​​Grants help campus go green

​​Grants help campus go green
Junior Jordan Hagel stands by the Prairie Garden Labryinth sign. Photo submitted by David O’Hara.

Augustana has received several sustainability grants over the past few years, all of which have gone towards a greener campus and have funded initiatives, such as the apple orchard, bees and hammocks.

In 2017, Augustana received a $375,000 grant from an unnamed regional philanthropy group to promote sustainability on campus. The three-year grant was initially supposed to end in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the grant was extended and ended in fall 2022. The money was used to fund the apple orchard on campus and other sustainability efforts.

Augustana applied for the grant along with other universities in the upper Midwest who were interested in establishing sustainability programs.

“A team of us applied for it, including representatives from the faculty, the staff and the students, and we laid out some objectives on how to utilize the grant,” professor David O’Hara, the director of sustainability and environmental studies, said.

According to O’Hara, plans for using the money had to be flexible with the onset of the pandemic.

“All of our sustainability projects got put on hold,” O’Hara said. “The grant-maker allowed us a lot of leniency and asked us to be creative with the money and look to respond to what sorts of problems we had.”

As part of the funding, senior Lau Arce Vieyra designed an orchard to be built on campus. Unfortunately, the trees arrived after she and other students left campus in spring 2020 when the pandemic hit. In their absence, faculty planted the trees.

“Faculty who were around went out there with shovels and dug the holes and planted the trees,” O’Hara said. “It was good that we were able to get the trees in the ground, but it meant that for the next several months there was no one around to take care of the trees.”

To care for the orchard, the grant employed several international students who were not able to fly back home during the pandemic.

The money was also used to sponsor research projects on sustainability.

“Students did research on various topics like sustainability and medicine, sustainability and racism, sustainability and a whole bunch of other things,” O’Hara said.

Augustana also receives smaller grants from local businesses from time to time to promote sustainability on campus, some of which are currently active.

“We have a $10,000 grant from Smithfield Foods,” O’Hara said. “It’s a $5,000 grant from Excel Energy, and a handful of other smaller grants, but these are grants where, in each case, we said, ‘These are projects that we would like to do. They align with your company’s interests and with our students’ needs.’”

Smaller grants like these are still being processed through sustainability projects, research projects and scholarships. Each project presents its own challenges that the funding helps overcome.

“For instance, a handful of students wanted to clean up the Big Sioux River,” O’Hara said. “Cleaning up the Big Sioux River is difficult because you have to get access to the river, and the shoreline is owned by many different people.”

More upcoming sustainability projects include bringing bees back to campus and getting more hammocks.

“Thinking about succession is important,” O’Hara said. “I want to make sure that when I am done working here, the things that I have started will continue and improve.”