RSDP Happenings - Spotlight: RSDP Faculty Board Members
Upper: Dr. James “Jim” Luby, Dr. David Mulla, Eric Castle, Dr. Carl Rosen
Lower: Dr. Ingrid Schneider, Dr. Craig Hassel, Dr. Michael “Mike” Mageau
By Elizabeth Braatz
Where on earth could you find a team of people that includes a former member of a White House Task Force, the head of the University of Minnesota (UMN) Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, a team leader for the group of scientists that created the Zestar!Ⓡ and Honeycrisp apples, a former member of Minnesota’s governor-appointed Council on Tourism advisory board, the director of both the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Environment and Sustainability Program and the Center for Sustainable Community Development, a specialist supporter and coordinator between Minnesota Extension and six Tribal Colleges, and the consultant behind several nature play spaces in Minnesota?
All of these people are faculty members who have served on University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) boards or led an RSDP project. In keeping with the mission of a land-grant university, RSDP connects faculty to opportunities for community engagement and community-engaged scholarship through our regional boards, projects, and resources.
Translating environmental research into ground-level change
Spotlight: David Mulla, Professor and Larson Endowed Chair in Soil and Water Resources, Co-Director of Graduate Studies, Soil, Water, and Climate, UMN Twin Cities
RSDP board: Southwest
In 1998 Dr. David Mulla was appointed to the White House Task Force on Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. He worked with that team to come up with recommendations and strategies that could help reverse pollution, and the team’s reports have since been used for almost 20 years to guide policies and planning on hypoxia. Besides making recommendations to the White House, Dr. Mulla has published more than 200 articles, received over $16 million in funding, led studies for the Minnesota State Environmental Quality Board and the Minnesota Legislature on nitrogen runoff, and served as a Millennium Challenge Corporation consultant for a Morocco afforestation project that led to the planting of 8 million olive trees. Currently, Dr. Mulla serves as Co-Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate.
Even with all the incredible work Dr. Mulla has been doing on the state, national, and international levels, he sets aside time to contribute to local communities. Dr. Mulla served on the Southwest RSDP Board of Directors, where he helped teach a series of workshops on the use of Light Detection and Ranging “LiDAR” to map areas prone to runoff. RSDP partners wanted to learn how to map and target best management practices to the most vulnerable areas of a landscape, and LiDAR helped them to do this much more efficiently.
“These are hard skills to acquire. You have to have training in GIS software to help you process LiDAR data, so we developed training materials that people could actually use,” Dr. Mulla explained.
RSDP held four workshops, and each was well-attended and well-received. According to course evaluations, over 90 percent of participants thought they could apply the materials, and 88 percent said they learned a significant amount. Ultimately, Dr. Mulla said, “It was really successful. People really enjoyed participating. And what really impressed me was how some of the participants took the skills they had learned, they took their proposals to [government] agencies, and they were able to get a lot of money—over a million dollars—in grant money to put conservation projects on the ground.”
Besides contributing knowledge to fields he was familiar with, Dr. Mulla was able to explore new areas with RSDP, such as food revitalization efforts in Willmar. “I learned a lot,” he said. “I think that serving on the RSDP board is a wonderful experience. It helps connect the University of Minnesota with people who are living in the Southwest part of the state, and there are a lot of new projects that can really be developed through those partnerships and have a big benefit on the economy and on the environment.”
Although Dr. Mulla is known internationally for his scholarship and projects, here at Southwest RSDP we’ll always be grateful for his advice, thoughts, and time on the board and with local communities. In the words of Southwest RSDP Executive Director David Fluegel, “As a U of M faculty member, Dr. David Mulla has made many remarkable and important contributions in teaching and research, [yet] he still managed to commit five years to traveling to Southwest Minnesota to serve as a member of the Southwest RSDP Board of Directors. … [His work has helped many people] ultimately make long-term improvements in the environment.”
Would you like some wine?
Spotlight: Dr. James “Jim” Luby, Professor, Horticultural Science, UMN Twin Cities
RSDP board: Southwest
Imagine a class where you get to take a tour of a local winery, learn the characteristics of different types of wine and their production histories, and get an introduction to cultivating grapevines in your own home garden. This class is real. It is (unsurprisingly) extremely popular with students, and it’s taught by Dr. James “Jim” Luby.
