that the candidate has an entrepreneurial mindset, is a self-starter and is not afraid to think outside the box when looking at business issues.”

Starting in fall 2018, 40 incoming freshmen will have an additional opportunity to network with fellow entrepreneurs. Two wings of the fourth floor of Creswell Hall will be turned into The Launch Pad, a living/learning community dedicated to entrepreneurs. A co-working space with 3-D printers to build prototypes will be added to the lobby. These students will go through an application process and eventually be admitted to the Entrepreneurship Certificate Program.

“Entrepreneurship comes in all flavors,” Pinckney said. “The best way to learn entrepreneurship is to actually do it, experience it and talk with others who have done it as well.”

May 23, 2018 No Comments

Leadership students serve communities across Georgia

Archway Partnership and Terry College of Business partner to serve communities, provide opportunities to students.

Michael Veal adjusts his hard hat. It’s not every Saturday the University of Georgia Terry College of Business student ventures into a kaolin mine, one of the giant valleys throughout Washington County.

More than a field trip, this is an opportunity for Veal, along with nine other students in the Institute for Leadership Advancement at the Terry College, to learn about kaolin, a mineral found in Washington County, which is about 85 miles south of Athens. As their ILA capstone project, the students are helping the community evaluate the potential for a museum to highlight kaolin, which has created jobs and shaped lives in the middle Georgia community for more than 50 years.

“Everything in that town is named after kaolin,” said Veal, whose father’s family lived in Washington County through four generations. “Their shopping center is named after kaolin and there is a kaolin park.”

ILA is partnering with UGA’s Archway Partnership on three capstone projects, required of all students receiving a certificate in the Leonard Leadership Scholars, a two-year program for Terry College students that provides personalized leadership development through courses, extra-curricular activities and challenging service-learning opportunities.

In Hart County, a team of 10 ILA students is helping create a tourism marketing plan for Hart State Park on Lake Hartwell. In Griffin-Spalding County, students are helping with rebranding.

ILA faculty and service-learning liaison Jodi Barnes said the Archway Partnership was chosen for capstone projects because UGA already has a strong presence in those communities and can easily identify the needs to be addressed.

While most classes devote all their resources to one organization, Barnes explained, the model Archway provides is unique.

“For us, the model is very different. The service-learning project lasts an entire year,” said Barnes. “Archway offers expert local contacts for these groups, and ultimately they’re supporting and enriching the greater state of Georgia.”

Begun in 2005 by UGA Public Service and Outreach and UGA Cooperative Extension, the Archway Partnership places UGA faculty in Georgia communities, providing them access to the resources of UGA to help address critical locally identified needs and opportunities.

Like many in the town, Trey Sheppard’s livelihood has been shaped by kaolin. He is vice president of crude kaolin mining operations for Howard Sheppard Inc., a Sandersville business that goes back three generations.The kaolin museum was identified as an opportunity for Washington County to showcase the chalky, white substance used in products ranging from glossy paper to cosmetics to rocket ships.

“No matter where you’re sitting, kaolin is used in something near you—paper, packaging, plastics,” Sheppard said. “So many people don’t realize that it’s a resource that’s special to our area.”

Sheppard realized the museum would be more valuable if it reflected the historical context of kaolin. Two UGA professors, Dorinda Dallmeyer, a professor in the College of Environment and Design, and husband David Dallmeyer, a professor of geology from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, gave a presentation to Sheppard and the students.

According to the professors, kaolin formed due to the location of the fall line, a geological boundary running across the state from Augusta to Columbus. In prehistoric times, the fall line was the shoreline between Georgia and the Atlantic Ocean, when most of the present-day state was underwater. Fall lines are the borders where the land would have “fallen” into the ocean.

Sheppard believes knowing this history of the state, and how it relates to modern discoveries like kaolin, is important. These factors have all shaped Georgia.

“Whether it’s school groups or people traveling through, we think it would be a great resource to bring people to the community,” said Sheppard. “It’s really for people all around this area to understand what we were like millions of years ago.”

In addition to the opportunities the projects provide the students, they also benefit from learning more about the state and its communities, said Michelle Elliott, an Archway Partnership operations coordinator.

“These students are mostly from out of state or Atlanta and this helps create an appreciation for those communities they otherwise wouldn’t learn about,” said Elliott.

“Anytime we can partner students and communities together, we maximize benefits for everyone,” said Elliott. “The value of this program for students is they will be in a position of leadership, creating multidisciplinary solutions to problems, gaining confidence and experience as corporate citizens and corporate leaders in communities.”

Written by: Leah Moss

May 23, 2018 No Comments

“Georgia Climate Research Roadmap” Identifies Georgia’s Top 40 Climate Research Questions

A multi-disciplinary team of experts from across Georgia has developed the "Georgia Climate Research Roadmap," a first-of-its-kind list of 40 key research questions that can help policymakers and practitioners better understand and address climate change in Georgia. The Roadmap, published today in the journal Environmental Management, is an initiative of the Georgia Climate Project, a state-wide consortium founded by Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Georgia to improve understanding of climate impacts and solutions in Georgia.

The Roadmap's 40 questions focus on how climate change will impact Georgia and options for dealing with those impacts across themes such as water, the coast, agriculture, health, and energy. Several questions address issues related to equity and at-risk communities. The Roadmap is a non-partisan initiative. An interactive version can be accessed at http://roadmap.GeorgiaClimateProject.org.

"By bringing these questions together in one place, we are trying to make it easier to identify high- impact research opportunities that will benefit decision-makers," said Emory University's Daniel Rochberg, a co-author of the paper. "The group that came together to produce the Roadmap is a great indicator of the expertise we have across the state on these issues."

To develop the Roadmap, a team of 41 co-authors from academia, government, non-governmental organizations, and industry worked through a list of 180 candidate questions submitted by experts across the state through an online solicitation process. "To our knowledge, we are the first to use this novel research prioritization methodology on such a complex cross-cutting issue at the state level," said co-author Marilyn Brown of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

We see this as a really important first step. Now that we have outlined these questions, we hope to see researchers across the state digging into these in much more detail.

Co-author Patricia Yager, University of Georgia

"This type of information is going to be really important for policymakers" said co-author David D'Onofrio of the Atlanta Regional Commission. "On our side, we're already making plans to do more work on one of the big infrastructure questions by identifying vulnerabilities in our transportation system to climate change and extreme weather."

The Roadmap will also serve as the basis for a climate information portal that can provide easy access to information on climate impacts and solutions in Georgia. Jennifer Kline, a co-author from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said "a tool like this Roadmap can really broaden our engagement on these questions around the state."

May 23, 2018 No Comments

Green streak

Students are taking a lead role in building a sustainable campus

When promoting a sustainable, eco-friendly campus, creating a streamlined recycling system is considered low-hanging fruit. Making it just as easy for someone to recycle a plastic bottle as it is to pitch it in the trash means it’s much more likely that person will recycle it. But with a campus so large (762 acres and over 400 buildings) and complex (17 schools and colleges, and over 7,000 staff), even the easy pickings take careful planning and execution.

For UGA’s campus, one student stood up to the challenge. During his internship in the university’s Office of Sustainability, Mason Towe AB ’16devised and executed a plan for improving trash and recycling collection on the Athens campus, placing about 1,500 bins in nearly 200 buildings.

UGA is committed to minimizing its environmental footprint. And while the university leverages faculty and staff expertise in those efforts, students like Towe have consistently been a driving force.

Valuable Work

About 10 years ago, a student coalition called the Go Green Alliancelaunched a campaign that led to the creation of the Office of Sustainability by then-President Michael F. Adams. UGA students overwhelmingly passed a referendum to establish a new mandatory green fee, which the Board of Regents later approved, to support the office’s coordination and promotion of campus-wide efforts.

Now the Office of Sustainability coordinates a range of green campus initiatives—from low-emissions transportation projects to water quality and conservation, from campus composting to green roof gardens. Through the processes of research to implementation, UGA students play a vital role in all of it through their passion and innovation.

Thanks to a sustainability grants program, students have fueled new ideas such as the Tanyard Creek Chew Crew, a team of goats that gnaws through invasive plants on campus, to the Bulldog Bikes program, which offers free bicycle transportation on campus. The sustainability office also employs 24 interns from a variety of majors.

Two of them—Madison Crosby, a student in the Odum School of Ecology, and Gabi Rosenthal, a photography major in the Lamar Dodd School of Art—are working together to raise awareness about watersheds on UGA’s Athens campus. The campus is home to multiple waterways, including a stream that runs under Sanford Stadium. To keep trash and other contaminants out of the water, Crosby and Rosenthal are leading campaigns to teach their peers about the watersheds.

Rosenthal, an aspiring commercial photographer, runs the Watershed UGA social media accounts. She says her internship gives her a lot of freedom to learn and to apply some of the skills she’s developed in the classroom.

“It pushes me creatively and makes me feel like I am doing something valuable,” she says.

Meeting the challenge

Early in his college career, Towe, an economics and sociology double-major, was feeling adrift. He was looking for some inspiration when he met for coffee with Kevin Kirsche BLA ’98MLA ’08, director of sustainability. Following their conversation, Towe took a waste-reduction internship in the Office of Sustainability. The decision shaped the rest of his college experience and helped lead to a budding career in recycling and waste reduction.

For his final project, Towe’s challenge was this: organize trash and recycling bins in all campus buildings, making sure they were side-by-side and convenient. Kirsche says the project was more complicated than it sounds. Each building has a unique floor plan as well as a building supervisor who needed input on the plans. It took visiting every building on the main campus, looking at blueprints, and working with campus staff to find the best paths to secure, deliver, and install the bins.

Mason Towe completed an internship with the Office of Sustainability in 2017. Now, he’s a program specialist at the Athens-Clarke County recycling division.

“We didn’t tell him how hard that is,” Kirsche says. “We gave him this goal and set him loose.”

It was a tall order. But Towe completed almost all the buildings on campus. He graduated barely short of the goal, passing the torch to senior Melissa Gurevitch, the Office of Sustainability’s current Zero Waste Intern, who completed the remaining buildings on campus.

“I met pretty much every building supervisor on campus,” says Towe, who got a rare behind-the-scenes look at how campus facilities are run.

Towe’s work as a student inspired his career. Now, he is a program education specialist for the Athens-Clarke County’s recycling division, where he informs Athens-area residents how to effectively recycle.

His career goals focus on a commitment to reducing waste and finding new ways to reuse the materials that are usually discarded.

And it all started with the passion and skills he honed as a student.

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Georgia Magazine.

May 23, 2018 No Comments

UGA Student Who Helped Opened Free Health Clinic Will Give TEDx Talk

They’re not even doctors yet, but five University of Georgia students are already bringing health care to those who need it in Athens.

In March 2017, five pre-med majors—Hamzah Ali, Vraj Patel, Abdus Subhan, Ummar Jamal and Faiz Saulat—co-founded Shifa Clinic Athens, a free health-care clinic, first on Huntington Road, then at a more permanent location on Hawthorne Avenue. A branch of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief USA, Shifa Clinic Athens is one of seven volunteer-based Shifa clinics across the nation. “The main purpose [of the Shifa clinics] is to provide services for humanity,” says Muhammad Uzair, a physician and director of operations for all Shifa clinics nationwide.

The students began organizing the clinic around February 2016 with funding from ICNA and help from local physicians, most notably Adeel Rahman and Zaigham Butt. Physicians supervise all of the student volunteers at the clinic.

Although they were enthusiastic about having the opportunity to open a clinic to help the uninsured of Athens, the process was a massive challenge for the team. “It was a huge learning curve,” Ali says. “…It was beyond just understanding what a clinic is, but being able to prove to our superiors that we are capable of executing this project.”

The group, who all had clinical experience, had to learn the organizational aspects of starting a clinic. “When you start something like this, you have to network and start with the administrative side,” says Saulat, who will be discussing his experience at the upcoming TEDx UGA symposium. “I had seen clinical work… transitioning over into the administrative work, and starting this up, it was a completely different thing. It took some patience.”

One challenge for Saulat was balancing his two lives as a student and an administrator at a professional clinic. “I remember I’d be sitting in class and responding to emails to physicians,” he says. “It was kind of a duality. I’d be working with students all day, and then the rest of the time I’d be in physicians’ offices and board meetings with directors.”

Every other Shifa clinic in the nation has at least one part-time manager whose job it is to help manage and oversee most of the administrative tasks. Such is not the case for the Athens Shifa Clinic. “This clinic is unique in that it is solely run by volunteers,” Uzair says. “They do everything on their own.”

One thing the team learned was the importance of balancing roles within the clinic. For a while, they were the ones doing almost all the administrative tasks necessary to run and promote a clinic. For about the first two months that the clinic was open, patient flow was extremely low, which worried them. “The stress moved from, ‘Can we do this?’ to ‘Are we doing this correctly?’” Ali says. “We stepped back and realized we focused so much on the logistics [of the clinic]. We didn’t think about reaching out to [patients].”

The team recruited some students from the Terry College of Business in 2017. Zachariah Humrich was brought on in late August to begin to develop a cohesive plan for finance and fundraising. In November, this was expanded to a business director/administrator role. Humrich directed a comprehensive approach to marketing, finance, fundraising and event planning. Lauren Handley, another Terry College student, was brought on to coordinate finance. Matt Osajima, a Grady College student, was brought on to coordinate marketing and outreach. Clifvonne Webb oversees patient logistics.

In addition to balancing their newly assumed roles as clinical administrators with being students, the team also had to remain conscientious about conducting themselves professionally. “I had to stop wearing sweatpants as often,” Saulat jokes.

One of the team’s biggest fears opening up the clinic was that, because they were still undergraduates, they wouldn’t be taken seriously despite the sense of professionalism they tried to assert. “That first meeting where we were presenting to the local physicians, we didn’t know if we wanted to tell them we were students,” Saulat says.

At the same time, that intimidation and fear of not being taken seriously was part of what propelled them to work hard in executing the project. They wanted to prove that, even though they were undergraduates, they still had the same drive and work ethic to accomplish something a professional could. “You can make a difference at any stage of your life,” Ali says. “…We knew we have a short period of time in Athens, and we wanted to make something long-lasting that would continue with undergraduates coming in.”

Shifa Clinic Athens, located at 435 Hawthorne Ave., is open every Saturday from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Athens also has two other free clinics: Mercy Health Center (call 706-425-4044 on Tuesday between 4–5 p.m. to schedule an appointment) and the Athens Nurses Clinic (240 North Ave.; open 9 a.m.–3 p.m. Monday–Thursday and 9 a.m.–12 p.m. Friday). In addition, the Athens Neighborhood Health Center (675 College Ave. and 402 McKinley Dr.) charges for health-care services on a sliding income scale.

Written by: By Megan Wahn

May 21, 2018 No Comments

Stop and smell the native roses: UGA student creates coloring book for botanical garden

Suzie Henderson has been sketching plants and insects since she was a child.

As an ecology major and horticulture minor, she is familiar with Georgia’s native plants—from the bright orange butterfly weed to the ivory yucca.

During her internship with the State Botanical Garden, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, she used her knowledge and creativity to create a coloring book that educates children about the importance of native plants and pollinators.

“Art has been a hobby my whole life,” Henderson says. “I’ve always been drawn to observing nature through art.”

Henderson’s internship at the garden was part of her year as a UGA Public Service and Outreach Student Scholar. The student scholars program introduces students to the public service mission of Georgia’s land-grant and sea-grant university. Participants learn about and visit each of UGA’s eight PSO units during the fall semester before completing a 150-hour internship with one of those units in the spring. Henderson’s internship extended into the following year.

While at the garden Henderson had an opportunity to get involved with Connect to Protect, a statewide program that combines beautiful displays of native plants with educational materials to foster an understanding of the role that native plants play in maintaining biodiversity in urban and suburban areas of Georgia. Numerous Connect to Protect gardens have been planted at schools and businesses in and around Athens, as well as in Gwinnett County, Macon-Bibb County and Rabun County.

“I wanted to teach children and adults about native plants and their benefit to human beings and how they fit in the human web,” said Henderson. “The more gardens we have, the more we can support healthier pollinators, to pollinate our orchards and fields.”

The coloring book features 10 native plant species, each illustration delicately drawn with a corresponding pollinator, such as a ruby-throated hummingbird or Eastern bumblebee. The book provides background information on the plant and pollinator as well as a thought-provoking discussion question. In the back of the book, a page demonstrates the plant and insect life cycles, and most importantly, where these cycles overlap and merge.

“That’s why I loved making this book—I could see the relationship between the flowers, the pollinators, and the whole function of an ecosystem,” said Henderson.

The making of the book was a garden family affair. Public Service and Outreach graduate assistant, Paula Runyon, who worked at the garden, assisted in converting the drawings to a digital file format. Elijah Richardson, a work-study student, designed the coloring key in the back of the book. Linda Chafin, the resident conservation botanist and native plant expert at the garden’s Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies, helped edit the text. Graphic designer Lisa Nation created the cohesive layout of the book. Caroline Turner, a high school student in UGA’s Young Dawgs high school internship program, is helping Henderson with the second version of the book, which depicts the importance of healthy food, and all the factors that go into growing food.

Cora Keber, education director at the State Botanical Garden, and Heather Alley, conservation horticulturist, helped oversee Henderson’s coloring book from concept to creation.

“The next book will feature illustrations of food crops and pollinators,” says Keber. “It will also include recipes with each plant.”

The Odum School of Ecology, where Henderson is earning her degree, gave the book to 300 people who attended a recent ecology reunion and symposium in honor of the Institute of Ecology, founded at UGA 50 years ago in 1967.

“When we saw the coloring books we immediately decided to give everyone a copy,” said Beth Gavrilles, Odum research communications coordinator and one of the event organizers. “We knew people would love them for their content and execution, and because they were created by one of our students. People, whether kid or adult, really seem to like coloring books.”

After graduation, Henderson hopes to study functional ecosystem health and continue drawing. The process of illustrating the coloring book, she says, has given her the confidence to pursue her artistic endeavors, perhaps in the form of a publication dedicated to conservation.

The Connect to Protect coloring book is available for $7 at the gift shop at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia or online. Please email Cora Keber with requests. Reduced rates are offered for nonprofits and educators.

Writer: Leah Moss, leahmoss@uga.edu, 706-583-0964
Contact: Cora Keber, ckeber@uga.edu, 706-542-6158

May 15, 2018 No Comments

Besides the ugliness, litter costs Athens some big bucks

Litter isn’t at the top of most Athenians’ lists of local community problems, but it costs them plenty.

Clean-up and other issues related to litter and illegal dumping issues ate up an estimated $718,702 of the government’s money last year — about $200,000 in code enforcement, $227,000 in landscape management, and $291,702 in the solid waste department management, according to Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Director Suki Janssen.

Add to that about $718,702 another $112,400 in volunteer costs for litter cleanup and the estimated $28,000 the Georgia Department of Transportation spent, and the grand total reaches nearly $860,000, Janssen told Athens-Clarke County Commissioners at a recent work session.

Even that figure doesn’t include secondary costs to other departments, such as court costs, she said.

And spending is on the rise.

“Our budget has increased 33 percent over the last two years,” she said. “It’s gotten out of hand.”

The government’s landscape management department has the primary responsibility for keeping up with the surprising volume of litter. Last year, landscape management crews picked up 6,020 bags of litter, about 30 tons, as well as 1,581 bags of recyclable material. They also hauled away 1,507 tires and cleaned up 44 illegal dumpsites, according to government records.

Those figures don’t include the tons of trash volunteers gather during events like the Upper Oconee Watershed Network’s annual “Rivers Alive” trash cleanup in and beside Athens streams and rivers, she said.

The cost of litter control is particularly intense in Athens’ Central Business District; $216,420 in the 2017-18 fiscal year, she said.

Litter can also negatively affect economic development and even drive down property values, she said. It harms wildlife, and some of it goes downstream to contribute to the crisis of degraded plastics in the ocean.

Besides that, it makes the community look ugly — “aesthetic decay,” Janssen called it.

“People are less apt to litter when an area looks good already,” she said.

Janssen quizzed commissioners on the five most frequent kinds of litter: Cigarette butts top that list, along with plastic bottles, food packaging, plastic bags and aluminum cans, she told them.

Most litter is tossed out of car windows, but pedestrians and trash blown out of incompletely covered loads are also big contributors, including Athens-Clarke County’s own trash trucks as well as those of commercial haulers, she said.

Janssen convened a litter abatement committee last year to come up with a litter abatement strategy.

“They’d like a new approach,” she said, including a targeted campaign and possibly more police enforcement, which is minimal now.

“An annual enforcement drive, driven by the police department, is the hope,” she said.

Janssen also wants to add a staff member devoted to litter abatement.

Written by: Lee Shearer

May 10, 2018 No Comments

Payday loans not just a poor person’s issue

Researchers find that borrowers exist in all tax brackets

Athens, Ga. ­­– A team of researchers led by faculty at the University of Georgia found that payday loan borrowers often come from middle- and higher-income households, not just poor or lower-earning populations.

Mary Caplan, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at UGA, led a study that analyzed a nationally representative dataset from the Federal Reserve Board’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances.

The survey was administered among 6,015 U.S. households, and it includes information about income, pension, spending, debt and the use of financial services.

Borrowers can take out these loans online or in person with companies advertising small dollar and quick cash loans, but the interest rates tend to be high.

“There’s this idea that payday loans are specifically used by people who are poor,” Caplan said. “I wanted to find out whether or not that’s true.”

The study grouped borrowers into five income-based quintiles and found that there are payday loan borrowers in low-, middle- and high-income households.

The researchers found that payday loan borrowers are more likely to be African-American, lack a college degree, live in a home that they don’t own and receive assistance such as SNAP or TANF.

The researchers also looked at social support and its relation to payday loan borrowing and found that more than 38 percent of borrowers couldn’t ask family and friends for $3,000 in a financial emergency.

“It’s nearly a two-fold increase in the likelihood that someone would turn to a payday lender if they don’t have a family member or a friend that they can borrow $3,000 from,” said Robert Nielsen, professor and head of the consumer sciences department at the University of Alabama, who helped to analyze the dataset.

What was surprising, the researchers said, was that payday loan borrowing is something that people from high-income households do as well. The top 20 percent of income earners had a payday lending use rate of just over 1 percent.

People from high-income households may take out payday loans because of the high cost of living in some areas and unstable job markets, Caplan said.

“People in the so-called middle class used to have one job and keep it for decades,” Caplan said. “This is no longer the case. People who are in the upper income quintile, which starts around $110,000, may seem well off, but in reality, their financial lives can be quite precarious.”

Also important is the fact that the top 20 percent of earners in the U.S. is an economically diverse group that ranges from households making $150,000 to millionaires and billionaires.

“It's unlikely that those two last groups of people are taking out payday loans,” Caplan said. “But for households who need a quick $300 in cash right before payday and whose credit may be tapped out, a payday loan may be just the ticket. More research is needed to fully understand it though.”

Some borrowers reported taking out payday loans for emergencies, paying bills and other loans, buying medicine, paying rent and buying gas.

Peter Kindle, an associate professor of social work at the University of South Dakota who also worked on the project, said it makes sense that some people turn to payday loans when they are in financial binds because they have nowhere else to turn.

“There’s no other resource that’s available to some of them,” Kindle said. “If the hot water heater goes out and you’ve got to replace it, it makes perfect sense. If you don’t have the $400, $500 or $800 that it takes to deal with an emergency like that, where are you going to get it?”

Caplan stressed the importance of not characterizing payday loans as a problem that only poor people face. She said that Kindle’s perspective on payday loan borrowing helped to shape the way she studies it. She no longer refers to payday lending as predatory lending, but instead uses the term alternative financial services.

“I think that when we characterize something as a problem of poor people, then it gets marginalized in our culture,” Caplan said.

Caplan is an evaluator of a project called Commonwealth Athens, a program that refinances loans for smaller interest rates and provides financial literacy for people within the community.

“This is an issue that touches every income quintile,” Caplan said. “Therefore, this is an American issue.”

