Recent News from Campuses
Updated Dec. 6
Events leading up to Super Bowl LII begin Jan. 26, and the Office of Public Safety would like to inform the St. Thomas community that plans are underway for potential impacts to our campuses. As additional updates become available, they will be added to this page.
Our Minneapolis campus in particular will see significant impacts. Preparations have been underway for months and have involved the NFL, the City of Minneapolis Public Works, Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, Super Bowl Host Committee, Minneapolis Police Department, Department of Homeland Security, Minneapolis Office of Emergency Management and others. As many as 1 million visitors and 10,000 volunteers are expected during the Super Bowl events. The majority of the visitors are expected to be in town Thursday, Feb. 1-Sunday, Feb. 4.Super Bowl LII is not a one-day event.
Super Bowl Live is 10-day series of events running Jan. 26-Feb. 4.
Activities including free concerts, national media broadcasts, ice sculptures and food will take place on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. Events will be held in the evenings beginning at 4 p.m. during weekdays and all day on weekends. During this time, streets from 12th Street to Sixth Street will be reduced to two lanes where they cross Nicollet Mall. Eighth Street from Marquette Avenue to LaSalle Avenue will be closed from Jan. 19-Feb. 7.
The main impact for our Minneapolis campus will be along its northeastern border. The Minneapolis Police Department will have officers along LaSalle Avenue. Intersections in the area will have police and National Guard presence.Think now about how and when you access the Minneapolis campus.
Plan for increased auto and pedestrian traffic during this week.Avoid scheduling events on the Minneapolis campus.
Departments and individuals planning meetings and events on the Minneapolis campus are encouraged to avoid scheduling them during the Super Bowl activities to avoid operational issues.Plan for changes to parking and shuttles.
The surface parking lot near the School of law (Lot 3) has been rented by the NFL and will not be available Jan 26-Feb. 4. Alternative parking for up to 300 vehicles will be available in the Harmon Ramp at the corner of 11th Street and Harmon Place.
Members of the community who work and attend class on our Minneapolis campus are encouraged to carpool. Information about using public transit is available on the Super Bowl website.
Public Safety will evaluate the traffic conditions between St. Paul and Minneapolis for shuttle use. Shuttle users are asked to plan for delays due to increased traffic in the area. Visit the Shuttle Tracker on OneStThomas.Classes will go on as scheduled.
The deans of each of our colleges and schools are having ongoing discussions about the impact Super Bowl activities could have on campus operations. At this time, all classes will go on as scheduled in their assigned classrooms in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Students are asked to stay in contact with professors for any changes to class locations.See something? Say something.
Safety of our campuses and community are the top priority. Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our campus safe. Suspicious activity is any observed behavior that could indicate criminal activity. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Unusual items or situations: a person wandering the halls, not on the main skyway; a package or luggage is unattended; a window or door is open that is usually closed; or other out-of-the-ordinary situations.
- Eliciting information: A person questions individuals at a level beyond curiosity about a building’s purpose, operations, security procedures and/or personnel, shift changes, etc.
- Observation/surveillance: Someone pays unusual attention to buildings beyond a casual or professional interest. This includes extended loitering without explanation, particularly in concealed locations.
Public Safety urges you to be proactive and alert to help prevent crime and create a safer community. To report suspicious activity, contact Public Safety at (651) 962-5100 or for emergencies, (651) 962-5555. Describe specifically what you observed, including:
- Who or what you saw;
- When you saw it;
- Where it occurred;
- Why it’s suspicious;
- Last known direction of travel
To request an escort, call Public Safety dispatch at (651) 962-5100.
Martha McCarthy Krueger and Emily Pritchard met like many first-year college students – in the residence halls. In 2007, they both moved in early to Dowling Hall – Krueger to be part of the Tommie Ambassador program and Pritchard to play on the volleyball team.
The two laughed when recalling their first St. Thomas encounter.
“I moved into this dark basement and there was no one around. About an hour later I saw someone down the hall and virtually ran to go introduce myself!” Krueger ’11 said.
