City of Big Lake (2017 - Present)

Designing Parks for Experiential Engagement (PSYC 298)

Psychology of Sustainability (PSYC 298), Britain Scott
Spring 2017

The City of Big Lake has several parks with aging playground equipment that needs to be repaired or refreshed.  However, rather than simply repairing or replacing the deteriorating playground equipment, the City is interested in exploring alternative designs for these parks by asking the question --  is there a way to create a better park experience for all ages?   Students in Psychology of Sustainability will draw on psychological research and theory about how people interact with and respond to natural spaces as well as the psychology of play, child development, and sense of place to create recommendations for experiential park design.  They will consider these recommendations within the City’s broader goal of creating infrastructure and opportunities for active living and outdoor experiences within the city.  Finally, students will provide recommendations to encourage/motivate residents to use the new spaces.


City of Delano (2016)

Analyzing Energy Efficiency Upgrades of Public Infrastructure (ECON 337 & ECON 401)

Economics of the Public Sector (ECON 337), Matthew Kim
Managerial Decision Making (ECON 401), Monica Hartmann
Spring 2016


Project Overview

The City of Delano seeks to increase the energy efficiency of its public infrastructure to reduce energy use and costs. Students will collaborate on two projects: 1) a benchmarking study of public buildings and 2) an analysis for street lighting upgrades. Based on their analysis, students will propose potential improvements/upgrades to public buildings and evaluate the technical and political feasibility of the proposed upgrades; students will also determine options for updating the City’s street lighting to LED lighting and the payoff times for different updating scenarios.  Students will provide these policy recommendations to the City in a report, and students will also create a dynamic analytical tool for the City that can be updated as parameter values change or additional data become available. Students will also present their work to the Delano City Council or city staff. Students’ work will also assist the City in advancing their GreenStep City rating through increasing the energy efficiency of public infrastructure.


City Outcomes
  • Students determined that the City could generate net savings of $854,000 over the next ten years with efficiency upgrades.
  • The City has integrated these efficiency upgrades into their capital improvement plan.
  • Delano’s City Council will review this plan and determine when the projects will be completed with respect to budgetary constraints each year.


City of Elk River (2016-2017)

Bike Route Analysis (GEOG 321)

Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley
Spring 2016


Project Overview

Elk River is home to 25.63 miles of paved trails and 52.15 miles of sidewalks as well as popular bike trails and a mountain biking park. The Parks Master Plan addressed various gaps in the trail system and determined future trails. However, a study has yet to be done on bike lanes on streets. Some roads have shoulders that can be used for biking but they are not marked. Also, gaps in current trails could be filled by creating marked bike lanes on streets. Students will analyze options for optimal street bike lane routes for connectivity throughout the city.


City Outcomes
  • The City of Elk River's Environmental and Planning Departments have begun using this GIS data to create a Complete Streets Policy, aimed at increasing bikeability in the community.

Decreasing Use of Plastic Shopping Bags (THEO 422)

Christian Faith and the Management Professions (THEO 422), Angela Senander
J-Term and Spring 2016


Project Overview

Many communities around the country and world have recognized the harmful effects that plastic shopping bags have on the environment and have instituted bans or taxes on their use. Elk River is home to one of the state’s largest municipal solid waste landfills. The landfill staff and community often deal with plastic shopping bag litter from the landfill, and plastic shopping bags also become stuck in the City’s waste to energy plant machinery. Plastic shopping bag litter contaminates our waters, harms wildlife, and causes deterioration of the community’s aesthetics. Therefore, the City would like to investigate the costs and benefits of different options for discouraging the use of plastic bags, including a ban or tax, or incentives for encouraging the use of alternatives. Students will engage in research about the effects of the use of plastic bags on the common good, taking into account various stakeholders such as businesses that are harmed by their use, businesses that benefit from their use, residents of different economic backgrounds, future generations, and the earth. They will examine ways in which governments and citizens (both individual and corporate) in other communities have worked to promote the common good by decreasing the use of plastic bags. 


City Outcomes
  • The Environmental Division will meet with county staff to discuss a county-wide ban or incentive program for decreasing the use of plastic shopping bags, based on students’ research about the costs and benefits of plastic shopping bags for various stakeholders in the community.

Green Roof Design (ESCI 310)

Environmental Problem Solving (ESCI 310), Chip Small
Spring 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River is home to an impaired lake and two impaired rivers. The City has been focusing on stormwater runoff reduction to these waters as well as pre-treatment techniques to improve water quality. However, the City has not implemented an alternative treatment system on city property, such as a green roof.  Elk River’s Wastewater Treatment plant (WWTP)  is currently undergoing a remodel and expansion. This would be a good site for a green roof installation demonstration project to promote infiltration projects on public land and to educate residents on the importance of stormwater runoff reductions. A team of Environmental Problem Solving students will conduct a feasibility and analysis study of different ecological designs for a green roof installation. 