The study is available online at http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/jssw/vol44/iss4/3.


Writer: Saleen Martin
Contact: Mary Caplan, 706-542-5464, caplan@uga.edu
Robert Nielsen, rbnielsen@ches.ua.edu
Peter Kindle, peter.kindle@usd.edu

May 10, 2018 No Comments

UGA’s 2018 Udall Scholar is focused on sustaining the world’s fish populations

University of Georgia junior Guy Eroh has a particular passion for fish, and his focus on the sustainability of these aquatic animals has earned him national recognition as a 2018 Udall Scholar.

He was one of 50 undergraduates from across the nation and U.S. territories selected for the scholarship awarded to sophomores and juniors on the basis of their commitment to careers in the environment, Native health care or tribal public policy.

Eroh, from Portland, Oregon, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in ecology and a master’s degree in forest resources. An Honors student and Foundation Fellow, he intends to earn a doctorate in biological science with an emphasis in molecular genetics and fisheries science, with the long-term goal of improving the recovery and sustainability of the world’s fish populations and their habitats.

“I am pleased that a University of Georgia student has once again received this prestigious academic scholarship,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “The university congratulates Guy on this significant achievement and wishes him the very best in all of his future endeavors.”

With the addition of Eroh, UGA has had 12 Udall Scholars in the past eight years and 17 total since the scholarship was first awarded in 1996.

Through the application of novel, relevant scientific information and technologies, Eroh intends to revolutionize the way fish populations and their ecosystems are managed. He is preparing for a career specific to fish conservation as a researcher for a university or government agency.

“Guy is a most apt recipient of the Udall Scholarship,” said David S. Williams, associate provost and director of the Honors Program, who serves as the Udall Scholarship faculty advisor for UGA. “For as long as I have known him, Guy has been focused on the important role of fish in ecological sustainability. I applaud and am encouraged by his passion and commitment.”

Eroh is president of 5 Rivers UGA and has been a member of Trout Unlimited, the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, UGA Ocean Initiative, the Georgia chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Georgia and Oregon chapters of the American Fisheries Society.

He currently conducts research with UGA faculty Cecil Jennings, Robert Bringolf and Jean Williams-Woodward to maximize hatch success of walleye eggs. Eroh also interned for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science in the UK.

His awards include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Wildlife Leadership Award, Stamps Foundation Scholarship, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and Xi Sigma Pi Forestry Honor Society. He was one of three UGA students to receive a Goldwater Scholarship this spring. Eroh runs competitively with the UGA Club Cross Country Team and is a SCUBA-certified diver. He studied abroad through UGA programs in Costa Rica and Oxford, England.

In addition to Eroh, UGA junior Abigail West was one of 50 students nationwide to receive an honorable mention from the Udall Foundation. A Foundation Fellow from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, she eventually plans to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts after working at artist-in-residency programs focused on sustainability, specifically regarding waste, consumption and consumerism.

The Udall Scholarship provides up to $7,000 for eligible academic expenses and includes a four-day orientation in Tucson, Arizona, and access to the Udall Alumni Network, an extensive group of environmental and tribal leaders and public servants. Since 1996, the Udall Foundation has awarded 1,574 scholarships totaling $8,090,000.

The Udall Foundation was established in 1992 to honor Rep. Morris K. Udall for his 30 years of service to the U.S. Congress. Legislation in 2009 incorporated the name of his brother, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. The independent agency conducts programs that promote leadership, education, collaboration and conflict resolution in the areas of the environment, public lands and natural resources.


Writer: Stephanie Schupska, 706-542-4975, schupska@uga.edu
Contact: Jessica Hunt, 706-542-6206, jhunt@uga.edu

May 10, 2018 No Comments

Caterpillar ‘road rage’ could affect migration

Monarch butterfly caterpillars living next to roads may be stressed by the sound of passing cars and trucks, according to a new study from the University of Georgia.

Researchers found that monarch caterpillars exposed to highway noise for short periods had elevated heart rates, a sign that they were experiencing stress. With roadsides increasingly promoted as sites for pollinator habitat, the findings could have serious implications for monarch butterfly conservation.

Monarchs, with their bright orange and black wings, are among the most recognizable insects in North America, known for their epic fall migration that can take them thousands of miles from their breeding areas in the U.S. and Canada to wintering grounds in Mexico. But monarch numbers at overwintering sites have been declining for decades, and some believe this is due to loss of breeding habitat. In response, concerned individuals and organizations have promoted the creation of pollinator gardens, including along roadsides.

“It seems like it’s a win-win,” said the study’s lead author, Andy Davis. “Not only are they located all across the country, but roadside wildflower plantings are pretty and can reduce maintenance costs at the same time. But one of the things that’s been overlooked with this push to develop roadside habitats is the vehicle noise. If you actually step outside and listen at one of these roadside habitat sites, it’s deafening.”

Davis, a research scientist in the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, specializes in conservation physiology, a new and developing field that examines how the physiology of animals is affected by their environments and how that knowledge can inform management decisions, especially for species of conservation concern.

Research on the effects of human-generated noise suggests that it induces stress reactions in people and many wildlife species. Few studies have focused on insects, however.

“We know that an increase in heart rate is a universal stress response in the animal kingdom,” Davis said. “But this is the first project that has ever attempted to look at the actual physiological stress reactions of monarchs.”

Davis and his team—undergraduate researchers Hayley Schroeder, Ian Yeager and Jana Pearce—placed monarch caterpillars in two rooms with identical light and temperature conditions. One room contained stereo speakers through which a looped recording of loud highway noise could be played; the other room was kept quiet, as a control.

Before beginning the experiment, they measured all the caterpillars’ heart rates with a non-invasive electronic device that used an infrared beam to sense the contractions of the caterpillars’ hearts as they pumped blood.

The researchers played the road noise recording at the original decibel level for two hours and then measured the heart rates of all the caterpillars from both rooms again. They conducted the experiment twice, once in 2016 and again a year later.

They found that caterpillars exposed to short-term highway noise experienced a 16 to 17 percent increase in heart rate.

“This is the same magnitude increase as humans experience if we’re exposed to a stressor,” said Davis. “And I know from some of my work with other insects that if they’re stressed, their heart rates increase by the same magnitude too. So we’re confident this is a real stress reaction in the monarchs.”

In the real world, however, caterpillars near roadsides would experience highway noise for much longer than two hours. Davis and his team therefore set out to explore the effects of long-term noise exposure.

They conducted two trials, one that lasted for seven days and one for twelve days.

Unlike the caterpillars exposed to short-term noise, caterpillars in the long-term trials did not exhibit an elevated heart rate by the time they had finished their caterpillar stage.

Davis said this could mean that over time the caterpillars either became used to the stress of highway noise or became desensitized to it—which he warned could lead to serious problems for monarch butterflies during migration.

“The whole reason heart rates increase when animals perceive a threat is so they can pump more blood to the muscles to help them escape or defend themselves,” he said. “The monarchs’ journey to Mexico could be one of the most stressful journeys that any insect undertakes in the world. Every day these migrants are faced with a series of stressors that they need to overcome, whether it’s fighting against wind currents, trying to find enough food, or, ironically, dodging cars on freeways. The last thing we want is for them to have an impaired stress reaction.”

While they found no change in caterpillar heart rates after the long-term trials, Davis said that the researchers did observe behavioral changes in the group exposed to noise. Those caterpillars were more aggressive than those in the control group, fighting with one another more often and even, in a couple of instances, biting the researchers.

“I was shocked,” he said. “It was just a little pinch but it was just so surprising. I checked with a number of long-term monarch researchers, who’ve collectively probably reared over 10,000 monarch larvae, and they said they’ve never, ever had that happen. But if you look at the literature, there is some research that shows that heightened levels of long-term stress in insects is usually correlated with levels of aggression.”

Davis said that more research is needed to determine whether roadside noise affects monarchs’ ability to migrate.

“By putting in these roadside habitats that are meant as a conservation measure, we’re essentially conducting a long-term experiment,” he said. “I think our research demonstrates that we need to have more information before we continue to move forward.”

The paper, “Effects of simulated highway noise on heart rates of larval monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus: implications for roadside habitat suitability,” appears in Biology Letters. It is available online at http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/lookup/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2018.0018.



Writer: Beth Gavrilles, 706-542-7247, bethgav@uga.edu
Contact: Andrew K. Davis, 706 542-8112, akdavis@uga.edu

May 10, 2018 No Comments

Microbes reveal how humans adjusted to a changing atmosphere

Ancient microbes that thrive in some of the world’s most extreme environments and modern-day humans have more in common than meets the eye—namely, they both respire and conserve energy using a similar molecular mechanism, one that has adapted to changing environmental conditions over billions of years.

The findings, published today in Cell by scientists at Van Andel Research Institute, University of Georgia and Washington State University, detail the structure of MBH, a molecular complex involved in microbial respiration. The near-atomic resolution images are the first ever of MBH and show that its structure is remarkably similar to its counterpart in humans, Complex I.

“Nature is really good at finding molecules that work and then modifying them and using them over and over again. This is a prime example,” said Michael W.W. Adams, a UGA Distinguished Research and Georgia Power Professor who has been studying MBH for 20 years. “Knowing the structure of MBH provides us with new insights into how Complex I evolved and how it might work.”

Almost all life on Earth relies on respiration, which converts electrical energy into a usable, chemical form. MBH and Complex I are important parts of this process; however, until now, the evolutionary connection between them was unclear. MBH’s structure also illustrates a mechanism for transducing electrical energy into chemical energy that is simpler than that in Complex I.

“The determination of MBH’s structure fills in some important missing pieces that reveal how life adjusted to sweeping changes in the environment throughout the millennia,” said Huilin Li, a professor in VARI’s Center for Epigenetics and co-senior author on the study. “This solves a fundamental, longstanding mystery in biology.”

MBH is regarded as an ancient respiratory system because it was isolated from Pyrococcus furiosus, a microbe that grows best in boiling water and that for billions of years has made its home in volcanic marine vents. This inhospitable environment, with its noxious mix of gases and extreme temperatures, is akin to the atmospheric conditions present on a much younger, much more volatile planet.

Although many aspects of the two complexes are similar, Complex I boasts several extra loops that allow it to interact with more molecules than MBH, an adaptation that likely arose along with a shift in the Earth’s atmospheric makeup.

“It is amazing to see these two distantly related systems reorganize their shared elements to adjust to their different living conditions,” said Hongjun Yu, the study’s first author and a research scientist in Li’s lab. “It looks as if nature is playing with its own building blocks.”

The differences also are reflected in their metabolisms; humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, a conversion helped along by Complex I, while P. furiosus uses MBH to expel hydrogen gas, possibly opening up the potential for its use as a source of clean energy.

MBH was visualized using VARI’s high-powered Titan Krios cryo-electron microscope, which is capable of imaging molecules 1/10,000 the width of a human hair. The Institute’s Krios is one of fewer than 120 such microscopes in the world.

In addition to Yu, Li and Adams, authors include Gongpu Zhao of VARI; Chang-Hao Wu, Gerrit J. Schut and Dominik K. Haja of UGA; and John W. Peters of Washington State University.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the Division of Chemical Sciences, Geosciences and Biosciences of the Office of Basic Energy Sciences of the U.S. Department of Energy under award number DE-FG05-95ER20175 (Michael W.W. Adams); the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01AI070285 (Huilin Li); the Biological and Electron Transfer and Catalysis (BETCy), an Energy Frontier Research Center of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science under award number DE-SC0012518 (John W. Peters). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the Department of Energy.

April 12, 2018 No Comments

Chef aims to nurture the seeds of a new food system : Farm-to-Table advocate reaches out to land grant institutions to help

Chef Dan Barber believes the future of local food lies in locally produced seeds

In just under two decades, the local food movement has changed the way many people think about their food. Now it’s time for the next step: a local seed system.

The wall between heirloom seed varieties and mass produced modern varieties needs be dismantled, Barber told the more than 300 people gathered at the University of Georgia Special Collections Library Tuesday. Plant breeders, like those at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, need to work more closely with farmers and chefs to produce varieties that provide natural disease and pest resistance as well as phenomenal flavor.

“You can take advantage of the past with respect and modernity and turn it into something very exciting for the future,” he said during his talk, entitled “What Kind of Menu will Meet the Challenges of the Future? Exploring a New Recipe for Good Food from the Ground Up.”

Barber pioneered the farm-to-table movement in fine dining in New York City and in upstate New York. He has received multiple James Beard Foundation awards and built a reputation as a chef and farmer. He is also the author of “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food” and has been featured in documentaries “Chef’s Table” and “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste.”

To blend the flavor of heirlooms and the hardiness of modern varieties, local chefs and farmers will have to work with plant breeders to develop vegetables and fruits adapted to each region. Scientists at land grant universities are uniquely positioned to help make this happen.

Earlier this year, inspired by his search for new flavors and more hardy heirloom vegetable varieties, his team launched Row 7 Seed Company—a company working with chefs and plant breeders to provide vegetable varieties that focus on flavor while retaining some natural disease and pest resistance.

Currently plant varieties and seeds are developed to thrive in most widespread environment possible, often to the detriment of flavor or hardiness. That makes sense because seed companies need to sell their seeds in as many towns and states as possible to maximize profit.

“This company wants to do the exact opposite,” Barber told the crowd. “The idea is to look at the development of a seed and flavor from a microscopic level. What is this particular region—the ecological conditions, the cultural conditions — dictating for a seed?”

Farmers and plant breeders have traditionally worked hand in hand to develop varieties that will thrive in local conditions through the land grant system but Barber advocates getting chefs involved in the process as well. He has helped developed more than a half-dozen wheat and grain varieties based on the flavor profiles he wants to work with in the kitchen.

“Why shouldn’t a chef be there table with the initial construction of a seed,” he said. “That comes with a little bit of hubris but I’ve found that’s its actually possible.”

Barber was at UGA to speak to students and the public about his vision for the modern food and farm systems but he also wanted to visit with plant breeders at UGA CAES. He met with breeders, toured UGA’s student-run farm UGArden and local organic farm Woodland Gardens in Winterville.

He hopes to work with breeders here to develop new varieties that provide trademark flavors for Southeastern farmers and chefs.

“We’re going to start the breeding projects moving forward on this very local, very micro level,” he told the crowd. “I’ve been more emboldened in this idea while I’ve been here in Georgia, just in the last few hours, seeing the interest, enthusiasm and passion for a new food culture and by the youth and how they’re dialed into good food, good flavor, fresh ingredients and exploring and celebrating this very diverse environment and history that y’all have here.”

For more information about ways in which UGA CAES supports local food systems in Georgia visit caes.uga.edu. The video of Barber’s lecture will be posted soon for those who were not able to attend.




Writer: J. Merritt Melancon, 706-410-0202, jmerritt@uga.edu

February 14, 2018 No Comments

Straws Suck

“Here’s your drink,” the waitress says, placing your condensated cup on the table. In addition to the ice clinking in the glass, you’ll hear the gentle pat of a straw being placed upon the table, a decade’s long practice in the restaurant industry.

Whether it be at restaurants, bars, sporting events or any other drink-dispensing place, straws have become the standard complement to any drink. And yet the long tubular contraption, though seemingly hygienic, dirty up the ocean with unnecessary plastic, harming sea life and marine environments.

To combat this needless pollution and injury to the environment, everyone should refrain from using straws as much as possible.
We all know that there’s plastic in the ocean -- 8 million tons, to be exact. Half these items are single-use only, so those chip bags, plastic bottles and plastic bags find their way in the water, where they won’t fully decompose for approximately 450 years. However, decomposition is still beginning, and when plastic breaks down it releases the known endocrine disruptor BPA.  It affects the reproductive systems of molluscs, crustaceans, and amphibians, and these effects permeate along the ocean’s food web.

But how much of this is straws? Considering the fact that 500 million straws are used daily and they are often an afterthought for most people, straws very rarely make it to the recycling center or even landfill. They slip away unnoticed and line the beaches, decaying BPA along the sand.

Quite the straw-ful situation.

"If you have the opportunity to make this choice and not to use a plastic straw, this can help keep this item off our beaches and raise awareness on plastic in the ocean," says Dr. Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor in UGA's College of Engineering in an interview with National Geographic. "And if you can make this one choice, maybe you can do even more."

Local businesses are already combatting needless straw pollution. Places like Two Story Coffee on S Lumpkin adjust their practices to make change. Shelby, a barista at the coffee shop, had this to say, “We started offering for-here cold drink in glass cups, which we haven’t done in the past, so we’re super conscious here and try to do every little bit that we can.” 

And you can help fight straw pollution too. Experts foretell more plastic than fish in our ocean by 2050, so one less straw used means one less morsel of pollution, reducing clean-up effort in the ocean and allocating more energy to restoring what has already been damaged.

Straws suck, and it’s even worse that they are so prevalent in our everyday consumption. When it comes to the ever mounting injury and ill-effect on our oceans and marine ecosystems, it’s up to us to decide what will be the last straw.

Written by: Mariah Manoylov

February 13, 2018 No Comments

Gene improves plant growth and conversion to biofuels

A research team led by the University of Georgia has discovered that manipulation of the same gene in poplar trees and switchgrass produced plants that grow better and are more efficiently converted to biofuels.

Due to the composition of plant cell walls, plant material is not efficiently broken down or deconstructed to the basic sugars that are converted to biofuels.

In a paper published today in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers report that reducing the activity of a specific gene called GAUT4 leads to lower levels of pectin, a component of plant cell walls responsible for their resistance to deconstruction.

“It’s expensive to produce biofuels,” said lead author Debra Mohnen, a member of UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “It takes a lot of energy to break open plant biomass, with a pretreatment process involving chemicals, high temperatures and enzymes that break complex polymers into smaller sugars that can be turned into fuels. Even relatively modest increases in the efficiency of deconstruction can be important on an industrial scale.”

Mohnen and a team of researchers at six institutions found that reducing the expression of GAUT4 in poplar and switchgrass led to a 70 percent reduction in pectin content and produced a 15 percent increase in sugar release. Unexpectedly, it also led to an increase in the growth of both plant species, an added benefit.

“We increased the amount of biomass yield of field-grown switchgrass sixfold, and we increased the amount of ethanol yield sevenfold per plant,” Mohnen said. “We also observed increased growth and sugar release in poplar.”

The increase in plant yield and sugar release—demonstrated in both greenhouse and field trials for switchgrass—bodes well for creating biofuels, an important alternative to fossil fuels. Switchgrass and poplar previously were identified by the U.S. Department of Energy as two biofuel feedstocks that can be grown on land that would not profitably support food crops.

The team also explored the mechanism behind the results, producing the first evidence that a reduction in GAUT4 specifically reduces two of the three types of pectin in plants. The influence of pectin on biofuel production largely has been ignored, according to the paper’s first author, Ajaya Biswal, assistant research scientist at the CCRC. In research that began more than a decade ago, Biswal found GAUT4 expressed in poplar and then targeted the gene in both poplar and switchgrass.

“We tend to forget that understanding the mechanics and wall structure of a plant like switchgrass is a long journey,” he said. “Mother Nature took millions of years to build it, and fully exploring it in 10 years is impossible—we still have so much more to learn.”

For this study, UGA researchers joined with scientists from the DOE-BioEnergy Science Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Tennessee, ArborGen and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The paper is available online at https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4067

The research began under the auspices of the BioEnergy Science Center, one of three DOE-funded research centers seeking new methods to overcome the difficulty of breaking down plant cell walls to create biofuels. The work continues through the DOE-funded Center for Bioenergy Innovation, created last year to advance the production of fuels and other products directly from nonfood biomass. CBI is led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the UGA team is one of 15 partners and is led by Mohnen, also a member of UGA’s Plant Center. The university received $1.9 million in funding for the first year, with an expected five years of funding.

“These discoveries have contributed to our fundamental understanding of how cell walls are formed,” said Jerry Tuskan, CEO and director of CBI. “With these insights, we can now rationally deconstruct plant biomass into precursors for biofuels and other bio-based products.”

The Center for Bioenergy Innovation is one of four Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Centers within DOE’s Office of Science created to expand on the foundational successes of former BRCs and to lay the scientific groundwork for a new robust, biobased economy. Funding for this work originated under DOE’s BioEnergy Science Center, one of three BRCs established in 2007. Learn more at https://cbi.ornl.gov/.

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov/.

Written by: Allyson Mann

February 9, 2018 No Comments

New materials, new perspectives

Next time you visit the beach, take a look around. Chances are you’ll see a water bottle stuck in the sand. A handful of cigarette butts scattered through the dunes. Maybe a paper cup bobbing in the surf.

Eventually, all this trash may break down into smaller pieces, but it never quite goes away. That’s because one thing all these products have in common is some type of plastic, and plastic doesn’t decompose, making it one of the top environmental pollutants concerning scientists around the world.

One such scientist is UGA’s Jenna Jambeck. The associate professor of engineering thinks companies that create new products without considering their environmental ramifications are being shortsighted. Once those products are opened, the plastic, non-recyclable packaging wrapped around them just gets tossed in the trash. Best-case scenario, it winds up in a landfill, where it will sit indefinitely without biodegrading. In other situations, it ends up floating in the sea or sinking to the ocean floor.

Perpetual pollution

Jason Locklin, an associate professor in UGA’s chemistry department, had a related question: Why aren’t we considering what happens to products once they’ve outlived their purpose? Inspired by Jambeck’s 2015 paper in Science, which found that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year, Locklin realized it was time to stop just wringing our hands about the plastic problem. It was time to act.

Locklin and Jambeck, along with Branson Ritchie, a Distinguished Research Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, are leading the charge to bring plastic alternatives that are economically viable and environmentally friendly to the market.

Locklin serves as the director of the New Materials Institute (NMI), which is now entering its second year of operation and consists of three interconnected centers: Circular Materials Management; Polymers, Fibers, and Coatings; and Technology, Development, and Implementation. Jambeck heads Circular Materials Management while Ritchie directs Technology, Development, and Implementation.

“We want to be a resource for industry,” says Locklin, who also leads the institute’s Center for Polymers, Fibers, and Coating. “We want to be a resource for people who have new technologies. We want to be a resource for people who are passionate about eliminating persistent materials in the environment.”

The center’s overarching mission is to create new materials and technologies that are commercially successful and sustainably made. The ultimate goal is to build a “circular economy,” Jambeck says. The current model for our economy is linear, Jambeck adds, meaning that new products are made, used, and then disposed of when they’ve served their purpose. In a circular economy, waste products are repurposed into other materials to make new items.

We have a responsibility to do something about this persistent plastic pollution issue.” — Jason Locklin, associate professor of chemistry

“There is no waste in nature,” she says. “Every output becomes an input for another process. That’s the most efficient way to run things, and environmentally it’s the best way to run things.”

This approach has economic benefits, as it reduces virgin material costs for companies and jump-starts new businesses and job growth by assigning value to waste and the gathering of trash. More than that, though, it rewards innovative thinking. And that’s where the University of Georgia steps in, coming up with new ways to think about products and how to best address the environmental issues facing our world.

“We have a responsibility to do something about this persistent plastic pollution issue,” Locklin says. “It’s our duty to inform the public and to allow the public to make the materials choice based on all of the evidence.”

And the evidence is increasingly showing that the plastic problem is much bigger than most people thought.

Solving the plastic problem

To date, much of the research focusing on ocean plastics has taken a clean-up approach, with the goal of getting as much of the plastic that’s already in waterways out as soon as possible. And while ridding the ocean of plastics is a laudable goal, the NMI is more focused on stopping pollution at the source. When speaking to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in May 2016, Jambeck likened the situation to a parent walking in to find an overflowing bathtub.

“What do you do first?” Jambeck asked. “More than likely you would not start mopping and cleaning up the floor—you would turn off the faucet to stop the flow and then address the clean-up.”

One of the principles of green engineering is to consider end of life as a design criteria when developing new products. This means accounting for what happens to products when people get rid of them, whether that means making them recyclable or biodegradable so they aren’t cluttering up landfills or using them as source material for new products. This philosophy is at the core of the New Materials Institute’s mission.

