Campus as Lab

‘Climate Comments’ Website Translates Complex Climate Change Policy into Plain Language

Wednesday, January 17, 2018, By Martin Walls

Climate Comments,” a website designed to make accessible complex environmental regulations and proposals and to inspire individuals to participate in public policy decisions about climate change that affect their lives, has been published by Emily Brown, assistant teaching professor in the College of Law. Developed with a Syracuse University Campus as a Laboratory for Sustainability (CALS) grant, the site currently explores the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

Emily Brown

Emily Brown

The site not only encourages individuals to learn about climate change regulations and proposals, it facilitates interacting with them via the website and provides examples of comments both for and against new proposals. The comment period for the CPP repeal proposal ends on Jan. 16.

The CALS grant enabled Brown to work with three law student research assistants and four undergraduates from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications to review climate change regulations and to distill proposed rules into accessible summaries on the website. These short, plain English policy analyses also are being shared via Twitter (@Climate_Comment) and Facebook ( in a social media campaign that aims to harness the potential of college student engagement in public policy debates surrounding climate change rule-making.

On the website, the law students and undergraduates have summarized pertinent information about critical climate change policies put forward by previous administrations and now under review by President Donald J. Trump. The CPP—developed by the Obama Administration—aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electrical power generation by 32 percent by 2030, but the current administration is proposing to repeal CPP in its entirety.

Another regulation under review is the Clean Air Act (CAA), one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world, which was first enacted in 1963 and which has been through several amendments. The Trump Administration proposes to return to an interpretation that limits emission-reduction measures applied to individual sources rather than whole industries. Also on the website is a summary of the 2009 EPA “Endangerment Finding,” which was a result of the Massachusetts v. EPA (2007) Supreme Court decision holding that greenhouse gases (GHGs) are pollutants under the CAA and that current and projected levels of six GHGs threaten the health and human welfare of current and future generations.

Brown’s project was one of five selected by the University during the latest round of CALS funding, which called for projects that address climate disruption and that offer an opportunity for communication and outreach to the campus and wider community. Funding for CALS grants comes from the Syracuse University Climate Action Plan. As energy efficiency efforts have been implemented on the Syracuse campus in recent years, some of the savings have gone into this research fund. The selection committee was drawn from an advisory group of faculty from all University schools and colleges.

About Syracuse University

Founded in 1870, Syracuse University is a private international research university dedicated to advancing knowledge and fostering student success through teaching excellence, rigorous scholarship and interdisciplinary research. Comprising 11 academic schools and colleges, the University has a long legacy of excellence in the liberal arts, sciences and professional disciplines that prepares students for the complex challenges and emerging opportunities of a rapidly changing world. Students enjoy the resources of a 270-acre main campus and extended campus venues in major national metropolitan hubs and across three continents. Syracuse’s student body is among the most diverse for an institution of its kind across multiple dimensions, and students typically represent all 50 states and more than 100 countries. Syracuse also has a long legacy of supporting veterans and is home to the nationally recognized Institute for Veterans and Military Families, the first university-based institute in the U.S. focused on addressing the unique needs of veterans and their families.

Architecture and Engineering Students Construct Virtual Reality Prototypes

Professor Amber Bartosh and Mark Povinelli and their students were awarded a grant through the new Campus as a Laboratory for Sustainability (CALS) funding program. They plan to use the grant to construct a virtual reality simulation in Bird Library about energy awareness. Their students split into groups and designed and prototyped a virtual reality simulation that they felt would most effectively make students aware of their energy consumption. The students all came up with ingenious, and fun, ways to get their message across. One group created an interactive game consisting of a cage for students to kick or throw a ball into. Knowing that energy would be created everywhere the ball hit inside the cage, the students lined the interior of the cage with piezoelectric material. They then had a display screen showing the energy produced by the ball hitting the cage. Another group wanted to convey how much of an impact our daily activities have on organisms around us. These students channeled their artistic sides and constructed different shapes, each reflecting an organism in our environment. They then had a program that would ask a user questions like, “How did you get to class today?”. If the user’s answer had negative impacts on our planet, then the “organisms” in their set up would start to die in way that was visually apparent to the user. While all the groups’ ideas were unique, ultimately they all served a similar purpose- to remind us we have a responsibility to be sustainable, in both the decisions we make and the ways at which we expend energy.

Students present sustainable ideas for Master Plan

By Christine Edgeworth ‘15

On June 24, 2014, Chancellor Syverud announced his Fast Forward Syracuse campaign, including a new Strategic Plan, campus master plan, and “Operational Excellence Program.” In light of these plans, Sherburne Abbott, SU’s Vice President of Sustainability Initiatives, challenged the students in her course, The Grand Challenge of Climate Change, to explore how sustainability can play a role in the Campus Master Plan. What role should sustainability and environmental values play in supporting the academic mission of the university, she asked, and how they could be incorporated into the Campus Master Plan?