City Outcomes
  • The green roof project design was funded for implementation in 2017.
  • Further study by the City of Elk River revealed that the waste water treatment plant roof was not designed to be sturdy enough to hold the green roof infrastructure. 
  • City of Elk River staff are looking into alternative options for a green roof and it is still a goal for the city to have one in the future

Park Trail Mapping (GEOG 321)

Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley
Spring 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River is home to over 40 parks, each with trails and other amenities. The City’s park system provides open space, land conservation, and recreation opportunities for the community and beyond. However, the City’s current GPS technology is difficult to use in parks due to dense tree coverage, and the City needs to create maps that can easily be updated when trail courses change. Students will create digital maps of trails in the William H. Houlton Conservation Area (Elk River’s newest park, not opened to public yet).


City Outcomes
  • The City of Elk River will is using this infomraiton to create a new and accurate map of trails for the William H. Houlton Conservation Area.

Wetland Buffer Assessment (GEOG 321)

Project Overview

The City of Elk River is home to 1256 wetlands, according to the National Wetland Inventory (NWI). Wetlands play a vital role in our community’s flood management, water quality, wildlife habitat, and aesthetics. In 2006, the city updated their ordinance to include a 25-foot Wetland Buffer Strip around all wetlands and stormwater ponds. The Buffer Strip does not allow for any mowing or plantings in order to maintain the wetland in its natural and constantly fluctuating state. In addition, there is a 20-foot Wetland Buffer Strip Setback which does not allow for structures (45-foot structure setback). Many properties within Elk River are not aware of these regulations and therefore, are non-conforming. The city seeks to educate residents and businesses of the regulations and identify which properties are not in compliance. Using aerial imagery and NWI data, this could easily be documented.


Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley
Spring 2016

Students will map which properties are non-conforming, beginning with City property. These maps will provide needed information for the City to address other policy and public education and outreach efforts to increase compliance and improve wetland quality and function.

Public Policy Masters Research, Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson will investigate wetland buffer policy options as well as incentives and education strategies to increase compliance. 


City Outcomes
  • The Environmental Division budgeted $5,000 for a buffer rebate program to start in 2017.
  • The program will encourage property owners to restore buffers along wetlands and other water bodies.

Climate Adaptation: Historical Perspectives (HIST 298)

History and Climate (HIST 298), William Cavert
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River has not investigated its position on climate change and adaptation. The city is situated on the Mississippi and Elk Rivers. Along with a large number of wetlands, there is a significant amount of floodplain throughout the city. Increased rainfall has increased flooding potential for parts of our city. In addition, drought conditions will likely occur at times, requiring possible overuse of city wells for irrigation and potable water. Such water quality concerns and increased weather events are cause for concern and require planning and adaptation.  Planning and adaptation now can reduce or mitigate adverse effects of climate change in the future. This is beneficial to the health of our environment, businesses, residents, and city government.

Through individual research projects, students in History and Climate will apply course content about how climate has mattered to human societies and how we can reasonably link climate changes to specific human developments to understand and examine potential changes Elk River may face due to climate change.  Questions students may consider in their research include the following:  1) What climate change threats are there to Elk River? 2) What plans can Elk River make now? 3) What adapations can Elk River make now and in the future? 4) What costs will there be to the city? 5) Are there grants available for planning/adaptation now?


City Outcomes
  • Students presented a summary of their work to the Elk River City Council.
  • Students’ research will be shared with the Energy City Commission and used to plan for climate resilience in the community.

Creating a Solar Powered Picnic Table Prototype (ENGR 480)

Senior Design Clinic (ENGR 480), School of Engineering
Fall 2016


Project Overview

Students in the senior design clinic will create a usable prototype for a solar powered picnic table installation. This solar powered picnic table installation will serve the general public visiting Orono Park (18583 Gary St. NW) along the shores of Lake Orono. The park and beach attract thousands of visitors each year. The park has a pavilion with picnic tables and a few picnic tables are located in the shade along the beach. There are no central outlets located in the park for charging capabilities. As our visitors needs change with ever more use of technology, this project will further promote the use of our city outdoor space. The park does host two Big Belly solar trash compactors. However, most visitors do not see the direct solar energy utilized with these products. The project will also be a demonstration site to Energy City tour groups – averaging 600 participants annually. It will be a visual to educate students on solar energy and the immediate output it can create. Finally, it will include educational information for general visitors and a real-time meter reader showing solar production to further educate the general public.


City Outcomes
  • The design phase of this project is complete, and the building phase will continue into the spring semester.
  • The City of Elk River is excited to have seen the plan for our solar powered picnic table that will be used to charge cell phones, tablets, and laptops at one of our destination parks, Lake Orono, and serve as a solar energy demonstration site.

