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UNO Magazine |  Summer 2011:  Earth, Wind & Fire 


The Colleges

And a River Runs By It

It’s unlikely many Omahans have heard of the T.L. Davis Prairie, a 23-acre plot hugging the Elkhorn River in southwest Omaha.

For more than a dozen years, though, this has been a second home of sorts to UNO Biology Professor Alan Kolok (pictured). From the prairie, Kolok has been able to access the Elkhorn, monitoring the river’s health as director of UNO’s Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory.

Now, with the construction of a $375,000, 200-square-foot research station on the river’s bank, Kolok and students can improve on that research.

Kolok’s interest in the Elkhorn River began in 1998 when he worked with University of Florida researchers to determine how nearby cattle feedlots contaminated the waterway. The research, published in 2004, showed that contaminants were causing female fish to lose their ability to reproduce.

But, says Kolok, the Florida group’s research left him wanting more.

“They … collected samples feverishly for a week, flew back and they’ve never been back,” Kolok says. “Well, we can do a lot better than that.”

The first step toward better data collection came when the University of Nebraska Foundation provided the T.L. Davis Prairie to UNO in 2005 via a perpetual lease. The land had been donated by an Omaha businessman and named in honor of his father.

Four years after UNO acquired the land, Kolok and others, including College of Arts and Sciences Dean David Boocker, began to obtain research funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Papio-Missouri River National Resources District. UNO’s College of Arts and Sciences and Academic and Student Affairs also contributed.

Construction of the research station began in October 2010. Inside it includes 12 aquaria stocked with species from UNO’s fish colony. It is electronically connected to UNO for transfer of real-time water quality data and other information.

Kolok began collecting data in April. He’ll continue to do so each year from spring through November, determining how much contamination in the river is coming from rural runoff, pesticides, animal steroids and industrial waste. He’ll post his findings online.

“I think it’s one of the most interesting and important kinds of projects that has legs in the college right now,” Boocker says. “It is not just a research station; it is a research station that has a strong educational mission and outreach into schools. That’s really what sells me more than anything else.”

The outreach programs include the proposal and operation of experiments by high school students from the Elkhorn River area. That could include stipends to carry out the work.

“If you have an experiment that you can design, you can come to our research station and run your experiment and we will pay you to do it,” Kolok says.

Students will produce short videos that take others through the scientific process, from the initial question to the results of the study. The videos would be posted online for other students to look at and use as starting points for future research at the station or in other areas.

“What we’re really looking at is the concept of students teaching other students,” Kolok says. “It’s kind of cool and innovative from that perspective.”

The importance of this kind of outreach, Kolok says, is that many students today have to deal with information overload.

“I don’t care whether we find contaminants or if we don’t — that’s irrelevant,” he says. “The point is that we’re going to have a mechanism by which we can ask the questions and then get those questions into information that’s useful.”

For Kolok and Boocker, the Elkhorn River is just the beginning of what they would like to see happen with the project.  

“What we’re doing in the Elkhorn I think is a prototype for what could be done on any and every river,” Boocker says.

— Charles Reed, University Relations

 

Leeding by Example

It’s been nearly a year since UNO’s College of Business Administration relocated to its stunning and state-of-the-art new home, Mammel Hall. The 120,000-square-foot facility opened to rave reviews, and not just because it was easy on the eyes — it’s easy on the environment, too.

Mammel Hall, however, isn’t CBA’s only eco-friendly initiative. The college in various ways is trying to help businesses reduce their energy costs, while faculty and staff incorporate green studies into assorted curricula.

“As nice as it is to be working in a great facility,” says Rick Yoder of CBA’s Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC), “it’s even nicer to have the collective efforts of campus and community working for future improvements.”