“It’s a really simple principle, but if we are guided by it, we would never have made some of these products that we have,” Jambeck says.

Tackling a seemingly insurmountable challenge

NMI teams are working with industry partners to improve the efficiency and applications of biobased, degradable plastic alternatives and to prove their safety in land and aquatic environments. The institute was also recently awarded the first phase of a grant from the National Science Foundation that will enable the NMI to join the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (CB2). Based at Iowa State University, CB2 currently works to develop biobased products from agricultural resources. The collaboration with NMI will allow the expansion into the area of sustainable packaging and help connect the NMI to industry partners like Ford, 3M, ADM, Hyundai, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as other university-based research institutes and colleges.

“When you’re talking about developing technologies in an academic setting and actually wanting to translate them to make an impact, you need to work with companies,” Locklin says. “In the NMI, our primary focus to date has been developing unique industry partnerships.”

And joining CB2 is just the start for the institute.

Written by: Leigh Beeson

“The ultimate question we hope to answer is how do we make healthier, better lives through the application of modern chemistry, engineering, and medicine?” Ritchie says. “Our goal is to develop technologies from the ground up that are actually going to be applicable. And that’s what we’re able to do very effectively at the university with our in-state team members, our out-of-state team members, and our global supporters.”

January 8, 2018 No Comments

Student environmental projects receive grants during Semester in Review

The UGA Office of Sustainability strives to create a culture of environmental awareness on campus and to create projects and initiatives that ultimately will decrease the university's environmental footprint.

In keeping with those goals, the office awarded $40,000 in grants Dec. 6  to 10 student environmental projects at its Fall 2017 Semester in Review program. The reception recognized all the programs and individuals at the university dedicated to sustainability.

"Our commitment is to create inspired leaders, stronger communities and thriving natural systems," said Kevin Kirsche, the office's director. "At the Semester in Review, we celebrate the small but significant actions of our students, who are grappling with grand challenges and practicing ‘doing unto to others.' " 

Through the efforts of the Office of Sustainability, the university is making great gains in its environmental efforts. According to Kirsche, the UGA Athens campus is using 24 percent less energy per square foot than it was in 2007. There also has been a 25 percent reduction in the university's total greenhouse gas admissions since 2010. 

John R. Seydel, the director of sustainability for the city of Atlanta's Office of Resilience spoke at the event, detailing some of the gains Atlanta is making in the environmental effort, including the Better Buildings Challenge, in which the city saved more than $25 million by designating 115 million square feet of land to 20 percent deductions in energy and water use. 

Students William Fox, Vasser Seydel and Melissa Gurevitch also spoke about their work as the office's Bike UGA, Grants and Engagement and Zero Waste interns, respectively. 

The event also honored five students who received the Sustainability Certificate: Tommy Lehner, Madison Loudermilk, Courtney McCorstin, Bailey Shea and David Thomas. 

"I can say, without exception, that I have never been more impressed and inspired by the students I'm working with now," said Ron Balthazor, the director of the Sustainability Certificate program. 

The recipients of the office's grants are Kristen Lear for "Build It and They Will Come: Building Bat Houses and Creating Habitat for Bat Conservation and Environmental Awareness," Suzie Henderson for "Connect to Protect the Monarchs," Teri Rakusin for "Generating Educational and Research Opportunities Through Medicinal Herb Production at UGArden," Jaiko Celka for "Market on the Move (creating mobile farmers markets with Athens Land Trust)," William Fox for "UGAfforestation: Measuring Carbon Sequestered in Trees of UGA and Planting Native Trees to Revitalize Lilly Branch Watershed," Sam Cherof for "4 Precious Plastic Recycling Machines," Emma Courson for "Season Extension in the UGA Geography Department Roof Garden," Ashwini Kannan for "Tracking and Managing Non-Point Source Pollution at Lake Herrick Watershed," Kelsey Brooks for "Trailing Granitic Outcrop Plant Species on Extensive Vegetated Roof Systems" and Haley White for "Estimating Material and Energy Needs of Green Spaces on UGA's Campus."

Written by: James Lichtenwalter 

December 21, 2017 No Comments

School courtyard gets new life with help from UGA

Partnership benefits Oconee Middle School.

Instead of pencils and paper, the tools Shari Travers’ seventh-grade students used on a recent fall morning were shovels and rakes.

The courtyard outside her classroom window already had been cleared, some invasive plants removed, and space made for a garden. The students, whose curriculum this year includes pollinators, are mixing compost into the soil and will dig holes to accommodate plants like wild blue indigo, New England aster and spotted horsemint, all plants that are native to Georgia and will attract native pollinators.

Melissa Ray, a University of Georgia graduate student, encourages the students to use all the compost in the small planting bed.

“You want to incorporate it into the soil that’s already there,” Ray said. “This is the most important part of any garden.”

Ray and Heather Alley, a UGA conservation horticulturist, are helping develop the school garden as part of Connect to Protect, a program at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia designed to promote the benefits of native plants, native pollinators and their role in protecting our food supply.

It also allows the students to put into practice what they are learning in the classroom, Travers said.

“They feel ownership,” she said.

So far, 16 Connect to Protect gardens have been planted at schools in Clarke, Oconee, Jackson and Gwinnett county schools, on the UGA main campus, at Athens City Hall, at various businesses and nonprofits, and in public areas of Macon.

“Working for the State Botanical Garden, we have an opportunity to not just implement these practices ourselves, but teach the community about it, so there can be a strong ripple effect,” said Alley, who raises the plants used in Connect to Protect projects at the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Species at the State Botanical Garden, a public service and outreach unit.

The idea for Connect to Protect in Georgia began with Jennifer Ceska, the botanical garden’s conservation coordinator, who had heard of a similar program in Florida. Alley takes care to use plants in Connect to Protect gardens that fit in with the location, such as smaller plants for a small bed, like the one at Oconee County Middle School. She also tries to pick plants that will bloom at different times of year to keep the butterflies, bees and other pollinators nearby.

Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful works with the botanical garden to install Connect to Protect plant beds at Clarke County elementary schools.

“We have similar missions of community beautification,” said Stacy Smith, program assistant at Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful. “The elementary schools are a perfect fit for the mission of Connect to Protect. They have a built-in audience of learners that will benefit from installing and learning about native plants.”

“We want them to be involved in helping to beautify their community and taking care of the environment.”

A Connect to Protect garden was the perfect way to spruce up a visible area at Cleveland Road Elementary School.

First-grade teacher Kadi Tate-Epps and her students worked alongside volunteers to get the plants in place.

“Students and teachers can (use) the space for teaching and learning,” said Epps, whose school is applying for grants to get classroom furniture for their garden. “Ideas continue to bloom so who knows what all lies in the future.”

Written by: Kelly Simmons

December 11, 2017 No Comments

Student projects aim to make UGA sustainable

Student projects next year could have bats once again soaring above the University of Georgia campus, grow medicinal herbs at the university’s UGArden, help launch mobile farmers markets and estimate the material and energy needs of greenspaces on the UGA campus.

 UGA’s Office of Sustainability announced its latest round of campus sustainability grants Wednesday, and those were among this semester’s entries. The office and the grants are funded by a $3 per semester fee UGA students overwhelmingly voted to impose upon themselves to create the office in 2010.

Students submitted 28 grant proposals this semester and a panel of judges picked 10 winners who will get grants averaging $4,000 to complete or launch their projects.

Other projects aim to help protect Monarch butterflies, buy small plastic recycling machines and try to track and manage pollution that flows into UGA’s Lake Herrick.

The UGA Office of Sustainability has now awarded $250,000 in such grants, funding 56 projects, UGA Sustainability Coordinator Kevin Kirsche told a crowd of more than 200 at the office’s fall “Semester in Review” program Wednesday in UGA’s Jackson Street Building.

The goal of the office is to get UGA closer to sustainability and carbon neutrality, and student projects — some grant-funded, some not — have led to campus-wide changes.

UGA trash cans all across campus are now paired with receptacles for recyclable materials, for example. That began as a student project in the UGA Miller Learning Center, Kirsche said.

UGA food composting also began as a student project, he said. Food services operations now composts 100 percent of its food waste, keeping it out of landfills, he said.

At UGA buildings there’s a network of composting bins tended by a UGA student riding an electric bicycle.

According to a campus master plan, the university should recycle more and reduce energy and water consumption in the future.

Written by: Lee Shearer

November 2, 2017 No Comments

Study co-authored by UGA researchers finds past investments in conservation have protected biodiversity

A study co-authored by researchers at the University of Georgia provides a glimmer of hope to the conversation surrounding conservation.

The study, published in Nature, estimates that the $14.4 billion spent by countries between 1992 and 2003 decreased biodiversity loss by 29 percent.

"For 25 years, we have known that we need to spend more on nature conservation, or face a modern mass extinction as serious as that of the dinosaurs," said Oxford University’s Anthony Waldron, lead scientist of the study, in the press release. “This finding should now encourage decision makers to re-engage with the Earth Summit's positive vision, and adequately bankroll the protection of Earth's biodiversity today."

According to the release, the study measured biodiversity loss from 1996 to 2008, relative to conservation funding between 1992 and 2003 in 109 countries. The delay in dates allowed appropriate lag time for conservation spending to have an impact on biodiversity, according to the scientists. The year 1992 is significant because it was when the United Nations met at the Rio Earth Summit to commit to conservation efforts.

To determine biodiversity loss country by country in the time period, the release said researchers relied on data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. According to the release, researchers also analyzed data on population and economic growth and agricultural expansion to gauge pressure on individual species.

"The good news is that a lot of biodiversity would be protected for relatively little cost by investments in developing countries with high numbers of species … This model provides a framework we can use to balance human development with maintaining biodiversity," said senior author Dr. John Gittleman, dean of UGA’s Odum School of Ecology, in the press release. "In my view, this is an empirical scientific framework of true sustainability."

The release said that conservation spending was more effective in protecting biodiversity in poorer countries and also in countries with a higher concentration of species under threat.

According to the release, the study also found that 60 percent of the world's biodiversity loss was concentrated in seven countries: Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the United States.

Most of the U.S.’s loss was isolated to Hawaii. In the same time period, seven countries actually saw their biodiversity improve: Fiji, Mauritius, Poland, Samoa, Seychelles , Tonga and Ukraine.

The release said the scientists hope that the study will motivate countries to commit to meeting biodiversity commitments by investing in conservation spending.

October 27, 2017 No Comments

Investing in conservation pays off, study finds

Athens, Ga. – Governments and donors have spent billions of dollars since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit attempting to slow the pace of species extinctions around the world. Now, a new paper in Nature provides the first clear evidence that those efforts are working.

The study by an international team of researchers found that the $14.4 billion that countries spent on conservation from 1992 to 2003 reduced expected declines in global biodiversity by 29 percent. The findings could be used by policymakers to set conservation budgets that would allow their countries to meet the goals of international species protection agreements.

“This paper sends a clear, positive message: Conservation funding works,” said senior author John Gittleman, dean of the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia.

The study, led by Anthony Waldron of Oxford University, the University of Illinois, and the National University of Singapore, shows that conservation spending by 109 signatories of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity significantly reduced biodiversity loss in those countries.

To accurately explain the impact of conservation funding by country, the researchers incorporated information about changes to each country’s biodiversity from 1996 to 2008 as well as government and nongovernmental organization spending targeted toward protecting biodiversity from 1992 to 2003, which researchers say allowed enough lag time for that spending to have had an impact. The researchers also examined how human development placed stress on species and their habitats.

Among the study’s findings were that 60 percent of the world’s biodiversity loss could be attributed to seven countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, China, India, Australia and, principally driven by species loss in Hawaii, the U.S. Meanwhile, another seven countries—Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Poland and Ukraine—saw their biodiversity improve.

“The good news is that a lot of biodiversity would be protected for relatively little cost by investments in developing countries with high numbers of species,” said Gittleman. He added that it was important to note that as development pressures increase, conservation spending will have to keep pace. Policymakers could use the model to determine these budgets.

“This model provides a framework we can use to balance human development with maintaining biodiversity,” said Gittleman. “In my view, this is an empirical scientific framework of true sustainability.”

By providing evidence that conservation funding has already had a significant impact on the protection of global biodiversity, the authors hope that more countries will be motivated to invest in meeting international biodiversity commitments.

“For 25 years, we have known that we need to spend more on nature conservation, or face a modern mass extinction as serious as that of the dinosaurs,” said Waldron. “But governments and donors have been unwilling to come up with the necessary budgets, often because there was little hard evidence that the money spent on conservation does any good. This finding should now encourage decision makers to re-engage with the Earth Summit’s positive vision, and adequately bankroll the protection of Earth’s biodiversity today.”

To determine a measurement of biodiversity loss for each country, the authors used data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, which has tracked the conservation status of the world’s plant and animal species for more than 50 years. They determined how much of a species’ decline could be attributed to each country chiefly based on what proportion of the species’ range was in that country.

Information about annual conservation spending per country was drawn from an earlier publication by the same authors, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013. That paper covered the period from 1992—when the Rio Earth Summit led to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the first major infusion of global conservation spending—to 2003.

To account for pressure put on species as countries made progress on another of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals—human development—the authors incorporated data about each country’s population growth, economic growth and agricultural expansion from World Bank statistical tables.

The resulting analysis showed that conservation spending reduced species decline and that development pressure increased it, but unevenly. A country’s size, number of species present, and the conservation status of those species at the start of the study period all played a role in determining its biodiversity decline score.

Conservation spending had a greater impact in poorer countries than wealthier ones, for instance, and in countries with greater numbers of threatened species. Agricultural expansion had very little effect in countries that already had a lot of farmland than in those with little, and economic growth had less effect in the poorest countries, although its impacts grew stronger as a country’s population increased.

The paper, “Reductions in global biodiversity loss predicted from conservation spending,” is available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature24295.

Besides Waldron and Gittleman, the paper’s co-authors are Daniel C. Miller of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Dave Redding of University College London; Arne Mooers of Simon Fraser University; Tyler S. Cuhn of Scimitar Scientific; Nate Nibbelink of the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources; J. Timmons Roberts of Brown University and Joseph A. Tobias of Oxford University and Imperial College London.

Support for the research came from UKDWP, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch project, the MacArthur Foundation, a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Canada Discovery and Accelerator grant, the UK Natural Environment Research Council and the Odum School of Ecology.




Writer: Beth Gavrilles, 706-542-7247, bethgav@uga.edu
Contact: John Gittleman, 706-542-2968 (o), 706- 224-4021(m), jlg@uga.edu

October 27, 2017 No Comments

Native plants installed in garden on South Campus as educational tool

A garden of native Georgia plants installed on South Campus by the State Botanical Garden of Georgia will offer students a place to observe and study plant and insect interactions to better understand the role plants play in maintaining biodiversity.

The garden, located on D.W. Brooks Mall close to the Odum School of Ecology, the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the plant sciences department, is part of the State Botanical Garden's Connect to Protect program, which encourages businesses, civic organizations and homeowners to support pollinator communities by using native species in their gardens and plant displays.

"We wanted to create a space that inspires our community to think about the way that our landscape can function and look," said Lauren Muller, a graduate student in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences who has been working with UGA faculty and staff at the botanical garden.

The plants chosen for the site are those that would do well in the moist soil conditions along D.W. Brooks Mall, said Heather Alley, a UGA conservation horticulturist at the botanical garden. Among them are buttonbush, which attracts bees, butterflies and sphinx moths; Georgia aster, which attracts bees; swamp milkweed, which attracts monarch butterflies; and scarlet hibiscus, which attracts hummingbirds. The plants were cultivated at the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies at the State Botanical Garden, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit.

Muller already is using the South Campus garden as an outdoor classroom for the undergraduates she helps teach about medicinal plants. She also takes time in these lectures to discuss Connect to Protect as a public service and outreach program that encourages people to think about the potential ecological function of the landscape.

"Our hope is that we will be able to install interpretive signage at the garden," Muller said. "This could be a place where entomology, ecology, plant biology and horticulture students could observe plant-insect interactions in an urban landscape setting."

September 27, 2017 No Comments

UGA students cleaning up historic African-American cemetery in Athens

A new University of Georgia student group has taken on a Herculean task — the cleanup of Athens’ historic Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery.

The African-American cemetery off Fourth Street, founded in 1882 by freed slaves, contains the mostly unmarked graves of about 3,500 people in its 9 acres.

Its notable burials include Madison Davis, one of the first two black state legislators from Clarke County during Reconstruction; and Monroe Bowers “Pink” Morton, who built downtown Athens’ Morton Theatre.

Nearly a decade ago, a $350,000 Special Local Option Task Force allocation and a large volunteer effort helped clear away decades of grown-up privet and other invasive plants from the cemetery, which had fallen into disuse and neglect decades earlier.


The restoration project won awards from the local Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation and the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, but in the years since the undergrowth has crept back, hiding tombstones and paths carved out in the first restoration.

“We want to assure that those buried in Gospel Pilgrim have a place of respect and remembrance,” said UGA senior history major Isabel Mann, who started the group with friend Maritsa Restrepo, a UGA management and Spanish major.

They’ve also started a Facebook page for the group, called Friends of Gospel Pilgrim.

They’ve enlisted other UGA students to help and recently held an information session in a LeConte Hall classroom hoping to recruit more help. They want to draw volunteers not just from UGA students, but the Athens community as well.

Mann had heard about the cemetery from one of her professors as she explored the history of slavery in Athens and at UGA, but hearing about it didn’t prepare her for the reality of Gospel Pilgrim.

“I didn’t even know Gospel Pilgrim existed until Isabel called me,” Restrepo said.

“Getting out there was an eye-opening experience,” Restrepo said. “It’s one thing to hear about it, but another to see it.”

They’ve scheduled a series of work sessions this fall on Saturday mornings beginning at 9 a.m. at the cemetery, including this Saturday. Others are scheduled for Oct. 7 and Nov. 11.

More information is available on the group’s Facebook page.

Writer: Lee Shearer

September 27, 2017 No Comments

Burning biomass for electricity costly, says UGA researchers

Burning wood pellets to produce electricity is a costly alternative, University of Georgia researchers have found.

Bin Mei, a professor in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, teamed with Purdue University professor Michael Wetzstein to analyze the dollars and cents of this type of biomass burning.

Wood pellets are widely used in Europe to produce electricity on an industrial scale.

European countries have turned to wood pellets as one alternative in a drive to reduce consumption of fossil fuels such as coal.


But that switch carries a high price, both in the cost of the wood pellets and in the cost of retooling coal plants so that they can burn wood pellets,.

In Europe, governments generously subsidize such biomass electric generation.

The United States would have to do the same, or customers would have to pay higher energy costs, the authors said in a research paper published in the journal Energy Economics.

The additional costs include not only the price of wood pellets, but the cost of converting plants so that they could burn pellets as well as coal.

Writer: Lee Shearer

September 27, 2017 No Comments

‘Chasing Coral,’ award-winning documentary with UGA ties, coming to Athens

Several institutions from across the University of Georgia campus have partnered to engage the public and raise awareness about declining coral health around the world with a free screening of the award-winning documentary "Chasing Coral" on Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Tate Student Center Theatre.

As part of outreach efforts, environmental science students from Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central high schools will visit campus on Oct. 4 and 5 to view the film and participate in a discussion with its producer and key cast members, including UGA ecologist James W. Porter.

Porter, Meigs Professor Emeritus in UGA's Odum School of Ecology, has studied coral reefs in the Caribbean and Florida Keys since the 1970s. His contributions to the film include underwater photographs of reefs in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, that he took beginning in 1976.

"Over my professional lifetime, coral reefs worldwide have lost 30 percent of their living coral," he said. "Our own work in Florida has documented a 50 percent loss of Keys coral since 1996."

"Chasing Coral," a Netflix original documentary, won the Audience Choice Award in the U.S. documentary competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. The film follows scientists and divers as they chart the dramatic loss of coral reefs in oceans around the world.

Porter has observed the damage firsthand, explaining that rising ocean temperatures cause the symbiotic algae that inhabit corals-providing them with sustenance and distinctive color-to die off, revealing the bone-white limestone of coral skeletons. This phenomenon, known as coral bleaching, often kills the corals it affects.

"Pictures tell the story in a way that quoting facts and figures can't," Porter said.

A panel discussion with the filmmaker and cast members will follow the screening, with Jeffrey P. Jones, executive director of the Peabody Awards and Peabody Media Center, moderating.

"Documentary films have an important role in highlighting the effects of global warming on fragile ecosystems. The Peabody Media Center is invested in fostering social conversation around unique challenges such as this," he said.

When coral reefs disappear, the effects are widespread, according to Porter. While they make up only 1 percent of the world's oceans, they are home to 25 percent of marine species, supporting more biodiversity than tropical rainforests.

Coral reefs also serve as important economic engines for coastal communities. Porter estimates that 500 million people depend on them as a source of protein and income, and they generate $30 billion per year for tropical economies. They also serve as important buffers against shoreline erosion from storms.

"The situation is critical, and we need to get the message out and prompt people to take action," said Porter. "That's why we wanted to bring the film and the filmmakers to Athens and especially to engage students."

The project is presented by EcoFocus Film Festival in partnership with the Clarke County School District. Financial and logistical support was provided by Kirbo Charitable Foundation, Reef Ball Foundation, ECOGIG research consortium at the department of marine sciences, Peabody Media Center, Katherine and Bertis Downs, Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology, and Willson Center for Humanities and Arts. Additional promotional support was provided by UGA's Speak Out for Species club, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

To learn more about "Chasing Coral" and to view the trailer, visit http://www.chasingcoral.com/. The film is also available for streaming on Netflix.

For more information about the Athens screenings, see http://ecofocusfilmfest.org/.

Writer: Beth Gavrilles 
Contact:Sara Beresford 

September 19, 2017 No Comments

UGA awarded for reducing energy consumption

Advancing campus sustainability and reducing energy consumption at the University of Georgia is a major part of the university’s strategic plan, and those efforts have not gone unnoticed.

On Friday, Sept. 15, the Facilities Management Division at UGA was awarded by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) for their efforts in reducing campus wide energy consumption by over 20% since 2007.

UGA’s 2020 Strategic Plan calls for a 25 percent reduction in energy use by 2020. At the end of the current fiscal year, UGA will have reduced its energy consumption by almost 22 percent, according to David Spradley, the director of energy services for FMD.

Various energy initiatives are responsible for this energy reduction, including installing LED lighting upgrades, investing in high-performance district energy plants, and reducing temperature settings during holiday breaks.

Energy use in UGA facilities is responsible for a majority of campus greenhouse gas emissions. The total gross emissions from UGA activities throughout the state of Georgia during fiscal year 2014 was 319,000 metric tons; energy consumption makes up approximately 84 percent of those carbon dioxide emissions.

AEE distributes 80 awards every year to individuals and organizations around the world for their commitment to energy efficiency and the renewable energy industry. The award will be presented at the World Energy Engineering Congress in Atlanta, Georgia.

UGA was one of two universities in the country to be awarded the Institutional Energy Management award.

Written by: Rebecca Wright

September 14, 2017 No Comments

Athens-Clarke County, UGA sustainability offices plan for future collaboration

Since the opening of the new Athens-Clarke County Unified Government Office of Sustainability in July of this year, plans for collaboration with the University of Georgia’s sustainability office have been underway.

“The county already collaborates with UGA in a variety of ways,” said Andrew Saunders, ACC sustainability officer. “That includes events like Rivers Alive and Dawgs Ditch the Dumpster and things of that nature.”

These events are just the beginning of UGA and ACC’s sustainability collaborations. Saunders plans to meet with UGA Sustainability Director Kevin Kirsche on a monthly basis to assess what projects on which they can collaborate.

“In particular, how I see the offices working together is through a project right now to evaluate community-wide bike shares,” Saunders said. “In that case, it would be a town-and-gown type option where you can pick up a bike downtown and return it somewhere on campus, and vice versa.”

