Project: “Making Solar More Affordable: Analysis of the 2021 Solarize Asheville-Buncombe County Campaign”
Community Partner: Blue Horizons Project
Faculty Advisor: Jake Hagedorn, Environmental Studies
The Blue Horizons Project is implementing a Solarize campaign to complete 100 solar installations on low-to-moderate income, single-family homes as well as businesses within the Asheville community by the end of 2021. These solar installations will reduce Asheville’s reliance on fossil fuel energy and the associated carbon emissions, creating a more resilient energy system while aiding the city of Asheville in its commitment to renewable energy. In conjunction with Blue Horizons Project, India’s research will include a literature review, cost-benefit analyses, and a survey. The cost-benefit analyses will define the impacts of a solar installation for low-income, single-family residences, as well as explore the various financial avenues available to them. The survey will assess the community attitude, barriers, and pathways of solar installation.
Project: “Residents’ Perceptions of the Urban Tree Canopy in Asheville, North Carolina”
Community Partner: Center for Biological Diversity
Faculty Advisor: Leah Mathews, Economics
Ally’s project will summarize existing research on Asheville’s urban canopy, quantify and document the ecosystem services that it offers, and survey community members’ perceptions about the urban canopy. Between 2008 and 2018, Asheville lost 6.4% of its canopy coverage. The urban tree canopy provides many important environmental, economic, and social benefits. However, these benefits are inaccessible to people who live in areas where the urban tree canopy has been degraded or removed altogether. Based on her research, Ally will make policy suggestions to the city of Asheville.
Project: “Inventorying UNC Asheville’s Forested Properties to Estimate Carbon Sequestration”
Community Partner: NC Forest Service
Faculty Advisor: Jonathan Horton, Biology
Anna-Lisa, in collaboration with the NC Forest Service, will complete an inventory of the forested properties owned by UNC Asheville to quantify how much carbon is being sequestered in these urban forests. The forest inventory will calculate carbon storage and forecast future carbon sequestration. The University of North Carolina Asheville is developing a Climate Action Plan to become net carbon neutral by 2050. Anna-Lisa’s results will contribute to UNC Asheville’s Climate Action Plan by determining how much of the university’s carbon emissions are currently being offset by its urban forests and inform land management practices to increase carbon storage potential as recommended by the NC Forest Service.
Project: “Exploring the Relationship between Herbaceous Forest Plants and Land Use History in Southern Appalachia: A Mixed Methods Approach”
Community Partner: Christmount Assembly
Faculty Advisor: Irene Rossell, Environmental Studies
Sarah will create an ethnobotanical field guide of herbaceous flora on the forested property of Christmount Assembly in Black Mountain, NC. Sarah will create illustrations of 10-15 culturally significant plants and research their Cherokee names and uses in both Cherokee and Appalachian cultures. She will also research the habitat requirements of each plant and document the impact of land use history on the site’s herbaceous biodiversity. Sarah will organize community engagement days, including plant identification walks and a botanical illustration workshop. The field guide and events produced by Sarah’s research will help foster ecological literacy among visitors and community members and draw connections between conservation, sociocultural significance of plants, and lasting human impact on land.
Project: “The Perceived Effects of a Sensory Garden for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum”
Community Partner: Autism Society of NC
Faculty Advisor: Darren Bernal, Pyschology
Gabbie’s study will measure the cognitive, mental health, and tactile benefits of using a sensory garden for individuals on the Autism spectrum. A sensory garden focuses on stimulating as many senses as possible, so pollinator plants will be incorporated, as well as colorful, scented and textured herbs. Gabbie will research and document the benefits of sensory gardens. Gabbie’s project will provide individuals on the spectrum with a COVID safe-environment in which to grow and learn, and provide the Autistic and academic communities with more resources for improving mental health.
Project: “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Biological Artifact Collections”
Community Partner: Western North Carolina Nature Center
Faculty Advisor Andrew Laughlin, Environmental Studies
Zuria’s project involved working with the Western North Carolina (WNC) Nature Center as a community partner and Dr. Andrew Laughlin as a faculty advisor to conduct research on visitor experience, focusing specifically on visitor perception and use of the WNC Nature Center’s biological artifact collection. Methodology for the project involved curating the biological artifact collection as well as collecting data on visitors’ interactions with biological specimens. Project goals included the following: creating a digital catalog of specimens in the collection and updating the organization and sanitation system to store specimens. The findings from this project provided the WNC Nature Center’s Education Department with an accessible biological artifact collection and recommendations on the use of the specimens in education programs.