Granted, those efforts shine most brightly with Mammel Hall. In January it became the first building within the University of Nebraska system to earn LEED gold certification for its green and energy-saving features. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized green building certification system. LEED provides third-party verification on construction projects built using strategies aimed at energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

Among the features earning Mammel Hall LEED certification:

• Expansive windows that allow significant sunlight to stream in throughout the day.
• 97 percent of Mammel Hall’s construction waste was diverted from landfills.
• Proximity to campus and city bus routes.
• Energy-efficient light fixtures that reduce overall energy consumption up to 30 percent.
• Diversion of 20 percent of the rainwater that falls on and around Mammel Hall to recharge the aquifer and reduce the demand on storm sewers.

“Many businesses have and are making the change to be more green, and many businesses are being created to provide green services and products,” says Yoder, director of NBDC’s Pollution Prevention Regional Information Center. “What I think most of us are happiest about is that Mammel Hall — and the evolving initiative in sustainability — is representative of what can be accomplished through the great work of a team of many people from across the campus and the community.”

Local, global
CBA’s other eco-friendly strides are taking faculty and students through Omaha and around the world.

In recent years the college has participated in a tour of homes with the best green practices. Yoder also points to an economic and marketing research project that the Omaha Public Power District funded.

“OPPD has about 12 programs for businesses to help them reduce their energy costs,” Yoder says. “Our marketing professors sought to discover what language helped to motivate participation in these energy programs. Our researchers are studying OPPD’s communication and marketing components and will share the results with OPPD.”

CBA faculty Jonna Holland and Phani Tej Adidam, meanwhile, have added green components to their courses in the college’s Executive MBA program.

Holland and five students traveled to Costa Rica for two weeks last fall to work alongside students at EARTH University. A private, international, nonprofit entity, EARTH University’s mission is to contribute to sustainable development in the tropics by seeking a balance between agricultural production and environmental preservation.

Holland says her students learned extensively about the university’s sustainability efforts and programs, such as how to deal with waste produced by banana plantations throughout Costa Rica.

Adidam’s students visited major airports in Madrid, Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Paris last fall to examine how ground power units (GPUs) in Europe compare to those in the United States. Airlines use GPUs as a temporary and alternative power source while passengers deplane and board.

Planes can sit at gates from 30 minutes to two hours or more, emanating exhaust and wasting fuel. Switching to a GPU at such times is a cleaner way to keep the plane on auxiliary power while on the ground.

For two weeks, Adidam and four students studied ways to display and store the green GPU hardware, varying from a dangling black cable (cost: around $3,000 per unit) to a glass-enclosed box ($14,000 per unit).

The trip provided Adidam’s students a global view of an initiative designed to make air travel slightly kinder to the environment.

Back home, that’s something the folks in CBA know more than a little about.

By Wendy Townley, University Relations

Prairie Professor
UNO’s LaReesa Wolfenbarger explores man’s impact
on native tall grasses and their inhabitants

Considering it’s in the heart of the Great Plains, Nebraska surprisingly has little undisturbed tall grass prairie left — 99 percent of it has been altered for some other use.

“Most of it has been converted to some sort of farmland,” says UNO Biology Professor LaReesa Wolfenbarger.
That’s bad news for birds like the Eastern and Western Meadowlarks and Grasshopper Sparrows, which need tall grasses to survive. They’ve at least got a great advocate on their side — Wolfenbarger.

A researcher at UNO for 10 years, she studies how land use affects species that traditionally live in tall grass prairies. Her field research has brought her to a part of the country she loves after spending a couple of years carrying out policy work as a scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Understanding the impact of agriculture is important to everyone — from the farmer in the field to the consumer buying food for their family, Wolfenbarger says. Those impacts can range from the unknown effects of genetically engineered crops to the overuse of chemicals, damaging ground water.

“When humans degrade ecosystems there are cascading effects that affect humans directly in those locations,” Wolfenbarger says. “We know that increasing the use of pesticide is something we want to avoid or minimize because those chemicals may impact humans in some way.

“We also put a lot of effort in agricultural policy to avoid soil erosion. Controlling soil erosion has benefits to wildlife as well as benefits to humans.”

One project she is particularly excited about is the compilation of a large agriculture/environment database that will look at farming practices over time, in some cases more than a century, and the resulting changes in environmental quality. While it will take years to assemble, the hope is once the information is in place computer modeling will provide accurate predictions about land use and its impacts.