Jason Ashley, a senior Political Science and Citizenship and Civic Engagement double-major, responded to the challenge. “The value of sustainability requires that when we create new spaces, or renovate existing ones, we give incredible attention to the impact of materials (including their extraction) on the surrounding environment, of the spaces’ context within the larger campus, and give great deference to the future use and impact of everything about the space.”

For his project, Jason chose to focus on the use of green space, suggesting that we eliminate the majority of Crouse Drive to make room for a biological sanctuary with a 50-seat amphitheater. He highlights how this would not only serve as a quiet space; it would also provide many environmental benefits, such as absorbing greenhouse gases, creating a wind break to reduce the wind tunnel effect on the Quad, absorb rain water instead of sending it downstream during heavy rain events, “and reduce the need for salt and other resources for ensuring a drivable area.”

Chiara Klein, a senior English and Textual Studies major, recommended that SU invest in green or vegetated roofs. “Green roofs are effective in their functioning as carbon sinks and sources of rainwater collection…They resonate with a mission to locally address a global issue of climate change, and they provide a university setting with the opportunity to be progressive, engaged, and exemplary,” she says.

The class presented their suggestions to Sasaki Associates, the firm SU is partnering with to carry out these plans, on October 27th, so it will be interesting to see what role sustainability will have in the Campus Master Plan and if any of these students’ ideas will be adopted.

SU Students and Chaplain Grow Flax at Local Garden

By Christine Edgeworth ’15   

Founded in 1970 and entirely run by volunteers, the Morningside Community Garden is one of the oldest gardens in the city of Syracuse. Located walking-distance from campus at the intersection of Lancaster and Broad Streets just a few blocks northeast of SU, the garden is home to over 50 plots, any of which Syracuse residents may apply to cultivate for a suggested minimum donation of just $10/season.

About 4 years ago, SU’s Lutheran Chaplain, Gail Riina, bought two of those plots—one for personal use and the other for SU students to cultivate through the Lutheran Campus Ministry’s STEP Center. The STEP Center is an interfaith service-learning project that encourages students to “step into another’s world to make a difference.” With this plot, Riina hoped to connect SU students to the garden and encourage them to explore the advantages of urban gardening.

While visiting the Syracuse Center of Excellence in 2010, Riina saw a model display of the city of Syracuse with sustainable design features, one of which was growing flax in empty city lots. Since then, shel says she has been “inspired by the beauty of the plant and by the potential of putting together an urban project that could create new employment opportunities, beautify the city, and produce sustainable clothing, creams, and beauty products made of flax.” As it turns out, flax is one of the most sustainable fibers on the market—it’s extremely durable, requires just a tiny fraction of the water that it takes to grow cotton, and actually grows better without pesticides.

Since 2010, Chaplain Riina has enlisted the help of 10 students on average each summer to get the flax garden up and flourishing. The first year students planted yellow and brown flax and both proved to grow just fine. However, the following year students ran into the problem of deer eating and sleeping on their plot. Fortunately, they were able to put a fence up last year that has since prevented the deer from tampering with the flax.

While the flax garden has been a summer project to date, Chaplain Riina is now planning to reach out to students willing to plant the crop in April since flax grows best in cooler conditions. She hopes to integrate the garden into a hands-on, interdisciplinary workshop, potentially for class credit, where students would research optimal growing conditions, prepare the plot, plant the flax, run a market analysis of flax products, and then propose a business model for how the harvest could be used in the production of sustainable, eco-friendly products.

Chaplain Riina ’s dream is to see flax gardens pop up all over the city, but it all starts right here with SU students getting on board with the flax garden at the Morningside Community Garden.

If you’re interested in getting involved with the flax project or in having your own plot at the garden, e-mail Chaplain Riina at .

The Syracuse Center of Excellence Creates Labs for Sustainability Research

CoEbldgThere is a rich resource for sustainability research just a few minutes from the main SU campus along the Connective Corridor bus route. The iconic Syracuse Center of Excellence (SyracuseCoE) building houses lab spaces for experimentation on energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and air and water flow dynamics. Three new labs are under construction for the study of thermal systems, combustion dynamics, and biofuels.