Saunders and Kirsche are currently working together to design a community-wide sustainability plan to set long-term goals in 11 different areas, including nontraditional sustainability focuses like economic vitality and public safety.

“Kevin’s folks have been a part of the initial group that has helped to draft those goals,” Saunders said. “They are paired with a variety of short term actions, and then what we are going to be doing is going out into the community first with stakeholders and then ultimately seeking broader citizen input and other folks to try and get us towards those goals.”

Saunders said he will be presenting these goals to the ACC government in early October and hopes the goals can be reached in five years.

“Some of these actions are in the works and relatively easy,” Saunders said. “Some of them work towards bigger goals and are going to take a few years to implement.”

For example, Saunders said one action he hopes to take is expanding the hours and services at the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials.

Otherwise, Saunders wants to continue to expand the ACC sustainability office. The office is looking into how to expand its internship programs to be on par with UGA’s sustainability internships, which include around 24 positions focusing on everything from communications to compost within the office.

Ideally, Saunders said the ACC sustainability interns would be able to work in conjunction with sustainability-focused organizations across Athens.

Saunders is looking at the UGA Office of Sustainability initiatives as examples of what the county could be doing to become more sustainable. He said the county will start to follow UGA’s emphasis on energy-saving lighting.

He said by switching 66 light fixtures in one fire station to LED lighting, the county can save the same amount of energy that one residential household in Athens uses in a year.

“We are basically learning from the path that they have blazed on campus and applying it to our own buildings,” Saunders said.

August 28, 2017 No Comments

Jason Hubbard Is Making a Living Work of Art

For those who have walked along the south side of the Georgia Museum of Art over the past years, you might have noticed a dead and forgotten patch of land transform into a lush and calming garden niche. At the heart of that transformation is Jason Hubbard, a true gardener if there ever was one. He has been digging in the dirt for more than 18 years, and it’s apparent he tends to his gardens with the utmost care, making sure to meet the specific needs of each plant. You can often find him in a broad-brimmed, straw hat, enveloped in his garden searching for weeds or taking a break to talk plants with home gardeners who pass by.

At one point, Jason only managed the giant circular pots by the main entrance, but 4 years ago he noticed an abandoned space just around the corner and took the initiative to rehabilitate it. The first step was to remove a dying dogwood and nurse another back to health. Then he began transferring perennials from other locations on campus where the foliage might have been too thick. Over the years, he has developed the garden with minimal budget, only receiving funds for nursery-born plants last fall. For Jason, little gardens like this one are his opportunity to contribute the greatest good. 

As a conscientious gardener, he keeps the space mostly organic except for a well-considered dose of pesticides on occasion. With the prevalence of concrete in mind, Jason has made a pollinator habitat so that vital pollinators like bees, wasps and hummingbirds have a sort of oasis. He considers what kinds of birds and insects certain plants cater to, and when discussing the give and take of pesticides with him, it becomes evident that the garden is a delicately balanced environment. That balance was enhanced this past summer with the installation of a marble sculpture by Horace Farlowe, a past UGA professor who made significant contributions to the growth of the sculpture department (you can find out more about that sculpture here). Jason’s garden proved to be an ideal location for the sculpture’s debut at the museum. He coordinated with the concrete pourers for the optimal location, and in the spring he will have the opportunity to uproot and reorganize plants to frame the new centerpiece.

Once just a patch of mulch, a beautiful garden now accompanies the museum’s southern entrance. It is with the utmost gratitude that we thank Jason Hubbard for his care and initiative in transforming the space. What used to be a common and forgettable corner has now become activated and lively, so if you happen to see a man in a straw hat when you walk by, be sure and stop to say thanks!

August 22, 2017 No Comments

Construction begins next month within Lake Herrick watershed

After a year of intensive planning and design work, the University of Georgia will begin construction next month within the Lake Herrick watershed to enhance water quality and reopen the lake to the public for recreation in fall 2018.

"This is an exciting moment for our university community and the broader Athens area," said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. "This project will not only improve and protect one of the most beautiful natural areas on this campus but also create new opportunities for recreation, research and experiential learning." 

Initial construction will involve two phases with a completion target of summer 2018. The first phase will focus on improving water quality within the watershed by revitalizing the upper pond, which acts as a stilling basin to prevent sediments and pollutants from passing downstream to Lake Herrick and the North Oconee River. This phase will include removing more than 50 years of accumulated sediment, replacing invasive plant materials with native flora and installing multiple stormwater control measures, among other improvements.

The second phase will expand recreational opportunities at Lake Herrick by improving conditions around the pavilion area. A lakeside lawn for passive recreation and events will be developed, and a stepped dock will be constructed for launching canoes and kayaks in the lake. A lakeside walking and running trail also will be installed in the second phase.

This project, announced by Morehead during his 2016 State of the University Address, has developed through broad collaboration across UGA. An interdisciplinary team of faculty, staff and students helped to define the project timeline, identify related research and experiential learning opportunities and secure private funding.

"Renewed use of Lake Herrick will provide unique outdoor learning and recreation opportunities to students and community members," according to Kevin Kirsche, UGA's director of sustainability, "hopefully inspiring healthy activity, an enhanced sense of place and a growing appreciation for the natural treasures right here on our own campus."

Private support is playing a critical role in advancing the watershed cleanup and lake-front renovation. The Georgia Power Company—one of UGA's key corporate partners—has donated $300,000 to support the project, and the Riverview Foundation also has contributed funds. The Office of the President-as the lead campus partner on the project—has allocated $250,000 in private resources toward the effort.

"Georgia Power has a longstanding history of working with UGA, and we are proud to partner with them on the restoration of Lake Herrick's watershed," said Chris Cummiskey, Georgia Power's executive vice president of external affairs. "Our commitment to this project, and others like it, reinforces our philosophy to be ‘A Citizen Wherever We Serve' and provide a sustainable environment to be enjoyed by the community today and into the future."

The Lake Herrick restoration project is one of the several strategic initiatives launched in recent years to advance campus sustainability. In 2015, UGA replaced an aging coal-fired boiler with a more cost-effective and energy-efficient electrode boiler. In 2016, UGA partnered with Georgia Power to install a solar tracking and demonstration project to offset a portion of campus energy use through on-site renewable sources and to create solar energy research and learning opportunities for faculty and students. In addition, UGA is in the process of converting one-third of its buses to electric vehicles, reducing fuel use, operating costs and tailpipe emissions in the nation's largest campus transit system.

Access to UGA's Recreational Sports Complex, Oconee Forest Park, and the Outdoor Challenge Course will be maintained during construction activities in the Lake Herrick watershed this fall. More information on the Lake Herrick project is available at https://sustainability.uga.edu/lakeherrick.

Written by: Kristen Linthicum

August 22, 2017 No Comments

Learn how to compost at UGA

We’ve all had times when our eyes were bigger than our stomach, plates heavy with food that we can’t actually eat. We throw away roughly 1,400 calories daily, leaving us to wonder if there’s anything else we can do with our waste besides tossing it in the trash.

Athens can benefit from composting as a whole. 

Composting is the solution to recycling organic material so that it can be repurposed as fertilizer. However, the process comes with caveats that everyone should know in order to create compost that is suitable for reuse. Know the do’s and don'ts of composting to keep your nutrient rich plant food from turning into unusable sludge.

The most important requirement of all compost is the organic matter itself. Fruit peels, scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells are all wonderful additions to your compost bin. Meat, dairy, and starch heavy foods are not as beneficial since they are more likely to attract pests and cause odor problems. Balance out the food scraps (greens) you put in with material to draw away excess moisture (browns).

Once you’ve loaded your bin up, the next thing you’ll want is breathability. The microbes in the compost, just like humans, need oxygen to live and properly break down the organic matter. Covering your compost because of a fear of smells will only cause your compost to smell worse since the aerobic bacteria that would have naturally been found in the compost will be forced to use anaerobic decomposition to break the material down. The process happens in your gut, which is why things can get smelly.

By adding the proper amount of greens, browns, and oxygen to your compost, you should get a pile of nutrient rich plant food after a few weeks. You can use it for personal projects or donate it to UGArden.

If you don’t feel like starting your own compost bin, you can take your food scraps to UGArden’s compost pile or to the green compost bins located around campus. Nearly every building will have one, and they will be managed weekly by Office of Sustainability compost interns.

More people should compost since America has gotten in the bad habit of throwing away nearly 40 percent of the food it grows. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, farming takes up 80 percent of our freshwater, 50 percent of our land and 10 percent of our energy annually.

Not only that, but more people should compost properly since the effort is useless if done improperly and results in smelly sludge. Composting effectively and accurately will ensure that the calories we throw away can energize the food production of tomorrow.

Written by: Mariah Manoylov

August 16, 2017 No Comments

UGA Programs Help Students Who Might Go Hungry


Kyle McReynolds was one of 73 UGA students awarded a food scholarship for the last academic year.

College students have always been cash-strapped, and with tuition and other expenses rising, the problem may be growing more acute. One in five students at UGA is not even getting enough to eat, according to data collected by the university.

Thousands of students are experiencing “food insecurity,” defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a lack of “consistent access to adequate food… limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” A recent study by Hunger on Campus found that 48 percent of respondents reported experiencing food insecurity in the previous 30 days, including 22 percent with “very low levels of food security that qualify them as hungry.” One in 10 of the 46 million people served by Feeding America, a national network of food banks, is enrolled in college.

The students who are most at risk of experiencing food insecurity are those who have a “gap” between the financial aid they receive and UGA’s total cost of attendance, says Jan Barham, UGA’s associate dean of student affairs.

Over the past decade, college tuition has risen 63 percent—triple the rate of inflation, according to the Consumer Price Index. Textbook prices rose 88 percent, and housing costs increased 51 percent.

One cause of that “gap” is rising college costs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released data revealing that college tuition alone increased by nearly 260 percent, compared to the nearly 120 percent increase in all consumer items from 1980–2014. In the past 10 years alone, from January 2006 to July 2016, the Consumer Price Index for college tuition and fees increased 63 percent, compared with an increase of 21 percent for all items. At UGA, the cost of attendance is up 26 percent, from $20,820 for an in-state student in 2011–2012 to $26,208 in 2016–2017, according to UGA Office of Student Financial Aid data.

Many UGA students receive scholarships, but not everyone keeps them. Only 22 percent of students receive scholarships covering all of their costs, according to U.S. News and World Report; the rest must pay something out of pocket, whether they can afford it or not. Often parents will foot the bill, “but sometimes parents lose jobs, and some students work two and three jobs to send money home to [their families] to raise their siblings,” Barnham says.
The estimated 7,000 students who experience food insecurity at UGA are “some of the best and brightest at UGA. They just have financial restrictions,” Barnham says. “UGA is still one of the best affordable universities. We just have to think of how we can do more.”

To do that, UGA created the Financial Hardship Program, of which the Let the Big Dawg Eat food scholarship is only one small part, says Matthew Waller, assistant to Vice President of Student Affairs Victor Wilson. The LTBDE scholarship comes in the form of a seven-day, full-access meal plan to all of UGA’s dining halls.

The university awarded 46 food scholarships to the 373 students who applied in fall 2016, and another 27 in spring 2017. That is a significant increase since spring 2015, the first semester the scholarship was offered, when 16 students applied and only two meal-plan scholarships were funded. Funding comes solely from private donors, Barnham says, including a $900,000 contribution from UGA alumnus Jess Stokely last year.

“This year, we are offering more than 30 students meal plans, which is pretty significant, but still, when you look at the data we have… a lot of students are still concerned about financial issues,” Waller says. “What are their short-term, unexpected or more longer-term family situations, medical issues, things that really impact students’ ability to be successful on campus? Those are the things we’re trying to be comprehensive [about] in our approach. We aren’t going to solve every financial problem, but we want students to be aware of the resources.”

It wasn’t only the national trend of widespread food insecurity on college campuses that brought UGA’s attention to the problem, it was also students themselves. Barham says her division in the Office of the Dean of Students began hearing more stories about students choosing between buying books or food—also a trend found by Feeding America in 2014—and being unable to attend organization meetings because they were held inside dining halls, which cost at least $9 to enter. “Many students worried about scraping together the money or wouldn’t go to the meetings,” she says.

As a veteran, Kyle McReynolds, a business management major from Warner Robins, discovered the scholarship through the Student Veterans Resource Center, which operates under the Office of the Dean of Students. His biggest challenge before receiving the meal plan last academic year was not accessing food, but “finding a healthy source of food for a relatively low cost,” he says.

Consistent access to healthy, diverse eating options has “made an enormous impact in my everyday life financially,” McReynolds says. “I didn’t have to worry about the additional funds I would need to work for to pay for food. It truly took a large weight off my shoulders.”

With that weight gone, he has been able to re-focus his efforts on his academics. “I saw myself having time for the additional workload and readings, thus performing better on exams,” he says.

Food insecurity also poses a risk to students’ health. “There are significant health problems from eating only a can of corn every day,” Barham says. “We had a student pass out in class and go to the hospital. The doctor had to say, ‘Without a change in diet, you won’t be able to continue being a student.’”

Waller works “with students through the financial hardship piece, who are having some sort of emergent situation,” linking them to resources such as an emergency fund, short-term no-interest loans and on-campus employment. “We’ve gotten some grants to do an emergency fund so students can apply who may have a particular short-term hardship — if they had a medical issue or something with transportation or need help with books — those are our typical things,” she says.

In addition to the food scholarship, a small food pantry in the Tate Center allows students, regardless of proof of need, to pick up several food items a day. Students can also work for campus dining halls and receive a free meal during their shifts. If students qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps), they can use their benefits at the Athens Farmers Market, where SNAP dollars are doubled.  

Until UGA can reach 100 percent of students in need, its work isn’t done, Barham says. “The story isn’t over yet,” he says. “Hunger is still out there, and it’s a reality for many of our students.”

Written by:  Martha Michael
Photo Credit: UGA News Service

August 14, 2017 No Comments

College of Environment and Design professor studies coastal Georgia

Two years ago, Brian Orland joined the faculty of UGA's College of Environment and Design, bringing with him a lifetime of scholarly and practical experience in the realm of environmental design.
The tools now used to design and plan on the land are more complex and sophisticated and more encompassing of diverse human experience and interactions. Orland's work seeks to ensure that communities are prepared and able to benefit from those tools and not simply be overwhelmed by their technical complexities. His basic assumption is that communities are always under pressure to adapt to numerous variables. Of late, his focus has been on places profoundly affected by economic development pressure and compromised water and land resources, specifically on the coast of Georgia.

"To plan for future large-scale landscape change driven by weather events, economic development, population growth or decision makers, whether citizens or expert land managers, [we] need robust mental models of the critical interactions within all of the relevant systems and reporting of all their implications," Orland said. 

Orland has done pioneering work in computer visualization for design and planning research, including virtual and augmented realities for testing design ideas. He came to UGA after academic careers at the University of Illinois (18 years) and Penn State University (14 years). 

He relishes working with scholars and students from varying disciplines such as geography, anthropology, engineering and ecology. Last year, when Hurricane Matthew made landfall on Georgia's coast, communities up and down the shoreline experienced flooding and wind damage, and infrastructure was overwhelmed in some of the more vulnerable towns and rural communities.

Nevertheless, the arrival of Matthew when the tide was low meant that coastal Georgia avoided the dramatic losses of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Orland saw the opportunity to learn from the experiences of people who endured the potential of catastrophic loss but were able to return to their homes and resume daily life.

Born out of his work in disadvantaged settings internationally and across the U.S., Orland has realized how much of the heavy lifting of the planning and design of daily life is carried out by ordinary citizens who are expert in their own fields of interest but novices in most others. His goal is to educate new designers and planners to first learn as much as possible about the way ordinary citizens play out their lives as "people of the place," then empower ordinary citizens to participate meaningfully in deliberations about the future of their communities and finally to work alongside them to realize their dreams.

July 24, 2017 No Comments

U.S. Secretary of Education names University of Georgia a 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Postsecondary Sustainability Awardee


The U.S. Department of Education honored the University of Georgia (UGA) with the Green Ribbon Schools Postsecondary Sustainability Award in a ceremony on Wednesday, July 19, at the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. 

Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Management Holly Ham, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Director of Education Louisa Koch, Director of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy James L. Elder, Jr. and Director of the Center for Green Schools at the US Green Building Council Anisa Heming honored the University of Georgia and other 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools during the ceremony.

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Awards were given to a total of 63 schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions throughout the country.  Awardees are recognized for reducing their environmental impact, creating healthy learning environments and providing real-world sustainability education that prepares students to succeed in the 21st century.

Sustainability research, education, service and campus operations are hallmarks woven throughout UGA’s 2020 Strategic Plan.  From reducing energy use intensity by 21% and water use intensity by 24% since 2007, to plans for conversion of one-third of the largest campus transit fleet in the country to electric buses, the University of Georgia is improving the world and addressing grand global challenges through better local solutions.  Inspired leaders, resilient communities and thriving natural systems… that’s our commitment.

Also at the awards ceremony in D.C., the Assistant US Secretary of Education honored Ms. Keisha Ford-Jenrette from the Georgia Department of Education, as the 2017 Green Ribbon Schools Director of the Year, and announced that the state of Georgia will host the 2017 Green Strides Tour with the theme “Taking Learning Outside.”

Writer: Andrew Lentini, 706/542-1301, alentini@uga.edu
Contact: Kevin Kirsche, 706/542-1301, kkirsche@uga.edu

July 20, 2017 No Comments

Scientists calculate total amount of plastics ever produced

Humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment, according to a study published today in the journal Science Advances.

Led by a team of scientists from the University of Georgia, the University of California, Santa Barbara and Sea Education Association, the study is the first global analysis of the production, use and fate of all plastics ever made.

The researchers found that by 2015, humans had generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, 6.3 billon tons of which had already become waste. Of that waste total, only 9 percent was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated and 79 percent accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.

If current trends continue, roughly 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050. Twelve billion metric tons is about 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building.

“Most plastics don’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years,” said Jenna Jambeck, study co-author and associate professor of engineering at UGA. “Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices.”

The scientists compiled production statistics for resins, fibers and additives from a variety of industry sources and synthesized them according to type and consuming sector.

Global production of plastics increased from 2 million metric tons in 1950 to over 400 million metric tons in 2015, according to the study, outgrowing most other man-made materials. Notable exceptions are materials that are used extensively in the construction sector, such as steel and cement.

But while steel and cement are used primarily for construction, plastics’ largest market is packaging, and most of those products are used once and discarded.

“Roughly half of all the steel we make goes into construction, so it will have decades of use—plastic is the opposite,” said Roland Geyer, lead author of the paper and associate professor in UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. “Half of all plastics become waste after four or fewer years of use.”

And the pace of plastic production shows no signs of slowing. Of the total amount of plastics produced from 1950 to 2015, roughly half was produced in just the last 13 years.

“What we are trying to do is to create the foundation for sustainable materials management,” Geyer said. “Put simply, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and so we think policy discussions will be more informed and fact based now that we have these numbers.”

The same team of researchers led a 2015 study published in the journal Science that calculated the magnitude of plastic waste going into the ocean. They estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the oceans in 2010.

“There are people alive today who remember a world without plastics,” Jambeck said. “But they have become so ubiquitous that you can’t go anywhere without finding plastic waste in our environment, including our oceans.”

The researchers are quick to caution that they do not seek the total removal of plastic from the marketplace, but rather a more critical examination of plastic use and its end-of-life value.

“There are areas where plastics are indispensable, especially in products designed for durability,” said paper co-author Kara Lavender Law, a research professor at SEA. “But I think we need to take a careful look at our expansive use of plastics and ask when the use of these materials does or does not make sense.”

The research was conducted with the Marine Debris Working Group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, with support from Ocean Conservancy. The work was also supported by a National Science Foundation Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems grant (under grant No. 1335478).




Writer: James Hataway, 706-542-6927, jhataway@uga.edu

Contact: Roland Geyer, 805-893-7234, geyer@bren.ucsb.edu

Jenna Jambeck, 706-383-7014, jjambeck@uga.edu

Kara Lavender Law, 508-444-1935, klavender@sea.edu



July 7, 2017 No Comments

UGA J.W. Fanning Institute teams up with ACC government to provide opportunity to young offenders

28 youth offenders graduated from the YouthServe program, a leadership program  offered to misdemeanor offenders between the ages of 17-24.

The program, now in its second year of operation, is run in a collaboration between the University of Georgia’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, the Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court and ACC Probation Services. Youthserve participants are given an opportunity to turn a new leaf by attending leadership classes and community service opportunities run by the Fanning Institute to fulfill community service requirements handed down to them by the municipal court.

“If they successfully complete those 24 hours, municipal court and probation have agreed to give them credit for all the hours they were assigned,” Emily Boness said.

Boness works as a member of the  public service faculty at the Fanning Institute, and led the YouthServe program these past few months. Running from March 2 to April 27th, the program consisted of  five leadership classes and 11 community service projects, of which the students had to attend three. According to a UGA Today press release, students learned about about “leadership styles, principles of leadership, conflict, values, decision making, goal setting and individual and group communication,” skills Boness said she hopes will help students make better decisions in the future.

YouthServe collaborated with several area non-profits to provide service project opportunities. These organizations ranged widely in focus from The Cottage, a sexual assault and children’s advocacy center, to UGArden, a student run organization dedicated to providing fresh produce to the less fortunate.

According to Boness, program organizers were able to double graduate numbers from the previous year through lessons learned. Organizers took a systematic approach to program recruitment this year. Starting in January, all  potential candidates for participation were contacted ahead of time and offered a position in the program. Once the program began, organizers also made sure th.at the availability of service opportunities was as high as possible as to accommodate the various schedules of those in the 17-24 age range.

Though it is unknown when the next YotuhServe program will be held, Boness believes that the program will continue to grow and continue its positive impact on the lives of its participants. 

“The participants seemed to enjoy the program, ” Boness said. “I think [they] initially perhaps were reluctant to have that classroom setting but they learned a lot, not just from the facilitators and our content but from each other and having a chance to reflect on each other.”

June 29, 2017 No Comments

Georgia Sea Grant funds project to enhance jellyfish industry

A Georgia Sea Grant-funded project will help protect turtles and enable fishermen trawling for cannonball jellyfish to operate more efficiently.

Georgia fishermen recently conducted several 30-hour cannonball jellyfish trawling trips to test the turtle excluder device, which is similar to the TED for shrimpers first developed in 1968.

Cannonball jellyfish, commonly referred to as jellyballs, are the third largest seafood commodity by weight in Georgia. Considered a delicacy in Asian countries, most of the jellyballs caught by Georgia fishermen are exported to Asian markets, where they’re sold in restaurants and grocery stores.

The project to develop a jellyfish TED was proposed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the College of Coastal Georgia, and Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant at the University of Georgia, all of whom recognized the benefits of the commodity to both commercial fishermen and the economy.

“This was a project where we needed to support a developing industry,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “We have to protect our turtle populations, but also need to find a way to support our fishing industries. Much like the shrimping industry and TEDs, we are hoping to find a win-win solution.”

The jellyball industry emerged in the late 1990s but only has been recognized as an official industry in the state since 2013.

Shrimpers have been required by the federal government to use TEDs since 1987.

However, the TED required of shrimpers doesn’t work well with jellyballs because the four-inch opening that prevents turtles from getting into the net is also too small for the jellies.

This requirement is seen as a hindrance to Howell Boone, a commercial fisherman who expressed concern over the impact of the current TED on his jellyball harvest.

“We can’t make any money using it … zero,” said Boone, who captains a commercial fishing boat that trawls for the jellies.

The team first tested Boone’s argument that the shrimp TEDs were ineffective for jellyball trawlers by pulling two identical nets behind his boat. One net was equipped with a certified TED; the other had no TED. Results of the trawl showed that nets with certified TEDs caught 23.6 percent fewer jellyballs by weight, when compared to a net with no TED, which supported Boone’s concerns about the TED limiting catch.  

The next step involved designing a practical TED for the jellyfish industry that would appease fishermen, state resource managers and biologists.