Pritchard ’11 added: “I think what also clicked is that we were both athletes and from out of state. Our floor had a lot of people from out of state, too. We were there on the weekends. We didn’t have a lot of family around. We made our group of friends faster.”
Fast forward a few years to their final semester at St. Thomas when the two entrepreneurship majors launched The Social Lights, a social media marketing agency. A lot of attention was paid to their startup story and rightly so – they started a business while in college, during a recession and without any outside investors.
Seven years later and The Social Lights has shed that startup label. With more than two dozen employees who are as passionate about social media as Pritchard and Krueger, the Minneapolis-based company has worked with brands that have anywhere from 5,000 to more than 190 million social media followers. Taking on accounts of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies, The Social Lights shows no signs of slowing down. Since 2016, the company has more than doubled its revenue and its staff has grown 35 percent.
“When it comes to social it’s changing so fast, it’s a very even playing field,” Pritchard said recently from The Social Lights’ bright and welcoming office. “We feel the opportunity is just as much ours as it is an agency’s that’s been around for 100 years, if not more so because we have figured out a new model that is agile. What we can take from being founders and entrepreneurs and starting a company is that mindset to always be nimble, always be innovating, always be breaking things and making it better; that’s the part of the startup story that’s in our DNA and we get to that carry forward.”
The Newsroom caught up with Pritchard and Krueger to find out how their business has evolved over the past seven years and what’s in store for the future.
What are some of the changes The Social Lights has gone through since you founded the company during your last semester at St. Thomas in 2011?
Krueger: “I remember in 2013 being at the Forbes Under 30 Summit and I heard the Rent the Runway founder talk about her business. It’s a global company, so it’s logistically very challenging. She reflected back and said, ‘If I had any idea how hard this would be to pull off, I never would’ve started building it. But I’m really glad that I didn’t know, because here I am.’
“Similarly, if we knew how difficult it would be to develop and scale an agency, we might not have taken that initial leap. Looking back, each six-month period could be defined as a different chapter in the book or a different challenge or opportunity. Agency life, social media and startups – they all inherently have a lot of highs and lows. It’s like riding a roller coaster. We’re really proud of navigating all of the change and recognize that we’re still navigating as we continue to grow. We have 25 full-time employees now. In 2011, it was just the two of us. There have been many iterations along the way.”
Pritchard: “I don’t think starting a business out of college is for everybody. We’ve had a lot of friends who went into the work world who are now entrepreneurs or were entrepreneurs and decided that it wasn’t for them. You have to figure out the right path for you. I think we are both called to be entrepreneurs – it’s in our blood. The last seven years have taught us that we’re meant to be doing this. You go through a lot of changes in your 20s. It’s a crazy decade and your friends are going through changes, too. I think we’ve both struggled with relating as an entrepreneur to some other people who aren’t entrepreneurs. They don’t get why you bring things home with you and never really shut off. You have to figure out your own way to deal with that. I surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs to have a support network. St. Thomas has been huge in that respect. Our St. Thomas network has been extremely valuable to us.”
Why did you decide to stay business partners and settle in the Twin Cities after graduation?
Pritchard: “We were having a lot of fun with it. That’s something our professors always challenged us on, ‘Is this still fun? Do you guys still want to do it?’ That was always our gut check – ‘Do we still want to do this?’ The answer was always yes. The opportunity is still there and there’s a lot of interest.
“It also comes back to our value systems. We are both from family businesses, we both have similar foundations of what it takes to be successful. Both being athletes, we have the drive and the perseverance to keep going.”
What makes The Social Lights different from other marketing agencies?
Pritchard: “Culture is something we talk about a lot at The Social Lights. But we don’t just talk about it, we live it and our team helps us form it. A couple years ago, Martha and I went through an exercise as the business was growing beyond the two of us – to set what the vision was and what the core values of our organization were. But we don’t write our core values on the wall. We set up all our processes and procedures internally to demonstrate that that’s who we are and that’s how we do what we do.
