Greening UT has been leaving its mark on campus through projects aimed at replacing turf grass with native plantings and reintroducing habitats that once thrived in the area.
Greening UT is a team of students supported through the UT Student Green Fund. Its mission is to make the University a more sustainable institution and improve the human condition by supporting green ideas and initiatives proposed, decided upon, implemented by, and funded directly by students.The group’s most recent project is a prairie planted in front of Bowman-Oddy Laboratories on Main Campus. This site was chosen due to its visibility, continuous monitoring, and two greenhouses that allow the students to manage seed sorting and growing.
“Native prairie plants work with the ecosystem rather than fighting it,” said Dr. Todd Crail, UT associate lecturer of environmental sciences. “They remove the need for fertilizer, dramatically reduce water usage, have root systems that store as much carbon as a forest, and additionally balance natural water and nutrient cycles. These plants species also feed the ecosystem through the food web interactions with insects and birds. Ultimately, they reduce the costs of maintaining a landscape, and we’re hoping to demonstrate that this different aesthetic is acceptable, if not beautiful and inspirational.”
Jeanna Meisner developed the Greening UT project as her capstone project. She graduated in 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in biology.
“Jeanna’s proposal was the first to receive wages for students from the UT Student Green Fund,” said Linnea Vicari, a former UT Greening student. “Using these hours, Jeanna and another student were paid to identify potential areas for native plantings on campus. As I moved in and Jeanna finished up, we focused on the Bowman-Oddy site.”
Service learning opportunities to work with these plants have been offered throughout the semester by faculty in the Environmental Sciences Department. Students can help raise and plant in existing prairies and gardens, as well as collect and process seeds to germinate and grow for new projects.
As for upcoming projects, UT Greening plans to work on filling existing prairies with more plant species and create more installations around campus, according to Bernadette Barror, a UT student on the team.
“I feel that this is a great way for students to get involved with plants on campus,” Barror said. “So many of our volunteers have never or rarely worked in a garden, and Greening UT provides not only this experience but the satisfaction of knowing that they are contributing to an improvement of the environment for the whole community.”
To the surprise of many, herbicide is one of the tools used when converting swaths of turf grass and is coordinated with UT Facilities.
“[Targeted] spraying will give us a clean slate to work with,” Barror explained. “When we do this, it will kill the invasive plants while not affecting the plants we want to grow.”
“Working with UT Greening was an incredible experience for me,” Vicari said. “UT Greening helped me develop my leadership skills as well as really rooting me into the Environmental Science Department.”
Students who are interested in learning about UT Greening, its projects and volunteering opportunities are encouraged to contact Crail at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Jon Bossenbroek, director of the UT Office of Undergraduate Research and professor of environmental sciences, at email@example.com.