Project: “Tracking Box Turtles and Promoting Turtle Citizen Science”
Community Partner: The North Carolina Arboretum
Faculty Advisor: Carrie Tomberlin, Art
Madison’s project promoted a greater connection to nature for children in the Asheville community. In collaboration with the North Carolina Arboretum and Professor Carrie Tomberlin, she used ecological and artistic methods to measure the impact of an environmental educational program associated with a citizen science project on eastern box turtles. Madison’s project helped promote environmental advocacy and support conservation efforts for a vulnerable species, the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). To understand how the eastern box turtles are utilizing the North Carolina Arboretum gardens, thread-trailing was used to monitor movement patterns. Radio telemetry and GPS tracker loggers were also used to understand habitat preferences and to determine home ranges.
Project: “Quantifying Sustainability: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Energy Conservation Efforts at the Biltmore Estate”
Community Partner: The Biltmore Estate
Faculty Advisor: Jeff Shields, Management
The Biltmore Estate, a popular tourist attraction in Western North Carolina, offers a variety of lodging options to its guests. Hospitality is one of the most energy-intensive industries, with emissions accounting for 1% of global output. Brenna completed cost-benefit analyses of energy conservation projects by discounting projected future benefits in terms of cost/emissions avoidance and translating them into net present values. Brenna’s role was to explore these metrics, suggest projects, and conduct cost-benefit analyses. Projects explored included energy-saving appliances and signage for guests.
Project: “Assessing Living Roof Benefits for Pollinators”
Community Partner: Living Roofs, Inc.
Faculty Advisor: Cathy Whitlock, Math
Linnea Van Manen
Pollinators are necessary for the reproduction of approximately 85% of the Earth’s flowering plants. However, there are currently over 40 species of pollinators federally listed as endangered or threatened. Climate change, habitat destruction, diseases, parasites, and pesticides are all factors that are putting pollinators at risk. Through a partnership with local business Living Roofs Inc., a four-year-old green roof was observed for pollinator use. The green roof, which contains meadow plants that are native to Western North Carolina, provides habitat and food for local wild pollinators. Linnea studied plants on the roof and conducted research on the populations of pollinators that visit this roof in urban Asheville. The green roof was found to be an effective habitat for many kinds of pollinators, particularly in the Hymenoptera and Diptera orders.
Project: “An Analysis of Energy-Saving Modifications in Buncombe County, North Carolina”
Partner: Blue Horizons Project
Faculty Advisor: Evan Couzo, Education
Buncombe County is mostly powered by a coal and natural gas power plant. This form of energy production puts carbon dioxide into the air which contributes to global climate change. Zane partnered with Sophie Mullinax from the Blue Horizons Project, housed within the non-profit Green Built Alliance, to conduct a number of case studies on high-energy facilities that have made modifications to reduce energy consumption. Through conducting qualitative interviews with individuals in decision-making positions at these facilities and with quantitative history of energy use by each facility, Zane organized her findings into profiles that serve as a medium for the Blue Horizons Project to inform and persuade community members to make their own modifications to increase energy efficiency in Buncombe County. Dr. Evan Couzo, atmospheric and environmental scientist from the education department at UNC Asheville served as the faculty advisor for this project. Under Sophie and Dr. Couzo’s guidance, this project addressed the community’s need for energy efficiency and reductions in energy use.
Read about Zane’s project in this publication.
Project: “Understanding Threats to the Riverside Shrub Spiraea
virginiana: Utilizing Botanical Gardens as a Pathway to Native Plant Conservation”
Partner: Botanical Gardens at Asheville
Faculty Advisor: Jennifer Rhode Ward, Biology
Plant species are threatened by human activity that causes habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Spiraea virginiana, a threatened riparian shrub native to western North Carolina, faces threats to long-term survival and evolutionary potential from habitat degradation and limitations to its sexual reproduction. Biological research on imperiled plants offers one way to address the conservation of S. virginiana and other threatened riverside species. While there is much to learn from basic research, plant conservation is best promoted when results of studies are communicated to non-scientists. Outdoor education that teaches non-scientists about threatened plants and their habitats, as well as nature writing that invites people to reflect on their connection to nature, offer two other ways to promote plant conservation. Through working in partnership with the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, Katie facilitated a series of outdoor botanical education and nature writing events Asheville residents to promote native plant conservation. With the mentorship of faculty advisor Jen Rhode Ward and Jay Kranyik, Botanical Gardens Manager, Katie helped conserve of S. virginiana through vegetative propagation for outplanting at the Botanical Gardens and through research on S. virginiana reproduction, breeding, and physiological responses to light availability.
