Sustainability Center Announces Annual Grant Competition Winners

Tuesday, November 1 2011

MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho Sustainability Center has awarded grants totaling more than $7,500 to three student-led sustainability projects.

The center’s mini-grant competition facilitates student engagement in building campus sustainability. The grants support initiative work in areas such as water efficiency, waste stream reduction, and climate change. Grant recipients are:

• Matthew Aghai, a graduate student in natural resources, and his team at the university’s Pitkin Nursery. The $3,000 grant will fund the installation and maintenance of a major subirrigation system, which will increase water use efficiency by roughly 30 percent and reduce nutrient runoff. The nursery produces 350,000 seedlings annually for reforestation and restoration purposes on the Palouse, an effort requiring a substantial quantity of water. By enabling the nursery to maintain production with fewer resources, Aghai’s project will make it more environmentally and economically sustainable.

• Gabe Garcia, a junior in molecular biology and biotechnology. A $2,700 grant will fund his research on the effects of adding biochar, a valuable soil amendment, to compostable wastes. When applied to soil, biochar increases soil fertility and improves water quality, aiding in agricultural production. Its ability to sequester carbon and other greenhouse gases also makes it a prime topic for research in the global quest to mitigate climate change. Garcia’s research will explore how biochar’s innate attributes could improve the quality of the university’s compost to create an even more effective soil amendment.

• Garry Whitebird, a graduate student in the Professional Science Master’s Program. His $1,913 grant will subsidize the purchase and installation of headlights and taillights for student bicycles. At the UISC’s spring bicycle maintenance clinic, students will be able to purchase the fixtures for a reduced cost of $2 and have them installed for free by a local bike shop. The project will foster bicycle safety and encourage participants to adopt bicycle commuting, a low carbon alternative to automobile transportation.

The annual grant competition helps students develop skills they will use well beyond the life of the grant, including grant writing, project management, budgeting, program evaluation, leadership, and teamwork.

The projects will be completed by May 2012. For more information, contact Wieteke Holthuijzen, UISC projects coordinator, at

As increasing environmental awareness drives interest in sustainable practices, the University of Idaho continues to seek carbon reduction initiatives to meet the current and future needs of society and to contribute to the quality of life and the natural resources in Idaho, the nation and the world. For more information about the university’s sustainability efforts, contact the University of Idaho Sustainability Center at or visit
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