Another project, sponsored by the state’s Game and Park Commission, has Wolfenbarger examining the environmental impact of wind power (see UNO Magazine story Wonders and Worries). Birds and bat populations can be negatively affected if the giant turbines are placed incorrectly.

“It’s got me really interested in how do we provide the right ecological information to agencies and developers so that wind power is a win-win,” she says.

— Tim Kaldahl, Associate Editor

Aiding an Audit
UNO students carry out energy assessments of city buildings

Since January 2010, UNO students have been visiting Omaha fire stations, libraries, park pavilions and other city locales.
But not on field trips.

Lacking the manpower to carry out an energy assessment project funded by a federal stimulus grant, the City of Omaha turned for help to UNO students and faculty in the College of Information, Science and Technology and the College of Engineering. They’ve conducted audits on nearly 90 city buildings, including community centers, park caretaker residences, and more. Consultants from the Kiewit Building Group provided assistance.

“We did a complete interior and exterior inventory of the building envelope, including building footprint measurements and visual assessment of the mechanical and electrical equipment on the roof,” says Terri Norton, acting coordinator and assistant professor of the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction. “We eventually had two students who did the energy assessments and two others who worked on data analysis. Another student developed a database. Each student had a minimum of 20 hours of work per week and on average they visited two to three facilities each week.”  

Norton says the projects have allowed the students to apply classroom theory in the real world. “I think it also has developed a good relationship between the university and the city, and in the second phase we’re incorporating this project into a course where our students can have more interaction with the city.”

— Tim Fitzgerald, University Relations

Green UNO
Sustainability initiatives are taking place all over campus

UNO’s campus-wide sustainability initiatives might be enough to turn other universities green with envy.
Across its 230 beautifully landscaped acres, colleges, departments and individuals are positively affecting UNO’s energy use and economic impact in a variety of innovative ways.

“To be sustainable, we must consider the triple bottom line — people, planet and prosperity,” says Patrick Wheeler, founder of GreenUNO, a task force that since 2008 has promoted sustainability at UNO. “Think of it as living well today, while preserving the ability of future generations to do the same.

“On campus, that means not only practicing good stewardship so that we may continue to enjoy good health, prosperity and a healthy planet, but instilling in our students the knowledge and duty to do the same.”

Students have noticed such stewardship firsthand in the Milo Bail Student Center, where UNO Food Services last year began using compostable and biodegradable PLA (polylactic acid) containers and serving utensils.

“This change in the UNO Food Services operation is a proactive and responsible step, and very much in keeping with UNO’s mission to be student-focused and community-engaged,” says Bill Conley, UNO vice chancellor for business and finance and a GreenUNO taskforce member. “This change had very strong support throughout campus with students, faculty and staff, and it demonstrates our campus concern for sustainability and the environment.”

Elsewhere on campus, Planning and Architectural Services in April began replacing 249 windows in the Eppley Administration Building and Allwine Hall. The project, aimed at increasing energy efficiency in the buildings, is being funded by Department of Energy grants totaling more than $640,000.

South of Elmwood Park, on UNO’s Pacific Street campus, the new College of Business Administration building, Mammel Hall, has garnered recognition for its green and energy saving features (see above).

Other recent green efforts at UNO:

• School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation faculty and students introduced a Bike Share Program to encourage physical activity and reduce carbon emissions.
• Environmental Services has instituted an active, campus-wide single stream recycling effort.
• Facilities Management and Planning conducts ongoing building energy audits, initiates a campus-wide building temperature policy, and replaces incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient, compact florescent bulbs.
•Information Services put in place green technology polices (i.e. suggesting that equipment purchased is Energy Star-compliant).
• The grounds department is planting perennials for outdoor landscape, reducing water consumption.
• The student-led UNO Environmental Club continues to host an annual Earth Day celebration, guest speakers and a movie series on sustainability issues.

For information on other UNO’s Green UNO Task Force initiatives, visit http://www.unomaha.edu/green.