Decreasing use of polystyrene (THEO 422)

Christian Faith and the Management Professions (THEO 422), Angela Senander
Fall 2016


Project Overview

Many communities around the country and world have recognized the harmful effects that polystyrene take-out containers have on the environment and have instituted bans on their use. Elk River is home to one of the state’s largest municipal solid waste landfills. The landfill’s staff and surrounding community often deal with litter from the landfill and a large portion of this litter is polystyrene containers. These products use valuable space in the landfill and take thousands of years to decompose. They contaminate our waters, harm our wildlife, and cause deterioration in our community’s aesthetics. Therefore, the City would like to investigate the costs and benefits of different options for discouraging the use of polystyrene take-out containers, including a ban or tax, or incentives for encouraging the use of alternatives.

Students in Christian Faith and the Management Professions will engage in research about the effects of the use of polystyrene containers on the common good, taking into account various stakeholders such as businesses that are harmed by their use, businesses that benefit from their use, residents of different economic backgrounds, future generations, and the earth.  They will examine ways in which governments and citizens (both individual and corporate) in other communities have worked to promote the common good by decreasing the use of polystyrene containers.


City Outcomes
  • The Environmental Division will be meeting with county staff to discuss a county-wide ban of polystyrene, reducing the amount of litter in our community. This ban is now in place in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park. The City is interested in being the first county or outer-ring suburb to put a ban in place.

Evaluating Current Solid Waste Rate Structure (ECON 332)

Industrial Organization (ECON 332), Michael Walrath
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River has organized solid waste collection for its residents through two haulers (Randy’s Environmental Services and Republic Services). The haulers are under contract with the City of Elk River until 2022. Residential accounts are set up and billed through Elk River Municipal Utilities. Customers pay a monthly fee on their utility bill for their collection services based on the size of the garbage cart, the rate of pick up, and whether or not they participate in organics waste collection. The haulers take the garbage to Great River Energy, which also charges the city for disposal and separation of compostable bags.

The city’s contract fee to the haulers is set until 2022, but the residential customer rates have not been adjusted since 2013.  Students will examine whether current customer rates offset the current costs to the city or whether the city is subsidizing collection.  Also, students will explore options for billing the “free” recycling (fee currently included with garbage charge) separately from garbage to prevent recycling charges from being taxed.  Finally, students will examine the possibility of eliminating the separate charge of organics collection (possibly by incorporating the residential fee for organics collection into garbage collection fees).


City Outcomes
  • Based on the information provided in the student project, a proposal was made by city staff to the City Council for a new waste rate structure in 2018

Examining Effects of Climate Change on Tree Species (BIOL 335)

Conservation Biology (BIOL 335), Sami Nichols
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River has not investigated its position on climate change and adaptation or its potential effects on the ecology and landscape of the city.  Using climate models,  Conservation Biology students will explore potential effects of climate change on specific tree species, focusing on street trees.  Students will examine how climate change may affect current tree species in Elk River, including trees that are slated to be planted or are donated to Elk River.  Students will also provide recommendations for future plantings that will adapt well to potential climate changes and outline future changes the city may face in their urban canopy and tree management needs.  Also, more generally, students may examine how Elk River could become certified as a “Tree City USA.”   The Parks and Recreation Department and the Environmental Division may review the recommendations and take the information to the Energy City Commission and City Council for consideration. Planning and adaptation now can reduce climate change in the future. This is beneficial to the health of our environment, business, residents, and city government.


City Outcomes
  • Sherburne County Soil and Water Conservation District and Elk River’s Parks and Recreation and Streets staff will use students’ work to determine the most resilient tree species to plant in the community to ensure a healthy tree canopy for years to come.
  • This information will also be published for residents and will be included in Elk River’s Complete Streets Policy.

Fostering Sustainable Behaviors for City Employees (PSYC 342)

Psychology and Work (PSYC 342), Elise Amel
Fall 2016


Project Overview

Elk River seeks to encourage sustainable behaviors for city employees as part of the City’s overall sustainability strategy and goals.  In 2015, Elk River city staff participated in the Class 5 Energy Efficiency Behavior Based Challenge. The challenge involved no cost projects to increase energy efficiency in city buildings through behavior change of city employees. This program involved the use of newsletters, challenges, print material, and other low or no cost techniques. The program was very successful with a 4% reduction of energy usage across city buildings over a year. Employees responded to the program well and continue to implement best management practices.  Elk River would like to broaden this approach to encourage additional sustainable behaviors of city employees.  Elk River will collaborate with students in Psychology and Work to adapt and refine this challenge to create approaches for sustainable behaviors around water conservation, waste reduction, purchasing practices, and transportation choices.

City Outcomes
  • The Environmental Division is excited to use this project to promote sustainable behavior changes with city staff.
  • The City also shared students’ research and tools with the Great Plains Institute, who will use it to create Minnesota community campaign projects.

German Translation for Elk River's Climate-Smart Municipalities Partnership (GERM 300)

Introduction to German Studies (GERM 300), Susanne Wagner
Fall 2016


The City of Elk River was selected to participate in the Climate Smart Municipalities partnership for 2016-2018. This partnership is between the state of Minnesota and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Five Minnesota cities (Elk River, Morris, Warren, Duluth, and Rochester) have been paired up with NRW cities (Iserloh, Saerbeck, Arnsberg, Munster, and Siegen) to collaborate on energy-smart and sustainable projects. In July of 2016, the Minnesota delegation traveled to NRW to visit the partner cities and tour a number of facilities such as solar installation, wind turbines, district heating plants, natural gas plants, and sustainable building projects.

