2023 Systemwide Sustainability Student Impact Awards Recipients

by Ella Chilson

University of Minnesota undergraduate and graduate student individuals and groups recently received Systemwide Sustainability Student Impact Awards during April’s Sustainability Symposium for their efforts leading the way toward a future in which people and the environment prosper together. 

The Student Impact Awards honor and recognize individuals and groups for their contributions to sustainability in their communities over the past year. Students were nominated for these awards by another member of the University community. Below you can read more about individual students and groups and their sustainability impacts this year. Unless otherwise noted, descriptions come from what the nominator wrote and are lightly edited. The Student Impact Awards are funded by MNtersections.

Undergraduate Students

Sydney Campbell - University of Minnesota Crookston


Sydney is the events coordinator for the Crookston Students for Sustainable Development. During her time, engagement with the entire campus community has increased. We have actually had events so successful (in terms of participation) that we have run out of the supplies for the events. Additionally, she is continually coming up with great new ideas about how to engage the campus community in learning about the various aspects of sustainability.The campus communities involvement in Sustainability has increased as a result of Sydney's efforts. I have no doubt this will continue to grow as she is just beginning. I'm excited to see the things that will come!

Jordyn Ellis - University of Minnesota Crookston

Jordyn Ellis

Jordyn is the recycling and composting intern with the Office of Sustainability. She was involved with leading Recycling Relays both on National Recycling Day and at a basketball game. In addition, she is working with our safety personnel on campus to improve the way waste is removed from our dining facility so that they will be able to compost. As a result, the entire process of removing both trash and compost from the dining facility will be safer. Additionally, she has continued the cans for cancer and plastic film recycling programs, and also added a printer recycling program. As a result of the various engagements with different recycling programs, more people are aware of and participating in our various recycling programs.

Remi Foust - University of Minnesota Duluth 

Remi Foust

Remi is thoroughly involved in student government running for the sustainability director, EcoReps, the Office of Sustainability, Helping Hives, the campus newspaper the Bark, and others that I am probably missing. She hopes to be an RA for the sustainability living learning community. As a freshman, Remi has worked very hard to engage the campus and work on sustainability infinitives. She is so dependable and hardworking with whatever project is thrown at her. Her commitment to making a difference on campus is clearly shown through her involvement and initiatives within a variety of groups.

Julia Lee - University of Minnesota Duluth

Julia Lee

Julia dove into sustainability this past year within many areas of study. As part of Julia’s independent study with Dr. Kim Dauner, Julia hosted a "Medication Take Back Day" in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Duluth Police Department and the Minnesota Roundtable Rx, which resulted in students, faculty, and the community dropping off over 63 lbs. of medications! After the event was over, a group of about 15 students and faculty from the Healthcare Management department had a Lunch & Learn with Rachel Rockwell, PharmD, MPH, the Pharmacists in Charge at the MN Roundtable Rx, to further Julia's education on the detrimental effects of pharmaceuticals in waterways and to learn about how to reduce, reuse and recycle pharmaceuticals. This spring semester, Julia also conducted research with Dr. Ruwan Adikaram on Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) non-financial reporting, including participating in the American Accounting Association ESG and Sustainability Conference in Washington, DC.

Noelle Muzzy - University of Minnesota Morris

Noelle Muzzy

Noelle is a sustainability leader at the University of Minnesota Morris. She brought attention to sustainability through her campus leadership and organization of several events. During her time at Morris, she organized and led the Morris Campus Student Association Sustainability Forum. She organized a zero-waste celebration on-campus to highlight 1 million pounds of organics diverted from the landfill via the campus compost system. Noelle also helped build a shared water ethic in our community and organized a community WaterFest featuring several movies at our local theater with a community discussion. She traveled widely as a student from Costa Rica to Germany -- to learn more about sustainability and share that knowledge with her peers -- and support our international partnership with Germany. Noelle served in the Office of Sustainability and helped the campus achieve AASHE STARS Gold. Noelle also served as vice-president of the Morris Campus Student Association and supported sustainability work by other officers. Noelle will begin her career with a focus on water quality.