— Becky Bohan Brown, University Relations


Arbor Day Foundation names UNO a Tree Campus USA University

The Arbor Day Foundation on Arbor Day bestowed Tree Campus USA recognition upon UNO. It is the first time UNO has been so honored.

Nearly 100 schools have earned the designation since 2008. In recognition of the honor UNO’s Student Government on May 3 planted a gingko tree on the northwest corner of Arts and Sciences Hall.

UNO met Tree Campus USA’s five core standards of tree care and community engagement: establish a campus tree advisory committee; evidence of a campus tree-care plan; verification of dedicated annual expenditures on the campus tree-care plan; involvement in an Arbor Day observance; and, institution of a service-learning project engaging the student body.

Trees were among the university’s priority when it moved to its present site from the original campus at 24th and Pratt Streets. OU in 1938 carried out a “campus beautification” project, using $110,000 in federal grant (Works Progress Administration) money to plant 170 trees and 2,600 shrubs.

Today there are an estimated 1,500 trees on UNO’s Dodge, Pacific and Center Street campuses. The university is conducting an official tree census through 2011.

UNO has at least one historical tie to the foundation. In 1945 Sterling Morton, grandson of Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton, made a $10,000 gift to then-Omaha University as a memorial to his other grandfather, George Lake, a Nebraska pioneer, lawyer and state chief justice.

Photo: Omaha University President Rowland Haynes, second from left, assists in an Arbor Day planting on campus in 1938. Also pictured: Omaha architect Frank Latenser, far left, student Harriet Salmon, Student Council President Edgar Howe and Regent D.E. Emmett Bradshaw.

UNO Announces Plans for Community Engagement Center

As a front door welcomes guests into a home, UNO’s Community Engagement Center will welcome the community to its campus.

Through the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Campaign for Nebraska, UNO seeks to develop the Community Engagement Center — a facility that will support expansion of university-community partnerships, enrich student and faculty engagement in the community, and extend campus resources to the nonprofit community.

The center will be located between the Strauss Performing Arts Center and Criss Library. It will feature offices for nonprofit and university partners, collaborative work and meeting spaces, conference rooms, distance-learning laboratories and more.

Funding for the $24 million project is more than half complete, but a need for financial support remains. One of the passionate leaders in the project, the Weitz Family Foundation, has issued a challenge to inspire others to support the initiative. The Weitz Family Foundation will match additional gifts one-to-one, up to $3 million.

“The Weitz Family Foundation is so excited about the possibilities that the Community Engagement Center at UNO has for exponentially expanding the city’s agencies and government services’ capacities to serve all of its citizens,” Barbara Weitz says. “We have seen the collaborations between university professors and students with community agencies and school systems unleash energy and ideas that have brought immense value to all involved.”

By creating the center, UNO and community partners will have a defined area to develop new research, outreach and learning initiatives and to expand and strengthen existing initiatives. A student/community resource center will connect individual students and student groups with local community service or volunteer opportunities, creating a single contact for potential volunteers and the organizations that seek them.

“Creating a space where the community and university can come together to build better infrastructures, nurture collaborations, and use the best resources of all seems likely to lead to outcomes beyond our dreams,” Weitz says. “We feel honored to be a part of this project.”

For information on supporting this project, contact Lori Byrne at 402-502-4920 or lbyrne@nufoundation.org.

— Jenna Zeorian, University of Nebraska Foundation

 

Professor, grad, helping Omaha businesses chill cooling expenses

If big air-conditioning bills get you hot under the collar every summer, the work of a UNO faculty member and UNO graduate might one day help you chill out.

UNO engineering Professor Mingsheng Liu and 2010 UNO graduate Matt Kasprzak have helped develop the Digi-RTU (digital rooftop unit) Controller, a device that can be installed into an existing heating, ventilating and air conditioning unit to regulate its speed and reduce total energy consumption.

The device is being developed for DTL Controls, an Omaha-based development and manufacturing company that provides building automation solutions. Liu is DTL president and CEO; Kasprzak (MS, architectural engineering) is a DTL product developer.