Elk River is partnered with Iserlohn, a community of around 90,000 in population located in the middle of NRW. Iserlohn is currently working on a district heating expansion and increasing “e-mobility” (electric vehicles and bikes) transportation in the community. These are both projects that Elk River is currently pursing as well. The two communities plan to collaborate together and support each other’s projects.

During Elk River's visit to Iserlohn, they discussed the Konzeptpapier VideoContest. This was a project that Iserlohn city staff completed in 2012 to garner interest in climate smart and clean energy from the community. This document is in German but would be useful for Elk River to copy as a competition for our community. Students will translate these materials for Elk River, so they can use them as a model to develop a similar program.


City Outcomes
  • As a part of the City of Elk River's German partnership in Climate-Smart Municipalities, translation is a necessary step to move forward on projects. The translation of these materials from our German city partner will allow Elk River to conduct a video contest geared toward K-12 students to promote sustainability and climate change efforts.

GIS Projects (GEOG 321)

Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321), David Kelley
Fall 2016


Project Overview

Geography students will collaborate with Elk River on GIS mapping projects.


City Outcomes
  • City staff will use the GIS maps for Hillside Park and Woodland Trails Park to monitor park maintenance and assist with emergency management.
  • Residents can use the maps when they visit the parks.

Modeling Pollutant Levels in Lake Orono after Rainfall Events (BIOL 435)

Aquatic Biology (BIOL 435), Leah Domine and Chip Small
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The City of Elk River is working to improve water quality in its lakes and rivers.  As a part of this effort, Elk River is examining the overall management of Lake Orono to build a better understanding of the lake as a whole. Aquatic Biology students will model levels of pollutants in Lake Orono after rainfall events.  This would allow Elk River to predict the chance that levels of pollutants would reach thresholds requiring the lake to be closed to swimming.  Students will also conduct sampling of macroinvertebrates, a source of data Elk River does not currently have for Lake Orono.


City Outcomes
  • This project resulted in coordination between city and county staff to collect more data at the county level, change our sampling schedule at the city level, and continue monitoring results. This project will be continued with St. Thomas courses in future semesters.

Creating a Solar Powered Picnic Table Prototype (ENGR 480)

Senior Design Clinic (ENGR 480), Greg Mowry
Spring 2017

Students in the senior design clinic will create a usable prototype for a solar powered picnic table installation. This solar powered picnic table installation will serve the general public visiting Orono Park (18583 Gary St. NW) along the shores of Lake Orono. The park and beach attract thousands of visitors each year. The park has a pavilion with picnic tables and a few picnic tables are located in the shade along the beach. There are no central outlets located in the park for charging capabilities. As our visitors needs change with ever more use of technology, this project will further promote the use of our city outdoor space. The park does host two Big Belly solar trash compactors. However, most visitors do not see the direct solar energy utilized with these products. The project will also be a demonstration site to Energy City tour groups – averaging 600 participants annually. It will be a visual to educate students on solar energy and the immediate output it can create. Finally, it will include educational information for general visitors and a real-time meter reader showing solar production to further educate the general public.


City Outcomes
  • Students completed the building phase and delivered a final, working product 
  • The City is working to finalize funding avenues for the construction of the table and the project should be completed in spring 2018

Modeling Pollutant Levels in Lake Orono after Rainfall Events (ESCI 310)

Environmental Problem Solving (ESCI 310)Chip Small
Spring 2017


Project Overview

The City of Elk River is working to improve water quality in its lakes and rivers.  As a part of this effort, Elk River is examining the overall management of Lake Orono to build a better understanding of the lake as a whole. Environmental Problem Solving students will build upon the work of Aquatic Biology students from Fall 2016.  Students will refine and expand models of pollutant levels in Lake Orono after rainfall events.  This work will help Elk River predict the chance that levels of pollutants will reach thresholds requiring the lake to be closed to swimming.


Project Outcomes

Floodplain Assessment (GEOG 421)

Applied GIS (GEOG 421), David Kelley
Spring 2017

The City of Elk River is home to a number of water bodies including streams, rivers, and lakes. These water bodies have been mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for flooding concerns. These maps outline Floodplains (Floodways and Floodfringe) within city limits. Building in Floodplains must follow state regulations, as adopted by the city.  However, maps have not always been made available to the City of Elk River. Because of this, there are a number of houses located within the Floodplains that are now considered non-conforming as they were not built to today’s standards for flood protection to the structure, residents, or property. In some cases, houses are in great danger of flooding, while others may not actually be in the floodplain area.  Students will identify the properties which contain Floodplain and further identify any structures located within the Floodplain. They will also examine which of these structures, if any, could be considered incorrectly mapped. This information will inform the city's decisions regarding different options to address non-conforming properties, such as buying out these non-conforming properties.

