Past Fellows

2020 Fellows

Project: “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Biological Artifact Collections”

Community Partner: Western North Carolina Nature Center
Faculty Advisor Andrew Laughlin, Environmental Studies

Zuria Butler

Zuria Butler 

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 Carson

Madison Carson 

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

Brenna Johnson

Brenna Johnson

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

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.

 

2019 Fellows

Project: “An Analysis of Energy-Saving Modifications in Buncombe County, North Carolina”

Partner: Blue Horizons Project
Faculty Advisor: Evan Couzo, Education

Zane Carroll

Zane Carroll

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

Katie Caruso

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

Elsa Haun

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 Mueller

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 Pitts

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.

 

2018 Fellows

Project: “French Broad River Rare Mussel Conservation”

Partner: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Faculty Advisor: Rebecca Hale, Biology

Brittany Barker-Jones

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

Shannon Bodeau

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

Kelley Coleman

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 Suber

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 Tyrlik

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).

2017 Fellows

Project: “Dingle Creek Watershed Innovative Stormwater Project”

Partner: Riverlink
Faculty Advisor: Kevin Moorhead, Environmental Studies

Alex Blue
The nonprofit organization RiverLink received funding from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund to implement the Dingle Creek Watershed Innovative Stormwater Project. This project involved the implementation of six stormwater best management practices on the Givens Estate campus to alleviate water quality concerns. Best management practice (BMP) is a term used to describe a type of water pollution control for nonpoint sources of pollution. Best management practices within the Dingle Creek Watershed focus on bioretention by reintroducing native plant life, infiltration basins, stormwater wetlands, and bioswales.  Alex worked with RiverLink, under the supervision of faculty mentor Kevin Moorhead and partner organization contact Garrett Artz to investigate the efficiency of these BMPs. Alex examined how these practices functioned in steep slopes, led four community meetings to inform Givens residents and the public about the project, and coordinated volunteer workdays to remove invasive exotic species from the riparian area of the headwaters of Dingle Creek.

Project: “Native Plant Workshop”

Partnering Organization: Villagers
Faculty Advisor: Cathy Whitlock, Math

Delandra Clark

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

Dylan Ryals-Hamilton
There is growing interest in urban agriculture and food cultivation in public spaces. The City of Asheville has officially adopted a Food Action Plan that addresses issues including food security, food justice, sustainable agriculture, and community resilience. City Resolution 13-17 establishes a goal for “use of edible landscaping as a priority for public property such as parks, greenways, and/or right of ways,” and to foster relationships with community partners in support of food production on public land. Planned projects include design and installation of an “Edible Mile” greenway trail and facilitation of an “Adopt a Spot” program. However, not all strategies for engaging community partners have been realized, and commitments underlying these public-private-civic partnerships are not fully established. Additionally, similar projects often languish due to inconsistent community involvement and lack of funding for stewardship by city staff. Dylan reviewed public urban agriculture projects across the United States to identify best practices for facilitating successful ongoing civic engagement and support. His research focused on successes and challenges experienced by city offices and local residents involved in public urban food projects nationwide. Dylan’s findings will help identify policy and action steps for city departments, local nonprofit organizations, and civic groups.

 

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

Sam Stanley
The American chestnut was once a dominant species of southern Appalachian forest systems. The presence of both Phytophthora root rot and chestnut blight has reduced the presence of this species to the point of near extinction. Sam’s research focused on collaboration with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) in efforts to secure viable genetic stock resistant to both pathogens. His research had three many components.  1) He screened samples to identify specimens exhibiting resistance to pathogens while retaining predominantly American chestnut genetics.  2) Conducted controlled pollination of plants at TACF breeding and research facility in Meadowview, Virginia.  3) Gathered field data from southern Appalachian systems for both locations of relict chestnut specimens and environmental characteristics of appropriate reintroduction sites.

Project: “Downtown Revitalization”

Partner: Asheville Design Center
Faculty Advisor: Victoria Bradbury, New Media

Dale Wright

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.

2016 Fellows

Project: “Strengthening the Roots: Strategies for Supporting Asheville’s Community Gardens”

Partner: Bountiful Cities
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Amy Lanou

Carolina Arias

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

Robert Chambliss
High elevation (>1350m) spruce-fir forests in North Carolina support a number of endemic plant and animal species. Among these is Weller’s Salamander (Plethodon welleri), a State Species of Special Concern. Little is known about the elevational distribution of this species, for instance, whether it is strictly associated with spruce-fir habitat or whether its range is limited by abiotic environmental factors. Robert partnered with Dr. Reynolds, who is an expert in amphibian and reptile conservation, and Wild South, a local nonprofit organization whose mission is to further conservation of wild areas in the region. Robert established elevational transects across the range of Weller’s Salamander in North Carolina to identify the species’ preferred habitat and elevation. He paired these data with historical records and past, present, and future climate models to assess elevational range and persistence of this species in North Carolina.

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 Knight

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

Julia Krebs-Moberg

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.