“In terms of what sets The Social Lights apart from other agencies, in particular in the advertising and marketing world, is that we are social only. We are social first. That has been in our DNA since the beginning. That’s been a differentiator because there’s been a lot more emphasis put on specialty and specialization within marketing, especially as it becomes more segmented. We need to be really specific in what we focus on, but go very deep and very thorough with the services we provide. We see social as the future. The future is here, but it’s constantly evolving. We’re able to evolve with it and help our clients evolve, too, which is unique. We’re not just tacking it on or selling them something else along with all the other things we do. That’s why we are the trusted partner when it comes to helping our clients prepare for the future.”
I hear you’re involved with the Super Bowl. What can you tell us about what you’ll be doing?
Pritchard: “We are working with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to help them power a social media command center for the Super Bowl. We’re helping them structure how to manage the flow of conversation on social to ensure that Minnesota residents and global international visitors alike have a positive experience here in the Bold North.”
If you could give your college-aged selves advice, what would it be?
Pritchard: “Don’t take yourself so seriously, because then that puts all the pressure on you to make sure you don’t fail. They talk about entrepreneurs being scared of failure. I think that’s crept up sometimes in our business, but then we’ve always caught each other and shifted the mindset to be opportunity. Risk is OK. We’re comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s when we know we’re doing something right.”
Krueger: “Be more confident. Own it. It was hard that last semester when people would say, ‘What are you doing after graduation?’ I’d tell them we’re starting a company. And they’d say, ‘Oh, OK.’ There’s a lot of pushback and people thinking they’re steering you in a better direction. People saying we’re in a recession, you’ve never done this before, social media is a fad, the list goes on. There were a lot of naysayers and some days you would let it get to you. The advice I’d give myself would be to own it. It’s your decision. That’s what you’re doing with your life. Be confident in that decision because it’s going to be OK.”
What’s the future look like for The Social Lights?
Krueger: “The future is very bright. There’s a lot of growth opportunities in our future. We know there are global companies that need what we do. For the ones that align with our core values and what we are trying to do, we want to help them. We also want to keep employing talented people because it’s so gratifying for us when people come here and say, ‘I love working here. I’m able to be client-facing, and publish my content and ads on brand pages for some of the world’s largest brands.’ We like being able to create jobs that are different than what’s out in the marketplace and take pride in the work we’re doing for our clients. At this stage, we’ve gotten over the startup thing and now we’re business owners and consultants ready for the next growth phase.”
Twin Cities holiday shows get funky new addition with Shá Cage's 'Khephra' | Star Tribune | December 5, 2017
Carleton senior Nick Leeke '18 and recent grads Brett Sterk '17 and Rachel Olson '17 share their passion for African drumming with students in an after-school program at Northfield's Greenvale Elementary School.
St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan will hold office hours 2-4 p.m. in St. Paul on Tuesday, Dec. 12, in Room 100, Aquinas Hall, and in Minneapolis 2-4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, in Room 289, Terrence Murphy Hall.
Appointments are available on a first-come, first-served basis. To schedule a 15-minute appointment with President Sullivan, please call Karen Hennes, (651) 962-6500.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the effect of the Anderson Student Center (ASC) is the widening eyes of a first-time visitor. Or maybe it’s the head shake and smile of an alum standing in the atrium during convo hour, comparing the building’s buzz to the lack of anything like it during his own college days. Or maybe it’s the adjectives that get thrown around talking when talked about the ASC: awesome, beautiful, great.
However it’s best described, the ASC – since it opened its doors in 2012 – has become an integral part of the St. Thomas landscape, a crown jewel in the center of campus, both physically and in spirit.
“It’s the heart of campus. It brings so much energy and life,” said Jenna Johnson, a 2013 alum who now works in alumni relations. “It’s one of the best things to ever happen to St. Thomas.”
Johnson is one of the alumni who were at St. Thomas before, during and after construction of the ASC. These alumni provide a good personal barometer for the changes the building brought to the school. In some ways those developments are large and obvious (225,000 square feet is quite a bit of change), and in other ways more subtle. Many are centered around the cultural shift that comes from St. Thomas having a true, main hub on campus.