“We’ve been involved with TED development and certification since it began in the late 1970s,” said Lindsey Parker, a marine resource specialist at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“We are familiar with how government agencies evaluate TEDs. We know the tasks it will have to perform and how well it needs to perform those tasks when put to the test.” 

Parker, who has a 35-year history with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, worked with Howell Boone’s father, Sinkey Boone, who invented the first turtle excluder device. The original design has been modified over the years to be more efficient and eventually gained national certification in 2012. 

The new jellyball TED, designed by Howell Boone, has an 8-inch opening, large enough to let 6- to 8-inch jellyballs into the net but small enough to keep sea turtles out. 

The team conducted 22 paired trawls using the same methods as before, but yielding much different results. There was no significant difference in the amount of jellyfish caught between the net with the experimental TED and the net with no TED.

Patrick Geer, chief of Marine Fisheries for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and co-principal investigator on the jellyball TED project, said the new design looks promising and could be considered for use in state waters.

“If we can use the results of this study to support and manage this emerging fishery in an ecologically responsible manner that not only helps the economy but supports commercial fishers then it’s our responsibility to do so,” Geer said. 



Writer: Emily Woodward, 912-598-2348, ext. 107, ewoodward@uga.edu

Contact: Bryan Fluech, 912-264-7268, fluech@uga.edu


Note to editors: An image of jellyfish trawling is online at



This release is online at http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/georgia-sea-grant-jellyfish-industry/


May 30, 2017 No Comments

Colorful reptile serves as a health barometer for the impacts of coal waste

Coal combustion waste is well documented as an environmental pollutant. The United States produces over 130 million tons of coal combustion residues, or CCRs, every year, with 40 percent of these wastes placed in aquatic settling basins. These basins are attractive environments for wildlife, placing them at risk of exposure to potentially toxic levels of trace elements.

Now scientists at the University of Georgia have confirmed that exposure to CCRs lead to higher levels of trace elements in yellow-bellied sliders, a freshwater turtle native to the Southeastern U.S. In addition, the researchers found exposure to certain trace elements may have a beneficial effect on turtle immune system response. The study was published recently in the journal Environmental Pollution.

David Haskins, a graduate student at UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, took blood samples and clipped the claws of 81 yellow-bellied sliders. This non-lethal sampling allowed Haskins to measure concentrations of trace elements in the turtles, compare their immune system response and detect parasites.

Haskins worked with Tracey Tuberville, an associate research scientist at SREL and Warnell, to obtain the samples from two groups of turtles captured at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina.

Thirty-nine turtles were captured in an area of the SRS where CCRs from a coal-burning power plant were discharged into a basin, with runoff into nearby wetlands. An additional 42 turtles were captured at SRS wetlands located a mile or more away that have not received CCRs.

Haskins said trace elements can play a significant role in an individual’s overall health.

“It is normal for trace elements to be present at low levels, as they aid an organism to function, but they can have negative effects on development, survival and reproduction when they exist at elevated levels,” he said.

“Due to their long life span, turtles have the potential to be exposed to and accumulate contaminants for decades,” Tuberville said. “We were very interested in studying the contaminated basin and wetland area in this study because there is a well-documented history of contamination. That meant the potential for long-term exposure exists.”

The study reports that levels of arsenic, copper, selenium and strontium were between116 and 2,117 percent higher in the blood samples taken from the contaminated-area turtles compared to blood samples taken from turtles in the uncontaminated area.

The results from the claw samples were similar. Arsenic, cadmium, copper and selenium ranged from 216 to 6,647 percent higher in the claws of contaminated-area turtles compared to claw samples taken from turtles in the uncontaminated area.

Blood and claw samples provide two different narratives, according to Haskins.

“Blood and claw samples represent different time scales of exposure to an element,” he said. “Trace elements in a blood sample generally indicate recent exposure, while elevated trace elements in the claw indicate long-term exposure.”

Contrary to the team’s expectations, two turtles from the uncontaminated area had significantly higher levels of chromium in their blood than any of the turtles. Haskins believes that because the element was only elevated in the blood, indicating recent exposure, these two turtles may have taken a short journey to the area surrounding the contaminated wetlands.

The team expected the contaminated-area turtles would have a weakened or compromised immune system that could not fight bacteria, but when they examined the immune system, they saw the unexpected.

“When we looked at the two groups, we discovered that turtles from the contaminated area had a stronger immune system to fight off bacteria,” Haskins said. “We then speculated that exposure to certain trace elements may have a beneficial effect on turtle immune system response.”

Haskins and Tuberville called for further exploration of the potential effects of CCR-associated contaminants on turtle immune function, including investigation of influencing factors such as age, stress, temperature, season and gender.

“It may be that some health effects of contaminants only become apparent or problematic when other stressors, such as disease outbreak or drought, are present,” Tuberville said. “Our first goal was to get a baseline of their health.”

The study results indicate there was no significant difference in the presence of parasites between the two groups, so long-term CCRs exposure did not make the turtles more vulnerable to parasites.

Haskins said that although most freshwater turtles are imperiled, the eye-catching yellow-bellied slider is common.

“These turtles are abundant in the region and present in almost every aquatic habitat on the SRS,” he said. “Conducting research on the yellow-bellied slider allowed us to obtain the needed data without impairing species that are already at risk.”

The full study is available online at  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S026974911632070X.

Additional authors include Matthew Hamilton, SREL, Warnell; Amanda Jones, SREL; Robert B. Bringolf, Warnell; and John W. Finger Jr., SREL and Auburn University.




Writer: Vicky L. Sutton-Jackson, 803-725-2752, vsuttonj@srel.uga.edu
Contacts: David Haskins, 803-725-5804, david.haskins@uga.edu
Tracey Tuberville, 803-725-5757, tubervil@uga.edu

Note to editors: The following photo is available online at: http://multimedia.uga.edu/media/images/Slider_Haskins300r.jpg


Cutline: An adult male yellow-bellied slider. (Credit: David Lee Haskins)


This release is available online at https://news.uga.edu/releases/article/colorful-reptile-serves-as-a-health-barometer-for-the-impacts-of-coal-waste/

May 25, 2017 No Comments

Sunflower genome sequence to provide roadmap for more resilient crops

University of Georgia researchers are part of an international team that has published the first sunflower genome sequence. This new resource will assist future research programs using genetic tools to improve crop resilience and oil production.

They published their findings today in the journal Nature.

Known for its beauty and also as an important source of food, the sunflower is a global oil crop that shows promise for climate change adaptation because it can maintain stable yields across a wide variety of environmental conditions, including drought. However, assembling the sunflower genome has until recently been difficult, because it mostly consists of highly similar, related sequences.

The research team in North America and Europe sequenced the genome of the domesticated sunflower Helianthus annuus L. They also performed comparative and genome-wide analyses, which provide insights into the evolutionary history of Asterids, a subgroup of flowering plants that includes potatoes, tomatoes and coffee.

They identified new candidate genes and reconstructed genetic networks that control flowering time and oil metabolism, two major sunflower breeding traits, and found that the flowering time networks have been shaped by the past duplication of the entire genome. Their findings suggest that ancient copies of genes can retain their functionality and still influence traits of interest after tens of millions of years.

“As the first reference sequence of the sunflower genome, it’s quite the accomplishment,” said paper co-author John M. Burke, professor of plant biology and member of the UGA Plant Center. “The sunflower genome is over 40 percent larger than the maize [corn] genome, and roughly 20 percent larger than the human genome, and its highly repetitive nature made it a unique challenge for assembly.”

Burke, whose lab studies the genomic basis of evolutionary divergence within the sunflower family, was involved in the genetic mapping upon which the genome assembly was based and oversaw the whole genome re-sequencing of the 80 sunflower lines described in the paper.

The international collaboration was led by Nicolas Langlade at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Toulouse, France, and included Loren Rieseberg of the University of British Columbia.

“Like many plant genomes, the sunflower genome is highly repetitive, though in this case the situation is a bit worse,” Burke said. “The repetitive elements within the genome arose relatively recently, meaning that they haven’t had time to differentiate. It’s therefore like putting together a massive puzzle wherein many pieces look exactly the same, or nearly so.”

The authors concluded that this research reinforces the sunflower as a model for ecological and evolutionary studies and climate change adaptation, and will accelerate breeding programs.

“It will greatly facilitate our work to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying key traits related to abiotic stress resistance—things like drought, salinity and low nutrient resistance,” Burke said. “This genome sequence will essentially serve as a genetic road map to pinpoint the genes underlying these sorts of traits.”

An online version of the full study, “The sunflower genome provides insights into oil metabolism, flowering and Asterid evolution,” is available at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature22380.html  


Writer: Alan Flurry, 706-542-3331, aflurry@uga.edu
Contact: John M. Burke, 706-583-5511, jmburke@uga.edu

May 8, 2017 No Comments

Aquatic rest stops may pose potential hazards for migratory waterfowl

Migratory waterfowl around the world travel hundreds to thousands of miles annually, stopping at lakes, ponds and marshes to refuel and breed. Some of these aquatic rest stops may be at sites polluted by remnants of radioactive waste from nuclear production or accidents, exposing the birds to contamination that they take with them. This poses a potential risk to humans if the waterfowl enter the food chain.

Now scientists at the University of Georgia have identified two factors that affect the accumulation of a radioactive contaminant in waterfowl. The study, published recently in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, reveals that the wild birds’ uptake of radiocesium is influenced by two main factors—the amount of time the bird inhabits a contaminated body of water and the bird’s foraging habits.

Robert Kennamer, lead investigator on the study, guided a team of researchers that examined American coots and ring-necked ducks at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, a former nuclear production facility. Every year thousands of migrant waterfowl visit SRS, which is closed to waterfowl hunting. These birds forage in contaminated areas before resuming their journeys.

“The breeding ranges for both coots and ring-necked ducks extend well into the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, so these birds can be making migrations in excess of 1,200 miles,” said Kennamer, a research professional at UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

For the study, American coots and ring-necked ducks were relocated from a less-contaminated lake at the site to a smaller pond that received higher concentrations of the contaminant.  Radiocesium was a byproduct of nuclear production, from the 1950s to 1965.

“Thirty days after we released them onto the pond, we saw increased levels of the contaminant in the coots. For coots that remained on the pond longer—up to five months—there was no additional elevation,” Kennamer said.

In contrast, radiocesium levels continued to rise in the ring-necked ducks up to 2 1/2 months after the team moved them onto the pond.

“The differing rates and levels of radiocesium accumulation observed between coots and ring-necked ducks in this study reveal the complexity of how radioactive elements are distributed and accumulated among various plant and animal species within ecosystems,” said James Beasley, co-investigator on the study and assistant professor at SREL and UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Ring-necked ducks are diving ducks, foraging at the bottom of the water body. Their food comes into direct contact with the sediments where radiocesium settles. In contrast, coots primarily feed on aquatic vegetation in shallow or surface water.

Radiocesium is completely released from the waterfowl 30 days after they leave the site, so the potential risk to humans is short term, according to Kennamer.

But the study results are a clear evidence that future cleanup interventions to these aquatic areas must not produce vegetation, or migratory waterfowl will be lured by the bountiful supply and linger in what appears to be a haven.

“Residence time is a critical determinant in the amount of contaminant a bird accumulates,” Kennamer said. “These birds are highly mobile. If you increase food resources in an area and make it more attractive for birds to be there, then they are going to stay in the area longer and their potential to become contaminated will increase.”

The full study is available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0265931X16303320.

Writer: Vicky L. Sutton-Jackson, 803-725-2752, vsuttonj@srel.uga.edu
Contacts: Robert Kennamer, 803,725-0387, rkennamer@srel.uga.edu,  James Beasley, 803-725-5113, beasley@srel.uga.edu


May 8, 2017 No Comments

U.S. Secretary of Education names UGA a 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School


 The U.S. Department of Education announced today that the University of Georgia (UGA) is among the 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. 

UGA was nominated for this distinction by the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education for exemplary performance in sustainability teaching and practicing. 

Inspired leaders, resilient communities and thriving natural systems… that’s UGA’s commitment. The University of Georgia is improving the world and addressing grand global challenges through better local solutions. Sustainability research, education, service and campus operations are hallmarks woven throughout UGA’s 2020 Strategic Plan and there has been marked progress toward realizing those goals.

For UGA, a public land and sea grant university, stewardship of natural resources and advancing campus sustainability are of strategic importance. The institution is currently using 31 percent less water per square foot than in 2007, with the goal of a 40 percent or greater reduction by 2020. To improve water quality on campus and beyond, more than 75 rain gardens and 16 cisterns for rain and condensate water harvesting and reuse have been installed on UGA’s Athens campus.

UGA has exceeded the Georgia Governor’s Energy Challenge, and currently is using 20 percent less energy per square foot than in 2007, with a goal of 25 percent or greater reduction by 2020. Infrastructure improvements from centralized chillers at district energy plants to steam pit insulation and LED lighting retrofits also have led to energy savings and reduced costs, and UGA has installed more than one megawatt of renewable solar energy on its main campus. Similarly, the university is striving to reduce the amount of waste sent to local landfills by 65 percent by 2020. With a long way to go to reach this ambitious target, UGA is making progress by providing infrastructure that makes it just as easy to recycle materials on campus as it is to throw them away, and by composting all organic materials from every dining hall.

Because UGA operates the largest campus transit system in the country, with over 11 million annual riders, the university plans to convert one-third of its buses to all-electric vehicles beginning in 2017, significantly reducing tailpipe emissions, maintenance and operating costs. Overall, UGA has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than eight percent since 2010. These initiatives and others are helping the University to be a better neighbor and responsible steward of natural and financial resources.

The university also is deeply committed to the health and well-being of students, faculty, staff and visitors. Infrastructure, planning, and design initiatives, as well as health and wellness programs, create healthy interior and exterior environments and opportunities for personal wellness. The entire UGA Athens campus is designated an arboretum and a Tree Campus USA. In the last two decades, more than 60 acres of new green space have replaced previously paved areas to create an increasingly pedestrian-friendly and ecologically functional landscape. UGA is designated a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly University with over 16 miles of bike lanes, trails, and shared use paths on campus and over 850 participants in the Bulldog Bikes bike share program. The campus is tobacco-free, and the decommissioning of UGA’s only coal-fired boiler in 2015 has further contributed to healthy outdoor air throughout the community. Campus buildings are maintained through a certified green cleaning program to provide healthy interior environments for all occupants. Approximately 20 percent of all food items sold by UGA Food Services come from Georgia or bordering states, and healthy, nutritious options are available at every meal in every dining hall.

UGA students are directly involved in growing and providing wholesome foods to community members in need through the student-run UGArden Education & Demonstration Farm and the UGA Campus Kitchen. The Be Well UGA program promotes emotional, intellectual, physical, environmental, social, and spiritual well-being for all at UGA. Numerous programs and services are available to students experiencing challenging situations, such as EMBARK UGA, which is geared toward increasing college access and retention for youth who have experienced foster care or homelessness; the UGA Student Food Pantry and Hygiene Closet; and the reCYCLE program, which provides refurbished bicycles free of charge to students and staff in need of affordable transportation options. UGA’s Work/Life Balance program provides a central location for relevant services and opportunities to assist faculty and staff in managing life’s challenges, from workplace stress to caring for family members. In addition, UGA Recreational Sports promotes healthy lifestyle choices by providing development, growth, and education for the campus and local community, including engaging outdoor recreation trips and clinics.

With a school motto that reads “to teach, to serve, and to inquire into the nature of things," education and innovation are central to UGA’s mission. UGA is committed to solving grand challenges for Georgia, the United States, and the world, as well as to training students who are capable of solving real-world, multifaceted problems with no simple solutions. All undergraduate students must satisfy the Environmental Awareness Requirement, including a basic understanding of the interactions between human activity and the environment at local, regional, or global scales. All students also must engage in at least one experiential learning activity that enhances learning and positions them for success after graduation. In addition to numerous graduate and undergraduate degree programs related to sustainability, the Interdisciplinary Certificate in Sustainability provides students with a foundation in the principles and practice of social, environmental, and economic sustainability, as well as a valued credential to enhance their competitiveness in the job market.

Overall, UGA offers more than 615 sustainability-related courses, as well as faculty resources to promote integration of sustainability across the curriculum. The Office of Sustainability Student Internship Program provides experiential learning, leadership, and professional development while having a positive and tangible effect on the UGA and Athens communities. Since 2010, the Office of Sustainability has provided over 250 internship opportunities to students in 62 different degree programs for a total of over 31,000 hours of service. The Office of Sustainability also has provided $210,000 in campus sustainability grants to fund 58 student-led projects, many of which are now ongoing operational and experiential learning programs. Overall in 2015, UGA researchers received over $185 million in external research funding to solve grand challenges related to sustainable agriculture, water resources, bioenergy, waste reduction, public health, and much more. Current sustainability-focused research at UGA includes, but is not limited to, developing drought-tolerant sorghum that enhances cereal food crops, creating compostable plastic packaging from plants, understanding drivers in outbreaks of infectious disease and understanding threats posed by the Zika virus.

“Taken together, the institution’s accomplishments point to a thoughtful and coordinated commitment to the effective stewardship of our resources and to the advancement of campus sustainability,” said University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead. “Although the University has opportunities for improvement, I hope each member of the UGA community shares a collective sense of pride in where we are as an institution right now and in the direction we are moving to protect and enhance the educational environment at the University of Georgia and beyond.”

For more information on sustainability initiatives at the University of Georgia, see http://www.sustainability.uga.edu/.

About the Green Ribbon Schools program

The aim of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools is to inspire schools, districts and Institutions of Higher Education to strive for 21st century excellence by highlighting promising practices and resources that all can employ. Across the country, 45 schools, nine districts, and nine postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education. 

The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 28 states and the Department of Defense Department of Education Activity. The selectees include 39 public schools, including five magnet schools and one charter school, as well as six nonpublic schools. Forty-four percent of the 2017 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body and 14 percent are rural. The postsecondary honorees include three career and technical and community colleges.

The list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, can be found here. A report with highlights on the 63 honorees can be found here. More information on the federal recognition award can be found here. Resources for all schools to move toward the three Pillars can be found here.


Writer: Andrew Lentini, 706/542-1301, alentini@uga.edu
Contact: Kevin Kirsche, 706/542-1301, kkirsche@uga.edu

May 1, 2017 No Comments

Up on the roof

Green Roof Garden gives students stake in university’s sustainability efforts

There's something different about the geography-geology building roof.

Instead of the usual flat, gray roof, the geography-geology building is 2,200 square feet of grass, vegetables and green space. Topped with raised beds full of rich soil, plants and produce bursting with color, the Green Roof Garden is a student-run garden that started about seven years ago by a team of faculty and students known as the Athens Urban Food Collective in the geography department.

In the spring, the garden is planted with a range of crops like turnips, radishes, beets, collards, spinach and salad mixes. Carrots were a Green Roof favorite last year.

"They were gorgeous. You pulled them out of the ground, and the color was the most brilliant. It was just the brightest orange I had ever seen," said Carson Dann, the urban agriculture intern in UGA's Office of Sustainability who leads the Green Roof Garden initiative.

The garden has many purposes, including serving as an opportunity for students to learn about gardening. Staffed by Dann and an array of student volunteers, the garden grows kale, collards, radishes, carrots and beets. There's a fig tree, blueberry trees, blackberries and an herb garden.

The Green Roof Garden donates its produce to Campus Kitchen at UGA, which donates it to Athens families in need, as well as the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia and other institutions working toward food insecurity. Campus Kitchen at UGA is part of the Office of Service-Learning, which is overseen jointly by the vice presidents for public service and outreach and instruction.

The garden also helps combat high temperatures and overheating. That's a primary role of the green roof since its creation in the 1960s to support the UGA Climatology Research Lab—by providing a temperature buffer for the lab. In 2007, the lab allowed other geography faculty and students to share the space and convert some of the green roof area to a vegetable garden.

The garden helps to cool the rooftop by holding storm water, absorbing sunlight and then releasing the water vapor back to the atmosphere, creating a cooling effect similar to the human body producing sweat.

"The plants buffer the building's temperature," Dann said."They insulate in the winter and cool it in the summer, reducing energy costs and unnecessary energy waste."

Dann is a senior agriscience and environmental systems major with an emphasis in sustainable agriculture and has worked at the garden since summer 2016. She oversees the garden's management, maintenance and volunteers and leads tours of the garden.

In late October, Dann received a grant to provide pollinator species like bees, butterflies and moths with a safe habitat at the center of the busy, commercialized city of Athens.

The project, known as RoofBuzz, was funded by the Pollination Project, a program that supports initiatives to increase sustainability and social change.

Dann used the grant money to buy plants like aster, spiked wild indigo and sage as well as mulch and mushroom compost, from the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach. Faculty and staff from the center helped her identify native plants that would attract native pollinators and grow successfully in the rooftop environment.

Since RoofBuzz started, the garden has attracted lots of new insects like bees, butterflies and beetles.

"It's so encouraging to see them finding the habitat and sticking around to enjoy it. It's working," Dann said. "The university's urban landscape is highly fragmented by traffic, developments, city expansion and pesticide use. As a pollinator, there aren't many options for you. So to have a space on campus that can support these populations is truly fantastic."

In August, Dann will write a final report to turn in to the Pollination Project about RoofBuzz, detailing pollinator numbers observed throughout the fall and spring, the health of the garden's pollinator plants, and the various outreach and education initiatives undertaken. By then, the project will be completed and the habitat should be stable, in place and sustained.

Dann also wants to turn the Green Roof Garden into a learning environment for students and welcomes students to tour the garden. Educational tours of the space are offered to students, organizations, faculty groups and classes.

The tours discuss pollinator decline, how important pollinators are to food crops, the importance of incorporating native plants to serve as pollinator habitat and practices that anyone can employ to support their local pollinators.

"The mission is to reach a diversity of ages and backgrounds with the goal of promoting pollinator habitat, not just on a university campus, but throughout the Athens community," Dann said.

The Green Roof Garden welcomes volunteers from all disciplines. Last semester, volunteers spent nearly 180 hours at the garden.

Collette Copeland, a studio art major, has put in over 16 hours tilling soil, planting, weeding and learning about the garden and its plants.

"It really is beautiful up there," she said. "It's a great place to relax if you want to be alone, or just want to look at the UGA campus from another vantage point."

To set up a tour of the garden or volunteer, contact Dann at carson.dann25@uga.edu.


Written by Saleen Martin

May 1, 2017 No Comments

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to release loggerhead sea turtle

Skidaway Island, Ga. – Rider, a 3-year-old loggerhead sea turtle at the University of Georgia Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island, is set to be released from Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge on May 1.

Rider was a straggler discovered during a nest excavation by members of Caretta Research Project who monitor the sea turtle nests on Wassaw Island. 

“For the 22 years that I’ve been here, we have given straggler hatchlings to the UGA Aquarium. It’s always been a good partnership, so when they asked if we still had nests in the ground, I was happy to save them a straggler,” said Kris Williams, director of Caretta Research Project.

Stragglers that don’t make it out of the nest with the rest of the hatchlings typically have a much lower chance of survival. By giving them a temporary home at the aquarium, it increases the likelihood that they’ll make it in the wild. The stragglers live at the aquarium for about three years before being released or transferred to a larger home at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, where they can educate a broader audience about native sea turtles found on the coast.

As an ambassador sea turtle, Rider, and another 2-year-older loggerhead, Lefty, play an important role in educating visitors to the UGA Aquarium. Marine educators at the center teach classes that cover reptiles, sea turtle natural history, marine debris and endangered species. They’re featured in multiple outreach programs for all age groups, from pre-K to adult.

“Since arriving, we estimate that Rider has seen about 70,000 visitors,” said Lisa Olenderski, assistant curator at the aquarium. “If each of those people can leave knowing just one new fact about sea turtles or gain a new appreciation for them, it’s a win.”

Weighing in around 50 pounds and over 2 feet long, Rider is nearing the maximum size the aquarium can handle.

