Sustainability Inspiration Awards

The Sustainability Inspiration Awards honor UMD students, staff, and faculty members who have made significant contributions to creating a more sustainable future. Examples might be work for environmental justice, sustainability education, climate action, community-based work, a class project, etc.


  • Currently enrolled undergraduate or graduate student from UMD
  • Group project team (1 member of team must be currently enrolled)
  • Registered Student Organization or Campus Life Program in good standing 
  • Current faculty or staff member

Award recipients will be recognized at the Kirby Student Awards Reception.

Nominations are open now until March 20th!


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2023 Award Recipients

2023 Student Award Recipient Ella Stewart. Ella is involved in everything sustainability on this campus and in her short tenure here has made an impact that will be felt for years to come. Ella was instrumental in bringing bee hives to campus through the Helping Hives student group that she founded and led, with the desire to bring awareness about the plight of pollinators and give students access to learn about beekeeping. The apiaries are installed behind the CUB Building off St. Marie St. 

As the Director of Sustainability for the Student Government Association, Ella has done an incredible job organizing events and programming for students and encouraged coordination across student groups to put on the most engaging Earth Week that this campus has seen in a long time! And yet, she found time to do more things. On campus, she was also an Event Coordinator for SEE Change, the Vice President of the Pre-Law Club, a sustainability ambassador for dining, and a teaching assistant. Off-campus, she was an intern with the City of Duluth’s sustainability office, a project assistant for the Climate Governance Variability in the Great Lakes Project, and a research intern for the Just Solar Coalition.

2023 Staff Award Recipient Tiff Sprague. One of the MANY hats Tiffany wears, is NRRI Sustainability Coordinator -- helping to make sure NRRI staff are doing what they can at work and at home to reduce waste and live our best sustainable lives. Because of her deep knowledge across a variety of sustainability topics and sense of humor, Tiff was tapped to write an occasional blog for the monthly external NRRI newsletter called: Tiff's Tips for Eco-Living. It's been a HUGE success! Tiff's column is always the #1 clicked/opened column. Tiff tackles things like addressing food waste, reducing plastic use, how to pack for an eco-friendly road trip.... and so much more! Tiffany without a doubt engages the community and the NRRI staff with her blog posts and the many other things she does to help us all do better.

2023 Faculty Award Recipient  Kim Dauner. As the Director of Health Care Management, Dr. Kim Dauner is involved with multiple sustainability initiatives in LSBE and across campus including being a part of a panel put on last month featuring women in sustainability on our campus. She was nominated by a student she advises and in the nomination it was also included that she has pledged to not purchase any new clothes for a year showing that she practices what she preaches. Kim encourages her students to think about how the environment impacts the health of those who live in it and inspires them to carry this forward.

2022 Award Recipients

2022 Student Award Recipient Mary Parsatoon. From her nominator, this student is one of Dining’s most dedicated Sustainability Student Ambassadors and has a great sustainability reach throughout campus. Her connections to the UMD Land Lab, Students for Lake Superior Sustainable Farming, Dining Services, and the Office of Sustainability have enabled her to have a broad impact on campus and the greater community around food, health, and sustainability. She is a true leader.

2022 Staff Award Recipient Corbin Smyth. Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Life, Corbin Smyth has been a fierce, steadfast, and dedicated advocate for Sustainability at UMD since at least 2013 when the Office of Sustainability moved from Finance and Operations to Student Life.  In this new organizational “home,” the Office of Sustainability and then Director Mindy Granley reported to Corbin and together they worked to integrate sustainability into the life and work of the university more thoroughly.

Fast forward to the last two years, when Corbin became the direct supervisor for the Sustainability Coordinator after Mindy departed UMD to take a position with the City of Duluth. He helped to provide much needed stability and support first during a time of transition to an office of one and second with the complete disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Corbin has repeatedly gone to bat for the Office of Sustainability over the eight years that the office lived in Student Life and provided countless hours of guidance, feedback, and cheerleading to keep sustainability moving forward.

2022 Faculty Award Recipient --No Faculty award in 2022* 

*Faculty and were doing amazing things but the bandwidth available to solicit and complete nominations took a backseat this year. We hope to honor some amazing folks in 2023 though! 

2021 Award Recipients

2021 Student Award Recipient Kaija Schlangen. I was first inspired by Kaija during her presentation titled Centering Justice and Equity in Sustainability which was a part of the Art of Resilience Speaker Series. Kaija spoke so passionately and effectively on the social justice and equity lenses of sustainability.  Kaija so carefully explained that social justice, equity, and sustainability are not separate topics to advocate for but rather all interrelated and must all be focuses of our lives to make a difference for a more sustainable, just, and equitable society.

