Education & Research


Graduate Student Sustainability Research Development Grants

An award program designed to support collaborative efforts of Indiana University graduate students and faculty to develop new, externally funded research programs related to research on sustainability.

This award program is intended to support efforts of Indiana University graduate students to develop new research programs related to sustainability. This represents an outgrowth of a broad-based sustainability initiative supported by the Indiana University Office of Sustainability. We are interested in supporting high-quality, innovative approaches to basic and applied graduate student research. Sustainability research brings together environmental science, public policy, social science research, and humanities studies directed toward resource stewardship, assessment and mitigation of environmental impacts of human activity, and institutional and societal response to environmental challenges. 

The Award

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Awards for a Sustainability Research Development Grant range from $2,000 to $10,000. Applicants or teams of applicants must include graduate student participants. Award funds can include graduate student fellowships (up to $5,000) as well as funds for field, laboratory, computational, or library research. If multiple-investigator awards are made, recipients will share the award. Recipients are also expected to engage with other fellows and members of the university sustainability community, and to submit a summary report to the IU Office of Sustainability and the Dean of the University Graduate School at the end of the spring semester following the award. Priority will be given to high-quality interdisciplinary projects that include participants from multiple disciplines.

Application Procedure

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A complete application consists of:

  1. The proposal prepared by the applicant(s): Proposal descriptions must be written in clear, effective prose, and are limited to 1,500 words. A detailed plan of work should be outlined, including a budget for estimated expenses. Be aware that the Review Committee is composed of faculty and student members who are unlikely to be specialists in the applicant’s field. Download grant guidelines. 
  2. Current curriculum vitae of project participants.
  3. Recommendation form: The faculty sponsor support statement should be completed on provided form. Download support statement. 
  4. These recommendation forms address:
  • project originality and innovation
  • relevance to goals of Indiana University’s sustainability program
  • potential impact on future research at Indiana University
  • timeliness (for the applicant and for the university)
  • feasibility (competence of investigator, likelihood of accomplishment, use of appropriate technology, if any)
  • commitment of the department(s) to the project
  • overall quality of project (concept, planning, long-term influence)

Deadline: Monday, May 5, 2014; All application materials, including recommendation letter, must be received by the deadline to be considered. 

Please submit proposals or direct questions via email to:

Emilie Rex, Assistant Director | E-House, Indiana University | Office of Sustainability | Email: | (812) 855-2678

Evaluation of the Proposal

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Members of the Review Committee are instructed to rate each proposal on the basis of the following criteria. The applicant is therefore urged to discuss the proposed work in relation to each of the criteria, providing information about the project in the context of his/her department, the discipline, and the University.

  • originality
  • relevance to goals of IU’s sustainability programs
  • research need
  • timeliness (for the applicant and for the project)
  • feasibility (competence of investigator, likelihood of accomplishment, use of appropriate technology, if any)
  • potential impact of research
  • clarity, detail, and coherence of projected description
Review Process

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A review committee will review applications within a month of the deadline. Awards will be announced by the end of the spring semester. 

Previous Awardees

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Awardees listed received grants through the faculty Sustainability Research Development Grants. 

  • 2013-2014
    • "Groups, Dictators, and Natural Resources: An Experimental Study of Collective Action among Heterogeneous Groups" -- Jacob Bower-Bir and Ursula Kreitmair aim to study, in a laboratory setting, how groups of individuals interact when managing a shared resource. Natural resources are finite, and individuals often overexploit these when they encounter other individuals that also have access to the resources in question. Collaboration and teamwork may help individuals overcome this overexploitation, allowing more individuals to enjoy resources equitably. But what happens when there are multiple teams; teams that do not necessarily have the same values or capabilities? It is possible that the benefits of teamwork might be undone when groups of cooperating individuals encounter other groups. The pair experimental treatments will allow us to better understand the limits of cooperation and the behavior of groups in strategic settings.
    • "How Legal Authority Impacts the Ability and Motivation to Form Partnerships in the Department of the Interior, particularly the National Park Service" -- Scott Breen is leveraging his internship in the Department of the Interior’s Office of Youth, Partnerships, and Service to interview those that work on partnerships at the departmental level and at the bureau level, mainly at the National Park Service. The plan is to interview solicitors, partnership coordinators, park superintendents, and others who can provide insight into my research question. The hope is to better understand what legal authority exists to make partnerships and if there are any holes in that legal authority that impede the National Park Service from making innovative partnerships that would help further its mission. If sufficient legal authority exists, this will be an important finding for lawmakers as then they will know that no further legal authority needs to be given and the National Park Service should focus on changing its culture to better take advantage of their legal authority to form partnerships. Further, he also wants to understand if the legal authority to form partnerships is adequately explained to those at the field level. If it’s too complicated, it may be that those at the field level do not make partnerships because it’s too big a barrier to take the time to understand what partnerships the legal authorities allow them to establish and what is required of both sides when forming a partnership.
    • "Contaimination, Risk, and Sustainability in Japan after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident" -- Satoko Hirano wanted this ethnographic study intends to examine how individuals and social groups conceptualize radioactive contamination and evaluate the environmental effect and impact of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) accident. The 2011 Northeast Japan Earthquake and tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, and radioactive effluents reached and fell on farmlands in certain areas. In order to decontaminate the land, the city administration collected radioactive surface soil and forage grass. Concerned farmers and residents have been negotiating final disposal sites and processes for the collected wastes. This research aims to examine farmers’ on-going efforts to remedy the soil, ensure food safety, and sustain their livelihood in the time of uncertainty and ambiguity. It focuses on the complexity and dynamics of radiation risk assessment and communication at and between different levels of the Japanese society.
    • "The impact of different arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal species on the establishment of rare tallgrass prarie plants" -- Liz Koziol's research will investigate whether different mycorrhizal fungal species vary in how they affect the establishment of a planted and seeded prairie community. Her experiment will take place at Hilltop Gardens at Indiana University. Plots will be inoculated with one of six species of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi that have been isolated from natural prairie communities. Each plot will be planted with the same 23 native prairie plants that range from being easy to very difficult to establish in prairie restorations. Plots will also receive a diverse prairie seed mixture. Beginning in 2014 and continuing throughout Liz's dissertation research, she will measure the survival and growth of planted species, the germination and growth of seeded species, and will measure plot level community diversity. After multiple growing seasons, this research could provide insight as to whether mycorrhizal fungi aid the growth of difficult to establish prairie plant species. Additionally, this experiment could inform whether specific fungal species can be applied during restorations to increase the growth and survival of specific target plants.
      "Agricultural systems in the Mount Kenya region: Sustainable practices, adaptation, and participatory learning" -- Paul McCord and Jampel Dell'Angelo saw that environmental consequences stemming from climate change produce extensive livelihood adjustments, particularly for people in acutely vulnerable social-ecological systems. Water scarcity resulting from climate change is a major global sustainability challenge. Livelihood systems in the Mount Kenya region rely on small-scale agriculture and are directly dependent on water availability. However, climate change, population increase, and water scarcity make livelihoods particularly vulnerable. To cope with difficult environmental conditions, such as water-scarcity, poor soil quality, and high temperatures, farmers apply principles of sustainable agriculture, such as mulching and intercropping. Effective water governance within the Mount Kenya region is increasingly important as population pressures increase and irrigation becomes more prominent.  Water management at the local and regional levels involves multiple actors and rules which ensure that water is used efficiently in times of both water scarcity and abundance. This research investigates the water governance structure as well as the sustainable agricultural practices throughout the Mount Kenya region in an effort to understand systems that may be better equipped to cope with changing water availability. The research takes a participatory approach where both researchers and farmers actively exchange ideas and knowledge through workshops, community meetings, and participatory video making initiatives.
      "The Cutters' Edge: Examining the Efficacy of Green Infrastructure" -- The team of Maggie Messerschmidt, Tim Clark, Jeffrey Meek, Raija Bushnell, Leah Harmon, Valerie Lonneman, Rachael Bermann, Micky Leonard, Alexandra Aznar, Bridget Borrowdale, Krista Manstch, Allen Reimer, and Amari Malone looked at how the IU Championship Golf Course borders the IU Research and Teaching Preserve (IURTP) and that large ravines and eroded areas have developed as a result of golf course runoff during rainstorm events. Their research tests the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning hypothesis that species diversity promotes enhanced functioning of ecological processes. They hypothesize that species-rich plantings will perform better than low richness plantings at trapping sediment, absorbing nutrients, and slowing flow velocity during storm events. Downstream water sampling sites will be established at each experimental ravine to monitor sediment yields, nutrient outfalls, and water flow as a function of diversity treatment.
    • "States as Pilots and Peers: the Path to Sustainable Energy Policy" -- Chris Miller recognized that issues of sustainability pose complex challenges to policymakers, and over the past two decades a majority of American states have enacted energy policy reforms attempting to address these issues. These reforms embody a wide range of innovative approaches to stewarding scarce resources, developing new ones, and averting unwanted environmental and economic impacts. At the same time, however, other states (including Indiana) have resisted this trend. Through a set of comparative state-level case studies, this research seeks to identify what characteristics identify states as “peers” most likely to facilitate the diffusion of one another’s energy policy innovations, and to identify the channels of communication through which policymakers inform themselves about the activities of those peers.
    • "Understanding Spatiotemporal Variability of Fine Particulate Matter Concentrations and Human Exposure in Indianapolis, IN" -- Ryan Sullivan knew both long-term and short-term exposure to elevated concentrations of atmospheric aerosol particles poses a significant threat to human health.  Marion county (in which Indianapolis is based), was nonattainment for the national air quality standard for fine particulate matter (solid or liquid particles less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers in diameter, referred to as PM2.5) from 2005-2012. Our research objectives are to: 1) Analyze spatiotemporal variability of PM2.5 in an urban environment, 2) Investigate sources of PM2.5 in Indianapolis, Indiana, and specifically try to differentiate the impact of local versus distant or regional sources, 3) Investigate causes of observed extreme concentrations, 4) Quantify the exposure of residents of Indianapolis to harmful air quality, and 5) Identify neighborhoods at particular risk for exposure to air toxins. His research comprises two key experimental components:  Fixed site monitoring across the city and mobile sampling collected during bicycle transects of the city.  Fixed monitoring can only be conducted at a few specific locations. Mobile sampling will help to better understand the degree to which particle concentrations (and human exposure) vary across a city. In the longer term – through his close collaborations with the IUPUI Center for Urban Health, his colleagues, and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Ryan hopes to be able to identify measures that can be put in place to reduce human exposure to air toxins and thus to improve the sustainability of Indiana’s largest urban area.
    • "Evaluating the Outcomes of Neighborhood Urban Forestry" -- Jess Vogt's research evaluates the tree-planting programs of 5 nonprofit organizations in the eastern U.S. She is interested in discovering what types of ecological and social impacts collective tree planting and maintenance has on neighborhoods and individuals. For instance, her nonprofit partner organizations have noticed that some of the neighborhoods in which they plant trees then go on to do other types of group activities, like a neighborhood crime watch. But so far, these are just anecdotes; Jess is interested in putting real data behind the question to see what impacts tree planting has. Her project will collect data on the trees planted between 2009 and 2011 to measure survival rates and growth rates. She will also survey and interview people who live in neighborhoods where trees were planted as well as in neighborhoods that did not plant trees to measure the differences in neighborhood and individual characteristics such as trust and neighbor-to-neighbor familiarity. The IUOS grant funds will be added to almost $400K in existing project resources, and will specifically help increase the number of people we can survey in each city.
  • 2012-2013
    • "Developing an Urban Site Index (USI) for Sustainable Urban Tree Planting Programs" -- Burnell Fischer, clinical professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, along with SPEA graduate students Jessica M. Vogt and Matt Patterson, will study the effectiveness of the Urban Site Index, a rapid site assessment tool used for analysis of tree planting strategies for urban areas. The USI scores a potential street tree planting site on four soil parameters and four street parameters. The team plans to perform detailed soil analyses and monitor mortality and growth rates of recently planted trees to determine how well the USI identifies suitable planting sites -- and in turn, its effectiveness as an urban sustainability planning tool.
    • "Bloomington, Indiana, PCB Oral History Project" -- Associate professor Phaedra Pezzullo of the Department of Communication and Culture in the College of Arts and Sciences, together with Communication and Culture graduate students Joshua Barnett, James McGuffey and Jacquelyn Shannon, will work to establish a public, digital archive of oral histories from people who have been most directly involved in the use, disposal, remediation and political controversies related to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Bloomington. The collected personal histories of local residents involved in the PCB history will shed light on national and international discussions about toxic pollution and sustainability in ways that make evident the intertwined fates of environmental, economic and social equity relations.
  • 2011-2012
    • "Collaborative Provision of Low-Carbon Distributed Energy in Developing Countries." Jennifer N. Brass and Sanya Carley, assistant professors at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), and Ashraf El-Arini, Master of Public Affairs/Master of Science in Environmental Science student at SPEA, will study the conditions for successful (and therefore sustainable) implementation of distributed generation programs in developing countries, looking at both program and country levels of analysis and the role of non-governmental organizations at both levels. With both tracks, the team aims to provide a better understanding about how complex problems of sustainable energy provision are being solved -- or not -- in poor countries and provide a baseline of knowledge for new scientific research in the future.
    • "The Impact of Institutional Mechanisms on Sustainable Urban Development." SPEA professor Burney Fischer, joint SPEA and Center for the Study of Institutions, Population and Environmental Change graduate students Sarah Mincey, Mikaela Schmitt-Harsh and Rich Thurau and community affiliates Lee Huss (Bloomington city forester), Tom Micuda and Linda Thompson (Bloomington Planning Department), and Laura Haley (Bloomington city GIS) will employ spatial, institutional, and statistical analysis tools to assess how urban forest sustainability (via urban tree canopy cover) is influenced through municipal zoning ordinances. The broader impacts of this research lie in its relevance to urban planning and the development of institutions that promote the retention of urban canopy cover.
  • 2010-2011
    • "Management and Ecosystem Composition in Mexico's Agroforestry Systems." Rinku Roy Chowdhury, assistant professor of geography, and Michael Perkins, Ph.D. student in geography, will study and characterize the diverse agroforestry management regimes in the community lands of southern Mexico, and document tree and associated soil microbiota species composition under the main management types. The research will lay the foundation for a larger, collaborative project investigating how landscape context and land manager decision-making shape agroforestry ecology and sustainability in southern Mexico and similar regions of the (sub) humid tropics.
    • "Evaluation of the Gifts In Kind International/Home Depot Framing Hope Product Donation Program on Sustainability: Energy Savings and Landfill Impact." SPEA professors Lisa Bingham and Evan Ringquist will evaluate whether Framing Hope has an impact on community sustainability by estimating material diverted from landfills and energy savings from this program.
    • "Exotic Invasive Remediation in Dunn's Woods: Integrating Research, Teaching & Outreach for Sustainability." Heather Reynolds, associate professor of biology, Roger Hangarter, Class of 1968 Chancellor's professor of biology, Jim Capshew, associate professor of history and philosophy of science, and Jonathan Bauer, biology master's student, supported by professional staff Mia Williams (University Architect's Office), Anthony Minich (Ph.D. student, Educational Psychology, IU Office of Sustainability) and Anita Bracalente (IU Art Museum), and community experts Ellen Jacquart (Nature Conservancy), Steve Cotter (City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation) and Spencer Goehl (EcoLogic Inc.), will develop an integrated program of research, teaching and outreach focused on mitigation of exotic invasive plant species and restoration of native biodiversity in IU's iconic Dunn's Woods, as a microcosm for promoting sustainable human-environment interactions.
    • "Quantifying and Combating Food Waste at IU." Rick Wilk, professor of anthropology and gender studies, Peter Todd, professor of cognitive science, informatics and psychology, and Sara Minard, anthropology Ph.D. student, will examine the institutional structures and individual choices that lead to food waste by student consumers on the IU Bloomington campus.
  • 2009-2010
    • "Studying the Sustainability of Urban Social-Ecological Systems through the Urban Forest: Development of the Urban Forestry Resources and Institutions (UFRI) System." SPEA clinical professor Burney Fischer and doctoral students Sarah Mincey and Richard Thurau will lead a project to develop and test a new methodology for assessing urban forest sustainability.
    • "Third Party Sustainability Certification: Does the Forest Sustainability Certification (FSC) Program Deliver?" SPEA associate professor Kenneth Richards and master's student Miranda Hutten, in collaboration with Steven Rayner of Oxford University, will investigate whether forestry certification programs increase the global application of credible sustainable forest practices.
    • "Sustainable Development Strategies in Western Amazonia: A Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Land Use, Livelihood and Institutions." Eduardo Brondizio, associate professor of anthropology, and SPEA doctoral student Francisco deSouza will evaluate changes in land use, livelihood and institutions under three land tenure types in Acre state, Brazil.
    • "Sustainable Land Use: An Assessment of Technology Transfer Programs in Rural Honduras." SPEA professor J.C. Randolph, assistant professor of anthropology Catherine Tucker, and SPEA doctoral students Monica Paulson Priebe and Carlos Gonzalez Jaimes will study the degree to which technology transfer initiatives by non-governmental organizations influence environmentally sustainable land-use practices, using the example of NGO interventions in the aftermath of Hurr
    • "Transportation Sustainability at Campus Level: Students' Residential Location Choice and Transportation Mode Shift." SPEA associate professors Diane Henshel and David Good, master's students Yonghua Zou, Craig Harper, Max Jie Cui and Courtney Bonney, supported by adjunct advisers Kent McDaniel (IU Transportation Services), Rob Fischman (IU Maurer School of Law) and Nicole Schonemann (Office of Service Learning), will focus on the relationship between alternative transportation incentives and students' residential and behavioral choices and their impact on goals of transportation sustainability.