Of course, making delicious wine isn’t the only thing Dr. Luby works on. Dr. Luby was a leading member of the team of UMN scientists who created the Zestar!Ⓡ Apple, the Honeycrisp Apple, and numerous varieties of cold-hardy grapes. According to a UMN Extension report, Minnesota’s cold-hardy grapes have added $401 million to the economy and have created 12,600 jobs. Dr. Luby’s research focuses on fruit breeding, viticulture, and marker-assisted breeding. In addition to creating great food, he has been deeply involved in helping local farmers.
Staying involved with local producers has always been important to Dr. Luby, and he found that volunteering with RSDP as a member of what is now the expanded Southwest RSDP was a great way to do so. Recalling his time on the board, Dr. Luby said, “I tended to focus on food and help most with food projects. For instance, we had a grape vine project aimed at growing grapes that were hardy enough to be planted in Minnesota. That was just starting at the time, and we had a lot of interest from wineries. In the early 2000s there were fewer than five wineries in the West Central region, now there are over 70, and a lot of those wineries are doing great.”
Dr. Luby has also helped on various RSDP projects focused on promoting farmers markets. “[RSDP] was a good way to get an idea of the issues and challenges with local foods, especially in the Greater Minnesota area,” Dr. Luby said. “We often see an emphasis on supporting local foods in urban ‘food deserts,’ but it’s an issue in rural areas, too, where our current distribution program falters.”
In the words of Dr. Kathryn "Kathy" Draeger, RSDP Statewide Director, “Having Dr. Luby on the board was exciting for the Southwest RSDP. That was the catalyst to organize grape growers in the region and find out what their interests and needs were. We recruited a local grape grower to the board and I’ve personally seen a number of acres of grapes planted in this RSDP region. Our program’s engagement with faculty can actually help change how farmers, in this case, manage their land and diversify their crops and income sources.”
Spotlight: Michael “Mike” Mageau, Director, Center for Sustainable Community Development; Assistant Professor and Director, Environment and Sustainability Program, UMN Duluth
RSDP board: Northeast
Dr. Mike Mageau has a lot of “Directors” in his title. He’s the Director of the Center for Sustainable Community Development (CSCD) and Sustainable Development Research Opportunities Program (SDROP) at UMN Duluth (UMD), and formerly served on the Northeast RSDP Board of Directors. Although this has been a lot to juggle, Dr. Mageau has found it invigorating. “I was on [Northeast RSDP Executive Director] Okey [Ukaga]’s board for a couple terms, and I’ve been kind of serving on the energy committee ever since,” Dr. Mageau said. “[We’ve] done a lot of great projects together.”
Dr. Mageau explains aquaponics in an RSDP project.
CSCD is a program committed to “helping communities achieve their environmental, social and economic sustainable development goals” through outreach, teaching, and research with University faculty, community partners, and students (CSCD Mission Statement). Since many students cannot afford to spend time on community projects, even though such experiences are critical for future careers, Dr. Mageau also runs the SDROP program. This program provides $1,500 stipends for UMD students so they can contribute to community projects while still affording tuition and basic costs of living. Since its inception, Northeast RSDP has helped complement and bolster this project and program.
“SDROP was one of those great projects Okey and I did,” Dr. Mageau recalled. “We wanted to fund students to help out folks in the community who are trying to do good work. We have these little stipends and it’s been great. The students are thrilled, and community partners are thrilled, too.”
In addition to SDROP, Dr. Mageau worked with the Northeast RSDP on a wind energy project along the shore of Lake Superior and was instrumental in establishing Victus Farm, which had early support from the Northeast RSDP. This integrated fish, plant, and algal production system allows students and researchers to study and learn about controlled environmental agriculture, hydroponics, and aquaponics. “It’s not just SDROP, it’s also wind research and Victus Farms. The Partnership contributed to all of them and they’ve all just been great,” Dr. Mageau said.
In the words of Northeast RSDP Executive Director Ukaga, “Mike continues to push the envelope, taking necessary risks and trailblazing new ground.” The Partnerships are grateful for the innovative contributions that faculty make to communities throughout the state.