“There’s a common term that’s thrown around, and that is that student centers are the living rooms of campus. That’s a big piece of what the ASC does: It provides a comfortable place that’s really the heart and soul of the university,” said Ed Kim, assistant director of campus life, whose office is in the ASC. “There’s a lot of benefit for having a space like that, and it allows for so many wonderful, powerful interactions.”
As ASC director David Lemon is quick to point out, a building doesn’t bring life to campus; people do. However, having a building where so much of that life is centered offers a visceral view into how much goes on at St. Thomas every day.
“It was really surprising when I was a freshman seeing how many people were in here all the time,” said Herbie Li, a junior accounting major who works at the ASC’s main desk. “It’s basically a one-stop shop for everything. … This place can really help expand your college experience in a lot of different ways.”
Lemon said the ASC averages about 10,000 visitors per day throughout the year, a number that reflects the vast range of reasons to come to the building: to eat; meet with friends, classmates, faculty or staff; study; attend a social or club event; bowl, play video games or play pingpong; buy clothes at the Tommie Shop; or create something in the MakerSpace. For more and more Tommies every year, the ASC is where they spend the bulk of their time on campus outside the classroom. As that has become the case, the ASC in has helped rewire the way Tommies think about coming together.
“When people use that term ‘home’ and think about campus, they’re not thinking about their residence hall necessarily. It’s where they spend their downtime. That’s the student center, that’s the power and draw of it,” Kim said. “That’s the home away from home, where you let your guard down to an extent and connect with other people. It’s a powerful thing.”
Student clubs and St. Thomas Activities and Recreation (STAR) have taken advantage of the facility’s gathering power to pull together Tommies for all kinds of reasons: STAR hosts events there every Thursday, Friday and Saturday throughout the school year, and the many, many meeting rooms have become a destination for clubs and study groups.
“It’s a great, neutral, nonacademic place to hang out,” senior Erin Engstran said.
The idea of a neutral place goes a long way in a healthy higher education setting, a place where students, faculty and staff all mingle on equal footing.
“We see more and more staff and faculty members having informal meetings in the atrium, which is nice because students get to see them in a setting that’s not them behind a desk. It makes everyone more accessible,” Lemon said.
Designed that way
With so many services and functions within the ASC, it’s almost easy to take for granted the intentionality that goes into making everything feel like it belongs under the same roof. In pointing out why it has become her favorite place to study, Engstran cited the gorgeous natural light throughout the building, which is indicative of the open design plan that has become such a hallmark element of the ASC as a whole, with light, sights and sounds everywhere.
“It definitely does help [the culture of campus]. Pretty much everything is either visible or audible,” Lemon said. “It’s an open, vibrant space. You can see the activity here, and our traffic is never hidden. It’s here and you can feel it.”
Much of that feel is possible because the ASC was designed from scratch; most colleges or universities have to renovate or build off an existing student center or union.
“We got to build something from the ground up, something really unique. Our open floor plan, open concept, you don’t see in a lot of other buildings because it wasn’t the style. … Having a five-year-old building feels different than other campuses, but it has afforded us a lot of opportunities of what we can do,” Lemon said. “When you look at it from the outside, with the [hallmark St. Thomas] Mankato-Kasota stone, it fits in. But when you come inside it has a perfect balance of very modern, clean, new appearance, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in some 22nd century future. It has a contemporary feel, it feels comfortable. People come in and, for the most part, are always impressed.”
Impressive is a word that comes up often in Johnson’s interactions with alumni returning to campus, and it’s one that’s used readily during the many community events the ASC hosts. James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall has a capacity for nearly 1,000 seated people. The ASC can accommodate everything from two people meeting for coffee at The Loft, to wedding receptions, to town hall discussions hosted by Congresswomen, to the monthly First Friday Speaker Series.
“It’s kind of the missing puzzle piece that St. Thomas needed. St. Thomas has great academics, great classroom facilities, but didn’t have that central location for everyone to meet. Now we do,” Johnson said. “And not just students, but alums, prospective students. We hold camps there. The community can use those resources too.”
Pulling all those elements together, it’s easy to see why it can be difficult to find the best way to describe the ASC; it is so many different things to so many different people. The main commonality, though, seems to be that the ASC is now a part of St. Thomas, and the entire community is better off because of it.