“We can only house them for so long before they literally outgrow us,” said Devin Dumont, aquarium curator. “For the past few months, we’ve only been feeding Rider live food, such as blue crabs and mussels, so he can practice active foraging and hunting skills to get ready for release. We also have to get approval from a number of agencies and organizations in Georgia.”

One such approval comes from Dr. Terry Norton, director and founder of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. During Rider’s recent checkup, Norton’s team recorded his weight, collected blood samples and examined his overall physical health before approving the sea turtle for release. 

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also have signed off on the release. Representatives from those agencies will be on hand to supervise and attach tags to Rider, so that he can be identified if encountered again. 

Also in attendance will be Williams, who discovered Rider on the island.

“As a straggler, Rider most likely would not have even made it out of the nest,” Williams said. “We are so happy to partner with staff at the aquarium to give him a fighting chance.”


Note to media: Media wishing to cover the event should make arrangements in advance by contacting Emily Woodward, public relations coordinator for UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, at 912-598-2348 ext. 107 or ewoodward@uga.edu.

Images of Rider are online at http://multimedia.uga.edu/media/images/Marex_SkidawayAquarium-rider.jpg and http://multimedia.uga.edu/media/images/MECA-Rider.jpg

This release is online at http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/rider-sea-turtle-release-17/


April 14, 2017 No Comments

3 ways UGA housing is moving toward sustainability

With Earth Day approaching on April 22nd, there is no better month to celebrate going green. The University of Georgia is taking several actions to promote a green lifestyle for students—especially with the programs they implemented within campus housing. Here are a few of the programs the residence halls have incorporated:


UGA has 22 different residence halls within eight communities. From each of the eight communities a student who is passionate about environmental conservations is elected to serve as that community’s EcoRep. Each EcoRep is responsible for attending hall council meetings and promoting a green lifestyle on his or her residence hall. They create programs for the residents to learn about how the choices they make impact the environment. To find out who the EcoRep is for your residence hall and to get in contact with them, reach out to their advisor Jane Diener at jbdiener@uga.edu.

Recycling & composting

All residence halls provide residents with the opportunity to be green by recycling. The halls provide easy opportunities to recycle with each hall having a designated area to place both large recyclables and mixed recyclables. Residents can recycle paper, glass bottles/containers, aluminum, plastic containers and plastic bags. The on-campus communities are also moving toward the idea of composting as another option for residents to go green.

Environmental programs

On-campus communities provide different programs throughout the year to teach residents about sustainability. There are programs that teach residents methods of water conservation, such as keeping showers under 15 minutes and not leaving the water running while brushing teeth. Other programs encourage residents to use alternative methods of transportation, like the Athens Transit, instead of driving everywhere. A few of the programs that are included are “Dawgs Ditch the Dumpster and Donate,” a program that encourages residents to donate items they were considering throwing away when moving out, and “Let’s talk about food,” a program that inspires residents to pay attention to how the foods they eat affect the environment.

April 13, 2017 No Comments

Students mix art, science and hammers in UGA-aided project at Coile Middle School

Students in two Coile Middle School art classes are learning a little about design and building this week, with help from University of Georgia students and Chris McDowell, the materials reuse coordinator for the UGA College of Environment and Design.

Five basic wooden structures were arrayed on the school’s back lawn Tuesday morning, each one alike yet different — one would be a composting station, another a giant loom, while another would house a kind of giant game board.

It was the job of the gloved students to add the final touches, which the students got to design themselves in small teams.

Their projects include painting a garden scene on one of the structures, making wooden boxes to grow herbs, building a rough table for another and fashioning a huge wind chime of bamboo sticks hung beneath a plastic lead — all of it made with recycled building materials.

First, McDowell gave the students a brief safety lesson.


“What I want you guys to do is to be aware of what’s around you,” he told the sixth-graders, some wielding hammers, others driving home long wood screws with a power drill fitted with a screwdriver bit. Any sawing was done beforehand by adults.

Putting together something out of wood was a new experience for some students, like sixth-grader Derek Webb.

Besides McDowell, the students could get help from UGA undergraduates Abigail West or Janie Day Whitworth, art education graduate student Kira Hegeman or Ravisha Wijeweera, who was volunteering his time.

Classmate Navy Curry was more experienced. He’d built a tree house before this, he said.

If all goes as planned, the students will finish up their projects in a second round Thursday, said art teacher Samantha Barnum.

Barnum thought the project, funded by a grant from UGA’s Office of Sustainability, would let the students learn about the connections between science, technology, engineering, math and art — the so-called STEAM disciplines.

“You don’t get much more authentic than building something,” she said.

McDowell hoped the students would get a sense that they could design something and follow through on it.

“I don’t want them to think that they can’t learn to become designers,” said McDowell, who’s worked with area students, seniors and other folks on more than 100 projects, many of them school or community gardens.

 Written by: Lee Shearer
April 11, 2017 No Comments

Running toward sustainability: Fifth Annual Fun Run comes to the Botanical Gardens

The Fifth Annual Fun Run Toward Sustainability is coming to the State Botanical Gardens on Saturday, March 25 at 9 a.m. to bring awareness to the efforts students and Athens locals can do to maintain a sustainable lifestyle.

The University of Georgia’s Office of Sustainability and the Small Dreams Foundation have teamed up for the fifth year in a row to put on this event.

“It’s about taking better care of our earth,” said Kevin Fox, a co-founder of the Small Dreams Foundation.

Fox said the Small Dreams Foundation was created to honor his sister and UGA alumna Brittney Fox Watts, who passed away in 2011. Watts was known for trying to live sustainably as well as for her love of traveling.   

The Foundation partners with schools across Georgia and gives grants to those working on sustainability projects, such as butterfly gardens or school gardens. They also help local communities by participating in park clean-ups around the state.

In the past, they’ve partnered with the Office of Sustainability to create a bike-share program for UGA students called Bulldog Bikes.

Proceeds from the fun run will be allocated to the Brittney Fox Watts Endowment for Study Abroad in Sustainability. The scholarship is awarded to two students who want to travel and build sustainable lifestyles within their communities.

“[The scholarship] provides $500 to students who are passionate about travel, experiencing different cultures and embracing sustainable practices to address the health and well-being of individuals and communities around the globe,” said Andrew Lentini, a communications and outreach coordinator for the Office of Sustainability.

Visual education stations will be set up throughout the race, teaching participants about sustainable activities such as composting and collecting water. These include physical examples, such as rain barrels for collecting water and posters with more detailed information about sustainable activities.

“[They] show different things you can do to practice more sustainable living,” Fox said. “It’s really great for all ages.”

The 3.1 mile fun run has many eco-friendly aspects to it, such as recyclable race bibs, paperless registration and a station to recycle old tennis shoes.

“Sustainability doesn't come in one shape or form,” said Megan Bens, an events intern. “There are many facets to sustainability and there is one for everybody to participate and make an impact.”

Living sustainably doesn’t have to be difficult. Eating and buying locally-grown food, biking to class and using reusable grocery bags and cups are just some of the ways that students can practice sustainability in their day-to-day lives.

“We should all recognize that small actions add up,” Lentini said. “Behaviors as small as turning off the lights in a room can save dollars as well as natural resources.”

Tickets are $20–$30, and the price includes a T-shirt for the race.

Click here you're if interested in registering for the race.

April 11, 2017 No Comments

UGA professor teams up with national, local companies ‘to make waste obsolete’

In order to imagine the volume of the 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean annually, just picture standing on the shore and seeing five grocery bags stuffed with plastic on every foot of coastline.

This image is how Dr. Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineering professor in the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute, helps people understand the gravity of the planet's pollution problem.

Plastic is not biodegradable, and like Styrofoam, it only fragments into smaller pieces overtime, which is especially problematic in oceans. 

“What we find mostly find [in the ocean] is smaller particles of plastic. The two biggest impacts to animals are entanglement and ingestion,” Jambeck said. “Even smaller particles can look like food, plastic bags look like jellyfish to turtles, and they eat plastic, and since it doesn’t biodegrade, it doesn’t digest, so they either have to regurgitate or they starve to death because they feel full but are provided no nutrition. 

The professor said plastic is now being seen at the bottom of the food chain in plankton, and scientists do not know the possible implications of plastic working its way up the food chain.

Jambeck is an expert on the subject. Her 2015 study of plastic pollution has sparked interest in companies hoping to curtail the yearly waste of 275 million metric tons of plastic.

One company, Norton Point, was inspired to make sunglasses out of plastic recovered from coastal areas. The founders consulted with Jambeck on how to recycle plastic they extracted, learning that polymer type must be consistent across production. Jambeck’s own pair is made from the polymer used in plastic jugs and detergent bottles found on the Haitian coast.

Jambeck also said Dell Inc. has consulted with her regarding alternative uses for ocean plastic and has begun making shipping trays made of 25 percent ocean plastic. Other companies like Unilever and Method have begun investigating ways to use and prevent ocean plastic waste.

In addition, Jambeck is partnering with local companies.

To get rid of the issue of plastic’s lack of biodegradability, the New Materials Institute is working with Georgia company Meredian Holdings Inc. to create a new biodegradable plastic called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) out of canola oil, rather than the traditional source of petroleum.

Jambeck has received a $50,000 grant to test the biodegradability of PHA. She said her initial results have been promising and she expects to release her findings within the next year.

Jambeck’s research has also had an impact in the political arena. Data from her mobile app Marine Debris Tracker, was used to support a 2016 plastic bag ban in California. The app launched in 2011 with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is designed to identify trends in pollution in coastal areas.

Since its launch, it has received one million submissions of litter in coastal areas and even attention from Apple as an “app we can’t live without.” 

“My goal is to make waste obsolete. I want us to think of [every material] as a resource and how we can keep its value and keep it cycling through our economy and utilizing it, so we don’t have waste and have to worry [about unintended consequences],” Jambeck said.

Written by: Olivia Adams

April 4, 2017 No Comments

The New Split Dumpsters

Diversified Plastics Inc. is a company in Union Point, Georgia that recycles plastic and incorporates recycled products in the production of the molded injection plastics business. The company makes an assortment of different sized dumpsters, including split dumpsters with both trash and recycling compartments.

Juan Jimenez and Scott Oaks, owner of the company, donated two of these split dumpsters to the University of Georgia. These particular dumpsters have a total capacity of 8 cubic yards with a divider in the center. They are made out of plastic, but have metal reinforcements to keep the lids from bending and opening when tipped to one side or the other.

One of the dumpsters is located on the Recreational Sports Complex and one is located at the Visitors Center. Diversified Plastics Inc. has provided a good warranty plan on the dumpsters and checks on them regularly to ensure upkeep.

“They don’t leave enough space for trash dumpsters and recycle dumpsters to sit next to each other in a lot of the facilities,” says Bill Silman, sanitation & labor foreman at UGA. “This gave us an opportunity to try this new split dumpster. What it means for everybody is that they have a new option available that the visitor’s center didn’t have before.”

The recycling and solid waste program at UGA has discussed purchasing options with the company looking forward for the areas on campus where they are needed. For example, University Housing produces plenty of recycling, but only has room for one dumpster outside of each dorm, not two.

“It’s saving us a lot of road miles for one thing because we can go by there with another truck and pick this up instead of having labor and the truck go pick up inside the building like they were doing before. So, it’s reducing the carbon footprint for the university. It’s saving gas, fuel, time, and labor by using these instead of picking it up manually,” said Silman.

Recycling is expected to improve in areas around campus that have been asking for recycling bins, but have not had room to implement them. The split dumpster responds to the need for a more convenient way to recycle around UGA’s campus.


March 13, 2017 No Comments

Middle school gardens grow, with some help from UGA

When Wick Prichard arrived at Clarke Middle School in 2014, his goal as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the University of Georgia was to turn the sustainability lessons he’d been teaching at summer camps into a daily curriculum.

Just three years later, Prichard is a full-time university employee, coordinating garden programs at Clarke’s four middle schools, including the farm-to-table operation, “Grow It Know It,” that he worked with the UGArden to create at Clarke Middle.

This Thursday, the public is invited to join Prichard and middle school students for Meals in the Middle, a multi-course made-from-scratch dinner planned, prepared and served by the sixth- to eighth-grade students.

The meal, which includes produce from the UGA student-run UGArden, raises money for local nonprofit organizations. The three previous Meals in the Middle have raised an average of $1,500 each, with proceeds going to the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, U-Lead Athens and the Interfaith Hospitality Network. This one will benefit Experience UGA, a partnership between UGA and the Clarke County School District that brings every CCSD student to campus for a field trip each year.

Prichard, who works for UGA Office of Service-Learning with support from UGA Cooperative Extension and CCSD, sees the dinners as a “startup company with kids,” one that builds on the education about recycling, composting, nutrition and food insecurity that the middle school students are getting through their agriscience programs

“We are making the program as we go, and the students get to participate in that process,” Prichard said. “I think there’s a general excitement felt by everyone. People love this program. It’s incredible.”

UGA’s partnerships with CCSD have led to many new opportunities for pre-K through 12th-grade students in Athens-Clarke County. A program piloted in 2009 and expanded to all Clarke County schools in 2011, brought UGA College of Education faculty into the schools to serve as professors-in-residence or on-site instructors, offering onsite guidance and mentoring to College of Education students—Georgia’s future teachers.

The school gardens sustainability program at CMS became a model for the system under Prichard’s direction and now there are AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers in all four middle schools.

“Wick’s work here has been transformative,” said Tad McMillan, CMS principal. “If our kids are not healthy, we’re not doing them any favors.”

High obesity rates make programs focusing on health and nutrition a must, McMillan said. More than 17 percent of adolescents and 35 percent of adults in Georgia are overweight, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Part of each school’s agriscience curriculum, the garden programs are a way for the students to learn about nutrition and health while having fun.

Anna Gay, now an eighth-grader at CMS, said Prichard taught her how to use a rototiller when he was the school’s VISTA volunteer.

“He’s helped me have a bigger appreciation for agriculture and gardening,” Anna said.

The March 16 Meals in the Middle will be held at the Athens Community Career Academy, 440 Dearing St. Extension, Building #1 and will benefit Experience UGA. Local chef Manny Stone, a teacher at the ACCA, will help students prepare the Italian-themed meal, using produce from UGArden, a student run garden at UGA. Tickets for the meal are $40 and can be purchased online at http://mealsinthemiddle.brownpapertickets.com/.


Writer: Christopher James, 706-542-3631, chtjames@uga.edu
Contact: Wick Prichard, 706-542-8924, warwickp@uga.edu

Note to editors: Photos are online at http://multimedia.uga.edu/media/images/PSO-Meals_in_the_Middle.jpg and http://multimedia.uga.edu/media/images/PSO-Food_at_Clarke_Middle.jpg.


March 13, 2017 No Comments

How to have a sustainable spring break

Spring break is here, and students can hardly wait for the moment when they can pack up, drive off, and be worry-free for a full week. While they have earned this much needed break from school, the places that students go over spring break are also subjected to this “worry-free” mindset. However, when students leave those places, the people there are left to clean up the mess. From the items students buy to the food they eat, everything has an impact on the world around them.

“It’s easy to use vacation as an excuse to be wasteful,” said Kevin Kirsche, UGA’s Director of Sustainability. “Instead of an excuse to be wasteful, you should look at this vacation time as a challenge to be extra conscientious and respectful of that place.”

The best way to combat waste begins before the trip. Before students purchase items to use on their trip, they should consider if they really need it, and if it will harm the environment they’re visiting. If the item is something that must be bought, students can make sure that it can be reused or recycled.

“If you’re buying a drink in a glass bottle at the store, choose aluminum instead, because it’s endlessly recyclable,” Kirsche said. “If you’re taking a cooler, make sure it’s reusable instead of styrofoam.”

Students also use spring break as a time to shop. Whether it’s new clothes or a gift for a friend, there are ways to make sure that purchase doesn’t harm the environment and community they’re in. Choosing local shops instead of large chains increases the livelihood of the people who live there while also increasing the chance that the items were made ethically.

“Spend your money at local shops and restaurants, and buy handmade products,” Kirsche said. “That will help you have a unique experience and support the people who are invested locally.”

While these actions may seem small, choosing sustainability over waste goes a long way. One of the most important ways to be sustainable is in food choice. When one person chooses to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, the planet sees that impact immediately. The same goes for eating produce that is in season and using reusable utensils.

“Most people shy away from it, but a lot of people find great health and environmental benefits through a vegetarian and vegan diet,” Kirsche said. “This, in addition to eating seasonally and carrying reusable cups, is a great place to start.”

Students are notorious for leaving trash and waste on the places they visit, and too much of this can have lasting effects on the health of that environment. Everyone wants to have a good time, but it’s important to understand the impact it can have on others.

“If you’re going there, you value that place and it’s beautiful,” Kirsche said. “Instead of trashing it, you can choose to respect the people and natural beauty of the place you’re in.”

March 9, 2017 No Comments

Zero Waste UGA

It's an all-too-common sight: banana peels, coffee grounds and other organic waste going straight into the trash bin in offices across the University of Georgia campus.

That doesn't have to be the case, though. The Campus Composting project makes it easy to turn food scraps into fertilizer for campus plants, trees and flowerbeds.

"It's pretty much taking waste that would usually go to a landfill, letting it decompose, and turning it into compost for soil," said Melissa Gurevitch, a senior environmental engineering major and intern with the UGA Office of Sustainability.

The program is part of Zero Waste UGA, an effort to send 65 percent less waste to the landfill in 2020 than the campus did in 2010, which is part of UGA's Strategic Plan.

Through this and other sustainability programs, UGA diverts about 10,000 cubic yards of organic material from the landfill each year. Food scraps from the compost bins ultimately go to the Bioconversion Center on Whitehall Road to become compost. After about a year, facilities management can use the scrap mixture to enhance the soil on campus grounds.

About 30 buildings on campus participate in the departmental composting program, which usually collects between 200 and 300 pounds of food waste a week. In 2016, 6,000 pounds of compost were collected from departments across campus.

Green composting bins lined with compostable brown bags are set up in participating buildings' break rooms — near where people put their lunches and trash. An Office of Sustainability intern collects the bins once a week.

This spring, the composting program is also trying out a new bike program for pickup and delivery. Kevin Kirsche, UGA Sustainability's director and a landscape architect, and Jason Perry, a sustainability specialist in the Office of Sustainability who manages the bike program, designed a wagon to carry the compost that is pulled behind an electric bike.

Produce such as apple cores and cucumber peels, grains like leftover bagels and coffee grounds are ideal for composting. "Coffee grounds are fantastic because they are high in nitrogen content and biodegrade easier than other scraps," said Tommy Lehner, a junior journalism major and sustainability intern who is currently collecting the bins. "And if you've ever held coffee grounds in your hands, they already feel like dirt, and smell like coffee."

In general, foods or items that are biodegradable, or can broken down safely into raw materials and disappear into soil, are OK for the bins.  "We're putting up signs above the bins that say what you can and can't put in," Lehner said.

Sandrika Walker, an administrative specialist in the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, said she likes that the compost helps UGArden, a student-run organic farm that shares produce with families in need in the Athens community. Her office has been composting for two years, donating old bread, egg shells, coffee grounds, collard green stems, fruit and much more.

She often brings food scraps from home, and she and her co-workers compete to see who can collect the most. Her office won the first departmental competition last year and received a custom tin of Jittery Joe's coffee called "Green Beans." 

"If anyone wants to compost or send their food scraps to us, we'll happily take them," Lehner said. "If we can create solutions that are easy and that everyone can do, then we're moving forward."

To request a bin for your office or building, contact the Office of Sustainability at compost@uga.edu.

For more information on Campus Compost's activities and events, visit https://sustainability.uga.edu/operations/recycling-and-compost/.

— Saleen Martin, UGA Marketing & Communications

March 7, 2017 No Comments

UGA-led research consortium presents finalists from ocean-themed short film contest at the ‘Ripple Effect Blue Carpet Premiere’ event in Athens

Finalist films from the 2017 Ripple Effect Film Project ocean-themed video contest will be showcased at the historic Morton Theatre in Athens at 5 p.m. on Saturday March 25, 2017.

The contest was launched last fall as a partnership between a team of University of Georgia-based marine scientists and several local and statewide conservation agencies to promote increased understanding of the connection between human activities and ocean health.

The research consortium Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf includes 29 researchers from 15 institutions and is led by Samantha Joye, Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences in UGA’s department of marine sciences. In addition to cutting-edge scientific research on the Gulf of Mexico, a primary goal of the consortium is to engage with the public about the group’s scientific activities and the importance of healthy ocean systems.

Filmmakers from around the state were asked to submit short films on a broad range of topics that connect human behavior to the health of the world’s oceans, including transportation choices, clean waterways, and the impact of our choices around food, water, and energy consumption.

“We’re excited to co-present with Ripple Effect—an important part of our work is to engage with the public about our research and the importance of ocean health and sustainability—not just for the Gulf of Mexico but for all oceans,” Joye said.

The Ripple Effect Film Project was founded in 2013 by the Athens-Clarke County Office of Water Conservation in conjunction with EcoFocus Film Festival. Since then hundreds of filmmakers have had their films included in the annual “Blue Carpet Premiere” event in Athens. In addition to ECOGIG and Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation, presenting partners include Athens-Clarke County Stormwater Division and Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful.

Tickets to the event $5 and are available for advance purchase at www.mortontheatre.tix.com

Further information about ECOGIG and Ripple Effect Film Project may be found at www.ecogig.org and www.rippleeffectfilmproject.org.

March 2, 2017 No Comments

Shades of Green: Scientists and engineers help turn ocean plastic into new products

Athens, Ga. – Two years ago, socially conscious entrepreneurs Rob Ianelli and Ryan Schoenike founded their company, Norton Point, to manufacture sunglasses made from the huge amounts of plastic cleaned up from ocean coastlines.

Their goal was to be a part of the solution to one of the planet’s greatest challenges: the 8 million tons of plastic entering Earth’s oceans each year. Moreover, they wanted to reinvest their profits in research, education and development efforts that help reduce the impact of ocean plastic.

Now, engineers and polymer scientists with the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute are helping Norton Point, which is based in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, with testing of its “ocean plastics” products and finding new product applications.

“Packaging represents about half of all plastics produced, and single-use plastic items make up the majority of what is found on beaches,” said Jenna Jambeck, associate professor of engineering and director of Center for Circular Materials Management in the New Materials Institute.

Her study of ocean plastics, published in the journal Science in 2015, quantified for the first time the amount of plastics flowing into the earth’s oceans, drawing worldwide attention to the issue.

Jambeck’s study was published at an opportune time for the Norton Point founders, who had been exploring the idea of manufacturing sunglasses from ocean plastics. “But we were concerned about doing it right,” said Schoenike. 

They connected for the first time with Jambeck last year at an Oceans conference, and since then, Schoenike said, the New Materials Institute has “moved our goals and the issue forward” together.

Jambeck explained that one of the plastics used in single-use plastic products is high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, which doesn’t biodegrade. “It only breaks down in the environment by creating smaller and smaller fragments,” she said.

Jambeck said we need to ask how we can recapture the valuable resources in materials like littered plastics—that is, repurpose them into new products.

“By changing the way we think about waste,” she said, “valuing the management of it, collecting, capturing and containing it, we can open up new jobs and opportunities for economic innovation, and in addition, improve the living conditions and health for millions of people around the world and protect our oceans.”

New Materials Institute researchers will work with Norton Point to help make “green” products from re-purposed plastics obtained from locations around the globe.

“Norton Point wants to know how the recycled materials respond to different manufacturing processes like extrusion and injection molding, and how they compare with virgin petroleum-based high-density polyethylene in terms of qualities like impact-resistance, toughness and durability,” said Jason Locklin, director of UGA’s New Materials Institute and associate professor of chemistry and engineering at UGA.

The institute also is looking to help Norton Point identify new types of products that make the best use of the material properties of ocean plastics.

In the same way that claims on other types of post-consumer waste are regulated, the New Materials Institute plans to explore the potential for certification and labeling of ocean plastics.




