Past Undergraduate Leader’s Projects

Food Sovereignty, White Earth Tribal Technical Community College – Trevor Koski, Riley Stern, Alex Trousil, Adhvaith Sridhar

The dissipation of cultural customs in relation to food production, consumption, and distribution is directly linked to a loss of food sovereignty for those in the White Earth community. Food sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods and the right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Food sovereignty puts the needs of those who produce, distribute, and consume food at the focus of the system. The reinstatement of food sovereignty to the White Earth community will not only ensure the preservation of culturally important practices but also have impacts on community health & nutrition and food access. 

Our project helps to bridge the gap of knowledge between community elders and community members by creating informational resources to be posted on the White Earth Community College website. These resources will help document important traditions to prevent the loss of cultural knowledge and also serve as direct resources for community members. To achieve this goal, our team worked in tandem with students and leaders at White Earth Community College, the IonE Undergraduate Leadership Program, and the Healthy Foods Healthy Lives grant. The project required collaboration and open dialog across different academic, cultural, and generational backgrounds to create impactful resources that will be used for years to come.

Video link: fish netting FINAL!.mp4 

Sharing our Roots – Samantha Tuschman, Ari Lawrence, Firdaus Hashbollah

From the beginning of our project, we understood Sharing Our Roots to be a sustainable, progressive, and inclusive farm in Northfield. However, as we spent our year talking to staff and hearing the stories of farmers, we realized that the SOR model is not only beneficial to Northfield; rather, it is a genius approach to addressing the climate crisis and monocropping, land turnover, and land accessibility, community values, and cultural preservation. We feel passionate that this model if implemented more widely, would largely benefit communities across the United States. After conducting interviews and literature reviews, we were able to present the SOR model as a possible step forward at the IonE Sustainability Symposium. With our newly acquired knowledge base, we were able to provide academic responses to any questions or doubts from the audience, and we left feeling that we had fostered a new sense of passion and understanding about land share practices in the UMN community.

Presentation link:


Space to Girl – Claire Lister, Jasmine Walters, Karishma Devgun, Ruth Hollander

Our group was lucky enough to work with DeAnna Perkins at DAC Lifestyles, a non-profit organization based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, with the goal of providing girls and young women from diverse backgrounds with a space to feel safe and gain access to positive youth programs. DeAnna was looking for a refresh in terms of branding, so we set out to capture the essence of her organization, which she describes as “Helping and connecting [girls] to both wants and needs.” She went on to describe the mission of the organization by saying, “[I want] to be about service and be an outlet for girls and women. I want to be an inspiration and deliver life-changing programs. I also want to support girls and women in or after foster care.” 

Our task of rebranding included a new logo, name, and website for DAC Lifestyles. We focused on the website because it also provides a platform to expand outreach and clearly communicates the mission of the organization– now named Space to Girl. The website provides a structure that we hope can be an asset for the organization as they apply for grants in the future. After talking to DeAnna and having the opportunity to talk to the girls about what the organization means to them, we found that the name Space to Girl was the best way to capture the idea that this group provides young girls with the space to grow as young women in a supportive environment that’s rich with opportunities. These opportunities take the form of swimming, horseback riding, sledding, dancing, and many more activities. In an effort to give the girls in this organization even more opportunities, we also made the decision to add a resource section to the website. In this section, our group members were able to share resources that we have personally found to be helpful as we journeyed through our educational careers and made it to the University of Minnesota. We hope that our website and rebranding will enable Space to Girl to grow as an organization and last far into the future.















Ei Roskaa: Zero Waste Solutions – Alice Lesch, Kylee Smet, Jayden Chan, Angie Zhang, Eliana Wilson

Project Summary:

Our partner, David Abazs, introduced us to his plan to build a solar-powered organics recycling facility for the rural community of Finland, Minnesota. There is a need for directing waste streams away from landfills since the local landfill is estimated to be full by 2026, which will cost residents more money to dispose of their garbage at the next closest landfill which is 2.5 hours away. David received grant funding and public support initially, but community perspectives changed and infrastructure issues made the project infeasible during our time working on this project. We changed our objective from looking into optimizing the recycling and composting facility itself to why any sort of facility is important for the community’s resiliency.

How we connected with our mentor:

We first met David Abazs over a Zoom call in which he introduced us to his cozy farm on the north shore of Minnesota, which was highly inspiring. It illustrated the hard work, but also the benefits, that come with committing to sustainability.

As we got deeper into working on our project of setting up this compost facility, a majority of our meetings with David continued to be over Zoom. A highlight of these meetings was when we held a “sustainability symposium”, in which each member of the group came up with a unique idea that could be incorporated into the facility. We were able to meet with David a few times in person as well. 

Communication was important throughout the duration of the project because the facility’s scale and shape changed many times throughout the process. David’s feedback was essential to adapt to the challenges presented to us by the logistics and perception of the project. 

