The University of Northern Iowa Conservation Corps is an initiative funded through a grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust. The Corps’ purpose is to engage UNI students, faculty and staff alongside members of the community to examine some of the largest environmental challenges we face. Eric Giddens, Energy Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE) at UNI is leading this three-year project.
There are four different areas in which the Conservation Corps works, including the Community Energy and Climate Action Program. This program works with communities to develop personalized climate action plans. Making changes at the state or federal level are important, but are sometimes out of the reach of the general public. Impacting actions people take in their home and the services a community provides are a way to start positive change for our environment. The UNI Conservation Corps works with local governments to create a set of strategies that they will implement as their budgets and time allow. They also estimate the measurable impacts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Community Energy and Climate Action Program is unique because of the involvement of UNI faculty and students. It provides students with real-world experience, directly serving Iowa’s communities. Some students work directly within the program as student fellows. Other students are exposed to the program through their coursework. The program is built into some courses, such as Dr. Alex Oberle’s Regional Analysis and Planning course in the Geography Department. In Oberle’s course, students have completed greenhouse gas inventories for communities, provided possible reduction strategies, and calculated emissions reduction potentials for each strategy. These communities can then choose to investigate further and select which strategies to implement.
Changing the ways communities plan future development is a way to reduce emissions. Master plans with roundabouts, bike trails, and more accessible public transportation are key to reducing the dependency on personal travel and the impacts that vehicles have. Roundabouts lessen the amount of idle time on the road which reduces fuel use. Bike trails encourage commuting by providing a safer way for bikers to commute as well as provide additional recreational opportunities. Better and more accessible public transportation systems encourage more use, therefore reducing the number of vehicles on the road. All of these energy reductions start with community planning.
At the community level, collectively, residents can make a huge impact. The preferable way is to simply reduce consumption. Currently, our population has an unsustainable consumption level of energy, food, and products. A cultural shift in how people live can make a significant difference. Residents can start by utilizing efficient technologies and renewable sources of energy.
In the spring of 2018, the UNI Conservation Corps won the Iowa Campus Compact (IACC) Emerging Innovation Award for the Community Energy & Climate Action Program. The criteria for this award is a recent project making unique and innovative contributions. Awardees must also demonstrate strong future potential.
The IACC is a statewide association of college and university presidents providing leadership for the civic mission of higher education. The goals of the IACC are to encourage students to become engaged citizens, develop community partnerships resulting in student learning, community impact, and institutional success. IACC awards individuals and groups for engaging communities and demonstrating leadership, service, and innovative ideas on college campuses across Iowa. The UNI Conservation Corps fit this perfectly.
For the past three years, the Corps has been able to investigate the feasibility and effectiveness of the Community Energy and Climate Action program. It has also hosted several invited speakers which has set the stage for the creation of the Aldo Leopold Distinguished Lecture Series, which will continue after the Roy J. Carver Trust grant has ended. Some professors have made UNI Conservation Corps projects a permanent part of their course curriculums. It is the hope of the UNI Conservation Corps that work in all four areas will be self-sustaining while continuing to assist governments, involve students and educate the public.
UNI Conservation Corps Current Work
- Community Energy Planning: Assisting local governments with strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. https://ceee.uni.edu/community-energy-climate-action
- Good Neighbor Iowa: Encouraging landowners to manage lawns without the use of pesticides to protect children’s health and water quality. https://goodneighboriowa.org/
- Pollinator Habitat Evaluation Project: Engaging UNI Biology students, assisting farmers, and improving the nationwide Conservation Reserve Program. https://www.tallgrassprairiecenter.org/pollinator-habitat-evaluation-pro...
- Science in the Media: Providing tools for journalists to report better environmental science stories in Iowa. http://scienceinthemedia.org/