Kasprzak says tests last summer in small commercial buildings across metropolitan Omaha showed that the Digi-RTU reduced energy consumption by about 50 percent. That amounted to an average of $700 in savings.

“As of right now it appears we’re the only company in the market that has such technology to do that,” Kasprzak says.

Such a unit also can benefit power companies like the Omaha Public Power District. Kasparak says lowering the rate of energy consumption can help OPPD “expand the life of their facilities.” OPPD is encouraging the unit’s development, helping DTL market he Digi-RTU and connect it with potential customers. Power company representatives also have presented information about the unit at conferences.

Kasprzrak says DTL is exploring expansion of the Digi-RTU into other states and possible conversion for use with residential systems.

“We’re constantly trying to evolve this project and expand,” he says.

— Charles Reed, University Relations

 

The Bag Monster Cometh

There’s something strangely compelling about watching the Bag Monster shimmy and shake to Jack Johnson’s “3R’s” song about “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The Bag Monster — aka Health, Physical Education and Recreation Professor David Corbin — is created from more than 500 plastic bags, the average number that each American uses annually. Corbin has taken the Bag Monster around Omaha and across the United States, preaching about the hazards the non-biodegradable bags pose to the environment and to wildlife.

See the Bag Monster get down at www.unoalumni.org/bagmonster

— Becky Bohan Brown, University Relations


Students making a World of Difference

through Global Youth Service Day

The world’s largest international service day — Global Youth Service Day — is beginning to make a world of  difference in Omaha.

Thanks in large part to UNO’s Service Learning Academy.

Focused on environmental stewardship, the one-day event attracted more than 500 Service Learning Academy volunteers on April 15 — twice the number of 2010 participants. UNO has taken part in GYSD, involving 90 countries, for four years.

“It’s a day about conservation and recycling and ecology,” says Kathy Oleson Lyons, the academy’s assistant director.

UNO students and staff lead and organize betterment projects at locations like City Sprouts, Fontenelle Park, Allwine Prairie and other local trails and city recreation areas. This year, GYSD participants also collected funds (and new friends and supporters) for the local nonprofit agency Hike to Help Refugees, which supports the humanitarian work of the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Tina Buda, a teacher at Western Hills Magnet Center, says it’s important for primary school pupils to get involved. About 15 Western Hills students and a pair of staff members participated in UNO’s GYSD efforts. Others at the magnet center (which numbers 400 students and staff) worked on the school’s outdoor classroom and cleaned the neighborhood around 66th and Western streets.

“This has become such a big deal for us,” Buda says. “We’re doing such a better job of embedding this into the curriculum.”

Volunteer activities in UNO’s closest park — Elmwood Park — included cleanup efforts and several information stations UNO students created about clean water, local plants and animals, and recycling.

GYSD is among numerous green outreach and service projects the Service Learning Academy sponsors. Participants in Seven Days of Service in the spring and Three Days of Service in the fall try to minimize waste on projects.

“If we can recycle it, we do,” Lyons says. “If we can do things in areas we are working on that are energy-conserving we do that, too.”

— Tim Kaldahl, Associate Editor

 

Ticket to Ride

Students were taken for a ride earlier this year – in a good way – thanks to a new partnership between Omaha’s Metro (formerly Metro Area Transit) and UNO.

Upward of 400 students picked up free Metro bus passes during a special event on campus in February. The MavRide prepaid bus cards provided free public transit transportation to and from campus during the spring semester.

Metro and UNO Student Government jointly funded the $40,000 program, designed to ease campus parking congestion and make Omaha a greener city – one bus ride at a time.

“The MavRide program has been an invaluable resource that I hope we continue to utilize for many years to come,” said Megan Schmitz, Student Government public relations officer. “Student Government’s hard work on this project is a win-win for everyone, and I look forward to the program gaining steam as the semester progresses.”

— Wendy Townley, University Relations

 
Back to Summer 2011:  Earth, Wind & Fire