INDIANAPOLIS–The Center for Urban Ecology at Butler University started 15 years ago. It was the brainchild of three biology faculty members who were all engaged in urban ecology research. They wanted to get undergrads involved in research, too, so decided to start a center as a way to get students more engaged.
But, as time marched on, the center grew. A farm was established. Last year, 10,000 pounds of produce were grown. And the center is now involved in six research projects across campus.
A major question remained, though—how could the center make even more of an impact?
To address exactly that, the CUE has added a letter—S. Now, 15 years later, the center will be called the Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability, or CUES. The goals are twofold: use the work the center is already doing—studying urban ecosystems—to solve sustainability challenges, while also serving as the central hub to bring all the sustainability-centered projects happening around campus together.
“There is so much important work already taking place around Butler, from rain gardens, to infrastructure improvements, to LEED gold buildings. We want to leverage all of that work to educate students,” says Julia Angstmann, Director of CUES. “At the same time, we want to use our research findings to inform how to solve sustainability challenges the entire world is facing.”
For example, Angstmann explains, the center is involved in the Indy Wildlife Watch research project. The project monitors wildlife around the city in an effort to study how increased populations in cities impact these organisms.
Instead of just doing the research for science’s sake, Angstmann explains, the goal now is to use the findings to solve existing sustainability challenges.
“We plan on engaging in conversations with city planners, for example, and explaining to them that our research from the Indy Wildlife Watch project showed we should manage green spaces in a certain way, so both humans and wildlife can benefit,” Angstmann says. “We now want to use our research to solve sustainability challenges.”
In addition to research projects, the center will continue to focus on the farm and sustainability projects. The main shift, though, will be incorporating sustainability into all three areas. To help with that effort, CUES has hired a new Assistant Director of Sustainability, Jamie Valentine.
Valentine says she plans on continuing with existing sustainability projects, such as recycle-mania, permeable pavement on campus, and growing native plants. She wants to bring action steps to Butler’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050.
She is also excited to get the wider campus community more involved with sustainability.
“When we talk about sustainability, we are talking about the interaction of people, the planet, and profit,” Valentine says. “We are looking at the system in which we all live, and the way real world problems are all interconnected. We cannot just look at one side of a problem or issue, fix one thing, put it back into the system in which we all live, and expect it to be solved. To have a truly sustainable system that will work for everyone for the long term, we need to look at all connections and relationships, and work on fixing them all.”
To do that, Valentine hopes to get the wider campus more involved. One idea she plans on implementing is a Sustainability Green Office Program for staff and faculty to help incorporate new sustainability initiatives into offices and classrooms around Butler’s campus.
Sustainability will also be incorporated into more internships and research projects—staying true to the original reason the center was started 15 years ago.
Jake Gerard ‘20 is one of those students. The biology major has been involved in CUES for two years. After an internship over the summer at a wildlife center in Ohio, Gerard became increasingly fascinated by that type of work. He returned to Butler wanting to get more involved in wildlife research.
“I knew I wanted to do research, but I didn’t want to be in a lab all day,” he says. “I wanted to be outside, in the field.”
So, Gerard got involved in the Butler Wildlife Watch project. He sets up cameras around campus, then goes through the footage to determine what types of wildlife are here, and what effects those species will have on campus.
At first, Gerard wanted to get involved in research to boost his resume in hopes of getting into vet school. But now, especially with the sustainability focus, he sees how important the work is to making actual change. The results of the research he is doing, he says, could lead to conversations with administrators about green space on campus.
“Working with the center changed my entire point of view on vet care,” he says. “I realized it is not just private practice with dogs and cats, but there are research aspects to it. Yes, what we do in a clinic is important, but a lot of that is reactionary. Research is so important in a preventative way to make the job easier in the long run because it can lead to actual change beforehand, so you won’t have to deal with those real time issues in the end.”