Project: “Survey Populations of Rock Gnome Lichen to Provide Critically Needed Information for its Conservation in the Southern Appalachians”
Partner: Christopher Ulrey, Blue Ridge Parkway
Faculty Advisor: Irene Rossell, Environmental Studies
The Rock Gnome Lichen (Gymnoderma lineare) is one of two federally endangered lichens in North America. It is a fruticose lichen inhabiting either partially-shaded high-elevation vertical rock faces, or cool, shaded lower elevation rocks. One of the main threats to the Rock Gnome Lichen is disturbance by climbers and hikers using National Park Service lands for recreation. Elsa surveyed the status of Rock Gnome Lichen populations along the Blue Ridge Parkway, using study sites and methodology developed in 2008. The Rock Gnome Lichen has not been inventoried in a decade, and there is a pressing need for continued monitoring and protection under the Endangered Species Act. Elsa’s research will provided important information to the National Park Service to shape their decisions about how best to continue protecting this species. The data also provides a valuable resource for other land managers in the Southern Appalachians that are stewards of Rock Gnome Lichen populations.
Read about Elsa’s project in this publication.
Project: “What Drives Consumers to Drive Electric Vehicles?: A Study of Consumer Preferences for Electric Vehicles in the Asheville, NC Market”
Partner: Duke Energy
Faculty Advisor: Kathleen Lawlor, Economics
Karl’s project investigated the potential for increasing the share of electric vehicles (EVs) in the light duty passenger vehicle market in the Asheville area. Karl conducted an historical analysis of EVs and the factors that have contributed to changes in EV consumption over time. These factors include policy, technology, infrastructure, and market dynamics. He also completed a comprehensive analysis of consumer preferences by conducting surveys of current and potential EV consumers. The surveys were designed to determine use patterns of current EV consumers, and usage of potential EV consumers. The information collected from these surveys can be used in conjunction with the historical analysis to estimate the theoretical maximum EV market share in the future. This estimate can be used in future research to calculate the potential emissions reductions, increased electricity consumption, and the implementation cost of increasing the market share of EVs. Karl’s research goal was to determine the most cost effective and efficient methods for increasing EV consumption and informing policy makers and stakeholders of these methods to maximize their efforts.
Project: “Creating Healthy, Sustainable, and Deeply Affordable Communities: A Sustainability Action Plan for the Micro Home Village”
Partner: BeLoved Asheville
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Ameena Batada, Health and Wellness Promotion
Soni created a Sustainability Action Plan to support the environmental and human sustainability aspects of BeLoved Asheville’s Micro Home Village. This plan included a system for sourcing recycled and donated construction materials, recommendations for sustainable land use and development, and an exploration of other available options for reducing economic, environmental, social and other impacts. The current Asheville housing crisis disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable and underserved individuals in our community, and many assistance programs either fail to serve these populations entirely or do so in ways that can damage sustainability, resilience, and autonomy at both the individual and community level. BeLoved Asheville’s Micro Home Village seeks to address these issues by creating an intentional community of “deeply affordable” small-footprint homes with a focus on sustainability, community resilience, healthy environments, and producing equity. Soni worked with the core team of BeLoved Asheville to research and develop an action plan to support the successful achievement of these goals in the short term, as well as serving as a model for replicating this project in the future.
Project: “French Broad River Rare Mussel Conservation”
Partner: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Faculty Advisor: Rebecca Hale, Biology
The recent observation of endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel (Alamidonta raveneliana) in a part of the French Broad River for the first time in decades raised the eyebrows of biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with coordinating the recovery of federally protected species. Brittany’s collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service included outreach coupled with research. The outreach was identifying key French Broad River stakeholders yet unreached by communications efforts of conservation organizations and developing a strategy and materials to reach that audience, educating them the existence of Appalachian elktoe in the French Broad River and why maintaining, and even improving, water quality is important for A. raveneliana and river users in general. To complement this work, I Brittany conducted a laboratory experiment on UNC Asheville’s campus that informed management of the French Broad River populations.
