Students pitch in with sustainable landscaping

Oct. 12, 2011 -- Five student interns are working with the campus grounds department this semester, lending a hand with efforts to improve the sustainability of campus landscaping.

A photo of group of students unrolling green sod onto the ground

Student interns and volunteers from a service fraternity help lay rolls of native grass sod.

At a recent work day, student interns and volunteers from a service fraternity replaced a section of lawn with native meadow grass. They prepared the ground and laid rolls of native grass sod that will help save water, time and money.

"This grass may look lush and green," said Landscape Technical Services Coordinator Davin Wentworth-Thrasher, pointing to the existing manicured lawn, "but it needs watering several times a week. The native grass won't need watering nearly as often."

The campus grounds department is piloting native grass varieties on select patches around campus to assess their water consumption and resistance to foot traffic.

"Good stewardship of public lands requires a high level of care with respect to resource use," said Phil Evans, director of site planning and landscape design. Evans and his team are working to reduce the water, energy and fertilizer required by the campus landscape, while also planting native species that will boost biodiversity by providing food and habitat for birds and insects.

This semester interns have planted native species near the bicycle path behind Thornton Hall, worked in the campus grounds' nursery and helped install a solar-powered fountain near The Village at Centennial Square.

A photo of students making a smoothie using a blender powered by a stationary bicycle

Students take a break and make a smoothie using a pedal-powered blender.

The internships provide students with an opportunity to learn new skills outside the classroom while earning academic credit through an environmental studies internship class (ENVS 680).

"This is a convenient way to pitch in and change the campus," said intern Sean Cristerna, an environmental studies major. "The experience has made me think about how each plant will give something back to the community. It's not just about saving water but also about how birds and insects will interact with the things we plant."

In 2010-11, approximately 20 students completed grounds internships. They helped design and deliver numerous initiatives, including planting an herb garden outside Burk Hall and planting a bioswale of native grasses and wildflower which collects rainwater run-off from the Science building roof. Other interns researched rainfall statistics for a rainwater harvesting program, built nesting boxes for native bees, helped collect and sow local native plant seeds in the grounds department's nursery and assisted in developing an experiential learning garden at the Children's Campus.

"We really appreciate the creativity and energy of the students who have played a significant role in developing our grounds today," Evans said.

Campus grounds also offers drop-in work days where students can volunteer with sustainability projects. The next work day will take place Thursday, Oct. 27. For information about internships and volunteer opportunities, contact Davin Wentworth-Thrasher at

-- Elaine Bible