How we connected with stakeholders:

We reached out to a dozen local organics recycling facilities, and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Organics recycling facility was the only one that got back to us. They have a drop-off collection model that is run by staff which could be used as a similar project to ours to show the community how this facility has seen success with this model and has had little to no noise or smell issues. The Shakopee site informed us that 50% of their revenue comes from tipping fees, and the other 50% is from product sales. Incorporating this model could help scale the Ei Roskaa site since as more waste is deposited, more revenue can be generated. 

What was the big takeaway:

In Finland, residents need to hear that their local facility would not negatively impact the community economy and aesthetics, and the results from the Shakopee facility could be used. The big takeaway from this project is that building a sustainable and resilient community involves more than just setting up a recycling facility. It requires understanding the community’s needs and concerns, collaborating with stakeholders, adapting to challenges, and considering innovative business models that can make the facility financially sustainable. While the solar-powered organics recycling facility in Finland, Minnesota did not come to fruition, the project highlighted the importance of community engagement, communication, and flexibility in pursuing sustainable initiatives. It also taught our group members valuable skills in navigating obstacles and adapting to new goals


People’s Garden: Project Sweetie Pie – Tristina Ting, Lily Dodge, Cecily Greblo

Project Sweetie Pie is a non-profit organization based in North Minneapolis that focuses its work on urban farming, creating sustainable businesses, and engaging the community in sustainability work and education. Our goal with Project Sweetie Pie was to create an event where we could bring different environmental organizations, government agencies, and community groups together from campus and the Twin Cities to break down the silos that keep EJ groups divided. We held the event on April 21st in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and brought together over 40 tabling organizations and over 20 sponsors from the university and the greater community. We had amazing speakers who spoke about climate justice and the change that needed to come. We aimed to improve university relations with the community. Our goal was to provide university students and community members with the space to make connections and initiate relationships that will support the interests of students and the missions of community organizations. We hope that participants will engage in conversations relating to the opportunities available within the greater Twin Cities community to help tackle environmental justice and climate issues together.

Throughout the year, we started off with creating social media posts (shown above) for Project Sweetie Pie on their community events and what their organization was about. Then, we started to narrow down our vision for what we wanted to finish the year with and had several meetings with community members who were also envisioning an environmental justice event. Our event was one of multiple events in the UMN Green Summit aimed at educating individuals on topics of climate activism, sustainability, and environmental justice on and around campus.



Ranjani Hariharan, Carly Dorion- #EndFoodInsecurity: A Social Media Campaign to Destigmatize Food Insecurity on Campus

In 2015, the United Nations established 17 goals as a part of its Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this venture, the UN has defined achieving global food security as an imperative to achieving a sustainable, healthy future. Food insecurity stems from a lack of money and/or other resources to access adequate amounts of nutritious food. Food insecurity is an issue that affects the student community at UMN, where around 17% of students reported being worried about running out of food before they are able to buy more. Furthermore, the stigma around food insecurity could be preventing students from seeking out resources. So, how do we address the needs of these students while keeping in mind the social implications that food insecurity carries? Social media has proven to be an effective tool to spread social impact. For our project, we used social media as a tool to spread awareness about food insecurity and work to destigmatize issues of food insecurity. We created informational slides to be shared on the Sustainability Education Instagram account. By making information about food insecurity and its relationship to sustainable development accessible to the public, we aim to impact the way individuals view food insecurity in a constructive, equitable, and positive way. 

Betty Huynh, Claire Westman, Molly Blaszowski- Pollinator Friendly Solar Panels and Nature: Components, Co-benefits, and Issues

As someone who may be living in an urban environment, it may feel difficult to interact with a natural environment. Being in a city such as Minneapolis, that access can also be reduced during the winter months, leaving you feeling as if your options are limited and fleeting. As cities create new incentives for green spaces, the opportunities are increasing, but what are your current options?  Our group focused on researching various opportunities available to students to interact with greenspace as they are becoming increasingly incentivized by cities. With huge advances in efforts towards sustainable energy, pollinator friendly solar panels are sure to change the world! However, such new technology can be very intimidating. To diminish such intimidation researchers in Minnesota have been working hard to improve and integrate solar panels all over. From understanding problems such as solar panel recycling and equity issues within the industry to components of pollinator friendly solar panels and the benefits of green therapy, our group at the Institute on the Environment under the University of Minnesota aims to inform the public through blogs such as this. With these efforts, we hope to change and spark interest in more sustainability and clean energy projects. Whether it be reading more about solar panels, visiting our west bank solar array to engage in green therapy, or installing your pollinator garden and or solar panels, any endeavor and shared experience brings us one step closer to a better environment.