“I feel fortunate to have something like this on our campus,” Li said. “I can’t imagine it not being here.”
Northern Minnesota attracts visitors in every season. The clear skies, the blue water, and the endless adventure make the Boundary Waters a bucket-list destination for countless travelers. When Gustavus Adolphus College junior Riley Thoen was younger, he too dreamed of completing that trip, but it took the help of medical research to make it happen.
Growing up, Thoen and his brother watched their father cope with the difficulties of Type 1 diabetes, including hypoglycemia unawareness, a dangerous condition that left him incapable of detecting the crucial warning signs of low blood sugar.
“We always felt on edge,” said Thoen. “One time, we found him in a snowbank, passed out. A different time he hit his head while fainting. We just had a different reality.”
Two cell transplants and a recovery later, Thoen and his family would know a new and less fearful life. The medical team at the University of Minnesota’s Schulze Diabetes Institute isolated healthy beta cells from a cadaver donor and injected them into Thoen’s father’s liver, allowing for his independent production of insulin. With no more risks of undetected low blood sugar, a trip up north suddenly appeared on the family schedule and Thoen found himself hiking, paddling, and camping alongside both his brother and his father.
Now, nearly 10 years later, the Gustavus biology major is hoping to make that kind of a possibility a reality for others. Thoen spent the summer assisting those who had helped his family. After two years studying, researching, and completing science courses on the Hill, he returned to the Schulze Diabetes Institute, this time as a research assistant. Focusing on an area similar to his father’s transplant, Thoen joined a team tasked with improving the outcomes of surgeries for patients with chronic pancreatitis, a procedure known as total pancreatectomy with islet autotransplantation (Tp-iat). Through an isolated cell transplant, the process eliminates the pain and negative quality of life caused by a damaged pancreas but retains its endocrine capabilities. During his work, Thoen assisted in the lab setting, isolating cells from both human and pig islet samples, and conducted statistical research, analyzing data for the team.
“I loved working with the numbers because it’s like a puzzle and it’s fun to try to put all the pieces together to find a solution,” said Thoen. “Understanding the bigger context of the work we were doing made it all the more worthwhile.”
At the completion of his time at the Institute, Thoen returned to Gustavus and presented his findings at this year’s fall research symposium. His work had also reaffirmed his understanding of the importance of the scientific research, something that he learned his first semester on campus.
“I took chemistry and biology my first semester here, but I really wasn’t sure what I would pursue. When I found out how much more there was to biology than I learned in high school, I knew I had to keep doing it. I had so much left to learn,” Thoen said.
Fully immersing himself into the community of the biology department, Thoen joined the Tri-Beta Honor Society, became a tutor, and assisted students and professors as a teaching assistant. Currently, he is pursuing an opportunity to conduct independent research on campus under the direction of biology professor Pamela Kittelson.
“Riley comes prepared, he asks good questions, and he listens and synthesizes information from multiple sources. He is also willing to challenge himself intellectually and to follow curious threads,” Kittelson explained. “Riley seeks out existing research to gain a fundamental understanding and to identify gaps that require additional work. He asks for feedback on his ideas, on the logic of his hypotheses and as a writer. His perseverance and openness to constructive criticism are essential traits for success in any endeavor.”
Looking ahead, Thoen knows he is in the right area of study, and he is determined to continue researching. While the specifics of his future path remain open to many possibilities, he is holding on to a common dream.
“I want to be able to use research and our findings to improve the state of our world and the state of others’ lives,” said Thoen. “I have seen the impact of the science in my family and that’s something you can’t forget.”
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
St. Thomas community members gathered Saturday, Nov. 25, at the Mayflower Pub in London to celebrate Thanksgiving. Those gathered included current study abroad students, U.K.-based alumni and London Business Semester program directors.
A group of London alumni hosted the celebration, with sponsorship from St. Thomas Office of Global Learning and Strategy. Alumni said they were grateful to meet current students and to feel more connected to their alma mater.