Marketing ‘Energy City' (MBA Program)

Applied Business Research, MBA Client Consulting Program, Avinash Malshe
Spring 2017

Elk River has been known as "Energy City" since 1996 and is dedicated to providing education and outreach on renewable energy and energy efficiency demonstrations. Today, "Energy City" includes all city sustainability issues from urban forestry to water conservation.  However, many Elk River residents and businesses are not aware of "Energy City."  A team of students from Applied Business Research will research community engagement in "Energy City" to inform the city's engagement with residents.


City Outcomes
  • The final report from the project was presented to the Energy City Commission in August 2017 and they supported all its findings and recommendations.
  • The final report recommendation to allow residents to serve on the Energy City Commission was formally adopted.
  • The report will be presented to the City Council in September 2017.

Developing PR for Organics and Recycling (THEO 422)

Christian Faith and the Management Professions (THEO 422), Angela Senander
J-Term 2017

The City of Elk River has long been a leader in recycling participation and organics recycling involvement. In fact, the city was one of the first to implement single stream recycling and household organics collection in the state of Minnesota. Elk River organizes recycling collection for single family homes, splitting these residents between two haulers; the haulers deliver recyclables to different facilities, sometimes causing confusion between residents as to how their recycling process works. Also, the recycling industry changes frequently and rapidly, and city staff struggle to create a simple to understand process for homeowners. Also, organics recycling is voluntary for homeowners, and staff would like to see participation increase. Furthermore, landlords of apartment complexes and businesses organize their own recycling and compost collection systems, which do not follow a standard set of guidelines. Across these different constituencies, Elk River would like to improve city residents’ understanding of and participation in both recycling and organics collection.


Master Water Stewards, Freshwater Society (2016-present)

Marketing and Recruitment for Master Water Stewards (COJO 368)

Advertising Portfolio (COJO 368), Craig Bryan
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The Freshwater Society’s (FWS) Master Water Stewards (MWS) program develops, certifies, and supports community volunteer leaders to manage stormwater at a neighborhood scale to improve water quality. After a successful pilot, FWS will expand the MWS program to watershed districts and cities state-wide.  As the program expands, the FWS needs to develop and refine recruiting materials and messaging for cities and watershed districts to attract community members to enroll in the program. Students in COJO 368 will develop messaging and recruiting materials for the MWS in various formats (possibly including flyers, website material, informational sessions, photos, videos) using FWS’ style guide.

User-Centered Design: Creating an App for Master Water Stewards (CISC 321)

Systems Analysis and Design II (CISC 321), Tim Meyer
Fall 2016


Project Overview

The Freshwater Society’s (FWS) Master Water Stewards (MWS) program develops, certifies, and supports community volunteer leaders to manage stormwater at a neighborhood scale to improve water quality. After a successful pilot, the FWS is preparing to expand the MWS program to watershed districts and cities state-wide.  As the program expands, the FWS needs to provide a means for Stewards to keep track of their work (e.g., hours, who they interact with, projects they develop) as well as the effects of their work on reducing stormwater runoff and improving water quality.  The FWS would also like to document and deliver these results to participating governmental units in a way that adds value to their current system for stormwater reporting/permitting.  Students in System Analysis and Design II will 1) use a user-centered design approach to capture requirements and create a prototype application for Stewards to track their work and projects, and 2) conduct interviews with staff and external groups to ensure the prototype is able to be integrated with existing stormwater calculators and other tools to track effects of projects on stormwater runoff. This tracking app will also contribute to FWS’ broader goal of providing evidence that education to the public about water quality improves water resources.


Partner Outcomes
  • FWS is now working with an app developer to complete the project.
  • Students’ work on the prototype saved FWS an estimated $15,000, and the project is now a year ahead of schedule.

Designing Urban Garden Perimeter Plantings (BIOL 315)

Plants, Food, and Medicine (BIOL 315), Amy Verhoeven
Spring 2017


Project Overview

The Freshwater Society’s (FWS) Master Water Stewards (MWS) program develops, certifies, and supports community volunteer leaders to work for the health of their water at a neighborhood scale to improve water quality. Urban gardens and urban agriculture have become increasingly popular in the Twin Cities area and beyond.  However, stormwater may still runoff from these gardens, carrying soil and other nutrients to our lakes, streams, and rivers.  Students will design perimeter plantings for urban agriculture plots that both capture/reduce stormwater runoff and attract pollinators.  MWS volunteers can use these designs for their capstone projects in their neighborhoods to improve water quality.