Project: “Sustainability through Kinship: Using Drawing and Mindfulness to Reveal the Interconnection Between All People and the Earth Ecosystem”
Partner: Climate Listening Project
Faculty Advisor: Tamie Beldue, Art
This project promoted public mindfulness of human interconnectedness with the natural world through a series of portraits relating individual humans to aspects of nature they find meaning in. These portraits linked to a series of conversations that Shannon conducted with individuals about their memories, passions, and influences with regard to the environment. Shannon selected people to portray from a wide range of backgrounds in order to demonstrate the universality of environmental connection. Shannon focused on people who either reside in or originated from Western North Carolina. Shannon paired her exhibition of this work with mindfulness tools to encourage viewers to observe others’ connections to the Earth and contemplate their own connections. Cultivating awareness is the first step toward making life changes to support the environment and the sustainability movement. Shannon worked with Dayna Reggero of the Climate Listening Project to develop this body of work and contribute an additional drawing component to the project’s collection of photography and videography, which added another vehicle by which the Climate Listening Project tells people’s stories.
Project: “Birds of the Greenway”
Partner: Green Opportunities
Faculty Advisor: Andrew Laughlin, Environmental Studies
The City of Asheville is expanding their greenway along the French Broad River. This greenway is a collaboration of many groups, including Equinox Environmental Consultants and Green Opportunities. The greenway will serve as a recreational path for runners, bikers, and walkers of all ages from the Asheville community. The use of the greenway is beneficial for the people of the area, and could also benefit the avian community. Kelley’s project measured the effect that the new addition of the Town Branch Greenway will have on the bird community. The comparison of bird species and abundance from this area to other areas where the greenway is already established indicated the potential effects the greenway will have on the bird community. Susan Andrew of Green Opportunities and Andrew Laughlin of UNC Asheville’s Environmental Studies department served as advisors for the research on the greenway project and the bird surveys.
Project: “Environmental Pathways”
Partner: Asheville GreenWorks
Faculty Advisor: Megan Underhill, Sociology
Daniel worked with youth groups in Asheville that serve a majority of students of color to connect them with organizations and businesses in the environmental field. The purpose of his project was to serve and uplift the students in youth groups by helping them gain access to information, internships, professional development, resources, and opportunities for networking. He focused on building relationships, making connections, and researching what could benefit the students and youth groups for their present and future, and highlights paths to opportunities that could change their lives. Daniel’s partner organization was Asheville GreenWorks and the group Everybody’s Environment that is a collaboration of environmental organizations working to be more equitable.
Project: “Non-Invasive Population Survey of Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) Using Nest Boxes”
Partner Organization: Wild South
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Graham Reynolds
Katherine surveyed a population of hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) in Bent Creek, North Carolina. Her project helped to improve surveying methods and messaging for hellbender conservation. Hellbenders are a species of aquatic, giant salamander that are listed as an endangered species in NC. One of the main reasons for their decline is habitat degradation. In order to survey the species without disturbing them and to create more habitats for the hellbenders, Katherine’s research used nest boxes made from non-toxic cement that were placed on the bottom of riverbeds. The boxes are colonized by hellbenders and used for egg laying. The design of the boxes allowed the lid to be removed, providing a “window” through which researchers can non-invasively observe hellbenders in the boxes. Katherine worked with Wild South to build and install nest boxes in Bent Creek, and monitor the boxes for hellbender activity during mating season when they are most active (late August to early October).
Project: “Dingle Creek Watershed Innovative Stormwater Project”
Faculty Advisor: Kevin Moorhead, Environmental Studies
Project: “Native Plant Workshop”
Partnering Organization: Villagers
Faculty Advisor: Cathy Whitlock, Math
Often as the human population in an area grows, native plant populations and diversity shrink dramatically. Native plants provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife while contributing to healthy soil and water in our urban areas. Invasive plants harm the ecosystem by crowding out natives and competing for nutrients. Some invasive plants like honeysuckle, mimosa, and bittersweet are sold locally and actively promoted by commercial interests. For the environmentally conscious consumer, native plants can be difficult to find in the Asheville area. Education is often the agent for shifting the demand and in turn, the supply—for environmentally sustainable products. Through a partnership with an urban homestead supply store, Villagers, and collaboration with Asheville GreenWorks, Delandra developed a series of educational workshops to highlight the benefits of native plants and naturescaping. Delandra’s research included testing methods of removing invasive plants and water retention rates of native pollinator plants. She also investigate how to successfully cultivate relationships with local nurseries that supply native plants.