Dylan Young - University of Minnesota Morris

Dylan Young

Dylan is a sustainability leader at the University of Minnesota Morris. In his role as president of the Morris Campus Student Association (MCSA). Dylan served as student co-coordinator of the Morris Intercultural Sustainability Leaders program and brought other students into the program. Dylan helped build the most diverse MCSA we have had at UMN Morris. And, Dylan provided key support to the most recent and biggest Sustainability Forum we have had. The Symposium was focused on bringing an Indigenous perspective to sustainability. Dylan helps others grow their potential, has been a passionate advocate for all our students, provided a positive example of using his leadership position to elevate ideas across Minnesota -- and he has been featured in the statewide press several times this past year advocating for Morris students.

Serena Handrick - University of Minnesota Rochester

Serena Handrick

Serena Handrick jumped into sustainability education and environmental health with both feet! In 2022, Serena took on the role of Public Health Ecoliteracy Naturalist for the University of Minnesota Rochester’s (UMR’s) EcoliteracySCHOOL mentorship program. She developed and facilitated a highly engaging series of evidence-based outdoor activities that introduced the role of a “naturalist” and helped students develop a deep understanding of local ecosystems. Serena is continuing her leadership for a second year in this role, and expanding into a research capacity. She has displayed a personal commitment to sustainability in her own life, but she pursues environmental health education and sustainability leadership at an organizational level (at UMR) and a community level (through near-peer mentorship).

Gracelyn McClure - University of Minnesota Twin Cities 

Gracelyn McClure’s leadership and passion as a co-leader of the organization Students for Climate Justice that set McClure apart. Gracelyn’s commitment to this org and its campaigns are unmatched; with Gracelyn’s leadership, this highly involved group has lobbied UMN for fossil fuel divestments; partnered with the MN Environmental Justice Table to educate about Zero Waste legislation and petition to shut down the toxic HERC incinerator; stood in solidarity with East Phillips Urban Farm advocates; and hosted a major community learning event...all the while allying itself with numerous racial justice, Indigenous sovereignty, and labor initiatives. McClure has ensured that Students for Climate Justice take cues from off-campus community members calling for environmental, food, and climate justice, then leverage University resources toward their goals. For community events, Gracelyn organizes stipends for their participation. Gracelyn works closely with the MN Environmental Justice Table to visit classrooms and Office of Sustainability Events and leadership to promote zero waste policies. Gracelyn attends climate and enviro justice events across the Twin Cities to connect Students for Climate Justice with on-the-ground initiatives. Gracelyn is a true pollinator across communities and institutions, a trustworthy and effective leader.

Autumn Saign - University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Autumn Saign

Autumn led the formation of a new student group called the NorthStar Building Science Club. As president, Autumn recruited other students and organized networking events, eventually gaining an industry corporate sponsorship to provide financial support for club activities. She is now leading 1 of 2 teams competing in the US Dept of Energy's Solar Decathlon competition to design a net-zero affordable housing project. While it is a niche subject and project, the club and teams are comprised of an interdisciplinary group of students. She has organized project presentations for a fundraising luncheon and a networking event for the students and industry professionals.

Graduate Students

Dalila Hussein - University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Dalila Hussein

Dalila contributed to an incredible, multi-disciplinary COP27 preparation panel program engaging with fellow students, faculty and experts from Egypt, in order to better prepare the 14 University of Minnesota faculty and students going to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt for COP27. She prepared panelists to offer thoughtful and diverse perspectives about international development, which is her own field, and sustainability, climate change and other topics relevant to COP27. As a COP27 observer delegate, she provided invaluable insight into the limits and capacities of Egypt's environmental leaders, and thoughtful communication through the Institute on the Environment’s blogs and social media. She also is a leader within the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Development (IPID) and organized an application to the Swain climate fund, for an upcoming Climate Action Simulation experience for IPID members and any interested students, in order to engage more people in understanding the challenges of international cooperation, sustainable development, financing issues and the urgency of this work. 

