Campus As A Living Lab

UofL supports projects that make our campus and its community a living laboratory of sustainability, where concepts are explored and ideas are tested to advance campus sustainability through applied learning.

Butterfly Garden at HouchensIn our efforts to make UofL into a living laboratory of sustainability, the UofL Sustainability Council seeks researchers and faculty collaborators from all disciplines to work directly with us and to sponsor students (GRAs, interns, work-study, service learning, class projects, volunteers, etc.) to help us investigate ways to improve and enhance sustainability. If you want to get connected with other researchers or potential projects on campus, please contact the assistant to the provost for sustainability initiatives, Justin Mog.

UofL has many concrete sustainability research needs, including the following vital efforts that could be tackled through applied learning on campus:

To learn more about how to integrate Campus As A Living Lab projects into your courses, consult AASHE's Guide for Applied Sustainability Learning Projects: Advancing sustainability outcomes on campus and in the community, which provides a step-by-step framework for how applied learning for sustainability programs can be designed, built and scaled around two interconnected goals:

  1. Provide students with exceptional learning experiences in sustainability;
  2. Contribute to workable solutions that support tangible sustainability outcomes on campus and the surrounding community. 

The publication brings together lessons from on-the-ground management of applied learning for sustainability programs across the U.S. and Canada with literature related to sustainability science, sustainability pedagogy, change management and partnership development.

School yard becomes latest urban laboratory in Louisville (UofL News, May 19, 2016)

Examples of Campus as a Living Lab projects at UofL

    • Spring 2017: Public Health Practice

      When UofL was designated as a Smoke-free Campus in 2010, it was an exciting opportunity to enhance public health and contribute to a culture of health and wellness on campus. Six years later, many of the original smoke-free signs had disappeared and, as a result, the original intent of the policy had been diminished. Public Health majors in professor, David Johnson's spring course, PHUN 420 Public Health Practice, were charged with the task of mapping the current state of the smoke-free signage. As both students and future public health professionals, they were asked to present their findings in a report and make recommendations for new and/or improved signage. The course not only used the campus as a living lab, but it responded directly to concerns about the erosion of our Smoke-Free culture that were raised by students, the Office of Health Promotion and the UofL Sustainability Council. Students were tasked with assessing the state of our Smoke-Free Campus initiative on Belknap campus. Small groups of students were assigned areas of the campus to survey, looking for the presence or absence of Smoke-Free signage, outdated legacy smoking area signage that still needs to be removed, and areas of concentrated smoking behavior. The students then compiled a set of recommendations that were submitted to the Sustainability Council's Operations committee on February 21, 2017 and approved for final submission to the administration. The students' investigation and recommendations were extremely helpful for moving us forward.

    • Spring 2017: Urban Planning students explore ideas to improve Louisville’s sustainability score
      As the capstone to a semester of work, UofL Urban Planning grad students were tasked with helping the city of Louisville improve its 4-star rating in the STAR Community Rating System, which measures sustainability. Louisville’s areas needing improvement in this system are easy transportation or walkability to workplaces and availability of affordable housing across the city. The students took a look at ways Louisville could improve its sustainability score by better matching public transportation to jobs and housing and improving walkability and infrastructure. Students approached this task by mapping out likely areas for transit oriented development or TODs. Check out more about their research below:

      Sources: Video: Urban Planning Students' ideas to improve Louisville (WHAS-TV Great Day Live, July 31, 2017)
      Urban Planning students pitch ideas to improve Louisville’s sustainability score (UofL News, Aug. 1, 2017)
    • On-going: Design for Public Issues
      Each year, Art Professor, Leslie Friesen’s ART590 “Design for Public Issues” class is tasked with researching the needs of a local non-profit organization and developing design concepts that would assist in achieving that mission. Since 2010, the course has served as a culminating, service learning experience for BFA students in the Graphic Design program, where they can apply all they’ve learned in their prior two years of classes. Students work as a team with a nonprofit to develop materials that effectively communicate the organization’s message and provide a strong, cohesive visual identity. According to Friesen, “the overall goal is to increase awareness, involvement and support for these nonprofits.” Organizations selected have limited resources and couldn’t otherwise afford the work.
      > In Spring 2012, the UofL Sustainability Council was the client for the class which created a full suite of design concepts for awareness-raising and behavior change around three themes: Energy/Water Conservation; Transportation Alternatives; and Local and Sustainable Food.
      > In Fall 2016, the client for the course was the Louisville Climate Action Network (LCAN). Friesen calculates that a private agency would likely have charged LCAN as much as $200,000 for the the number of hours that the team of 13 students put into the project. “This is the huge advantage of having a metropolitan research university in this city – the focus on service. Students and faculty take the education process and apply it to the needs of the community as they’ve done here,” said Barry Zalph, an LCAN board member.
      Designed to serve: How a Hite Art Institute class helps area nonprofits (UofL News, Dec. 15, 2016).
  • Spring 2016 & 2017: Maple Tapping on Campus
    In Spring 2016 and 2017, non-science-major students in new Sustainable Community Engagement sections of BIOL 104 - Laboratory for Introduction to Biological Systems experimented with tapping trees on Belknap campus to gather sap for syrup, learn about the process, and study the environmental conditions that influence it. UofL's maple trees on campus had never been tapped before, so students, faculty and staff were involved in learning about a new urban agroforestry resource on campus.
    In 2017, the project expanded from one to two sections of BIOL 104, allowing for a doubling of the number of students involved and the number of trees tapped. TA Grace Freundlich taught both sections (with guidance from Biology professor Linda Fuselier). The Biology Department invested in its own tapping equipment and experimented with tapping other kinds of trees for sap. The syrup-making arrangement with our community partner, Dave Barker, was maintained and he oversaw the tapping of trees on UofL's Shelby Campus for the first time ever. A hands-on Maple Tapping Workshop for the whole campus community and general public was added (Feb. 13th, 2017, 1pm-2pm in Cultural Center Multipurpose Room & Garden Commons) as well as the EcoReps Lunch & Learn: Making Maple Syrup from UofL Trees (Pancake Party!) (Friday, April 21st, 2017 at Noon, Ekstrom Library 3rd Floor Delphi Lab). Photos.
    Five things we learned about syrup during on-campus workshop (UofL News, Feb. 17, 2017)
    UofL’s campus serving as a sustainable living laboratory (UofL News, Feb. 3, 2017)
    Maple Tapping - March 2016In 2016, 28 students were engaged in the project taught by CEHD PhD candidate Melissa Michael (with guidance from Biology professor Linda Fuselier). They tapped 12 maple trees (two sugar maples and ten red maples) from 2/18/16 – 3/11/16 on maples near the College of Education, the Interfaith Center, and Schneider Hall. The students split into seven groups to design experiments and gather data while collecting the sap. The sap was processed into 2 quarts of syrup by Dave Barker, a community-partner who operates an artisanal sugar shack in Lyndon. Students were invited to an optional field trip out to the sugar shack in March, and the project was shared with the larger campus community at the 4/15/16 EcoReps Lunch & Learn Workshop, which served as a Pancake Party for everyone to enjoy some of the UofL syrup! The project was also shared nationally with a poster presentation by Melissa Michael and Justin Mog at the 2016 conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in Baltimore: Sticky Sustainability: Tapping Untapped Resources on Campus #ULMapleMadness. Photos. Video.
    Maple tapping project a first for Belknap Campus trees (UofL News, April 25, 2016).
    Melissa Michael describes class project to tap maple trees on campus for syrup (starts 23:08) (UofL Today with Mark Hebert, 93.9 FM The Ville, April 12, 2016). VIDEO (starts 20:08).
    Unfortunately, the local effects of global climate destabilization have taken their toll on this Campus As A Living Lab opportunity. The unusually warm winter of 2017 demonstrated that it was simply too risky to keep this project as a part of a curriculum within a rigid academic calendar. In the end we learned that trees need to be tapped when the weather, not the academic calendar, permits. We are hoping to take this project out of the formal curriculum and into extracurricular life on campus.