Project Outcomes

Examining Urban Agriculture as a Stormwater Best Management Practice (BIOL 490)

Urban Ecosystem Ecology (BIOL 490)Chip Small
Spring 2017


Project Overview

The Freshwater Society’s (FWS) Master Water Stewards (MWS) program develops, certifies, and supports community volunteer leaders to manage stormwater at a neighborhood scale to improve water quality.  As part of the training program, MWS complete a capstone project in their watershed to infiltrate stormwater into the ground.  MWS can use the MIDS calculator to determine reductions in stormwater volume and pollutant loads for stormwater BMPs they install.  FWS would like to examine how urban agriculture (which is becoming increasingly popular in urban areas) may function as a stormwater BMP and how it could be integrated into the MIDS calculator.


Project Outcomes

Strategic Communication for Master Water Stewards (COJO 344)

Writing for Strategic Communication (COJO 344), Craig Bryan
Spring 2017

The Freshwater Society’s (FWS) Master Water Stewards (MWS) program develops, certifies, and supports community volunteer leaders to work for the health of their water at a neighborhood scale to improve water quality. FWS has implemented the MWS program with many watershed districts and cities and is in the process of expanding state-wide.  To date, MWS messaging has focused on stormwater and stormwater management; however, MWS would like to broaden their messaging about what the MWS program does and what it means to people.  Students will create a strategic communications plan and materials/messaging for different audiences and communication outlets to achieve this goal.


Metropolitan Council (2017 - Present)

Examining the Urban Tree Canopy (ENVR 401)

Environmental Studies Capstone (ENVR 401), David Kelley
Spring 2017


Project Overview

The Metropolitan Council is interested in an exploratory study on the urban tree canopy to inform their future work and research regarding the urban tree canopy.  Possible student research questions could include assessing gaps in the canopy, developing community engagement initiatives, examining the relationship between the canopy and stormwater, examining the relationship between the canopy and socioeconomic factors, etc.  Students from the Environmental Studies Field Seminar will develop and conduct a research project about this broad topic based in their disciplinary interests.  The topic of the urban tree canopy offers an array of social and environmental questions to explore, engaging students in real-world research and problem-solving that draws together their curricular work in geography and environmental studies.  At the same time, students’ research will inform the Metropolitan Council’s various areas of work related to the urban tree canopy across social and environmental dimensions.


Project Outcomes

Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (2016-present)

Culturally Diverse Environmental Engagement (SOWK 402)

Large Client Systems (SOWK 402), Ande Nesmith, Social Work
Spring 2016


Project Overview

The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) seeks to more effectively engage culturally diverse residents in promoting water quality through programs that resonate with and are beneficial to residents in their daily lives.  Students in Large Client Systems will create a logic model to guide MWMO’s outreach with culturally diverse populations that both benefits the community and advances MWMO’s mission of promoting water quality.  MWMO will identify the community (or communities, depending on number of students) to create a targeted logic model for cultural engagement‌.

Stormwater Best Management Practices Curriculum Units (TEGR 528 & EDUC 327)

Engineering in the P-12 Classroom (TEGR 528 and EDUC 327)Deb Besser, Center for Engineering Education, and Debbie Monson, Teacher Education
Spring & Summer 2016


Project Overview

The Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization’s (MWMO) education and outreach program seeks to “provide information, services and products to promote responsible stewardship of water and natural resources by the watershed community.” As part of this goal, MWMO would like to develop curriculum units for stormwater management best management practices (BMPs) that can be shared with both formal and informal educators. Currently, MWMO shares general resources with educators (e.g., resources from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Geological Survey), but MWMO does not have the capacity to develop curriculum units for specific BMPs in their watershed.

Students in Engineering in the P-12 Classroom will be invited to develop engineering design curriculum units for BMPs in MWMO’s watershed boundaries. Curriculum resources tailored to stormwater management BMPs that are installed on sites within MWMO’s boundaries may increase and facilitate educators’ and the public’s engagement with these sites and practices. Curriculum units that educators can use at specific sites in the watershed would also support the goal of place-based education.

Examining Land Use Scenarios for Vacant Lots (ESCI 310)

Environmental Problem Solving (ESCI 310), Chip Small
Spring 2016


Project Overview

Students will examine the effects of various land use scenarios on stormwater runoff  and pollinator habitat connectivity.  Specifically, students will examine possible effects of the conversion of vacant lots in North Minneapolis to alternative uses (e.g., urban agriculture, pollinator habitat, raingardens, or a combination of uses) on stormwater runoff rates. Students will also examine optimal and minimum spatial distances between pollinator gardens. Finally, students will explore co-benefit scenarios for combinations of different land use practices. Students’ analysis will be used to inform the targeted selection of locations for these alternative land uses and to provide justification for the conversion of vacant lots to alternative uses within MWMO’s management boundaries.

Mississippi River Corridor Habitat Assessment (ESCI 430)

Environmental Science Senior Research Seminar (ESCI 430), Lisa Lamb and Sami Nichols
Spring 2016


Project Overview

The Mississippi River corridor is an ecosystem of connected natural and urban habitats, which provides benefits to both wildlife and humans. The “Above the Falls” stretch of the Mississippi River shoreline has historically been industrial, but the Mississippi River Management Organization (MWMO), the Mississippi Riverfront Partnership (MRP), and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) would like to restore this area to provide habitat connectivity along the river corridor.  Property ownership complicates this goal; property along this stretch of the river has multiple owners and uses (e.g., residential, industrial, parks, vacant Brownfields).  “Postage-stamp” parks have been created along this stretch, as the MPRB and partners purchase land along the river in a piecemeal fashion, when available.