Project: “Food Cultivation in Urban and Public Green Spaces: Design, Management, Civic Engagement, and Lessons from the Field”
Partner: City of Asheville Office of Sustainability
Faculty Advisor: Dee Eggers, Environmental Studies
Project: “Screening American Chestnut for Resistance to Blight and Root Rot for Future Reintroduction in Southern Appalachian Forests”
Partner: American Chestnut Foundation
Faculty Advisor: Jonathan Horton, Biology
Project: “Downtown Revitalization”
Partner: Asheville Design Center
Faculty Advisor: Victoria Bradbury, New Media
Dale’s project helped the Asheville Design Center with seating and art installations to revitalize an unused open space in downtown Asheville. The Asheville Design Center incorporates the needs of the community when developing design projects; Dale helped facilitate finding out what the community was seeking from the space and ensuring that the final designs align with these needs. Dale helped conceptualize, design and implement an interactive art installation on the site in conjunction with faculty mentor Victoria Bradbury. Dale helped with hands-on revitalization activities on site, such as garden planting.
Project: “Strengthening the Roots: Strategies for Supporting Asheville’s Community Gardens”
Partner: Bountiful Cities
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Amy Lanou
Asheville is blessed with a vibrant community garden scene with growing sites scattered throughout the city. They serve as a place for education, food security, ecological improvement, and peaceful gathering yet they also face many shared struggles. Carolina partnered with Bountiful Cities, a local organization dedicated to supporting and strengthening the urban agriculture movement in Asheville. Carolina researched systems to facilitate sustainable, resilient community gardening in the city. Through its long history working with urban agriculture projects, Bountiful Cities identified several areas that continuously challenge these projects including funding, volunteer sources, and economic sustainability. Carolina researched the different garden’s needs and challenges, worked on implementing solutions, and established an evaluation system to measure how well the new systems are meeting their objectives. For example, Carolina researched different models for tool sharing libraries, seed libraries, agricultural business incubation, agriculture education, and volunteer management programs.
Project: “Historical and Contemporary Elevational Range and Connectivity among Montane Populations of a Threatened Salamander: Implications for a Changing Climate”
Partner: Wild South
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Graham Reynolds, Biology
Project: “Connecting Farms and Food via Point-of-Sale Micro-Donations in Western North Carolina: Consumers’ Willingness-to-Pay for Conservation and Restaurants’ Role”
Partner: Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Kathleen Lawlor, Economics
Karl’s project examined the feasibility and impact of using point-of-sale micro-donations at Asheville restaurants as a model for conservation finance. Asheville’s growing population and demand for housing are creating substantial challenges for the conservation of rural landscapes in Western North Carolina. The rising demand for housing in Asheville currently exceeds supply and, as a result, the surrounding counties face significant development pressure. Landowners of small family farms face increasingly strong incentives to sell traditionally operated farmland to housing developers. Successful navigation of these development pressures requires that conservation planning be proactive in identifying and protecting the numerous family farms that are quintessential to our region. In partnership with the region’s principal land trust, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, and locally‐owned Asheville restaurants, Karl’s project researched two questions: 1) to understand the feasibility of implementing point-of-sale donations from the restaurant’s perspective; 2) to understand consumers’ behavior in response to various donation scenarios in order to identify the micro‐donation design elements that could maximize conservation finance.
Project: “Investigating Best Practices to Develop a Curriculum for Community Resilience and Food Security”
Partner: Groundswell International
Faculty Advisor: Alison Ormsby, Environmental Studies
Many counties of Western North Carolina have incredibly high levels of food insecurity, a problem that a number of groups are working to solve. One way to address food insecurity is providing communities the tools to grow their own food, in quantities that significantly contribute to their food needs. Often by implementing systems to address food needs, other positive impacts can emerge, such as helping that community develop resiliency.
Through a partnership with the non-profit organization Groundswell International, a curriculum for Restoring Local Food Systems will be developed and tested in Polk County, North Carolina as a component of the Grow Food Where People Live initiative. Research will include investigating existing models of successful community agriculture projects, as well as conducting interviews with residents of the community where the current project is taking place. Under the supervision of faculty mentor Alison Ormsby and partner organization contact Chris Sacco, this project will address solutions to food insecurity in Western North Carolina, with a product that can be applied to any community struggling with food security and a need for community resiliency.
Read about Julia’s project in this publication.