Outside of her presentation, Kaija contributes her writing to the Office of Sustainability and further to their social media channels. She so expertly researches to ensure her articles and posts are accurate, inclusive, unbiased, and meaningful for all of her readers. Throughout my time at UMD I have hunted for articles that I can trust are accurate, inclusive, unbiased, and easy to understand and I have found this in anything that is posted by Kaija. Not only does Kaija’s research reflect her passion for lifting diverse voices but also provides recommendations and information for events, readings, podcasts, etc. that are created by diverse voices (BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and women) so that we can all grow our knowledge and take meaningful action promoting a more sustainable, just, and equitable world. It is without a doubt that Kaija inspires, not only through her writing or even her voice but through her very evident passion for a more just and sustainable world.

2021 Staff Award Recipient --No Staff award in 2021*

2021 Faculty Award Recipient --No Faculty award in 2021* 

*Faculty and staff were doing amazing things during the first full year of the pandemic but the bandwidth available to solicit and complete nominations took a backseat this year. We hope to honor some amazing folks in 2022 though! 

2020 Award Recipients

2020 Student Award Recipient Maggie Salwei is driven and dedicated to her work and has inspired her professors and friends to become more involved in sustainable practices. Her participation in the Sustainable Food Systems class initiated her diligence and involvement in the Land Lab Bee Keeping. Maggie and other members from her Land Lab  Bee group began to start the UMD Land Lab club. The purpose of the club was to educate students on what happens at the University Farm, get other students engaged in sustainability, and to help raise money for the organization.

2020 Staff Award Recipient Lisa Norr has brought sustainability to the forefront of the Transportation & Parking Services programming and speaking publicly to students about the importance of sustainability. Integrating the best research into best practices, Lisa has encouraged every employee to see transportation choices not just as a convenience, but as part of a coherent system of choices about how we interact with the environment and how we support our own wellness.

2020 Faculty Award Recipient Dr. Teresa Bertossi utilizes her background in sustainability education to integrate sustainability, active learning, and community engagement into every course she teaches in a really intentional way. In addition to her work on campus, Dr. Bertossi has increased the Land Lab's engagement with the broader community. She has approached every challenge the year has thrown at her with enthusiasm, creative thinking, and a non-stop work ethic that engages students in practical application of their classroom curriculum.

2019 Award Recipients

2019 Student Recipient: Dave Herrera If you know Dave Herrera, you already know that he does A LOT for this campus and his work on sustainability is only a portion of the impact he’s had here. Dave’s work in sustainability will leave a legacy on this campus and paves the way for future student leadership through his work of bridging disciplines, creating relationships with administrators, and developing policies that have made (and will keep) UMD better than he found it. To quote just a few of his seven nominators (yes, SEVEN!), Dave “is the go to guy for anything related to sustainability”, “has gone above and beyond as the Director of Sustainability for Student Association”, and “is razor focused on making Duluth the most sustainable city not only in the Midwest, but in the country”.

That last one might be a little exaggerated, but I wouldn’t put it past Dave. Dave’s nominators also reminded us of the MANY projects that Dave has had a hand in: worked at the UMD farm, created the Sustainability Director position within SA and is the first to hold that office, rebooted the Student Sustainability Coalition, supports the SUN Delegation and solar development on campus, helped UMD sign on to be a pollinator friendly campus, and is helping campus get bee and bat houses to create habitat. Most importantly, Dave never fails to bring in the social and environmental justice aspects of topics we engage in. He is a champion for human beings and their wellbeing in this work, which sadly can be overshadowed sometimes by cute baby animals or picturesque outdoor spaces. In sustainability and on this campus, Dave does it all and embodies positive and inclusive leadership along the way. We are proud to recognize Dave’s never-ending work through this award. Congratulations, Dave.

2019 Staff Recipients: Ed Kruse and Nick Blotti Custodial Services are the front line to reducing waste on campus. The system developed at UMD is now color-coded in signage, the bags used for waste streams, and most importantly, the BINS to encourage proper sorting. BLUE means recycling, and GREEN means composting! Facilities Management has worked to make sure that waste containers all follow the color guide.

Ed Kruse and Nick Blotti found that some of the nicer, metal containers in public areas didn't meet the current color scheme for recycling. So, instead of getting rid of-- or replacing-- these containers, they took it upon themselves to improve the containers by painting the lids blue for recycling. The bins turned out great, look professional, and helped save money from avoiding replacing the containers. Plus, now they are consistent with the recycling color scheme, making it easier for people to properly recycle at UMD. By repurposing what we already had, Ed and Nick avoided buying additional containers - a win-win for saving money and reducing waste. Thank you Ed and Nick, for inspiring sustainable choices, for supporting campus waste reduction goals, and for using campus resources wisely--- we’re grateful for your leadership!