  • Spring 2016: Bike/Walk Lane Awareness Project
    For his practicum project, Corey Scott, a second year graduate student in the Communications Masters Program, took on the UofL Sustainability Council as a client and surveyed 219 students about their attitudes, norms, perceived behavioral control, and behavioral intention with respect to bike/walk lanes on and around campus. The project gauged student’s awareness and opinion about the lanes we have and their intentions and desires to use them properly. Designated lanes both on campus paths and on surrounding streets were found to be of value, safe, and desirable for both pedestrians and cyclists. The study documented a strong desire to see more designated lanes installed on more paths and streets around campus. Additional recommendations from the study included implementing a communication campaign to influence attitudes about the lanes (e.g. “The safest path to success!”) and to provide confidence-building tips and training for cyclists (especially older riders) about using the streets safely. The project was advised by Communication Professors Lindsay Della & Jasmine Wang.
  • On-Going: Harriet A. Korfhage Native Plant Garden
    BIOL Native Plant Garden Before+After (Spring 2016)In Spring 2016, the Biology Department coordinated with the Grounds crew and Dropseed Nursery to remove an unused lawn area next to the Life Sciences building and replace it with a native plant living lab. The garden serves a number of our Biology labs by providing on-campus access to native plants as well as the insects such plants would attract. A number of our courses benefit from having such an area including Entomology (for the insects), Plant Taxonomy, Medicinal Plant Biochemistry, Ecology, and perhaps Animal Behavior. The garden also engages donors and participation from the Beechmont Garden Club as well as Botanica.
  • On-Going: Longitudinal UofL Commuter Survey
    UofL Commuting Trends 2010-2015Since 2010, graduate students and faculty in the Department of Urban & Public Affairs have collaborated with staff from Sustainability (Provost's Office), Institutional Research, and Parking and Transportation Services to design and implement an on-going longitudinal study of the commuting habits and attitudes of UofL students, faculty and staff. Students in Professor John Gilderbloom's spring 2010 course UPA 680-01 URBAN RESEARCH SEMINAR were involved in designing and pre-testing the initial survey instrument administered by Institutional Research. Questions explored not only commuting habits by demographics, but willingness to consider alternative modes and barriers to their use. Graduate students took the lead in analyzing the resulting data which was used to set a baseline for the Sustainability Council's effort to document greenhouse gas emissions and to develop a plan to reduce vehicle miles traveled to campus. In fall 2012, the Sustainability Council launched a full suite of transportation alternatives (free bikeshare, Earn-A-Bike, carpool matching, and carshare in addition to free transit). The impact of these new programs was assessed by a follow-up survey conducted in spring 2013. This survey was also a collaboration between staff in university administration and Urban & Public Affairs professor Frank Goetzke (serving as Principle Investigator) and graduate research assistants who again helped revise and pre-test the survey instrument and analyze the data. A third follow-up survey in the longitudinal study was conducted in fall 2015, with Urban & Public Affairs professor Dave Simpson serving as Principle Investigator and graduate research assistants again involved in revising and pre-test the survey instrument and analyzing the data. The longitudinal study has been pivotal to informing the Sustainability Council's on-going work to provide a full suite of transportation alternatives that meet the needs of our evolving campus population. We have been successful in reducing vehicle miles traveled and shifting the mode share in both the student and employee populations.
  • On-Going: Passive Solar Test Facility
    Passive Solar Test FacilityWe are investigating renewable energy options to passively heat & cool UofL buildings. At Burhans Hall on our Shelby campus, in collaboration with the Department of Energy and the Kentucky Renewable Energy Consortium, UofL's Renewable Energy Applications Laboratory (REAL) installed an experimental solar heat pipe wall for indoor climate control that may prove to be twice as efficient as other solar systems in places such as Louisville with moderate sun and cold winters. In 2011, the system was moved for further experimentation and monitoring to a newPassive Solar Test Facility constructed at the Speed School of Engineering at the Brook Street railroad fly-over, just south of Eastern Pkwy. This is the only such device of its kind in the world. The walls, floor and roof are built with structural insulated panels (SIP’s). The building is divided into two rooms with an insulated interior wall to allow side-by-side testing of two systems. Currently installed are two solar heat pipe systems, which produce net heat gains approximately twice as large as typical direct gain systems. Heating performance of these two prototypes has been compared, and strategies for reducing unwanted gains during the summer have also been tested. These experiments were funded by the Department of Energy, and are reported in the following articles:
    1. Robinson BS & Sharp MK, “Reducing unwanted gains during the cooling season for a solar heat pipe system,” Solar Energy 115:16-32, 2015.
    2. Robinson BS & Sharp MK, “Heating season performance improvements for a solar heat pipe system,” Solar Energy 110:39-49, 2014.
    3. Robinson BS, Chmielewski NE, Knox Kelecy A, Brehob EG, Sharp MK, “Heating season performance of a full-scale heat pipe assisted solar wall,” Solar Energy 87:76–83, 2013.
  • On-Going: Certificate in Diversity Literacy
    The Certificate in Diversity Literacy provides a unique opportunity for students who have already earned bachelor’s degrees to enhance their knowledge and skills of the theory and practice of inclusion and equity, including what diversity means, what its personal and social effects are, and how it shapes lives, workplaces, and pedagogy. All students in the program are required to complete a Capstone in Diversity Literacy course in which students must conceive and develop a culminating project that advances diversity in each student's chosen field.
  • On-Going: Office of Health Promotion
    The mission of UofL's Office of Health Promotion is to collaborate to build a campus community that promotes vitality, resilience, health and academic excellence. To achieve this goal, the Office employs professional and student staff as well as volunteers and interns in order to provide relevant, accurate and non-judgmental programs services, advocacy, peer mentorship and increased access to health-promoting options. The Office takes a data-driven approach to improving public health on campus and is constantly innovating, studying and evaluating the impact of interventions and campaigns. The Office works in close collaboration with the UofL Sustainability Council and the Get Healthy Now employee wellness program.
  • On-Going: The Phoenix House
    Phoenix House Ready for Competition in Irvine, CAUofL Civil Engineering professor W. Mark McGinley, who led the University of Louisville/Ball State University team for the 2013 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition, has involved his team of students, staff, and faculty in reconfiguring the student-built “Phoenix House” into the new administrative offices for UofL's Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research. The Phoenix House serves as a living laboratory for projects on solar, energy storage, geothermal systems, and building envelope studies to continually develop data toward smart and energy efficient homes.
  • On-Going: Ali Scholars
    The Ali Scholars Program, offered to full-time undergraduate University of Louisville students, is a unique multi-year experience combining training, research and service in the areas of violence prevention, social justice and peacemaking in an urban living context. A special emphasis is placed on understanding and addressing the social conditions that impact those issues. Through their work with UofL's Muhammad Ali Institute, Ali Scholars develop expertise on a topic of their choice by participating in seminars with renowned practitioners, educators and activists. The Ali Scholars employ a practical solution-based approach as they produce scholarly research related to their “expert area” and its impact locally and globally. Equipped with a solid knowledge base and organizing skills, the Ali Scholars provide service hosting on-campus events, furthering the work of the Ali Institute and working alongside campus, local, national and international practitioners in their expert areas. Through the Ali Scholars program, students acquire both the intellectual and practical training to take action and leadership on issues of peace, violence prevention and social justice at home and abroad. Ali Scholars are expected to provide service to campus, local, national or international organizations and efforts related to peace and social justice.
  • On-Going: Translating Social Justice Research Into Action
    In Fall 2014, UofL's Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice issued a university-wide call for faculty collaboration to identify new and innovative ways of connecting research to the community. We call this effort “Translating Social Justice Research Into Action.” Two projects emerged from this effort. The first is the “Cultural Competency Project” representing the work of a multidisciplinary faculty research group organized and supported by Ali Institute. This Faculty Research Group is assessing the content and operationalization of “cultural competency” across disciplines, professions and operations in a university setting. The Faculty Research Group is supported by the Muhammad Ali Institute Law Fellow - Mashayla Hays. A second project focuses on faculty at the University who are engaged in social justice research. “Faculty Spotlights” highlight social justice research at the University of Louisville and key insights that may be of particular interest to local community and government organizations, as well as national and international groups. The first spotlight was on Dr. Aaron Rollins, Assistant Professor of Urban & Public Affairs.