To achieve restoration goals in this context, the corridor as a whole needs to be assessed for wildlife function.  For example: What wildlife species are currently present? What is a meaningful corridor (size/length) to maximize wildlife habitat and to provide habitat conveyance?  Finally, the complexity of property ownership and public access needs to be considered.  How can the corridor be restored considering the current context of multiple property owners along the river? How can restoration goals be achieved while still providing an accessible riverfront for the public?

Organizational Communication with Volunteers (COJO 320)

Organizational Communication (COJO 320), Xiaowen Guan
Spring 2016


Project Overview

The Freshwater Society’s (FWS) Master Water Stewards program (MWS) develops, certifies, and supports community volunteer leaders to manage stormwater at a neighborhood scale to improve water quality. FWS is wrapping up the third year of its partnership with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and is preparing to expand the MWS program to seven watershed districts and one city in the coming year, including the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization. To support this expansion, FWS would like to develop a set of recommended communication practices for its new partners to use to develop and maintain engaged, interested, and involved water stewards after they have completed their certification. Students will examine how FWS has set up communication with MWS volunteers to identify and analyze what works well and what can be improved to develop and maintain engaged, interested, and involved water stewards after they have completed their certification. Based on this research, they will create a set of recommended communication practices or blueprint for communication for new local government unit partners to develop and maintain engaged, interested, and involved water stewards.

Public Media for the Master Water Stewards (ENGL 304)

Analytic and Persuasive Writing (ENGL 304), Lucia Pawlowski
Spring 2016


Project Overview

The Freshwater Society’s (FWS) Master Water Stewards (MWS) program develops, certifies, and supports community volunteer leaders to manage stormwater at a neighborhood scale to improve water quality. FWS is wrapping up the third year of its MWS pilot partnership with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and is preparing to expand the MWS program to seven watershed districts and one city in the coming year, including the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO).  To support the expansion of the program, FWS would like to increase the public visibility of the program to recruit future MWS participants and to share stories of current MWS projects and activities.  Students in Analytical and Persuasive writing will create different media to help achieve this goal, including live tweets of watershed tours and narratives of Master Water Stewards’ journeys from “0-10” in their understanding of watersheds.

Urban Agriculture Ethnography Project (GENG 672)

Ethnographic Writing (GENG 672), Todd Lawrence
Spring 2016


Project Overview

The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization seeks to understand why and how residents within their watershed engage in urban agriculture, including motivations, barriers, and benefits, in order to more effectively engage other residents in urban agriculture.  MWMO’s overarching goal is to improve water quality by reducing the volume and speed of stormwater runoff.  Urban agricultural practices may reduce the volume and speed of stormwater runoff by changing compacted soils that cannot infilitrate water to healthier soils that can absorb stormwater.

Students will investigate engagement in urban agriculture through ethnographic research with residents of North Minneapolis.  Based on this research, students will create narratives of residents’ stories of engagement with urban agriculture. In the process of writing these ethnographies, students will explore themes about motivations for and meanings of engaging in urban agriculture as well as barriers residents experience.  This study will provide rich, qualitative data upon which a further study examining motivations to engage in urban agriculture can be developed and messages to encourage residents’ engagement in urban agriculture can be built.

Designing Stormwater Management and Water Quality Surveys (PSYC 313)

Psychological Testing (PSYC 313), Tonia Bock
Spring 2017


Project Overview

The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) would like to better understand attitudes and perceptions about stormwater management practices and water quality of the Mississippi River in general.  Students in Psychological Testing will design, create, and gather evidence of the validity of a new survey that addresses a specific question related to these general topics.  Students will be provided with example survey topics; they may choose from these topics or seek to create their own topic within the MWMO’s general issues of interest.  This is an optional project topic for their lab work to create a survey and assess its validity.


Partner Outcomes

Discovering people’s attitudes about issues like water quality, stormwater management and the environment generally is a persistent need and challenge for the MWMO. The surveys designed by these students offer a blueprint for future research into these areas. The MWMO is looking at doing a survey in the near future about business owners’ attitudes about stormwater BMPs, and will design this and other future surveys with the students’ insights in mind. MWMO may also use the surveys about environmental attitudes with some of their outreach groups in an effort to gauge the attitudes of audiences like Master Water Stewards, grant recipients and other key audiences.

