University grants students money for sustainable projects

Watch a news broadcast about the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund.

Story and multimedia by JENNA LEVETAN

The Office of Sustainability is making students green ideas a reality with the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. The program also known as SCIF oversees competitive grants for student projects focused on sustainability, education and energy efficiency at the University of Utah.

SCIF’s mission is to provide funding for real-world projects that improve the University of Utah’s environmental quality and make the campus more sustainable. Student funding like these are often known to get the ax because of school budget cuts. However, SCIF coordinator, Whitney Williams, says the program is safe because it actually creates jobs once the ideas are approved.

“I would say that we are in a little bubble,” Williams said. “We are not really affected by the economy. If anything we are more attractive because some students can use this as funding their own research, so it is sort of a job opportunity.”

A $2.50 fee in every student’s tuition solely funds the projects. The students involved in the Association Students at the University of Utah (ASUU) approved the charge in 2009, and they voted very much in favor of the campaign. With an estimated 30,000 students who pay tuition it designates about $75,000 to be granted to students.

Myron Willson, Director of the Office of Sustainability, believes that even though students have to pay a fee in the long haul they are actually reaping the benefits.

“There is a lot of student involvement and even though the program has only been going for one year I believe they will start seeing the evidence of sustainability soon,” Willson said.

Since the programs launch in January 2010, SCIF has funded 24 student projects; however, last year they did not use all of their money leaving them with $160,000 to award this semester.

“The average amount that usually goes to one project is $4,000,” Williams said. “So take that divided by $160,000 and that is a lot of projects we hope to fund.”

There is no set number of projects that will receive funding. It depends on how much money each project asks for.

SCIF funds projects that address financial, environmental, educational, visibility, creativity and longevity. With the economy hitting a lull, the financial aspect is considered the most important factor to the committee who determines which projects will receive funding. Student projects should be able to either make or save money and all projects should have a return on investment.

The organic gardens located at the Still Center were one project that was approved and is now in bloom. The project was submitted by a masters in science and technology graduate student, Alex Parvaz who was also an intern at the Office of Sustainability. She was given $2,828 for garden tools, compost bins and seeds. Her project is helping the university’s campus financially because the gardens produce organic food that are being sold to on-campus dining facilities, such as Chartwells as well as selling them to the community at the U’s farmers market.

“Selling the food at the farmers market has given us the money to help pay for basic maintenance, and students being able to eat the very food that they grow has been cool and delicious,” Parvaz said.

Another invention that you can see cycling around campus is the recycle cycle made by environmental studies undergraduate Derk Harris. He was given $4,200 to make five bicycles retrofitted with a bucket on the back to be used at campus events, especially football games.

“It is projected that eight tons of trash per game is thrown into our waste stream,” said Harris. “So the idea of the bike being able to have our volunteers at lease being able to have fun while they are riding around putting recycles in the bike.”

The bike is being made with the help of local bike shop Madsen Cycles. The owner of the bike shop, Jared Madsen, opted to split the cost of each bike. Because of this each bike only cost the Office of Sustainability and Harris $850 versus $1400.

Harris’s vision of the recycle cycle is to raise awareness of recycling on campus and increase the amount of goods recycled at campus events. So far only one bike has been made, but the other four are on the way. Any student can volunteer to ride the bike around campus to help clean up.

Because of all the money the SCIF program now has to give, Harris plans on applying for more grants and suggests that students to do the same. “The money is there and the office is willing to hear whatever as long as it helps students and campus,” said Harris. “Even if you do not have a complete idea they are willing to work with you to bring it to life.”

Every student is eligible to apply for funding to start a sustainable project or business on campus. Grants are awarded once a semester and students must find a facility member to sponsor them. To find out more information on how to apply visit the Office of Sustainability website.