Nisogaabokwe Melonee Montano - University of Minnesota Twin Cities


Melonee Montano (Nisogaabokwe) is an enrolled member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Melonee is the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Outreach Specialist for Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) where she helps assess climate change impacts on treaty resources and potential threats to Ojibwe culture and lifeways. She has interviewed elders and has contributed to an engaged cultural understanding of climate change. In addition to Melonee Montano's important contributions to the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) and report, she was Red Cliff’s Environmental Programs Manager where she has also served on various committees including EPA’s Regional Tribal Operations Committee, Alliance for Sustainability, Treaty Natural Resources, the Integrated Resources Management Plan, and is currently serving on the Great Lakes Compact Commission. Melonee Montano is generous in sharing her knowledge with the University of Minnesota students and faculty while also engaging with the Ojibwe community.

Team Awards 

Helping Hives Collaborative Team Award - University of Minnesota Duluth

7 members of Helping Hives wearing bee keeping suits posing with two bee hives.

Helping Hives is a relatively new club to the University of Minnesota Duluth, only starting during the pandemic in Fall 2021. During the pandemic, they safely held seed bomb events, created beeswax wraps and sold them to students to encourage sustainable purchases, and tabled to promote Bee Sustainability and Pollinator Growth. This year, they invited outside speakers from the local Duluth-Superior area and other groups for a larger event in our Kirby Ballroom called What's The Buzz where they invited all students on campus to participate in sustainable lip-balm making and they played games to win prizes regarding bees. This upcoming summer, bee hives, and pollinator gardens will be implemented into campus infrastructure! Helping Hives is also part of a UROP to research types of climate-resistant pollinator plants and which plants are native to this area as well. After the bee hives are put into place, the team will continue to teach other students about bee-keeping and take care of the bees as well.

Robotics Club Collaborative Team Award - University of Minnesota Duluth

UMN Robotics Team

The University of Minnesota Duluth Robotics offers engineering students the opportunity to implement sustainable practices in the career they are headed into. Their commitment to sustainability is seen through recycling old components from other departments or clubs and using them in their projects. Last Spring, the Robotics Club built a robot that automatically tests soil quality that can be used to reduce the use of fertilizers by only fertilizing the parts of a field that need it.

Project Sweetie Pie IonE Undergraduate Leaders Collaborative Team Award - University of Minnesota Twin Cities

5 members of Project Sweetie Pie

These three first-year students applied to be part of the IonE Undergraduate Leaders in September 2022 and were paired to support Project Sweetie Pie, a local community partner in North Minneapolis. They have gone far and beyond what we expected of a team of students in the co-creation of a community-University event, a UMN Community Environmental Justice Expo, The event now had 17 different sponsoring organizations, including state and local government agencies, non-profit organizations and University departments. The students have shown enthusiasm and a willingness to learn from community members about the needs of the community. They have used their skills and time commitment with the hopes of building more access for students to get involved in local environmental justice efforts The purpose of the event is to build connections between community partners and students to support the efforts of individuals and organizations within the community to achieve justice in the climate, food, and economics. Participating students will have an opportunity to learn more about what is happening in the community. These three students have exemplified the vision that the IonE Undergraduate Leaders have of working to build a more equitable world; in particular, by collaboratively supporting a community partner in a way that contradicts some historical practices of historically extracting information from or research on local communities.

Sustainable and Green Chemistry Committee Collaborative Team Award - University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Green chemistry students posing outside Smith Hall

The nominated graduate students have been heavily involved in the creation and initial success of the Sustainable and Green Chemistry Committee (SGC) within CSE that was started last year by Professor Jane Wissinger, who is the chair of the committee. As co-chair I worked with Mayuri to create and update the website for our group, develop a mission statement, and begin putting together resources for people interested in Green Chemistry (see the resources tab on the website). Brylon, Chris, and Emily spearheaded the first Green Chemistry Roundtable Event in the department of chemistry, during which they each gave 10 minute presentations on topics of interest and then led discussions on sustainability in chemistry as a whole. The success of the first event has inspired us to make this a monthly recurring event. The roundtable event put on by the SGC attracted students without any prior experience in green chemistry, and now that the ball is rolling we will use our momentum to bring more people into the fold of the SGC and to organize more events in the future. One future event will be a sustainability poster session during which students will prepare and present electronic posters in Bruininks Hall over the summer. The creation of the website has also spurred interest in the committee, as it serves as a central repository for information and news for everyone interested in SGC activities.

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