    The Faculty Research Group includes:
    - Meera Alagaraja, Educational Leadership, Evaluation and Organizational Development, CEHD
    - Latrica Best, Pan-African Studies, A&S
    - Cherie Dawson-Edwards, Criminal Justice, A&S
    - Tia Dumas, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School, Clemson University
    - Yvonne Jones, Pan-African Studies, A&S
    - Cedric Powell, Law
    - Aaron Rollins, Urban & Public Affairs, A&S
    - Terri Rowland, Educational Leadership, Evaluation and Organizational Development, CEHD
    - Shelley Thomas, Middle and Secondary Education, CEHD
    - Enid Trucios-Haynes, Law
    - Sherri Wallace, Political Science, A&S
  • On-Going: Dual-Axis Tracking Solar Array
    Sackett Hall Solar Array (PV+HotWater)The computer controlled dual-axis tracking solar array on Sackett Hall at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering produces both electricity (2 kW) and hot water for the building. It is the only such tracking array in Kentucky, and is intended for research, development and education, while supplying a portion of the building's electricity and hot water. Because it is able to track the sun precisely throughout the day and across the seasons, it is 30% more efficient than fixed solar panels. The two solar thermal collectors in the center of the array provide nearly 100% of the building's hot water in the summer, and ten photovoltaic panels feed enough electricity into the grid to power the building's computer laboratory. Real-time data on how much energy the system is capturing is available on a monitor inside the building.
  • On-Going: Get Healthy Now
    UofL's employee wellness program, Get Healthy Now, offers students a variety of opportunities to use the campus population as a living laboratory for improving health and wellness. Through the program, students can enjoy an enriched academic experience while applying classroom knowledge in the real-world. Students are given hands-on opportunities to perform health and fitness assessments, develop health education programming, wellness coach, and create marketing materials. Participants gain practical and professional experience while networking with others in the field through: Wellness Coaching Internships and Externships; and Fitness Facility Internships; an Interdisciplinary Wellness Coaching Minor; and a Federal Work Study Program.
  • On-Going: Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research
    UofL's Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research was founded in 2006 to honor the work and legacy of longtime racial justice organizer, educator and journalist Anne Braden. The Institute seeks to advance public understanding of the U.S. civil rights movement, both its powerful history and its unfinished agenda of racial and social justice. Our vision is that scholarship and activism inform and strengthen each other and sustain social justice locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Our mission is to bridge the gap between academic research and community activism for racial and social justice. To do so, we stimulate and support initiatives and programs that cultivate dialogue and cooperation between scholarship and activism. We focus on the modern African American freedom movement, other modern peace and social justice movements, and the intersections among racial, economic, gender, and wider social justice. Because the Institute’s work grows out of U.S. history, with its legacy of white supremacy, we see race/racism as central elements in all aspects of social justice in the United States. Our work aims at uncovering those connections and at the successful bridging of racial divides, with a special focus on the Louisville community and the U.S. South.
  • Summer/Fall 2015: Biological Processes of Campus Composting
    Brian Barnes managing UofL Food Waste Composting Program.33 non-science-major students in a new Sustainable Community Engagement section of BIOL 104 - Laboratory for Introduction to Biological Systems run by Professor Linda Fuselier used the university’s Community Composting operations as an opportunity to study the biological processes of decomposition and factors associated with successful composting operations for organic waste streams from the campus and surrounding partners. Since July 2010, volunteers have been collecting food wastes for on-campus composting from some UofL Dining Service outlets, area coffee shops, residence halls, and other community sources, but this was the first time that the operation was used as a living lab for a class research project. Students were divided into small groups, each of which designed different experiments associated with various stages of the composting process from leaf litter piles to primary food waste composting bins to vermiculture bins to finished compost used as organic fertilizer in the campus’ Garden Commons raised beds.
  • 2014-15: Student Recommendations for Improving Local Transit
    - FALL 2015: UPA 680-76 Special Topics: Sustainable Social-Ecological Systems (Professor Daniel DeCaro)
    At the request of TARC (Transit Authority of River City), UofL students worked on a group final project to produce recommendations for improving local transit with a final presentation, 30-page report and discussion with TARC staff. Report: Social Sustainability Guidelines and Metrics for Transportation in Louisville: A Proposal for TARC's APTA Sustainability Commitment