“The Thanksgiving dinner was very special; I really felt connected again as a Tommie, even from this far away,” Mavreen Ananura-Kabagambe ’08, ’11 MBA said. “It was fun to hear about the students’ exciting study abroad experiences and I felt very proud of St. Thomas’ international spirit, especially as a former international student myself. I immediately bragged to my family in the U.S. after telling them about my ‘London UST Thanksgiving.’”
“Some of us stayed after dinner to chat and talk about the things we love, about our time at St. Thomas or our lives here and in Minnesota,” said Maria Eugenia Sestini ’05. “There is a strong sense of community that makes St. Thomas such a unique university, and I definitely left the Mayflower feeling grateful!”
Attendees also took the opportunity to reflect on life in London.
“I was surprised with how much of a global city London is,” said current LBS student Matthew Deakin. “Every morning on the tube I am taken back that there are people from all over the world speaking in different languages to one another, making this city so diverse and unique.”
Throughout 2018, Mark Weeks ’92 and Kate Jeter ’00 will look to increase engagement with other U.K. and European-based alumni. They plan to partner with the university to collaborate and network with students spending time in their home country.
“The Tommie network of alumni can be a support system for new arrivals as well as for those of us that have made London our home,” Jeter said.
Expanding the St. Thomas global network is a priority for both the university and Senior International Officer Tim Lewis.
“The world is shrinking and there are Tommies across the globe. International Tommies are forming alumni groups, with London leading the way,” Lewis said. “We want to reach out to any of you alumni living outside the United States. If you would like to join our international alumni network, just email Sam Boyd, Office of Global Learning and Strategy, at email@example.com.”
Colin Scheibner ’17 remembers the exact moment when he and his fellow researchers realized they had discovered a new dwarf planet. All they saw was a small smudge on their monitor, but they knew it represented a big find.
“Suddenly, there was an intimate sense of connection between our circle of collaborators and this small icy world on the distant edge of our solar system,” says Scheibner, a Rossing Physics Scholar who majored in physics and math at St. Olaf.
Scheibner was part of an undergraduate research team headed by University of Michigan physics and astronomy professor David Gerdes, a member of an international group of scientists working on the Dark Energy Survey (DES) to better understand why the universe’s expansion is accelerating. The team analyzed countless images collected by the DES-built dark energy camera, a powerful digital camera on a four-meter telescope at Chile’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
Scheibner’s role in this research was the development of a web-based tool used to examine distant objects in the images. Using it enabled Scheibner to identify the earliest known observation of the new dwarf planet, officially named 2014 UZ224 and nicknamed DeeDee, short for “distant dwarf.” DeeDee is approximately 330 miles across and 8.5 billion miles from the sun — about half as big and twice as distant as Pluto.
The dwarf planet’s discovery received national news coverage, mainly focused on how it might impact future research. Scheibner explains, “If you look at the most distant objects in our solar system, like DeeDee, you notice that their orbits are aligned in such a way that suggests that they are being pulled by a massive, distant, slow-moving body.”
This hypothetical body, known as Planet Nine, is thought to be about ten times more massive than Earth, but it has never been directly observed. “Such an object, if spotted,” says Scheibner, “would be the astronomical discovery of the century.”
This fall, Scheibner entered the physics Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago with a three-year graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation, which will support his doctoral work in theoretical physics.
Juniors Alice Ready and Emma Rinn trekked through the tall prairie grass alongside Dr. Paul Lorah, carrying what appeared to be hefty plastic suitcases. It was a warm and sunny summer day, if a little overcast – a perfect day for hikers and picnickers to enjoy the Weaver Dunes Preserve.
The preserve sprawls across 819 acres in Wabasha County, near Kellogg, Minnesota. Just west of the Mississippi River, the Weaver Dunes Preserve was acquired by The Nature Conservancy in 1980 and features sand dunes that reach up to 30 feet.
Ready and Rinn unpacked their bags, assembled their equipment and looked skyward. With well-developed dexterity, they began to fly their drones.
Throughout the summer, Ready and Rinn returned several times to fly a pair of drones. They are researching how aerial images can best be used to gather data and support the work of the Minnesota Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit that protects ecologically important lands and waters, such as the Weaver Dunes Preserve.