Just about every aspect of the SyracuseCoE building lends itself to study, research and experimentation. A green roof offers opportunities to measure the efficacy of vegetative cover for water capture and temperature regulation; office space is designed for controlling various aspects of the indoor environment for daylight, temperature, and air quality; a south facing wall in the lab wing has a test panel that is available for pilot projects about solar energy collection.

flowvisualizationThe Flow Visualization Lab occupies one portion of the lab wing. Melissa Green, Assistant Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering,  uses the facility for her Green Fluid Dynamics Lab, which studies “biologically-inspired fluid problems, such as fish propelling themselves through water or the pulsed pumping of blood flow.”

The SyracuseCoE invites students, faculty, and staff to tour the facility and link its resources to classroom teaching and campus learning.

Design Students Win National Awards for Bioroll Geotextile Mat


A team of fourth-year industrial and interaction design (IID) students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ Department of Design won three $1,000 awards in the Royal Society of Arts U.S. (RSA-US) Student Design Awards.

Boaz Cohen, Jesse Handelman, Jon Langer, Miles Ray, Kevin Scheiferstein, Zach Stringham and Shelby Zink and their project “Bioroll Geotextile Mat” won the RSA-US Leadership Award for Applied Industrial Design, the Techmer PM Award for Sustainable Design and the Techmer PM Award for Materials Science. Read more…


Students Design Fine Parking Lot for Sustainable Water Management

finelotdesignDesigning a parking lot sounds simple, but when the lot sits on a hillside in a sensitive watershed, and when the layers of soil below it are likely to be unstable if saturated with water, it becomes an interesting problem. If you further add in campus building codes and cost restrictions, then coming up with an effective design is truly a challenge.

A team of seniors in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the L.C. Smith College of Engineering at SU took on this challenge. Led by project manager Larisa Pechenyy, they came up with innovative designs for managing storm water on site while accommodating the need for parking on campus. Their design includes tree planting and storm water planters to take up some of the water, two vegetated swales to allow the water to infiltrate the ground, and a gabeon retaining wall to deal with soil stability issues.

finelotdesign2The team called itself Salt City Consulting and included, in addition to Pechenyy, Michael Kelly, James McGorty, Marcel Young-Scaggs, and William Finch. They selected the project from a list of real-world design problems assembled by Professor David Chandler. Because the site was on campus, they consulted regularly with Jack Osinski from Campus Design, Planning and Construction. Although actual plans for construction of the lot had already been approved before the students made their recommendations, Jack was impressed by their creativity in finding green solutions to some of the site’s challenges.

Pechenyy says the group learned a lot about the complex nature of campus infrastructure development. “Funding is the biggest factor that prohibits green design,” she says. “[But] the campus is thinking green and sustainability is on the minds of those who are in charge of campus planning, design and construction. I see a promising future for sustainability development across campus.”

Students shape Dome rain capture project

DOMELOGOA project to capture rainfall from some of the 7-acre expanse of the Carrier Dome roof has turned into a strong collaboration between Campus Design, Building and Construction and academic programs in engineering and communications design. VPA students Tierney Latella and Sam Proctor worked with consultants from Environmental Design and Research to produce signage and visual aids to help Dome visitors understand the intent and effects of the project. The students’ logo was chosen from among dozens of options, and their designs will also appear on the restroom walls in the Dome. At the same time, a team of seniors in Civil and Environmental Engineering put together an alternative proposal for the rain capture project itself that very nearly reshaped the whole process. Read more…

WILDER Compound project promotes resiliency

Wilder42In Spring, 2014, about 30 students received a hands-on introduction to resilience and urban sustainability through the WILDER Compound project, which stands for Wildly Interdependent Living and Design Education for Resilience. Led by VPA Professor Susannah Sayler, her Canary-Project co-founder Ed Morris, and Brooklyn-based designer Jill Allyn Peterson, six workshops introduced students from SU and ESF students as well as some Syracuse high schools to skills like bike repair, web design, and building earth ovens and geodesic domes. Two of the students created a video about the project. Read more…

Climate Change Garden Grows on Campus

When Biology professors Jason Fridley and Doug Frank learned of plans to install a miniature drumlin landscape outside the Life Sciences Complex, they saw it as an opportunity to test the impact of a changing climate on tree growth. In consultation with Prof. Don Leopold of SUNY-ESF, they identified 34 tree and shrub species that could serve as indicators of the way vegetation copes with rising temperatures and increasingly severe weather.

Chuck Bucci and Carmen Luppino of Campus Design, Planning and Construction, and landscape architect Kent Rieder of Hargreaves Associates collaborated with the faculty members to design groupings of the plants to facilitate the research while also serving as an attractive campus landscape. Read More… (Also see this article and video in the Syracuse Post-Standard, June 5, 2014)

You can support this unique project via CuseFunder.