    Authors: Ariel E. Weaver, Peter Williams, Nathan Wright, Ashley Woolsey, and Erin Yenney
    - SPRING 2015: UPA 680-75 Special Topics: Behavior & Environmental Sustainability (Professor Daniel DeCaro)
    Students collaborated to present their ideas about how to promote mass transit ridership among people working in downtown Louisville to TARC and UofL Sustainability Council reps.
    - FALL 2014: UPA 680-75 Special Topics: Urban Environments and Sustainability (Professor Daniel DeCaro)
    Graduate students worked together throughout the semester to understand the factors that may be shaping use of alternative transportation in Louisville, and they also worked to create a survey that may be used (e.g., by the Partnership for a Green City and/or UofL's Sustainability Council) to assess psychological and social-ecological barriers to alternative transportation use.
    - SPRING 2014: UPA 680-75 Special Topics: Behavioral Dimensions in Urban Sustainability (Professor Daniel DeCaro)
    Students identified improving ridership of TARC as their course project and produced a final report and presentation for the UofL Sustainability Council.
  • Fall 2013: Real Food Challenge
    Students in Anthropology Professor Jeneen Wiche's ANTH 352 - Food & Body Politic class explored the emerging campaign of the Real Food Challenge and its applicability to UofL. The students were instrumental in getting UofL to sign onto the Real Food Challenge that semester. In spring 2014, the Antropology Department sponsored an independent study course in which students worked with Professor Wiche and UofL Dining Services staff to conduct the university’s first audit using the Real Food Challenge calculator. It was decided to audit Dining Services food procurement for the months of September 2013 and February 2014 so as to capture one month in which it is relatively easy to buy local and one month with less local food availability. Food procurement invoices were gathered for select dining facilities (Cardinal Burger Company, The Ville Grill, and Garden Toss) and students got hands-on learning experience in the process of entering the line-items of food into the RFC calculator. Once the information is entered, students did research to evaluate what qualifies as “real food” based on the national criteria, including terms such as real, humane, local, sustainable, worker friendly, etc. In addition, students took two field trips to explore the local food system: a tour of Creation Gardens at the produce terminal in Louisville and another at Gallrein Farm in Bagdad, KY. This campus as a living lab initiative got the university started on an on-going process of transforming Dining Services procurement to be better aligned with the goals of the Real Food Challenge. In the 2015-16 academic year, the on-campus Real Food Challenge has taken on a more student-led approach, including demands for more stringent sustainable procurement and living wage requirements in the new Dining Services contract that the university is currently negotiating.
  • 2011: Storm Water Management - Infiltration Study
    Stormwater Infiltration monitoring equipment installed by CIR at College of Business parking lotWhen UofL launched an extensive initiative in partnership with Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District to install new storm water management systems in 2011, it did so with an important campus as a living lab component. Student, faculty, and staff researchers from UofL's Center for Infrastructure Research installed monitoring equipment to study infiltration rates, storage capacity, and the performance of various infiltration basin designs on Belknap campus. Many traditional-looking parking lots, plazas and lawns across campus now conceal advanced storm water infiltration systems. Instead of draining to the combined sewer system, these areas drain to large underground infiltration basins capable of handling huge rainfall events and the water from surrounding rooftops. These designs were included in the following projects (with the square footage of impervious surface area mitigated in parentheses):
    1. Ekstrom Library western lawn - completed in fall 2012, this infiltration system captures roof run-off from surrounding buildings (108,000 sf)
    2. The UTA/Ville Grill plaza renovated in 2011. (14,550 sf)
    3. The Red Barn plaza renovated in 2011. (4,120 sf)
    4. The Grawemeyer Oval lawn renovated in 2011. (76,368 sf)
    5. The College of Business parking lot renovated in 2011. (86,052 sf)
    6. The parking lot behind Bettie Johnson Hall, the Urban Studies Institute, and University Planning, Design & Construction renovated in 2011. (67,629 sf)
    7. The Speed Museum expansion project has been designed with a large infiltration basin beneath the plaza which will be able to handle roof drainage from Strickler Hall, Life Sciences, and the College of Business. (94,304 sf)
    8. The new Student Recreation Center opened in October 2013 with an infiltration system that is larger than originally planned. It has a connected load that captures rainwater from most of the land surrounding Billy Minardi Hall as well. (317,115 sf).