Writer: Terry Marie Hastings, thasting@uga.edu, 706-542-5941
Contact: Jenna Jambeck, jjambeck@uga.edu, 706-542-6454


Note to editors: The following photos are available online:


Cutline: Each pair of sunglasses manufactured by Norton Point bears the latitude and longitude of its ocean plastic’s origin. In addition to Haiti, the company has identified ocean plastics from Indonesia and Hong Kong as potential collection streams (Credit: Amy Ware).


Cutline: Jenna Jambeck and Jason Locklin of UGA’s New Materials Institute help companies develop sustainable materials and practices based on green engineering principles (Credit: Amy Ware).

This release is available online at https://news.uga.edu/releases/article/ocean-plastic-into-new-products/.

February 28, 2017 No Comments

UGA law school’s Red Clay conference to focus on emerging issues in environmental law

 “Emerging Issues in Environmental Law” is the title of the 29th Annual Red Clay Conference to be held March 24 in the University of Georgia School of Law’s Larry Walker Room in Dean Rusk Hall.

The daylong program will include three panel discussions focusing on the management of coal ash in the wake of changes to Environmental Protection Agency and Environmental Protection Division rules pertaining to solid waste management, transboundary water issues stemming from the Florida v. Georgia litigation, and the future of the Clean Power Plan and other air regulatory matters.

Judson H. “Jud” Turner, the former director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, will deliver the keynote address. Community Newspapers, Inc. President Dink NeSmith will also provide a special address.

Turner, who is currently a practitioner in residence at Georgia Law, completed his service as director of the EPD, the state’s chief environmental regulator, in June 2016. He has also worked as director of the Governor’s Office of Interagency Coordination and Management of Water Resources, and he presently serves as special assistant attorney general in Florida v. Georgia and in other matters involving the state’s shared river basins. In 2008, Turner founded the law firm Turner, Bachman & Garrett specializing in administrative and regulatory law, governmental affairs and litigation, with a focus on water resources law, as well as environmental and education law. In addition, Turner was a founding partner of Georgia360, a multidisciplinary government relations firm. From 2005 to 2008, he served initially as deputy and then as executive counsel to Gov. Sonny Perdue. He earned his undergraduate degree from UGA and his law degree from the University of Virginia.

The conference, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and includes breakfast and lunch for registered attendees, is open to the public and is free for members of the UGA community. The cost for non-UGA members is $10. For attorneys seeking continuing legal education credits of 5 hours, the cost is $60. 

The annual Red Clay Conference aims to increase public awareness of environmental issues of regional, national and international significance through a series of educational presentations and open forum discussions. It is entirely student-organized by members of the law school’s Environmental Law Association.

For more information or to register for the conference, please visit www.law.uga.edu/environmental-law-association.




Writer: Lona Panter, 706-542-5172, lonap@uga.edu
Contact: Ethan Morris, em01833@uga.edu


UGA School of Law
Consistently regarded as one of the nation’s top public law schools, Georgia Law was established in 1859. Its accomplished faculty includes authors of some of the country’s leading legal scholarship. The school offers three degrees – the Juris Doctor, the Master of Laws and the Master in the Study of Law – and is home to the Dean Rusk International Law Center. Georgia Law is proud of its long-standing commitment of providing first-rate legal training for future leaders who will serve state and nation in both the public and private sectors. For more information, see www.law.uga.edu.

February 28, 2017 No Comments

5 ways to eat more sustainably at the dining halls

Food production accounts for 25 percent of the energy consumed by U. S. citizens. We funnel some of our most valuable resources—fossil fuels, fresh water and arable land—into the vast business of agriculture. This practice, like many, is hardly sustainable; that is, it cannot be continued at its current rate indefinitely.

Sustainable eating will become a necessity as these resources become more scarce and the number of people on Earth that need to be fed continues to grow. With that in mind, here are five ways to eat sustainably in the dining halls here at UGA.

1) Take only as much as you’ll eat

It’s easy to overestimate a serving size in the buffet-style dining halls and just as easy to just send leftovers away into the depths of the dish return. However, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, food waste is the single largest contributor to landfills in the United States, emitting significant quantities of methane, a chief greenhouse gas.

Additionally, the energy consumed in the transportation and processing of uneaten food contributes to the global carbon footprint. To reduce this impact, take only as much food as you think you’ll eat. It minimizes waste and gives you an excuse to go back for seconds.

2) Eat seasonally

The dining hall provides a convenient variety of fruits and vegetables. However, not all may be in season. Unseasonal produce must be shipped from milder climates by truck, expending a huge amount of energy in the form of fossil fuels.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the gasoline burned by shipping vehicles emits greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbon. Research which fruits and vegetables are in season and make an effort to avoid those that aren’t. This time of year, brussels sprouts, carrots, kale and collard greens are seasonally available in Georgia.


3) Eat more veggies

Your mother’s nagging has come back to haunt you for an environmental cause. Livestock ranching requires large amounts of open land, often created by clearing forests. This deforestation destroys forest habitats and damages surrounding land via increased erosion and depleted soil nutrients.

Additionally, growing produce requires considerably less water than growing livestock. Fresh water is a rapidly decreasing resource and its proper allocation is becoming more important.  

4) Eat less meat

While vegetarianism is a personal lifestyle choice, there are undeniable environmental benefits to reducing meat intake, if not giving it up entirely. Consumers retain only 10 percent of the energy of the trophic level from they consume.

So a cow or pig only retains 10 percent of the energy of the plant matter it easts, and a human retains only 10 percent of the energy contained in that pig or cow. Eating lower on the trophic chain maximizes the amount of energy available to you in the most efficient manner. Even giving up steak for tofu once a week can make a difference, so give meatless Monday a chance.

5) Be willing to put in the effort

These changes are by no means easy, especially as a college student with what seems like a hundred different causes vying for your attention. The last thing you would think you’d have to worry about is what you’re eating at the dining halls.

However, developing sustainable habits can never hurt, no matter how unnecessary they may seem. Make an effort to consider what’s on your plate, how it was produced and where it came from.

Consider the resources that went into its production, where those resources came from and if those resources will be readily available in the future. Even the smallest changes—opting not to sprinkle bacon on your salad or putting back the roll you know you won’t finish—can make a difference.

We only have one Earth, so trEAT it well.

Written by: Gemma DiCarlo

February 23, 2017 No Comments

Rabun County’s Ladybug Farms awarded UGA students’ latest tiny house

Georgia Organics, UGA team up again to provide housing to young Georgia farmers

Athens, Ga. – It’s only 175 square feet, but it’s cozy, clean and makes all the difference in the world to a young farmer who is learning to work the land.

It’s a tiny house built by students taking a University of Georgia sustainable building course and donated to a Georgia farmer as part of Georgia Organics’ organizational push for farmer prosperity. 

Rabun County farmer Terri Jagger Blincoe of Ladybug Farms in Clayton received the keys to the tiny house in a ceremony Saturday, Feb. 18, at Georgia Organics’ 20th annual conference in Atlanta. The house will be delivered to the farm the first week of March during UGA’s spring break.

This is the second tiny house that UGA students have donated to a Georgia farmer through Georgia Organics. “Green Building and the Tiny House Movement,” a course offered jointly through the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, launched in fall 2015.

During the class, which is co-taught by FACS assistant professor Kim Skobba, housing management and policy department, and CAES associate professor David Berle, of the horticulture department, students learn about land planning and building code issues facing American cities. They also design and build a tiny house. Georgia Organics helps to fund the construction, then selects a farmer to receive the house, one who pledges to use the house to help train a younger farmer.

“This project would not happen without UGA and their sustainable building class, who designed and built the tiny house,” said Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics. “We give a valuable asset to a farmer, but it’s also an amazing educational opportunity for students to learn sustainable design.”

A Georgia Organics selection committee received several applications from farmers interested in receiving the tiny house. The farmers wrote essays explaining how they would use the house if they were to win.

Blincoe stood out because she was an established farmer with a history of hosting younger, apprentice farmers, Berle said.

Ladybug Farms distributes produce to restaurants around metro Atlanta and through a community-supported agriculture program in Atlanta’s Cabbagetown neighborhood. The farm is also active in the Northeast Georgia Farm to School program and serves as an apprenticeship site for UGA’s Journeyman Farmer Certificate Program.

“They have a unique outreach model that fit well with our purposes and with those of Georgia Organics,” Berle said.

Tiny houses enable young people to learn how to farm from older farmers or even to start farming because they solve a critical problem—the lack of on-farm housing, Berle said.

“There’s a need on many farms for housing, especially for young farmers, for interns, for apprentices,” Berle said. “There are a lot of people who are willing to share their knowledge, but [there is] not always a place for apprentices to live. And in many cases, there are farms that people would let a young farmer use, but the owners are still living in the farmhouse. Building a tiny house fills that need.”

For more information about the sustainable building class’s latest project — a trailer-based catering kitchen and accessible bathroom for use at UGArden — visit tinydawghouse.com. This latest project will be built with lumber cut on site from storm-damaged trees.




Writer: J. Merritt Melancon, jmerritt@uga.edu, 706-410-0202
Contact: David Berle, dberle@uga.edu   Kim Skobba, kskobba@uga.edu, 706-542-4951

Note to editors: The following photos are available online at


Caption: The tiny house built by University of Georgia students as part of “Green Building and the Tiny House Movement” will be delivered to Ladybug Farms in Rabun County over spring break. 


Caption: Rabun County farmer Terri Jagger Blincoe holds the ceremonial “key” to a tiny house funded by Georgia Organics and built by students in UGA’s course on “Green Building and the Tiny House Movement.” Georgia Organics Executive Director Alice Rolls, far left, UGA student Emma Courson and UGA associate professor of horticulture David Berle congratulate her. (Credit: Tom Brodnax)


Caption: Reilly Megee, a student in “Green Building and the Tiny House Movement,” saws into a piece of plywood during a workday at UGArden.


February 1, 2017 No Comments

Coal burning linked to toxic contaminants found in raccoons

Aiken, S.C. – Coal-burning power plants produce more than half of the electricity in the U.S., and they generate huge amounts of coal ash in the process. One type of coal ash is a fine, powdery particle called fly ash, which for many years was treated as waste and disposed of in landfills.

Now, researchers at the University of Georgia and University of Florida have shown that the toxic elements in fly ash accumulate in the livers of raccoons that forage for their food in and around the ponds containing the waste. Researchers say the study findings can inform communities located near the remnants of coal waste about its potential dangers to public health and the ecosystem.

Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial waste in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2012, 470 coal-fired electric utilities generated about 110 million tons of coal ash.

University of Florida doctoral student Felipe Hernández examined raccoons from two distinct habitats: one contaminated, and the other, uncontaminated, both located on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site. He worked with James Beasley, an assistant professor at UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Beasley explained that the contaminated habitat surrounds five pond-like basins that are currently undergoing remediation, or environmental cleanup procedures, but received coal waste from 1953-2012. During that time, these impoundments discharged waste into the surrounding landscape.

Hernández suspected that there would be a direct connection between the coal fly ash and what they would find in the systems of the raccoons captured from the contaminated site.

“Arsenic, selenium and lead are trace elements that are normally present in these animals at low concentrations, but we found significantly higher concentrations of these elements in the liver of the raccoons from the contaminated site,” said Hernández. “Toxic concentrations of arsenic and lead can impact the central nervous, blood, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, urinary and reproductive systems in wildlife.”

Hernández said trace elements become toxic at variable concentrations in different species, but the researchers warn that contaminants in raccoons can transfer to higher-level predators through the food chain and to humans who consume game meat.

“Our results found concentrations were 18 to 125 percent higher in the raccoons from the contaminated site,” he said.

Beasley said that the team also observed lower red and white blood cell counts in the raccoons. However, he noted, “the levels are not high enough to have substantial effects that would prove detrimental to the health of this particular population.”

“Elevated levels of these trace elements, particularly arsenic and selenium, have been previously observed and documented in a wide range of species in these habitats,” he said. “Our study is further evidence that these surface impoundments, or coal ash basins, can be a significant source of contaminant exposure for wildlife.”

The research team said its study also proves raccoons are an ideal species for studying uptake of environmental contaminants.

“They are abundant, have small home ranges and an omnivorous diet,” said Hernández. “Their uptake of the contaminant is therefore going to represent their exposure, including their dietary habits: consuming aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates, invertebrates and vegetation surrounding the ash basins.”

“As a terrestrial species, these raccoons are not living in the coal ash basins,” Beasley said. “Yet, their accumulation of contaminants reflects those found in the coal combustion waste. Most likely, they are using the impoundments as a source of food and water.”

The study, “Raccoons as Sentinels of Trace Element Contamination and Physiological Effect of Exposure to Coal Fly,” is available at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00244-016-0340-2.




Writer: Vicky L. Sutton-Jackson, 803-725-2752, vsuttonj@srel.uga.edu

Contacts: James C. Beasley, 803-725-5113, beasley@srel.uga.edu

                Felipe Hernández, 352-278-1470, fhernandez2180@ufl.edu


Note to editors: Photos of a raccoon and the Upper Three Runs Creek are available at



Cutline: Researchers at the University of Georgia and University of Florida have shown that the toxic elements in coal ash accumulate in the livers of raccoons that forage for their food in and around ponds containing the waste. Credit: Felipe Hernández; UFL.

Cutline: The water body of Upper Three Runs Creek. Credit: V. Sutton-Jackson.


Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory is a research unit of the University of Georgia located on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C. The lab pursues basic and applied research in the independent investigation of impacts from environmental factors on the SRS, around the region, the U.S., and around the globe.

Additional members on the collaboration include Samantha M. Wisely, School of Natural Resources and Environment, and Lisa Farina, Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida; Ricki Oldenkamp and Sarah Webster, UGA Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

January 31, 2017 No Comments

Student Affairs grants encourage innovative faculty research partnerships

Three University of Georgia research projects have been named as the inaugural recipients of the Student Affairs Faculty Research Grant. The grants encourage the use of Student Affairs programs and facilities as a principal laboratory for research, enhancing the role of the division in campus research.

The recipients include projects that will assess the social and financial impact of the UGA Food Scholarship, examine family relationships when students transition to college and investigate plans to improve water quality. 

Erin Richman, director of Student Affairs academic partnerships and initiatives, explains that incentivizing partnerships between Student Affairs and faculty benefits both students and researchers.

“The grants encourage researchers to access the many campus resources using our robust facilities,” said Richman. “Ultimately, we not only create innovative partnerships, but we maximize the impact of scarce research dollars.”

Recipients of the 2017 Student Affairs Faculty Research Grants are:

An Exploration of How the UGA Food Scholarship Affects Students’ Social and Financial Success in College

Georgianna L. Martin, assistant professor in the department of counseling and human development services, College of Education

Parent-Child Relationships across Students’ Transitions to College

Katie Ehrlich, assistant professor in the department of psychology and the Center for Family Research, and Anne Shaffer, associate professor in the department of psychology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Concept Plans to Improve Water Quality

Jon Calabria, associate professor in the College of Environment and Design, in partnership with the Office of Sustainability

Katie Ehrlich, a grant recipient, said that Student Affairs departments have unique access to students on campus, and she looks forward to sharing the results of her research to enhance campus programming.

“By establishing a formal partnership with Student Affairs, we hope to open the dialogue about what resources on campus are most beneficial as students enter college,” said Ehrlich.

Ehrlich said that the grant also played a role in expediting a new faculty collaboration with colleague Anne Shaffer, associate professor in the department of psychology.

“Had it not been for this award, Anne and I likely would have had a slower start to starting a joint project,” she said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Victor K. Wilson, whose office funds the grants, points to the program as rounding out his division’s support of the university’s three-part mission: teaching, research and service.

“We are proud of the excellent learning experiences and service opportunities Student Affairs offers,” Wilson said. “We have always been very supportive of research, and these grants clearly communicate Student Affairs’ desire to be a full partner in faculty research.”

The call for proposals for the 2017-2018 cycle will go out in early March with a submission deadline in May. Visit partner.studentaffairs.uga.edu for more information.




Writer: Stan Jackson, 706-542-1793, ugastan@uga.edu 
Contact: Erin Richman, 706-542-3564, erichman@uga.edu



Student Affairs Academic Partnerships and Initiatives

Academic Partnerships & Initiatives serves as a nexus between colleagues at the University of Georgia and the 18 departments of the Division of Student Affairs—including Student Affairs’ many natural laboratories, facilities, co-curricular programs, and university-wide Centers. API seeks to enhance and enrich the tripartite mission of UGA by building mutually-beneficial relationships between units that have not historically worked together, and by innovating how students, faculty and staff employ the readily available resources within the university. For more information, see partner.studentaffairs.uga.edu.


UGA Student Affairs

The Division of Student Affairs comprises 18 campus departments that enhance the learning environment for students at the University of Georgia by stimulating the learning process, integrating the in-class and out-of-class experiences, promoting an environment conducive to growth and discovery and facilitating intellectual, spiritual, social, occupational, physical, cultural and emotional development. For more information, see studentaffairs.uga.edu.

January 30, 2017 No Comments

Study identifies the Southeast’s most diverse and imperiled waterways

Athens, Ga. – After more than a year of data collection, analysis and mapping, the University of Georgia River Basin Center and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute recently published a comprehensive survey of Southeastern watersheds and the diverse aquatic wildlife that live in these freshwater ecosystems. 

The study’s creators say they hope it will serve as a master plan to guide research and conservation work that will ensure the long-term survival of these waterways, which have suffered from intensive human development.

“Rivers and streams in the U.S. are the arteries that flow through our landscape, and they carry a measure of the health of the landscape with them,” said Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute Director Anna George. “Right now, those rivers are having heart attacks.

“What we're doing is like visiting a doctor to learn how to take better care of the health of our rivers. We’ve identified some of the most important places to start a small change in our habits and how we take care of our waters.” 

Scientists scored each watershed based on three characteristics: the number of species it contained, the conservation status of those species and how widespread each species was. Areas containing a greater variety of species, large numbers of endangered or threatened species or species found in few or no other locations were ranked higher.

According to the study, the 10 highest-priority watersheds are:   

— Pickwick Lake in middle Tennessee and northern Alabama
— Wheeler Lake in middle Tennessee and northern Alabama
— Cahaba in central Alabama
— Upper Clinch in northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia
— Middle Coosa in northeast Alabama
— Lower Duck in middle Tennessee
— Conasauga in southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia
— Lower Coosa in central Alabama
— Etowah in northwest Georgia
— Caney in middle Tennessee

The report uses colored heat maps to represent the variety of species in a given area—warmer colors indicating greater diversity—and are based on the distribution of more than 1,000 fish, crayfish and mussel species in almost 300 watersheds spanning 11 states. The vivid red-and-orange bull’s-eye centered on middle and southeast Tennessee, northwest Georgia and northern Alabama shows why this region is so biologically significant.

Experts place the region’s plethora of aquatic wildlife on equal footing with that of species-rich tropical ecosystems. More than 1,400 species reside in waterways within a 500-mile radius of Chattanooga, including about three-quarters of all native fish species in the United States. More than 90 percent of all American mussel and crayfish species live within that same area.

“The Southeast’s rich aquatic communities are globally significant,” said Duncan Elkins, the study’s coordinator and a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Georgia River Basin Center, based in the Odum School of Ecology. “There’s nothing else like our biodiversity anywhere else on the continent or anywhere else in the temperate world.”

More than a quarter of the species included in the study are unique to the region, and some of them are struggling. Twenty-eight percent of Southeastern fish species, for example, are considered imperiled, more than doubling during the last 20 years.

The publication of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and River Basin Center study, which was funded by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, comes at a crucial time for Southeastern aquatic ecosystems.

Efforts to study and safeguard freshwater species in the region continue to struggle due to anemic funding and a lack of federally protected lands, especially compared to less-diverse regions, such as the Western United States.

“The Southeast has an incredible number of species, and it’s really important that we focus our attention on protecting places where we can get the most bang for our buck,” George said. “This project allows us to visualize, across the Southeast, where those places are that are so critically important for our water and wildlife.”

A full version of the study is available online at http://southeastfreshwater.org/prioritization.




Contact: Duncan Elkins, 706-623-2254, delkins@uga.edu

Note to editors: A heat map showing the watershed priority scores for the Southeast is available online at  http://multimedia.uga.edu/media/images/rbc-tnaci-priority-map.jpg.

January 25, 2017 No Comments

Tate Student Center adds private room for nursing mothers

The University of Georgia’s Tate Student Center has added a designated private room for nursing mothers.

 The space is one of 14 lactation rooms on the main campus, with others located at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and on the Health Sciences Campus. A map of UGA lactation rooms is online at http://hrdocs.uga.edu/map-campus-lactation-rooms.pdf.

 Tate’s lactation room is located on the fourth level adjacent to the Student Veterans Resource Center. Access is available through a keypad lock; users may get the code by visiting or calling the Office of the Dean of Students. 

“Previously, we would accommodate nursing mothers by making temporary space available on an as-needed basis,” said Jan Barham, associate dean of students and director of the Tate Student Center. “We’re pleased to join the university’s efforts to enhance resources for women by designating a permanent lactation room.”

The Tate Student Center is a department within UGA Student Affairs. For more information, call 706-542-7774 or see http://tate.uga.edu. For information about women’s resources on the UGA campus, see http://women.uga.edu.





Writer: Don Reagin, 706-542-7774, dreagin@uga.edu
Contact: Jan Barham, 706-542-7774, davisjk@uga.edu



UGA Student Affairs

The Division of Student Affairs comprises 18 campus departments that enhance the learning environment for students at the University of Georgia by stimulating the learning process; integrating in-class and out-of-class experiences; promoting an environment conducive to growth and discovery; and facilitating intellectual, spiritual, social, occupational, physical, cultural and emotional development. For more information, see http://studentaffairs.uga.edu.

January 23, 2017 No Comments

Athens’ first Social Justice Symposium attracts scores of people

A University of Georgia student-led workshop on social justice held Saturday in Athens attracted more than 100 people for discussions of issues ranging from criminal justice to affordable housing.

“This has been mostly students, but it also involved some community members all doing some really hard work to bring this together. We’re planning to have it every year,” said UGA graduate student Alyss Donnelly, one of the organizers.

The Social Justice Symposium, held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, was the work of students in the UGA School of Social Work.

The Rev. Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP, gave the keynote address, and said he was impressed by the attendance.

“I’m glad I’m here. There is a spirit in the air here,” he said.

Speaking more broadly, Johnson said, “I think there is a growing recognition that change will not come from the top down, but from the bottom up. It will come when people of goodwill and good ideas come together to press past the status quo.”

Llewellyn Cornelius, a professor in the UGA School of Social Work, said it was important to have students leading the workshop.

“We wanted to have the students drive this, not faculty, staff and administration,” Cornelius said, adding that it was also important that students opened the symposium to the community.

“The folks that live here are rooted in their knowledge of the community,” he said.

“I think it’s incredibly important for students to build the skills and capacities needed in order to effectively bring about positive change. We need opportunities like this for them to develop these skills,” said Rebecca Matthew, an assistant professor at the School of Social Work.

The event also honored June Gary Hopps, a professor in the social work school, with an award. In the future, the award will be presented in her name.

Students had asked Hopps, known nationally in her profession, to speak about her background during the workshop. She described growing up in a central Florida town, where as a child her family stressed faith and education.

“Civil rights were always on the forefront at our kitchen table. My folks talked about Brooker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois,” said Hopps, who joined the civil rights movement in the 1960s while attending Spelman College in Atlanta.

“I was in the first group of students arrested in Atlanta to desegregate the lunch counters. We marched in together and sat at a counter and we were pulled out,” she said.

The importance of the day’s discussions were emphasized by Yosha Dotson, a graduate student in social work who helped organize the event.

“There are so many things going on across the nation,” Dotson said. “But it’s important for us to bring up those things actually going on in Athens … we want to work on the things going on here.”

