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UMass Lowell places 16 out of top 20 “coolest” schools by Sierra Club magazine

(Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell) Photo of The Rist Urban Agriculture Greenhouse and Farm

Cassandra Milnes
Connector Editor

On Sept. 27, 2020, Sierra Club magazine published an article of the Top 20 Coolest Schools 2020. These twenty schools have shown incredible resourcefulness during this pandemic through maintaining and improving their sustainability objectives. The criteria these colleges are rated on include academics, engagement, planning, administration and innovation.

UMass Lowell placed 16th with a score of 80.04, which is equal to that of UMass Amherst. In 2018, UMass Lowell placed 22nd with a score of 74.04, which means the university has gone up six spots and 6 points over the past two years.

UMass Lowell earned this score through a variety of sustainable initiatives, such as UMass Lowell’s urban agriculture program and the competitive Sustainability Engagement and Enrichment Development (SEED) fund.

Director of Sustainability Ruairi O’Mahoney said that the urban agriculture program is based on “the community and university working together … to benefit UMass Lowell, Mill City Grows and the city of Lowell.” This program began with “a greenhouse on east campus that was previously student-run.”

After the greenhouse became successful, the program “expanded to a rooftop community garden at University Crossing.” Future plans for this program include the creation of “a community rooftop garden at O’Leary Library,” said O’Mahoney.

According to the Office of Sustainability’s website, the “SEED fund provides funding for projects that promote environmental sustainability and positively impact and enhance the student experience at the university.” This fund is available for all UMass Lowell students, faculty, and staff to apply. The grants given to the chosen applicants can include up to $10,000 for campus sustainability projects.

Business administration student Chase Blackmun said that “it’s important to know that students are making an impact not only in submitting projects, but also on voting for which projects are funded. It’s impressive to see students come up with such cool ideas that can make a big impact on the university community.”

If someone would like to submit a concept but does not have a proposal, there is an option to submit a project concept and receive feedback and/or team members. There is also an option to give feedback or join a team for a project concept if one does not have their own concept. Once someone has a proposal, they can submit it as a PDF form with any budget spreadsheets, photographs and diagrams that will support the application.

O’Mahoney said that past SEED fund projects to include “hybrid shuttles, pollinator habitats, sustainability-related courses, advanced bike parking and sustainability-related club expeditions.”

According to articles by Ed Brennan, nine projects were received funding in 2017, 10 in 2018, and 12 in 2019. These SEED grants can be proposed by all UMass Lowell faculty, staff, and students. As SEED grants are funded by the student fee, the initiatives chosen must have at least one student representative and are chosen by a student committee.

O’Mahoney said that SEED grants every year are beneficial as “sustainability is a moving target,” constantly changing based on the environment’s needs.

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