University implements Living Lab program

Students and faculty can use campus land for various projects.

Kia Farhang

 

Evelina Knodel wants to plant a garden on the University of Minnesota campus so students living in residence halls can grow their own fruits and vegetables.

“It seems to fit in really well with what the University is doing sustainability-wise,” she said. “Ideally I could see it being a huge community garden plot.”

So the architecture and German freshman has applied to the University’s new Living Laboratory program, which allows students and faculty to apply to use University land for research and educational projects.

Shane Stennes, sustainability coordinator for the University, said the project will open up campus land and “facilitate the use of that for more than just what it is today.”

While the Living Lab website defines the projects as turning the campus grounds into “a medium for innovation, testing, demonstration, and learning,” Stennes said there isn’t a set model for projects in mind.

“It’s really open, and that’s the beauty of it,” he said.

Proposals are due Friday, and Stennes said he’s expecting a handful of applications this year.

The best applications will dovetail with current or planned campus renovations and identify possible sources of funding up front, according to a plan for the Living Lab pilot process.

Some campus land, like Northrop Mall or the Old Campus Historic District, near the intersection of University and 15th avenues, will not be available for Living Labs, according to the plan.

Other areas, like sports fields or Housing and Residential Life spaces, would have to be coordinated with other University departments.

Stennes said there’s no formal size restraint on potential projects.

He cautioned: “If somebody said, ‘I want to take the whole West Bank,’ that might be a bit much.”

Valuable experience

While Living Lab projects will hopefully improve campus, they will also provide students with real-world experience, said Phill Kelly, the Minnesota Student Association representative on the Living Lab Review Panel.

“You get to have this personal development opportunity where you’re not just learning about something but you’re applying those ideas,” Kelly said.

For students who plan on working in environmental fields, “real-world experience … is probably hard to come by,” College of Liberal Arts freshman Isabelle Krier said.

“I feel like [the Living Lab project] is the right thing to do,” she added.

Kelly said anyone applying for a Living Lab should consider how they’ll fund the projects, although in the future the panel might look into securing research grants for proposed projects.

“But at this point, you need to come with your own funding because we don’t have those resources set up for you,” Kelly said.

If Knodel’s community garden proposal is approved, she said she hopes to get funding from student groups and research grants.

“More people should start getting into the Living Lab,” Knodel said. “I think [the University] is definitely on the right track.”