Exploring public nature play-spaces
Spotlight: Eric Castle, Associate Professor, Agriculture and Natural Resources, UMN Crookston
RSDP project lead: Northwest
Imagine you’re 5 years old again. It’s a beautiful day, and your parents have just taken you to explore the coolest playground you’ve ever seen. You dash past ornamental trees to crawl through willow tunnels and hide in a willow hut. As your parents take refuge in the shade trees and a terraced seating area, you clamber through culvert tunnels to discover an awesome sand pit. You help some other kids make a sand fortress for a while before getting lost in a prairie maze, chasing a butterfly in the rain garden, and, after scrambling across boulders and stumps, curling up for a nap inside a tree branch nest.
Nature play space grand opening at Castle Park in Crookston.
That kind of experience is enough to make anyone fall in love with nature, and that is exactly what Eric Castle, an Associate Professor at UMN Crookston and partner with Northwest RSDP, helped create through the “Nature Play” portfolio of projects. That cool park described earlier is real, and it is in Crookston, Minnesota, thanks to the hard work of lead designer Virajita Singh (Center for Sustainable Building Research and Assistant Vice Provost, Office for Equity and Diversity), Castle, graduate students, other Center for Sustainable Building Research (CSBR) researchers, the Institute on the Environment (IonE), the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), and the Northwest RSDP. As an Associate Professor for the UMN Crookston (UMC) Agriculture and Natural Resources Department, Castle was consulted by Singh for many parts of the project.
As Castle explained, his main work with Northwest RSDP revolved around design and construction of community projects. One of the best parts was how Castle was able to involve UMC students. “They enjoyed it. I think whenever students get to be involved in real-world projects … and create work that’s actually being implemented, it takes it to the next level for that student.”
Castle brought the same creativity and energy he applied to the Crookston park to RSDP’s table. Northwest RSDP Executive Director Linda Kingery reflected, “One of the things that pleases me about our Children and Nature portfolio is that Eric Castle invested his time and energy, created opportunities for his students, and used the topic of nature play for his own Ph.D. dissertation research.”
Getting proactive on tourism
In 2015, tourism in Minnesota created almost 260,000 jobs and generated $14.4 billion in gross sales—almost $40 million every single day (Explore MN, 2017). For small rural towns, tourism can be a significant boost to the economy.
With these kinds of numbers, it’s not surprising that the University’s rural partners have always expressed a keen interest in learning about tourism. This is where Dr. Ingrid Schneider comes in. Dr. Schneider is a professor on the Twin Cities campus and former Director of the University of Minnesota Tourism Center (current Tourism Center Director Cynthia Messer now serves on the Central RSDP board). Currently, Dr. Schneider is busy teaching classes and continuing her research with a focus on parks, recreation, and tourism management. The Northeast RSDP was happy to have Dr. Schneider on the board and the sustainable tourism focus area.
While with RSDP, Dr. Schneider worked with rural communities to assess tourism potential. One of her favorite projects was the Tourism Resource Team (which evolved into the Tourism Assessment Program). For this project, Dr. Schneider and other members of the Tourism Resource Team went out to the community, conducted interviews, and worked with community partners to assess their tourism programs and opportunities to develop them. Northeast RSDP Executive Director Okey Ukaga said, “Before Ingrid joined our team we were being very reactive about tourism. After she joined the board she got us to be a lot more proactive. She and another member formed this Tourism Resource Team project. She was instrumental in developing our current tourism outreach projects.”
“It was really fun and informative,” Dr. Schneider recalled. “We were able to learn from the community and share our ideas and background. It was a mutually beneficial experience.”
Not only was it good for community members, but it also helped Dr. Schneider’s scholarship. “It enabled us to see how developmental models worked in the field. There is nothing like on-the-ground experience to situate work in reality.”
As Ukaga summarized, “Ingrid is a scholar and a practitioner. She has been amazing for helping us decide what we want to do, how to do it, and how to go from there. We are very grateful to have had her time, energy, and fresh ideas for community development.”
Spotlight: Craig Hassel, Extension Nutritionist and Associate Professor, Food Science and Nutrition, UMN Twin Cities
RSDP board: Northeast
What do the UMN Center for Spirituality and Healing, Inter-institutional Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge (Pennsylvania), Cultural Wellness Center (Minnesota), White Earth Tribal Council, University of Minnesota Extension Health and Nutrition, Woodlands Wisdom Nutrition Project, a medicinal herb network, and Northeast RSDP have in common?