2019 Faculty Recipient: Julie Etterson In Fall of 2018, Dr. Julie Etterson led the establishment of a partnership between the U of MN’s Institute on the Environment and UMD, called “IonE@UMD”. As part of this effort, she organized several events to bring together members of the campus for retreats, tours, and research presentations. For students, she hosted an "Earth, Sky, Water" tour, which demonstrated the ways UMD research and projects focus on the challenges of climate change. Dr. Etterson also played a key role in planning for the "Our Climate Futures” summit. This conference brought together researchers from across the campus, SeaGrant, and NRRI, along with climate experts, community members, and both undergraduate and graduate UMD students, to learn about the future of the climate in our region.

Beyond Dr. Etterson’s action on campus, she is also a highly respected researcher, focused on how plants are react to a changing climate. Her work addresses critical questions about whether plant species have the adaptive capacity to respond to a rapidly changing climate. She also leads a massive effort to collect seeds from modern populations and preserve them for future research efforts in her “Project Baseline” initiative.

A quote from her colleague sums it up best: “I have personally been inspired by Dr. Etterson through her passionate involvement and compassionate drive. She is very direct with what her goals are, yet very gentle when people ask for explanation. Her diverse background explains why sustainability must be interdisciplinary. She also works on empowering other female peers, and makes sure that many different folks are part of the conversation.”

Dr. Etterson has demonstrated her commitment to sustainability, not only to UMD, but to the community. Her work inspires people on campus and in the community to engage in important conversations about climate change and other environmental challenges, and for that we honor her today.

2018 Award Recipients

2018 Student Recipient: Maddie Sinclair Maddie Sinclair works tirelessly on campus to promote understanding of sustainability and sustainable development action and projects. Maddie has been an active SUN Delegation member, she traveled with faculty on an international sustainability and renewable energy research trip (Europe Energy Transition Tour), and has played a key role in the German Culture Club. Maddie has also served as a valued employee in UMD's Sustainability Office for three years, leading efforts to organize events, connect the campus and community, and recently played a lead role in organizing SELFsustain 2018, a U of MN leadership conference on sustainability.

In academics, she is an outstanding student and helped play a leadership role in the German Culture and Sustainability course with Dr. Dan Nolan in Fall 2017 to help deepen the impact of learning for everyone in the class. Maddie focused her research project on a comparison of a local sustainability-focused community organization with a similar organization in our partner city in the Climate Smart Municipalities Program. By comparing Ecolibrium3 and the Energy Club of Siegen, Germany, Maddie and her research team were able to produce concrete recommendations and derive important real-world lessons from her international comparative analysis of these organizations and the societies in which they function.

With the UMD Solar University Network, she has helped guide UMD investment in solar energy, and presented the group’s work on solar expansion on campus to the Isaak Walton League, University for Seniors (Climate of Hope course), to the UMD Student Association, and at a national Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference.

2018 Staff Recipient: Ann Pellant Ann Pellant helps lead sustainability efforts for UMD Stores, including convening a Stores Sustainability group, made up of engaged and active student employees. This group implements sustainability initiatives, including campus clean-ups, Bag Free events, and represents UMD Stores at sustainability and community events. Ann portrays a true passion for sustainability, and others, especially our student employees, feed off of her enthusiasm.

2018 Faculty Recipient: Geoff Bell Dr. Bell is an ardent supporter of sustainability on the UMD campus. To create awareness among his students to view sustainability issues from an organizational perspective, he created a new Foundations of Sustainable Management course. Dr. Bell has served on the Sustainability Education Committee in the Labovitz School of Business and Economics (LSBE) where he champions not only curricular initiatives on sustainability, but also day-to-day tactical issues such as recycling bins within the building and their placements. Among other things, the committee maintains a Sustainability Advising Guide to help students identify courses from across the UMD campus that have a sustainability emphasis. He played a leadership role in design and implementation of a new, cross-disciplinary minor in Sustainable Business and Organization. Dr. Bell is also an active member of a UMD campus-wide Sustainability Education Committee, which he has chaired since Fall 2017. In the community, he serves on the board of Sustainable Twin Ports and frequently uses his Duluth-area connections to invite guest speakers to his classes to talk about sustainability.

2017 Award Recipients

2017 student recipient: Aidan Fawcett Aidan Fawcett, a mechanical engineering student and leader in the UMD Solar University Network (SUN) Delegation. Over the past year, Aidan dedicated a great deal of time to learning and understanding how solar energy systems work and the obstacles that must be overcome to bring more solar to the UMD campus. The SUN Delegation team gathered resources and worked to overcome both financial and technical barriers to solar development. The SUN Delegation will celebrate the groundbreaking of an 11-kilowatt solar pavilion project in May that will double renewable energy production at UMD.