Written Wayne Ford

January 17, 2017 No Comments

UGA awards student scholarships for study abroad in sustainability

Two University of Georgia students received scholarships as part of the Office of Sustainability’s Study Abroad in Sustainability. The awards — to Katherine Russell of Moultrie, Georgia and to Jessica Parks of Jackson, Georgia — were made possible by the Brittney Fox Watts Memorial Endowment.

The endowment was established by the family of UGA alumna Brittney Fox Watts to honor her creative spirit, adventurous soul and loving heart and to empower individuals to address the health and well-being of people and communities around the globe. To date, ten scholarships have been awarded to UGA students engaging in sustainability studies and service-learning in Asia, Australia, Central America, and Europe.

Katherine Russell, an ecology major in the Odum School of Ecology, who will study abroad in Freiburg, Germany, plans to focus on the connection between culture and sustainability in order to study how cultures come to embrace sustainable practices and incorporate them into daily life.

A first-generation college student, Russell is driven by a love of her region and its people and strives to determine how “…we should live in order to conserve our land, our natural heritage, our culture, and our livelihoods.”

Jessica Parks, a Ph.D. student in the Financial Planning, Housing, and Consumer Economics program within the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, will attend the Housing and Household Economics program at UGA Costa Rica.

Parks seeks to better understand limitations that consumers (especially South Americans) face and to begin an understanding of the complex nature of Costa Rica’s financial system. Additionally, Parks believes that studying how others navigate through a universal health care system will allow her to share these tips with American families.

The Brittney Fox Watts Endowment for Study Abroad in Sustainability provides support to students who share passions for traveling, experiencing different cultures and embracing sustainable practices to address the health and well-being of individuals and communities around the globe. A $500 enhancement is provided to select UGA undergraduate and graduate students attending UGA-sponsored education abroad or exchange program focused on sustainability. The funds are provided through the generous support of family and friends of Watts to the Brittney Fox Watts Memorial Fund.

Writer: Andrew Lentini, 706-542-1301, alentini@uga.edu
Contact: Kevin Kirsche, 706-542-1301, kkirsche@uga.edu

For more information on UGA Costa Rica, see costarica.uga.edu. For more information on UGA’s Study Abroad in Freiburg, see www.gsstudies.uga.edustudy-abroad-internships/uga-study-abroad-freiburg.


UGA Office of Sustainability
The Office of Sustainability coordinates, communicates and advances sustainability initiatives at the University of Georgia. For more information, see http://sustainability.uga.edu/.

Brittney Fox Watts Memorial Endowment
As a University of Georgia alumnus, Brittney Fox Watts was a dabbler and explorer of the world around her and was wholeheartedly dedicated to doing her best work, no matter the cause, newest hobby or challenge at hand. Watts’s family joined with the Small Dreams Foundation, Inc. to create a memorial fund to honor her creative spirit, adventurous soul and loving heart.  It is their hope that this fund will provide financial support to students who share the same passions as Watts—who loved traveling the world, experiencing different cultures and supporting sustainable practices. To learn more, see http://smalldreamsfoundation.org/.



January 17, 2017 No Comments

Campus bike-share program plans for expansion to increase accessibility

When most students walk into the University of Georgia Main Library, their intentions are usually academic, in search of a book or place to study. But for Ulises Deras, a junior entertainment and media studies major from Gainesville he goes to the circulation desk to check out bikes, not books.

This program, Bulldog Bikes is a free bike-share program based on a library system where students can check out and return bikes from any of the three libraries on campus for the day.

“It’s convenient, and they’re nice bikes,” Deras said. “I really enjoy biking around the school. It makes getting to classes more fun than just walking.”

The idea started as a student-led initiative five years ago in which separate departments managed a small fleet of bikes that could be checked out to students during the day, said Jason Perry, office of sustainability program coordinator.

Sahana Srivatsan, an Office of Sustainability intern, proposed a micro-grant to jump-started Bulldog Bikes program and made it into the standardized library system the University now has in place.

There are currently 15 bikes in the fleet plus spares, and last spring semester the bikes were checked out for about 1,300 hours, Perry said. However, the program has no advertising other than the bikes themselves outside the libraries and posters inside.

Deras said he doesn’t know anyone who uses or knows much about the program, besides running into fellow students bringing bikes back to the rack.

“I saw it on the library website, and from there I was like, ‘Oh bikes,’ and I just checked one out one day to see if I liked it, and I kept doing it,” Deras said.

In order to use the program, students can register online or at the library and go to the circulation desk and request a bike. The student gets a helmet and a key with the bike number on it, and they must bring it back by the end of the day.

Perry said there are mechanics who maintain the aluminum bikes weekly, though Deras said he has had minor trouble with tightening the seat or some problems with the brakes.

Otherwise, Deras said that it’s a little inconvenient that the bikes have to be brought back to a library at the end of the day.

Bulldog Bikes is looking toward expanding the program to be larger and more accessible, but there are no concrete plans so far.

“We’re investigating commercially available options to be more automated and ways to implement that, but we’re still in pretty early stages of this,” Perry said.

BikeAthens, an advocacy and service group for promoting biking and walking, is also beginning to look into a community bike-share program.

“The big question is how to make it a viable option, particularly economically,” said Tyler Dewey, executive director of BikeAthens. “There are informal discussions all the time on what bike share in Athens would look like.”

In the meantime, the Office of Sustainability and BikeAthens work together to create safer streets for all transportation on campus and in the city. They meet with other organizations like transit and parking services and the Athens-Clarke County and UGA police departments to discuss the Complete Streets initiative, which aims to make all streets safe and efficient to bikers, walkers and drivers.

The League of American Bicyclists named UGA a Bronze Bike Friendly Campus and Athens a Bronze Bike Friendly Community at the end of last year for the community’s biking infrastructure and programs.

In 2011, the UGA received an honorable mention from the League and since then Perry said they used that feedback to improve streets like the efforts seen on Sanford Drive.

“Bikes are one component of getting people around in a densely populated campus,” Perry said. “It all has to fit together and not take away from walking or buses.”

Both Perry and his wife have ridden their bikes to work for the past nine years.

“Through improvements over the years to bike infrastructure on campus, there’s a noticeable increase in people riding bikes,” he said. “Since more are doing it, more are aware it’s safe, and the community becomes more bike friendly.”

 Written by: Erin Schilling @erinschilling85
January 11, 2017 No Comments

UGA researchers receive $1.3 million Moore Foundation grant to study the global ocean microbiome

Athens, Ga. – A $1.3 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will allow University of Georgia researchers to uncover answers about an important metabolic link that takes place in the Earth’s oceans.
Microorganisms in the largest microbial habitat on Earth, the ocean microbiome, function similarly to microorganisms in the human gut; they perform chemical transformations that keep the whole system healthy.

Phytoplankton, the microbial primary producers of the ocean, take up carbon dioxide and provide the building blocks for all marine life, while bacteria use these building blocks to direct the carbon to different functions in the ocean.

And while the billions of marine microorganisms present in every liter of seawater represent a structured ecological community that regulates how the Earth functions, from energy consumption to respiration, and including the operation of carbon and nitrogen cycles, the precise metabolic links between phytoplankton and bacteria have proven difficult to analyze.

Now, thanks to the Moore Foundation grant, UGA researchers are working to uncover the details of these metabolic transformations to assess the rates at which metabolites move between microbial primary producers and consumers in the surface ocean.

“The flux of key phytoplankton-derived metabolites into other marine organisms is the foundation of ocean biology,” said Mary Ann Moran, Distinguished Research Professor of Marine Sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator on the grant. “We’re looking at the step after marine phytoplankton use CO2 to create the building blocks: How fast are specific metabolites released from these primary producers cycled by bacteria?”

The importance of carbon cycling on Earth is clear, but understanding how carbon is obtained by bacteria, sustains bacterial growth and respiration, and connects the various microbial communities of the ocean has proven surprisingly elusive. How much carbon gets stored in the ocean and what sets that amount is also difficult to quantify because of the challenging chemistry involved and the fact that current techniques are hindered by the presence of salt in seawater.

“Half of the carbon fixation on Earth is carried out by marine phytoplankton, and half of that gets released to bacteria. So for a full quarter of the world’s total photosynthesis we are missing information about how metabolites are transformed at the earliest stages,” said Arthur Edison, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in the Franklin College department of biochemistry and molecular biology, department of genetics, Institute of Bioinformatics and Complex Carbohydrate Research Center.

The UGA team designed a research plan that tracks chemicals of interest into bacterial cells, requiring a combination of new technologies and recent innovations in conventional spectroscopy.

“It’s a real challenge to separate small metabolites from the salt in seawater,” Edison said. “The metabolites exist in vanishingly low concentrations and are very difficult to measure.”

The team will use nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, most commonly known as NMR spectroscopy, a research technique that exploits the magnetic properties of certain atomic nuclei to observe specific metabolites.

“But the game changer that will really give us a sensitive signal is called dissolution dynamic nuclear polarization,” Edison said. “This tool, plus a lot of patience in the lab, will allow us to see one molecule change into another, change into another, change into another, as long as the signal lasts.”

“That will allow us to see the flux of the relevant compounds into a bacterial cell, and be able to measure how fast the metabolites are entering and what they’re being converted into inside the cell,” Moran said.

The team will also deploy metabolite decoys into the ocean to capture proteins that interact with the decoys either during transport into cells or once they are inside.

Collaborators in the use of these new approaches are Elizabeth Kujawinski at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Aaron Wright at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Washington State University

The research will use lab cultures of bacteria isolated from various locations in the ocean including off the coast of Georgia’s Sapelo Island, and field studies with natural microbial communities.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, visit Moore.org or follow @MooreFound. 




Writer: Alan Flurry, 706-542-3331, aflurry@uga.edu
Contact: Mary Ann Moran, 706-542-6481, mmoran@uga.edu
Art Edison, 706-542-8156,  aedison@uga.edu

This release is available online at http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/moore-foundation-ocean-microbiome


December 12, 2016 No Comments

UGA plans to clean up polluted Lake Herrick

The University of Georgia will clean up polluted Lake Herrick, whose waters have been off limits to the public since a 2002 algae bloom vividly showed off the man-made lake’s high pollution load.

University of Georgia Vice President for Research David Lee touted the impending cleanup of Lake Allyn M. Herrick this week as he spoke at the university’s “Sustainability Summit,” where students and faculty talk about sustainability projects they’ve undertaken, or ones they’re planning.

“What a black eye on the university,” he said.

Exactly what form the clean-up will take remains to be seen, said UGA Environmental Coordinator Kevin Kirsche.

The university has contracted with design firms in the first part of the restoration. Final design plans should be ready by around March, with construction to begin next fall. UGA is getting some help for the restoration from the Southern Company and the Riverview Foundation.

A 2006 restoration plan called for restoring an upper pond which filtered out some pollution before it reached Lake Herrick, but that was shelved after planners in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources discovered that restoring the dam would entail an extensive repair of the upper pond’s dam.

Built in 1982 and named for a long-serving dean of the Warnell School, Lake Allyn M. Herrick is a part of the Oconee Forest property managed by the Warnell School at the back end of UGA’s intramural sports complex off College Station Road. Its drainage area includes a part of Five Points, UGA intramural playing fields and extends to the nearby Athens Perimeter.

The upper pond, dry now for the most part, is also partially filled with sediment, some from construction such as UGA’s bus facility on Riverbend Road, according to one of the numerous studies UGA scientists and students have conducted on Herrick and its pollution. Pollution problems showed up almost as soon as the lake opened. It soon became a favorite for fishing, but managers couldn’t maintain a healthy fish population.

Lake Herrick has also become perhaps Athens’ top birding spot, and probably the city’s most-studied water feature. UGA scientists and students have been studying Lake Herrick’s problems for decades.

The upper pond, now drained and more like a wetland than a water body, will be at the center of the first phase, which could include restoring the pond or even converting it into a wetland, Kirsche said. At the same time and later, the university will also take steps further out into the lake’s 248-acre watershed to reduce pollution coming into the lake.

One recent study proposed the construction of storm water detention basins at the Perimeter, at UGA’s Transit Center, or in the UGA property adjacent to the lake.

Improving the quality of water flowing into the lake might involve finding a way to cut down on dog poop in the watershed.

Bacteria is the chief pollution problem for Herrick, said Tara Byers, a program coordinator in the UGA Office of Sustainability. Monitors see higher overall pollution loads on Lily Branch and Tanyard Creek, two streams that flow through the campus, she said.

“It’s not terrible,” she said.

The water is clean enough now to allow boating activities, concluded students in a 2014 environmental practicum who studied the feasibility of cleaning up Lake Herrick.

Follow Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer

December 8, 2016 No Comments

UGA students awarded grants for innovative sustainability solutions

Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia awarded $40,000 to fund 11 interdisciplinary student projects through the Office of Sustainability’s annual Campus Sustainability Grants program. Funded by student green fees, the program provides financial and staff resources to help students implement projects that further the university’s sustainability mission.

Project proposals were received from interdisciplinary student teams across multiple academic disciplines. A selection committee of students, faculty and staff made the final recommendations for projects to receive funding for implementation in 2017. Students were given freedom to develop and propose innovative solutions to address goals in UGA’s 2020 Strategic Plan to promote stewardship of natural resources and advance sustainability research, education and service at UGA and beyond.

Since inception of the Campus Sustainability Grants program in 2010, the Office of Sustainability has awarded a total of $210,000 to fund 58 student-initiated projects on campus and in the community.

“Campus Sustainability Grants provide opportunities for innovation and experiential learning” said Kevin Kirsche, UGA Director of Sustainability.  “Students are asked to envision better solutions to current challenges and are provided resources to take their ideas from concept to completion.”

Recipients of the 2017 Campus Sustainability Grants are as follows:

Utilizing Floating Wetlands to Improve Water Quality in Lake Herrick

Sarah Hensey, in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, under the direction of Dr. Susan Wilde, will construct an aquatic system of floating plant material designed to improve water quality in Lake Herrick. Other student collaborators include Aaron Trimble, Cody Matteson, Muhan (Harry) Qiu, and Jordan Francis.

Sustainable Inspection of Campus Facilities using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Technology

Julian Moore and John Box, in the College of Engineering, under the direction of Dr. Zion Tse will utilize drones to provide low-cost, high efficiency inspection of roofs, moisture, and radiant heat on campus structures.

Sunshine Savings Initiative

Tommy Lehner, in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, under the direction of Jason Perry, will use enhanced lighting controls to conserve energy in the Miller Learning Center.

Development of a tensiometer and automated irrigation controller to reduce irrigation water use

Jesse Lafian, in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, under the direction of Dr. Marc Van Iersel, will measure soil moisture to determine optimal timing for irrigation.

Missing Spokes: Mapping Diverse Bicycling Experiences in Athens, GA

Ian Rossiter, a Geography Masters student in Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, under the direction of Dr. Jerry Shannon, will collect comprehensive and representative data necessary to develop an equitable bike master plan. Other student collaborators include with Sam Webber, David Rickless, Sam Tingle, and Stephen Jordan.

A Focus on Learning: FACS Hygiene Closet

Anna Beth Smith, in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, under the direction of Dr. Cara Simmons, will expand the FACS Hygiene Closet by installing additional shelves and purchasing needed items to better serve students in need. Other student collaborators include Erika Massie and Dana Carney.

Measuring the effectiveness of sustainable stormwater design at the Science Learning Center

Callie Oldfield, a plant biology PhD student in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, under the direction of Dr. Chris Peterson & Dr. Michelle Momany, will evaluate the effectiveness of recently installed stormwater infrastructure around the Science Learning Center and increase awareness of sustainable stormwater practices among students and the public. Other student collaborators include Molly Smith, DeShantra Kelly, Ansley Vardeman, Jeffrey Rones and Tae-In Lee.

Vegetated Rooftop Rejuvenation Project

Grace Catherine Peoples, a student in the School of Public and International Affairs, under the direction of Dr. Todd Rasmussen, will enhance the green roof at Boyd Hall.

Regenerative Gym Equipment

Nico Hoernle, a student in the College of Engineering, under the direction of Dr. Javad Velni, will create an exercise spin bike that generates electricity. Other student collaborators include Hayden Salyer and Josef Provatakis.

Testing Model Predictive Control to Determine On-Campus HVAC Energy Reduction 

Matthew Becton, a PhD student in the College of Engineering, along with biochemical engineering student Nicholas Winter, will work to conserve energy in campus buildings through software that predicts outdoor temperatures under the direction of Dr. Xianqiao Wang.

Dodd’s and Ends

Kira Hegeman, an Art Education PhD student in the Lamar Dodd School of Art, under the direction of Chris McDowell, will enhance learning among students and teachers in local middle schools through hands-on design and construction using salvaged materials. Other student collaborators include Isabel Hinsch and Hary Harrison.



December 8, 2016 No Comments

UGA showcases its sustainability progress

The University of Georgia is becoming more sustainable in big ways and small, judging from speakers at a UGA “sustainability summit” Tuesday.

On the big side, the university has decreased its overall water use by 30 percent over the past decade, UGA Vice President for Research David Lee told more than 200 people gathered in the university’s Jackson Street Building.

UGA is also using 20 percent less energy, Lee said and will easily make a goal of 25 percent reduction by 2020, Lee said.

It’s actually UGA’s energy per square foot that has gone down; overall energy consumption has been relatively unchanging because the university has added square feet at about the same rate as energy efficiency improves. Officials do expect to see overall energy use declining in the future.

Lee also noted UGA’s many sustainability-related research projects. Some $185 million in UGA research grants are related to sustainability, he said, citing such areas as biofuels and the quest to make degradable plastics.

The vice president also mentioned the Georgia Power Company’s solar facility next to the university’s club sports fields on South Milledge Avenue. The facility generates 1 million megawatts of electricity, fed into the state’s power grid, and is the subject of a two-year research project for students and faculty in the College of Engineering.

Kevin Kirsche, UGA’s sustainability coordinator, pointed out energy-and water-saving features in the building where the environmental summit was held — an energy-saving chilled-beam cooling system, toilets that flush with recycled water and above, the only solar panels installed on any campus buildings.

“It’s a wonderful place to celebrate sustainability,” he said.

Some future and ongoing projects will also help, he said.

The University of Georgia’s campus transit system, the largest in the country, is aiming for zero tailpipe emissions. With help from a federal grant, the university has replaced about a third of its bus fleet with electric businesses with a goal of eventually having an all-electric fleet, Kirsche said.

Student Mason Towe, who’s worked with the an intern in the sustainability office for three years, touted UGA recycling efforts.

Two years ago, 29 buildings had paired trash receptacles — one for materials that must go the landfill, the one beside it for recyclables. Now 150 buildings have those paired receptacles, Towe said.

In addition, more than 80 “Big Belly” solar-powered disposal units now dot the campus.

Posters showed other student research, including one on saving energy by not keeping cell phone chargers plugged in when they’re not charging.

Each one uses only a tiny amount of electricity, but with 36,000 students, that can add up.

A project to clean up polluted Lake Herrick will also soon get underway, Kirsche said.

Another student, Carson Dann, outlined plans to make a place for pollinators at a green roof garden on UGA’s Geography-Geology Building.

Written by: Lee Shearer
Follow Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer

Clarifying statement from Kevin Kirsche:

UGA has not yet added the electric busses to our fleet.  They are planned for 2017 and will replace approximately 1/3 of the existing diesel buses.

Funding for the new electric buses is coming from the State of Georgia Go Transit! Initiative.


November 29, 2016 No Comments

UGA named a Bronze Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists

Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia received a Bronze Bicycle Friendly University award by the League of American Bicyclists for its commitment to safe, enjoyable and convenient bicycling for students, faculty, staff and visitors.

“We’re proud of this distinction and we remain committed to creating safe, convenient bicycle infrastructure and programs at UGA,” said Kevin Kirsche, director of sustainability at UGA.

UGA was part of a group of 51 new and renewing bike friendly universities from 25 states recognized. Athens-Clarke County also received a Bronze Bike Friendly Community award, and BikeAthens was named a Silver Bike Friendly Business.

To date, UGA has over 16 miles of bike lanes, trails and shared use paths on campus; over 600 members of the UGA community participate in Bulldog Bikes bike share; and more than 20 students have received refurbished bikes through the reCYCLE bike donation program. UGA holds pop-up bike safety checks and has made improvements to campus bicycle infrastructure including the contraflow bike lane and green bike box on Sanford Drive.

“Getting here has been a real team effort over the past several years,” said Jason Perry of the UGA Office of Sustainability. “Transportation and Parking Services, the Office of University Architects, Facilities Management Division, UGA Police, Recreational Sports, and the College of Public Health-as well as community partners such as BikeAthens and the Athens-Clarke County Department of Transportation and Public Works-have all played crucial roles to improve the bicycling infrastructure and culture at UGA.”

To learn more about Bicycle Friendly University and other programs of the League of American Bicyclists, visit bikeleague.org/BFA.

For more information on bicycling at UGA, see sustainability.uga.edu/bike.

November 2, 2016 No Comments

UGA-led consortium, conservation agencies to present statewide ocean-themed film contest

Athens, Ga. - A team of University of Georgia-based marine researchers investigating the impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico are teaming up with local and statewide conservation agencies to co-present the 2017 Ripple Effect Film Project.

The research consortium Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf includes 29 researchers from 15 institutions and is led by Samantha Joye, Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences in UGA's department of marine sciences. In addition to cutting-edge scientific research on the Gulf of Mexico, a primary goal of the consortium is to engage with the public about the group's scientific activities and the importance of healthy ocean systems.

The Ripple Effect Film Project is accepting short films and public service announcement submissions that focus on the 2017 theme "ocean connections" through Jan. 31. Submissions are open to filmmakers of all ages and abilities from around Georgia. Finalists' films will be showcased at the historic Morton Theatre in Athens on March 25.

This year submissions are not restricted to Athens-Clarke County residents or water conservation and stormwater protection topics, but are open to films from around the state on a broad range of topics that connect human behavior to the health of the world's oceans.

"We're excited to partner with Ripple Effect-daily choices about food, water and energy consumption impact ocean ecosystems whether we live inland or on the coast. The Ripple Effect partnership represents an exciting new way to engage with people about the importance of ocean health and sustainability-not just for the Gulf of Mexico but for all oceans," Joye said.

The Ripple Effect Film Project was founded in 2013 by the Athens-Clarke County Office of Water Conservation in conjunction with EcoFocus Film Festival. Since then hundreds of filmmakers have had their films included in the annual "Blue Carpet Premiere" event in Athens. In addition to ECOGIG and Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation, presenting partners include Athens-Clarke County Stormwater Division and Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful.

Further information about ECOGIG and Ripple Effect Film Project may be found at www.ecogig.org and www.rippleeffectfilmproject.org. Film entries may be submitted through https://filmfreeway.com/festival/RippleEffectFilmProject.


Writer:Sara Beresford
Contact:Samantha B. Joye

October 21, 2016 No Comments

Radiance Solar completes solar research facility at University of Georgia

Radiance Solar announced that it has completed a grid-tied, 1.25MW solar research project designed for studying solar panel performance at the University of Georgia.

The installation was developed on a four-hectare site leased to project owner Georgia Power by the University of Georgia. The renewable energy credits generated from the operation of the facility will be owned by the University of Georgia.

As the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor, Radiance Solar designed and engineered the installation — which showcases optimal orientation and tracking technology that fits in with Georgia’s climate and energy demand.

Project partners Southern Company, the Electric Power Reliability Institute (EPRI) and the University of Georgia will study performance and reliability factors in order to get a better grasp on regional integration of solar on the grid.

The installation consists of five sub arrays that use differing solar technologies, including high-efficiency 435W solar panels, single-axis trackers and monitoring from SunPower, SMA Tripower inverters, Sonnen dual-axis trackers and Brilliant Rack fixed-tilt racking in various configurations.

James Marlow, CEO and co-founder of Radiance Solar, said: “We are proud to be a part of the team that is advancing solar in Georgia. This is the kind of investment that will further the efficiencies of the technology and help us understand the potential of solar as a cost-effective energy resource for our state.”

Written by Conor Ryan