One person: Dr. Craig Hassel. Dr. Hassel is an Associate Professor and Extension Nutritionist at the UMN Twin Cities. Dr. Hassel is extremely involved with connecting community members, and he has worked for, partnered with, or volunteered for all of the organizations listed above. The Northeast RSDP was delighted to have Dr. Hassel’s experience and input on the board. With his connections to the community and insights on food systems, Dr. Hassel primarily worked with RSDP on food system initiatives.
“One of the things that instantly attracted me to RSDP was how the RSDP philosophy is consistent with my own academic work,” Dr. Hassel reflected. “What I think most stands out to me is RSDP’s commitment and passion in the Greater Minnesota community and their ability to bring out that passion and the resources that exist in the community. … The Regional Partnerships are a mode for [researchers to have] community engaged [scholarship].”
Dr. Hassel’s commitment and passion for the community are continuing to help RSDP. In the words of Ukaga, “Craig is one of the few people who naturally appreciates not just the wisdom within the academic [world], but also and more importantly the wisdom outside academics. He brings that to every project [and] process that he’s involved in, and we appreciate it. It’s [still] helping us enhance our programs [today].”
Why the hype about high tunnels
Spotlight: Carl Rosen, Department Head and Professor, Soil, Water, and Climate, UMN Twin Cities
RSDP board: Central
“It has been said that Minnesota has no spring” (Wildung and Johnson, 2012, p. 3). This may not be strictly true, but when it comes to growing seasons, it feels like it. Minnesota springs are unpredictable. Sometimes there are no frosts between April and May, and sometimes there are more than a dozen. Consequently, protecting crops and extending the growing season is a huge priority. RSDP has been fortunate to work with many gifted plant scientists to share research and technology with the surrounding community, and one of our most enduring areas of work was with Dr. Carl Rosen on high tunnels (a project spearheaded by former Extension Educator Terry Nennich). This season extension work planted the seeds of RSDP’s statewide Deep Winter Greenhouse work today.
Dr. Rosen is the Head of the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate and a leading researcher on nutrient management for crop production. He runs the department, supervises research, coordinates extension programs, and also somehow finds time to teach a class. RSDP benefitted from Dr. Rosen’s service on the Central RSDP Board of Directors. Dr. Rosen helped introduce RSDP to the broader UMN Extension work on high tunnels.
High tunnels are hooped structures covered in plastic sheeting that protect crops from damaging frosts and temperature fluctuations. They are ideal for Minnesota’s unpredictable seasons, and have steadily grown from almost unheard-of to ubiquitous.
Work on high tunnels extended Minnesota’s growing season and planted the seeds of RSDP’s statewide Deep Winter Greenhouse work.
“The main thing that I feel most proud of is that I think we were the first Regional Partnership to really focus on high tunnels,” Dr. Rosen recalled. “We put together a high tunnel manual with Terry Nennich, Jerry Wright, [and many other partners]. I feel that high tunnel work in Minnesota really started due to those initial studies.”
In addition to creating the educational manual, the Central RSDP invested in a high tunnel research, demonstration, and education project. The initiative inspired dozens of growers to try out high tunnels indirectly, and it directly assisted in the construction of 10 local high tunnels. “A lot of our results were very practical and helped local growers learn new technologies,” Dr. Rosen said. “It was very satisfying helping [these] local communities.”
Statewide RSDP Director Kathryn Draeger said, “Dr. Rosen is a resource for the entire state and especially for specialty crop growers. The Partnerships have appreciated having his expertise on the board and collaborating on projects like environmentally sound horticultural crop production and most recently on how Deep Winter Greenhouse soil mixes and amendments can impact the nutrients in the greens that are grown there.”
Enjoy more faculty experiences on RSDP boards in our Focus on RSDP Faculty Board Members article. Interested in serving on our boards? Learn more in the board application at the bottom of RSDP's homepage or by contacting any of our five Regional Executive Directors:
- Molly Zins, Central
- Okey Ukaga, Northeast
- Linda Kingery, Northwest
- Erin Meier, Southeast
- David Fluegel, Southwest
Wildung and Johnson. (2012). “Minnesota High Tunnel Production Manual for Commercial Growers 2nd Ed.” Edited by Nennich, T. T. and Wold-Burkness, S. Regents of the University of Minnesota. Retrieved from http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/fruit-vegetable/docs/high-tunnel-manual-2012.pdf
Elizabeth Braatz is a student in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) majoring in Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management. She works with RSDP as a Student Writer/ Communications Assistant.