2017 staff recipient: Tim Bates Tim Bates is involved with campus-wide sustainability committees, serving as co-chair of the Sustainability Education committee and a member of the Sustainability Operations committee. He has been instrumental for many years in managing the Bagley Nature Area in a sustainable manner, especially with his 14 years of holding the annual Buckthorn Pull. Tim has been involved with sustainability management and education at UMD long before sustainability goals were outlined in the campus strategic plan. Tim is an inspiration to UMD students and he helps make the Recreational Sports and Outdoor Program (RSOP) a key player in sustainability efforts on campus. For example. Tim was one of the founders of campus biking efforts, and now runs a bike rental and access program out of the RSOP. Whether working on biking programs, Bagley Nature Area trail management, or any other outdoor experience that he offers students, Tim always makes sure to incorporate sustainability education.

2017 faculty recipient: David Syring Dr. David Syring creates dynamic and interactive sustainability education in his classroom, from the very local (UMD campus sustainability projects) to the global (designing a class to study sustainability in Costa Rica). His most recent sustainability teaching innovation was working with Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) opportunities to connect students in his Anthropology and Environment class to students studying in a university in Mexico. Dr. Syring’s research and teaching focuses on humanistic approaches to resilient food systems, human-environment relationships, globalization. His work uses sustainability as a theoretical framework and practical approach to addressing contemporary issues of social inequality. He encourages students to explore sustainability issues through a culturally diverse, global lens that does not separate environmental concerns from human needs of social and economic equality. Of particular note, Dr. Syring introduces students to non-Western perspectives on sustainability—and not simply through readings and films. Through the COIL experience, UMD students worked alongside students in another country to discuss and develop sustainability projects relevant to their local communities.

2016 Award Recipients

2016 Student Award recipient Carissa Kloncz Carissa Kloncz, Chemical Engineering for her dedicated work as a Solar University Network Delegate. Carissa was instrumental in securing a NREL solar assistance grant for UMD as well as in a successful Student Service Fee request for capital investment dollars to bring more solar to campus.

2016 Staff Award recipient Ryan Hueffmeier Ryan Hueffmeier, Natural Resources Research Institute for his leadership in formalizing a sustainable culture both internally and externally at NRRI; focusing on opportunities with the largest potential environmental, economic, and social returns. He has mentored numerous UMD student interns in projects related to solid waste and recycling, energy and water conservation, sustainable food production, and outreach and education.

2016 Faculty Award recipient Dr. Ken Gilbertson Dr. Ken Gilbertson, Department of Applied Human Sciences Applied Human Sciences, College of Education and Human Service Professions for his advocacy and active involvement with the promotion of sustainability and sustainability education at UMD for over 25 years. He is recognized internationally as an important leader in guiding work in protected nature areas. “Ken engages the students in a way that is inviting and helps them see their strengths and how they can contribute to make the world a better place”.

2015 Award Recipients

2015 Student Award Recipient Olivia Dehler Olivia is an engaged, connected and inspiring student leader of the UMD Student Sustainability Coalition. Her activities include leading sustainability-themed booths and activities, participation in statewide and national conferences, creation of the ‘Journey of a Jar’ and projects to re-purpose glass and expired posters around campus.

2015 Staff Award Recipient Cindy Christian Cindy Christian, Alworth Institute, for her significant efforts to develop and implement the Alworth Institute’s Climate Change events. Cindy has developed many positive and productive partnerships that have led to awareness of issues surrounding climate change and demonstration of how community level sustainability practices address global issues.

2015 Faculty Award Recipients Mary Christiansen & Alison Hoxie Mary Christiansen, Civil Engineering and Alison Hoxie, Mechanical/Industrial Engineering for their collective work bringing students and the community together to change the way we all think about energy and sustainability.

2014 Award Recipients

2014 Student Award Recipients Samuel Knuth and Katie Earling from the Labovitz School of Business represented student winners, for their project addressing access to drinking water in the residence halls.

2014 Staff Award Recipient Steve Johnson from Natural Resources Research Institute won the staff award for his dedicated service and numerous innovative solutions to save time, money, energy, and waste at NRRI.

2014 Faculty Award Recipient Randel Hanson from the UMD Geography Department represented the faculty winner, for his leadership with the Sustainable Agriculture Project and contributions to campus food service operations, the regional good food movement, and sustainability education.

2013 Award Recipients

2013 Student Award Recipient Lanae Smith lead many sustainability initiatives on campus. She has worked with Victus Farm, MPIRG’s environmental initiatives, and has attended and presented at two U of M system-wide student sustainability leadership events.

2013 Staff Award Recipient Edwin Nganji instigated and coordinated the UMD initiative One World, One Environment during the spring 2013 semester. The event brought together UMD students, faculty, staff, and community members to discuss issues and values connected to our shared environment.

2013 Faculty Award Recipient Mike Mageau works on a number exciting community sustainable development projects throughout our region in the past decade including wind resource development analysis along northeast Minnesota’s Northshore, and Victus Farm in Silver Bay, MN. Through this work, he provides real life work experiences to many students each year.