“They’re in a cool position to do work that other people aren’t doing,” said Lorah, associate professor in the Geography and Environmental Studies Department in the College of Arts and Sciences and the pair’s mentor.
Ready and Rinn also were setting a foundation for future geography and environmental studies students: If all goes according to plan, St. Thomas students will continue to provide information to The Nature Conservancy for many years to come.Finding community
Ready and Rinn, of La Crescent and Northfield, Minnesota, respectively, connected with Lorah when they joined the Sustainability Living Learning Community (LLC) during its first year on campus.
Through this community (there are nine total) first-year students live together in Dowling or Brady Hall and explore sustainable human environment systems through multidisciplinary courses. They develop skills necessary to write grants, conduct research and effectively engage with community partners on projects that promote both environmental and social well-being.
Both Ready and Rinn were interested in environmental issues and found the learning community invaluable in meeting others with similar interests, which was one of Rinn’s goals in joining.
“I met Alice, and we work really well together,” she said.
Ready added that having a close relationship with Lorah, as well as community partners such as The Nature Conservancy, helped her grow. She moved from a general interest in the environment to deciding on a major and having a realistic sense of what work she could do after graduating.
“Having close relationships with the community partner, you can see what actual professionals are doing,” Ready said. “That’s what I’m getting the most: actual real-world experience.”
“A lot of it is good networking,” Rinn added. “You really feel like you’re an adult when you’re doing this, because they treat you like a peer.”Learning drone technology
Rinn and Ready approached Lorah after their first year about research opportunities and applied for St. Thomas-funded Sustainability Scholars Grants, which allowed them to do their own research. Using two drones, Rinn and Ready used technology in ways that Lorah described as “groundbreaking” because of a lack of literature on drone techniques.
Rinn’s focus is on best practices for flying the drones, setting a flight path while the drone takes photos along the way. Those images then are stitched together. A lot has to be taken into account during this process, and Rinn and Ready even had to become licensed through the Federal Aviation Administration to fly the drones.
“We designed study areas and discovered the best way to take a picture, at what speed, at what height for the best resolution, the best options,” Rinn said.
A lot of that meant just good, old-fashioned trial and error.
“The drones and software we used were both relatively new, so we made three mistakes for everything we learned, but we improved each week, which is great,” Lorah said.
One example of their work was trying to render 3-D images of trees in order to estimate their volume. Why? Currently, large corporations can pay for carbon credits; they invest in a large area of land to negate their carbon emissions. Rinn and Ready have theorized if they can calculate the volume of a tree, carbon credits can be estimated for a smaller plot of land. That would allow smaller companies, such as coffee shops, opportunities that are currently too expensive to consider.
Meanwhile, Ready mapped out a flight path several times over the summer so students can see, over time, how an area changes after a prairie burn, which will tell The Nature Conservancy how effective that process is. To maintain the prairie, the preserve has been divided into several units, each of which is burned every four years or so. The fire helps cycle nutrients, reduces invasive plants, maintains grasslands for wildlife and benefits pollinators.
“Each year we’re going to have insights into how these landscapes are recovering,” Lorah said.
Once they have their respected parts perfected, Rinn and Ready will create a lesson plan Lorah can use for future first-year students. St. Thomas students will fly the same study areas year after year to analyze landscape changes and the effectiveness of conservation efforts.Changing the world
Lorah emphasized the Geography Department tries to make sure its majors do interesting research projects. This project is representative of that goal, with its combination of a high-quality community partner, learning new technology and a chance to make an immediate and lasting impact.
“We’re giving them the skills, background knowledge and insights to make a difference now as undergrads,” Lorah said. “They’re going to make a difference for the conservancy.”
As two students who entered the field because of a love of the environment, it’s no surprise having an impact is one of the perks of Ready and Rinn’s work.
“I want to be in a career where I make a difference,” Ready said. “For me, that comes out through environmental studies and environmental issues.”
“I want to change the world,” Rinn said. “If we can figure out this mapping volume, that would be groundbreaking, because no one else is doing this. That might just turn into my career.”
Read more from St. Thomas magazine.