Diana Flores Castillo, Marian Lu, Melissa Wood, Sid Pandya- Nile of the North

Our project worked with Project Sweetie Pie, an organization dedicated to food sovereignty within the North Minneapolis area. Our group consisted of two “committees”- one focused on communications, one focused on utilizing GIS skills to create an online map. Besides working on our respective project our project was also to gain valuable leadership skills as well as personal development through the monthly meetings held by the IonE facilitation team. Our end products include a draft of the ArcGIS Online map as well as the interview information stored in the Project Sweetie Pie spreadsheets.

Anjali Muppidi, Diego M Juarez, Ella Rodewald, Mia Schwartz, Rawan Algahtani- Tribal Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty is defined as a food system centered around self-determination, equal access, and sustainability, and is a movement instrumental in addressing the global grand challenges of food security and equity. Funded by the Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute, a collaborative team of administrators, faculty, and students from the White Earth Tribal and Community College (WETCC) and the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and Crookston campuses are working together to develop a community-engaged and informed WETCC Food Sovereignty Action Plan. Our cohort is compiling information on Indigenous and traditional foods into a systems map, which we plan to use as an educational tool at conferences and in other academic settings. Upon completion, we hope this map can assist in the development and implementation of a food sovereignty plan for the White Earth Reservation, supporting a more economic, accessible, and sustainable food system for the entire community.

By understanding the acquisition, usage, and significance of each ingredient in this meal, we hope to gain insight into specific needs of the White Earth community and their food system. Our end goal is to understand stakeholders’ perspectives on the policy, traditions, cultural significance, and access to these ingredients, and ultimately the ability to create these dishes in the White Earth community today. 


Anna Stalsberg, Tora Husar, Zhaxou Sui and Tamar Maldonado (20-21) – Story mapping, grant writing and website design for Project Sweetie Pie.

Keeli Siyaka, Brianna Barkema, Joanna Wu, & Cynthia Yang (20-21) – Curating University Research for the
MN 2020 Water Plan

Asha Kaliappan, Brita Larsen, Mason Padilla, and Pavan Guttipatti (20-21)- Food Scarcity Assessment and Equity Mapping in Minneapolis.

Katie LeGare, Jacqueline Jobin, Ethan Cypull, Lily Heiting, Bradley Luchsinger, Hailey Peterson, and George Masson created a story map outlining their research to identify locations for small-scale solar installations that can produce energy and provide habitat for pollinators. Their video presentation of their research is below.

Rosa Dunn, Charlie Kidder, Sandy Zhang, Xiaohang Zhi, and Muna Al Zubaydi worked on increasing awarness of green energy jobs and training with a community partner, Renewable Energy Partners. Read their summary below.

The solar energy industry is growing quickly, much like other forms of renewable energy. Through solar energy’s expansion comes job opportunities and economic growth that must be made accessible for all. Renewable Energy Partners (REP) is a certified Minority Business Enterprise based in North Minneapolis. It is working to develop community solar projects and provide training and career development opportunities accessible to the urban core of the Twin Cities. REP is committed to tackling climate change by increasing renewable energy output and building community resilience. It is working in collaboration with the Institute on Environment to implement the Minneapolis Microgrid, an effort to research communal energy storage with an emphasis on school partnerships and green job training. 

Our project is a multimedia presentation, designed to increase awareness and understanding of training and job opportunities in green energy. It is intended for youth audiences including Minneapolis Public School students. Its importance lies in the current disconnect between public knowledge on solar energy and the opportunities it provides. We will focus on developing community resilience in North Minneapolis, an area that has been historically underserved by the city. We will display Renewable Energy Partner’s proposal of equity through innovation.

Throughout this academic year, we completed several powerpoints that could be used in a classroom setting to explain environmental injustice and community resilience. We visited the REP training center to film an interview with Jamez Staples, REP founder and CEO. We also gathered facility footage via drone. This summer, several IonE employees will be editing this footage to create a concise educational video supporting our project.

Katie LeGare, Karly Beaumont, and Bernardo Guarderas (2019-20) – Community Organizing for the BWCA. Read their reflection here.

Chandra Her and Jennifer Rosauer (2019-20)- Green Gentrification in the St. Paul Neighborhoods of Rondo and Frogtown. View their full presentation here.

Lilli Ambort (2019-20)- Textile Recycling and Clothing Donations on Campus. View their pamphlet here.

Elizabeth Marti (2018-19) – Sustainability 1001 course ideation and research. Check out her blog here

Christina Lundgren and Emily Worman (2018-19)- A video about environmental justice for the UMN community.

Elizabeth Joncas and Sarah Eyer (2018-19) – Organic Recycling initiative in Stadium Village. Look at their organics recycling guide here.

Lauren Schultz (2015-16)– Re imagining the American dream through tiny houses. Check out the blog post here. 

Multiple students (2014-15)- Film Series with a sustainability theme. Check out a blog on film series by a past undergraduate leader.

Maggie Kristian (2014-15)- blog entry based on their interview with someone they thought was a change agent.