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2021 Challenge Grant Recipients

This year’s call for proposals placed a focus not only on sustainability, but on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as well as COVID-19 recovery. 15 interdisciplinary proposals requesting almost $650,000 were submitted. These teams were composed of 99 faculty, staff and student members representing 34 academic programs across 24 colleges and University units, and multiple institutes and centers. The following projects were selected for funding.


Turning Plastic Waste into Fuel for Operating Campus Grounds Equipment: Engineering and Designing Sustainable Solutions to UK’s Plastic Waste Issue ($43,045)

In 2018, the University of Kentucky conducted a Waste Characterization Study to better understand the types and sources of waste generated on campus. This study found that 65% of all waste sent to the landfill originates from UK Healthcare (UKHC). Of this waste, almost 17% of it was classified as medical waste, including single-use plastics. In response, UKHC partnered with UK Recycling to figure out new ways to recycle plastic waste generated by the hospital system. One major priority area was the high volume of plastic outer wrappers for IV bags made from a High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) or type 2 plastic. This particular type of plastic, due to its small size and reduced density, makes it near impossible to recycle.

This project provides a small-step forward in addressing the plastic pile-up generated by the University. Trash-to-Tank (3T) technology is a simple device that uses thermal decomposition to convert plastic waste into clean fuel oil similar to diesel fuel. The use of thermal decomposition is important because it ensures the use of this technology is not hazardous to human health. Plastic is derived from petroleum so the Trash-to-Tank process essentially turns plastic waste back to its original form. Preliminary testing revealed that the plastic outer wrappers for IV bags from UKHC is a suitable plastic waste material for the Trash-to-Tank (3T) processor to generate fuel oil. This project aims to create a campus circular economy by building and installing a Trash-to-Tank (3T) Processor in UK Recycling’s area at Vaughan Warehouse to convert the plastic IV bag wrappers to fuel oil that will be used by UK Grounds for off-road equipment such as lawn mowers, bobcats, and skid steers. 


Climate Resilience through Community Resilience ($42,705)

Flash flooding in numerous Appalachian Kentucky counties during the spring of 2021 vividly illustrated the now established threat of climate change to a region often left out of national conversations about climate resilience. While floods are a way of life to some extent in all mountainous regions, the frequency and severity of flooding has demonstratively increased, threatening a nascent transition to a post-coal economy in the region. In the aftermath of these last rounds of floods, outside interests came to what they presumed to be self-evident conclusions that these communities should just move, surround themselves with flood walls, or disband altogether.

Climate Resilience through Community Resilience is a year-long creative scholarship project culminating in a public exhibition co-located in Hazard and Lexington. This project targets the risk posed by flooding, establishes a process for designing resilience strategies, and asks: could a process of empathic design rooted in a robust community engagement model create a productive space for exploration of climate resiliency in the Commonwealth?

This team brings together the disciplines of architecture, community development, documentary arts, and environmental design (interiors) to partner with InVision Hazard to articulate both an assessment of the threats to the community, but also the vision the community has for itself within the context of the coming climatic reality.


Re-Visioning Huntertown: From African American Freetown to Interpretive Public Place ($42,000)

Huntertown was once a thriving, close-knit African American community where descendants of freed African Americans lived in Woodford County. Unfortunately, it was bought out by the county government through a Community Development Block Grant and cleared of homes between 2000 and 2010 due to environmental concerns. The Huntertown Community Interpretive Park Committee, along with the Versailles-Woodford County Parks and Recreation Department and Woodford County Fiscal Court, envision preserving Huntertown's history and story through designing and building an interpretive yet passive green space on the 38-acre site, 15-minute drive from campus, just adjacent to the Bluegrass Parkway. An extraordinary opportunity to interpret the historical, cultural, environmental, and spatial character of a post-Civil War African-American Freetown exists in re-visioning the Huntertown Community Interpretive Park (HCIP).

This project will provide a unique glimpse into the sociocultural heritage of Woodford County as well as engage a new generation of citizens in learning about the shared history of the landscape. Additionally, the site has diverse habitats and environmental restoration needs, which could add aesthetic and educational interest. It also has the potential to increase connectivity in the community for physical activity and well-being.Ultimately, the HCIP will become a new community public space at the southeastern edge where public green space is absent.


Diverse Landscapes for Nature Rx on the UK Medical Campus ($38,572)

Members of The Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment’s Built Environment Faculty Working Group and UK HealthCare Sustainability Steering Committee’s Healthcare Greenspaces Taskforce have worked together over the past year to develop a vision for the landscapes of the UK Medical Center campus. This vision imagines a campus whose exterior spaces support visitors, patients, and UK HealthCare employees with inspirational landscapes that provide the benefits of contact with nature, attention restoration, and a sense of welcome and inclusion. Along with wellness benefits, these designed landscapes will improve the quality of stormwater, and will create more biodiversity of plants and the pollinator species that depend on them. This project will organize a suite of activities that include education and engagement, design, transformation of selected landscapes, and research assessing human and environmental benefits.


Stories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Kentucky ($22,670)

This multi-year, transdisciplinary community engaged project brings together UK faculty, staff, and students; and community organizations and community leaders in Kentucky to collect, archive, and share untold stories about Kentuckians of Asian and Pacific Island descents (AAPI). The overarching aim of this multiyear project is to make currently invisible AAPIs visible by giving AAPI Kentuckians a voice to share their stories of challenges and achievements in living, working, and studying in Kentucky. Sustainability is a shared goal and collective endeavor. Stories of AAPIs’ contributions to Kentucky ecology, economy, politics, society, and culture must be an integral part of shaping institutional processes (e.g., education, research, public policy, urban planning, media, natural resource conservation) for building the sustainable future.

This project has received funding for its pilot phase, which includes: (1) planning how to strategically integrate research, instruction, and outreach elements of this project; (2) finalizing the design of oral history methodology, including the development of a list of potential interviewees; (3) carrying out exploratory oral history interviews and focus group interviews to understand the effects of the COVID-19 on selected categories of AAPIs in the Bluegrass region and develop background contextual materials needed to carry out oral history interviews across Kentucky in the next three years; and (4) training the key personnel and collaborators in oral history and focus group interviewing as well as community engaged research.


Planning Global Gardens at UK: Cultivating Inclusive Spaces with Nutritional Sciences ($14,593)

This project will result in a complete design and implementation plan, as well as a pilot planting of one or more multicultural, inclusive, and educational garden space(s). A multicultural garden could take multiple forms at UK. For example, smaller or larger parcels of soil could be dedicated for intentional cultivation and care of plants and/or foliage from various places around the globe. Garden signage will describe the gardens’ plant(s), their origin(s), with student connections to these locations plus nutritional sciences information about a nutrient or antioxidant. Multicultural garden(s) at UK should leverage biodiversity to create a dynamic and immersive space designed to raise awareness and appreciation for other cultures, plants, and nutrition, all within the spirit of community.

Produce from the garden space(s) may be procured by UK students directly, as a community garden model, and/or donated to the Big Blue Pantry, a resource for UK students experiencing food insecurity. A collaboration with Campus Kitchen, a student-led kitchen space on campus, has agreed to allow at least one PGG-related community-centered events during or after the first planting and harvest cycle, to celebrate multicultural ingredients with a culinary experience.