Lauren Niemann wins UofL's 2024 Josh Smith Memorial Sustainability Award

Lauren Niemann with Brian Barnes, Brent Fryrear, Justin MogAt a special ceremony during the March 22nd Engaged Scholarship Symposium, the University of Louisville Sustainability Council bestowed the 2024 Josh Smith Memorial Sustainability Award on Fern Creek High School teacher, Lauren Niemann, for her outstanding collaboration with UofL in launching and operating a Dual Credit Sustainability 101 program wherein JCPS (and JCTC) students can earn college credit for taking an Introduction to Sustainability course. Alongside their environmental science teacher, Lauren's students have created an outdoor learning space at Fern Creek that solves campus stormwater management issues and provides habitat for wildlife, while being accessible to all students. The space even has wheelchair accessible picnic tables created from a community wide plastic bottle cap collection.

The Award was launched in 2017 after the untimely death of UofL alumni Josh Smith to honor outstanding individuals and groups who, like Josh, give their time and resources to work in concert with UofL's sustainability efforts to strengthen university-community relationships.

Fern Creek High SchoolIn nominating Ms. Niemann for this year's Award, Brent Fryrear, Director of the Partnership for a Green City and Chair of the UofL Sustainability Council, said "Over the past six or seven years, I have witnessed how Lauren Niemann is an early adopter, collaborating with UofL on initiatives that benefit students. Since summer 2021, I have worked very closely with Lauren as Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), UofL and Jefferson Community & Technical College (JCTC) signed a dual credit agreement for Introduction to Sustainability – SUST 101. I teach the course at UofL, and we started with three JCPS teachers in the pilot year, but Lauren was the only one to enroll students and teach the college-credit course. She has run head-on into the course content, working closely with me as we discussed topics and readings, to ensure that her students have the option to graduate from school with valuable college credit-hours. She has about 20 students again this year - the third year of dual credit - and her students keep getting better and better. They are socially conscious and committed to changing the world in a good way!"

Lauren Niemann with Brian Barnes, Douglas CraddockIn her own words, Lauren describes her experience this way: "Early this school year in my dual credit Introduction to Sustainability course we had conversations surrounding what people often believe sustainability is, and what sustainability actually is. Caring for the environment is probably the sustainable action best marketed to the public.

But sustainability is much more than composting food waste or planting pollinator habitat - by the way each are initiatives Fern Creek students have influenced decision makers at Fern Creek and at JCPS to support. But as students now know, sustainability is more than saving the environment. How can our actions reduce human impact on nature while simultaneously increasing social ties and providing economic benefits? Actions that meet these criteria are truly sustainable.

Through classes like mine, Fern Creek students are committed to building a compassionate school culture where systems center care and the environment.

The Fern Creek students I have worked with are committed to questioning policies or decisions not in line with the tenets of sustainability, while also being determined to provide realistic solutions, not simply complaints. The Fern Creek students I know are committed to sustainable action by setting positive examples for others to help build a culture of sustainability. These cultural changes do not happen overnight and at times sustainable action is met with tremendous barriers. But my passion and the passions of my students drive us to seek a better, more sustainable version of ourselves, Fern Creek, and JCPS.

Engaged Scholarship Symposium 2024I remember back in 2018, Fern Creek alum Jack Leppert was about to be surprised with a $5000 check to help bring to life a vision of our senior courtyard. His vision was unique among the solutions of others, in that it tied the mental health benefits of green spaces to the need to manage stormwater. I distinctly remember Julie walking Jack over to be interviewed, and looking over at me wide eyed and smiling as if to say “HE HAS NO IDEA!” I know if Julie were here she would be so proud of all that students at Fern Creek have continued to pursue and accomplish since students like Jack walked our halls. We are completely humbled and honored to accept this award, and will continue to bring honor to Julie’s name through our continued pursuit of more sustainable schools."

As the seventh recipient of the Josh Smith Memorial Sustainability Award, Lauren Niemann joins an illustrious group of community partners who continue to make a tremendously positive impact on the sustainability of Louisville.

Nominations for the Josh Smith Award are due by March 1st each year via email to the UofL Sustainability Engagement Committee Chair, Dr. Brian Barnes, at, who can answer any questions about the award or the nomination process.