Medicine disposal draws a crowd at public engagement symposium

March 19th, 2015 by

Allison Neubauer and Kirsten Walker were at the University of Illinois Public Engagement Symposium last week to raise awareness of IISG outreach in Champaign-Urbana. Allison had this to say about the event.  

The public engagement symposium was a great opportunity to find out what other local organizations and academic programs are working on. The crowds of people—both those staffing booths and walking through and exploring—were a true testament to Champaign-Urbana’s widespread effort to get involved and take collective action on local initiatives.
Our IISG table generated a lot of traffic. With spring on the horizon, many visitors were excited to learn about our mobile walking tour of downtown Chicago. Others stopped to discuss invasive species and ways they can help halt their spread.
But the biggest draw was our university Learning in Community (LINC) course poster, created by undergraduate students enrolled in our section last fall. These students focused on increasing awareness on campus about how pharmaceuticals contaminate our waterways. They also coordinated a take-back event for students and community members to properly dispose of their unwanted medication. The event was a big success, collecting 15 pounds of unused medicine for incineration in just six hours.
For Kirsten and I, what was particularly exciting and unique about this symposium was our ability to connect with others working locally on related problems. For example, a Champaign community health center invited us to discuss pharmaceutical disposal with their patients. There was also a UIUC engineering student interested in the homemade filtration system our LINC students created with local high schoolers to show how some contaminants can slip through wastewater treatment processes. She is currently working to design and implement a water system and health program in a rural Honduran community and was looking for ways to engage with local residents.

U of I students get creative with green infrastructure

November 20th, 2014 by

Eliana Brown recently joined the Illinois Water Resources Center as an outreach specialist. Prior to starting at IWRC, she worked at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Facilities & Services as the MS4 coordinator and at Illinois EPA as a field engineer. Eliana has a M.S. in environmental engineering and a B.S. in general engineering and marketing from the University of Illinois.

The following is a contributing post from Eliana, who has a passion for rain gardens and green infrastructure:
When you were a university student, did you ever reimagine your campus landscape? Students at the University of Illinois did exactly that as an assignment for Landscape Architecture (LA) 452, Native Plants and Design.
The U of I campus has 84 miles of storm sewer, most of which drain rainwater directly to Boneyard Creek. The LA 452 students designed landscapes with elements that capture water and allow it to soak in on-site to reduce loads to the existing storm sewer and creek. These elements (called green infrastructure) include rain gardens, swales, and green roofs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sees green infrastructure as a way to create sustainable, resilient communities that improve water quality.
EPA has a competition called the Campus RainWorks Challenge that invites “student teams to design an innovative green infrastructure project for their campus showing how managing stormwater at its source can benefit the campus community and the environment.”
According to Jason Berner, EPA environmental protection specialist, who has been involved with administering the competition, it is a great way for students to see how green infrastructure is related to the larger campus master plan. “It moves us beyond single pilot projects, but at the same time, blends both small and large scale thinking,” he explained.
LA 452 instructor Tawab Hlimi is leading the U of I Campus RainWorks entry. Students in his class helped brainstorm ideas for the entry. One of those ideas is pictured. Student Jiwon

Kim reimagined the grounds at the National Soybean Research Building (which happens to house Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Water Resources Center). Native plant rain gardens intercept stormwater from the building roof and parking lot. During large storms, the design takes advantage of existing storm sewers by overflowing excess water to them.

Like many cities and universities, the U of I began installing storm sewers more than 100 years ago. Storm sewers benefit cities by draining flooded areas. However, they can overload receiving streams and cause unintended damage. Adding green infrastructure elements to the existing infrastructure helps ensure a healthier ecosystem on-site and downstream.
Per Hlimi, “Through a campus wide application of rain gardens, students hybridized native plantings with a superficial stormwater management strategy to meet multiple objectives: accommodating the ‘first flush’ of frequent storm events through detention, infiltration, and biofiltration, reducing the load on existing subsurface infrastructure, improving the water quality entering into the Boneyard Creek, creating habitat for pollinators, and rendering the campus landscape as living laboratory.”
Perhaps one day in the not too distant future, students won’t have to imagine green infrastructure on campus. They’ll see it.
Learn how you can put in a rain garden on your property by checking out the Southern Lake Michigan Rain Garden Manual.

SeaPerch contest winners get their robots up and running

October 14th, 2013 by

Last month, we announced that six teachers from the Champaign-Urbana area had won tool kits for constructing simple, remotely operated underwater robots with their students. With the help of online lesson plans, the winning teachers will use the SeaPerch robots to teach their students about topics including buoyancy, propulsion, circuitry, and biological sampling.

Along with the kits, teachers got an opportunity to learn construction techniques  and practice using the equipment during one of two SeaPerch Build Sessions held in October. During the sessions, Blake Landry, coordinator of the University of Illinois SeaPerch Program, took teachers step-by-step through the build process.  

The winning teachers have big plans for their robots. Some will use them to introduce their younger students to basic engineering concepts for the first time. In other classrooms, the robots will provide an opportunity for students to test their knowledge of things like simple circuits. Some teachers are even considering partnering up to start an after-school club that will compete in the national SeaPerch Challenge. With these six teachers now using SeaPerch, there is also a possibility that they may launch a regional SeaPerch Challenge.

The SeaPerch giveaway contest was funded by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant to help teachers in the Great Lakes region integrate science education with engineering and math.

Visit the SeaPerch homepage to learn more about the tool kits and the SeaPerch program.


Top: Blake shows Carol Smith and Geoff Frymuth how to use the tools provided in the SeaPerch teacher’s kit. Carol is a 5th grade teacher at Leal Elementary School in Urbana, and Geoff teaches 7th grade science at Champaign’s Jefferson Middle School.

Middle: Carol practices stripping electrical wires used to connect the three motorized propellers that steer the underwater robots. Stripping wires and building motors are just a few of the many engineering tasks her students will have to do when they build their own robots in the spring. 

Bottom: Carol, Geoff, and Jen White, an 8th grade science teacher at Jefferson Middle School, take notes as Blake shows how to install and waterproof the motors and secure the frame of a completed SeaPerch robot.

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