Evaluating Stormwater Management Graphics (COJO 372)

Environmental Communication (COJO 372), Mark Neuzil
Spring 2017


Project Overview

The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) has a library of graphics for stormwater best management practices. The MWMO uses these graphics on signs, flyers, and other communication materials for the public; these communication materials seek to engage the public in implementing stormwater best management practices to promote infiltration of water into the ground and prevent runoff to the Mississippi River.  Other watershed districts in the area are interested in collaborating with the MWMO to use this set of graphics across watershed districts so that they will become more recognizable to the public and so that watershed districts can build momentum around them.  However, before the MWMO proceeds with this collaborative effort, the MWMO would like to assess whether the graphics are effective in achieving their desired responses/goals in different communication settings. Students in Environmental Communication will evaluate these graphics with respect to the MWMO’s goals and provide their analysis and feedback to the MWMO to inform their work.


Partner Outcomes

MWMO staff met in May 2017 to review and discuss the focus group’s comments. The students’ feedback provided insights that challenged the level of confidence MWMO had in some of the symbols they had been using. It also gave MWMO a roadmap for improving those images and bringing a higher level of consistency to their iconography. MWMO plans to do additional research with other audiences and ultimately redesigning several of the icons.

Stormwater Best Management Practices Curriculum Units (TEGR 528 & EDUC 327)

Engineering in the P-12 Classroom (TEGR 528 and EDUC 327), Deb Besser, Center for Engineering Education, and Debbie Monson, Teacher Education
Summer 2017

The Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization’s (MWMO) education and outreach program seeks to “provide information, services and products to promote responsible stewardship of water and natural resources by the watershed community.” As part of this goal, MWMO would like to develop curriculum units for stormwater management best management practices (BMPs) that can be shared with both formal and informal educators. Currently, MWMO shares general resources with educators (e.g., resources from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Geological Survey), but MWMO does not have the capacity to develop curriculum units for specific BMPs in their watershed. Students in Engineering in the P-12 Classroom will be invited to develop engineering design curriculum units for BMPs in MWMO’s watershed boundaries. Curriculum resources tailored to stormwater management BMPs that are installed on sites within MWMO’s boundaries may increase and facilitate educators’ and the public’s engagement with these sites and practices. Curriculum units that educators can use at specific sites in the watershed would also support the goal of place-based education.


Sustainable Communities Partnership Toolkits

SCP works with faculty and courses to build upon work completed by other SCP courses to create toolkits for cities. 

Community Ethnography Toolkit (ENGL 325)

Ethnographic Writing (ENGL 325), Todd Lawrence 
Spring 2017

Community ethnography is a collaborative form of ethnographic research that focuses on community groups as partners in qualitative research designed to foster cultural sustainability and social justice within those groups. Students in Ethnographic Writing and American Idealism, in collaboration with Eastside Freedom Library and other community members, will 'test' a community ethnography toolkit developed by Todd Lawrence.  The purpose of this toolkit is to provide communities with an introductory guide to the potential benefits of ethnographic research as a way to identify cultural values, preserve cultural history and traditional knowledge, highlight community strengths, and help identify solutions to community issues. This toolkit will extend work that has already been done by SCP courses with local communities and allow more communities to engage in ethnographic projects on their own in service of these stated goals.


Tiny Footprint Coffee (2016-present)

Examining Uses of Coffee Chaff (BIOL 209, BIOL 315, Independent Research)

Biology of Sustainability Labs (BIOL 209), Leah Domine and Plants, Food, and Medicine (BIOL 315), Amy Verhoeven and Independent Student Research with faculty advisors Chip Small and Adam Kay
Fall 2016 - Summer 2017


Project Overview

Courses, faculty, and student researchers are collaborating with Tiny Footprint Coffee to examine potential uses for coffee chaff, a byproduct of coffee roasting.  Tiny Footprint Coffee currently composts its coffee chaff but would like to find a more valuable use for it.  Potential uses may include coffee chaff as a natural pesticide, mulch, or energy source.  In Fall 2016, based on a literature review and application of experimental design, teams of students in Biology of Sustainability proposed different uses for coffee chaff.  In the spring 2017, students in Amy Verhoeven's Plants, Food, and Medicine (BIOL 315) course examined antioxidant properties of coffee chaff.  In summer 2017, Chip Small and Adam Kay led a research project on using coffee chaff as mulch in urban agriculture.  SCP will continue to work with other courses to test other ideas for novel uses of coffee chaff.  Results from this research have the potential to create systems-based change for the disposal of coffee chaff across coffee roasters.  

Carbon Calculation (BIOL 490)

Urban Ecosystem Ecology (BIOL 490), Chip Small
Spring 2017


Project Overview

Tiny Footprint Coffee is a carbon-negative coffee distributor/roaster in the Twin Cities. They work to reduce their carbon emissions across their supply chain, and they donate a percentage of their profits to reforestation efforts in Ecuador. They are also seeking to find uses of their by-products (e.g., see Coffee Chaff project).  Tiny Footprint Coffee conducted their own carbon audit several years ago, but they would like to update these calculations to determine their current carbon budget across their operations and to find ways to continue to decrease emissions.  Students in Urban Ecosystem Ecology will assist them in this effort. 


Project Outcomes