Integrating coursework and research

UMore will be utilized to include hands-on learning experiences.

Integrating coursework and research

With 5,000 acres of land at their disposal, University of Minnesota researchers have a life-sized laboratory at their fingertips at UMore Park in Rosemount, Minn. âÄúWithout the academic mission, it just becomes another development project,âÄù said Dewey Thorbeck, director of the Center for Rural Design, said. Thorbeck was involved in 1997 when Larry Laukka first started advocating for the development of the park, officially called the University of Minnesota Outreach, Research and Education Park. Thorbeck said UMore Park is the UniversityâÄôs unique opportunity to create a place where people want to live, but also one where it can âÄúinform what the future will be like.âÄù But bringing in the academic mission is key. So, in March 2009, the UMore Park Academic Mission Advisory Board was formed to figure out how to mesh academics with the development. The board found ample opportunity for faculty and students to become involved in the development project with interdisciplinary research meant to give University faculty a leg up in the competition for research funding. Kelley Jepsen, a University marketing senior, was the only undergraduate student to participate on the board. She said they discussed how to take advantage of the UniversityâÄôs land asset by integrating it into curricula. The advisory board found that UMore could be utilized to include a more hands-on learning experience for students, including community-based research, final projects and faculty-led workshops. Carla Carlson, assistant vice president for statewide strategic resource development, said UMore Park has great potential for long-term research plans. Thorbeck, in collaboration with two other departments, wants to create a model neighborhood where all of the energy used comes from renewable sources. He would need 50 to 100 acres, and he said he doesnâÄôt know where he could get it outside of UMore Park. Fotis Sotiropoulos, a chemical engineering professor in the Institute of Technology, recently secured a two-year, $8 million grant to install a wind turbine and find ways to improve the extraction of energy from the wind. The money comes from federal stimulus funding given through the U.S. Department of Energy, and Sotiropoulos said his lab had very little time to turn around a proposal. âÄúThe stimulus came up very quickly,âÄù he said. âÄúThe big headache was figuring out where to put it.âÄù The grant mandates that researchers purchase and install the wind turbine within 50 miles of the University. For Sotiropoulos, that space would have been more difficult to find without the availability of UMore Park. Since one of the goals of the propertyâÄôs development includes sustainability, the wind energy research was a perfect fit. It is work he said he would be looking into anyway because of the importance of sustainability research in the current climate, but the available land helped secure the funding to get started, Sotiropoulos said. The research opportunities surpass scientific study, but model communities donâÄôt just mean renewable energy. As a way to integrate coursework and research with UMore Park, Marilyn Bruin and other faculty in the College of Design are studying best practices for multi-use community development âÄî communities that have commercial, residential and recreational aspects. Bruin, a professor of housing studies, said UMore Park will give her students the opportunity to better âÄúdelve into real world activities.âÄù âÄúUMore Park gives me the opportunity to see how my work can be applied. In housing, thatâÄôs very important,âÄù she said. Bruin also works with the UniversityâÄôs Research and Outreach/Engagement Center in north Minneapolis and she said she wants to see the research she will do at UMore translate over to north Minneapolis and vice versa. âÄúUMore Park gives us the space and the freedom to test some innovative ideas; when we get it right, itâÄôs so impactful,âÄù she said. But not all faculty support the land development ideas âÄî a fact Charles Muscoplat, vice president for statewide strategic resource development, acknowledges. In 2011, the University will begin mining gravel found on the property which spans about 200 of the 5,000 acres. Muscoplat said this will displace about 35 to 40 faculty researchers currently utilizing portions of the land. Lois Braun performs research with hazelnuts that were planted on UMore Park land in 2000. She said if she is asked to move, it will set her research back two to three years, but her own research is not her biggest concern. She said she doesnâÄôt think thereâÄôs much soil in UMore Park conducive to agricultural work, other than the soil her hazelnuts are planted in now. She said she has spoken with agricultural researchers who feel the same way. Muscoplat said the faculty whose research is in the way of mining the gravel will be asked to relocate two miles south to the area known as Vermillion Heights. Of the 2,822 acres, 1,000 are set aside for agricultural research. He also said he was âÄúalmost certain Lois BraunâÄôs work will not be relocated.âÄù -Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter.