Challenge Grant Program Sustains Ingenuity, Collaboration and Student Engagement


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 23, 2016) — It began as a theoretical exercise, evolved into an architecture studio, and has now turned the University of Kentucky campus into a living laboratory — engaging students, expert consultants and administration in exploring how to improve the campus transit system through design and sustainability.

It's the "Point of Departure" project and through it, UK architecture and engineering students are developing sustainable bus shelters on campus. Shelters are being designed to integrate high-performance architecture, sustainable materials, educational displays, solar arrays and stormwater management. Students, along with project leads Martin Summers in the UK College of Design and Michael Wilson in the Center for Applied Energy Research, aren't just designing and presenting the ideas — although they are doing both — the group is bringing its research to life with construction of the shelters around campus.

After presenting to administration and working with Parking and Transportation Services to align with the goals of the forthcoming Transportation Master Plan, the team's plans progressed quickly. By 2017, the first sustainable shelter should be up and running next to the Biological-Pharmaceutical Building on S. Limestone.  

"The team and the design have the ability to drive the discussion of sustainable thinking beyond a single transit shelter, leaving a lasting impact on broader campus and infrastructure design decisions," Summers said.

"Point of Departure" is just one of 14 sustainability-driven campus projects funded by the Sustainability Challenge Grant (SCG) Program, a collaborative effort of the President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee, The Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment, and the Office of Sustainability. So far, the program has funded $300,000 to multidisciplinary projects that advance economic vitality, ecological integrity and social equity, now and into the future. Funding support for the program is provided by the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, the Provost, the Vice President for Research and the Student Sustainability Council.

"The challenge grant program really shines by focusing the creativity and experience of students, faculty and staff — from a variety of disciplines — on developing pathways to sustainability in the context of the challenges and opportunities presented by our physical campus and surrounding community," said UK Sustainability Coordinator Shane Tedder. "This exciting process has resulted in fantastic hands-on experience for our students that is yielding meaningful and lasting positive impacts on the campus."

While "Point of Departure" has led students to focus intently on sustainability, it has also led to questions about their own work.

"Questions that broaden our understanding of what sustainability can be and how it integrates into our work-flow, causing us to reevaluate the dimensions of our creative process," said Thompson Burry, a first-year graduate student in UK College of Design's Master of Architecture program from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Owen Duross, also a first-year graduate student from Lexington, said it has "influenced our methods already, and will no doubt shift our perspective as designers in the future, as it should."

This type of student engagement, in addition to campus impact, is a cornerstone of the SCG program and led the program to award $18,200 in 2014 and $49,991 in 2015 to "Point of Departure."

"This project would not have been possible without the Sustainability Challenge Grant program," Summers said. "The speed of the development was enabled by the interaction with the campus stakeholders who helped steer the project toward the most successful and opportune path. The first grant enabled that process while the second rewarded that process and its potential to produce something special."

While the budget to construct the bus shelters is separate, having a minimal budget for design, presentation and key team members' work would certainly limit the entire "Point of Departure" project. Summers said the SCG offsets that limitation, engaging professionals in the research and providing funding prior to the capital project. 

Another project supported by the SCG, funded in December 2015, will result in vegetables from the popular UK Horticulture Research Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program grown using only solar power.

Led by Joseph Dvorak in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering and Mark Williams in the Department of Horticulture, the project will use a $25,000 SCG to switch a diesel-electric hybrid tractor to an all-electric system and build a solar system on the UK Horticulture Research Farm, which will charge the tractor. Students will be at the heart of the project as they design the photovoltaic solar system, switch the tractor's system and install the charging system.

Other projects funded by the SCG program address sustainability education, native forests on surface mines, public spaces in the North Limestone neighborhood, and more. And while sustainability takes on different forms within each Sustainability Challenge Grant project, together they are sustaining collaboration, student engagement and ingenuity at UK.

"The most sustainable spaces we can build are spaces that people enjoy because they add value to their daily experience; over time these are the spaces that last," Summers said.  

MEDIA CONTACT: Whitney Harder, 859-323-2396,