Challenge Grants

For information on this year's projects or to apply for the 2017 -year 4 funds, please follow the link below. The deadline to apply for the next round of funding is mid-October.
Link to Challenge Grant projects and application elements:

2014-15 Sustainability Challenge Grants (Year 1)  

Arboretum Drive Bioswale Demonstration and Education Project 

Project Summary: The entrance to The Arboretum was characterized by a rip‐rap lined ditch, a classic example of the rapid water conveyance that impairs urban‐affected streams in Fayette County and around the country. A restructuring of this highly visible drainageway with bioswale basins will transform it into an attractive, functional, and educational contribution to water quality in one of Kentucky’s premier venues for environmental education.

The project partners proposed to use in‐kind services along with funding from a Sustainability Challenge Grant to design and reconstruct the current ditch into three bioswale basins for runoff infiltration and conveyance. The new basins will have broadened cross‐sections, a series of low weirs constructed from recycled rip‐rap, and will be planted with native grasses and wildflowers. The process for design and construction of the swale involved the work of multiple participants: (1) data collection, design, and construction detailing by students in the Landscape Architecture course Water in Urbanizing Landscapes; (2) technical leadership for hydrologic design and plant selection and establishment methods by faculty and staff in Landscape Architecture, Horticulture and the Arboretum; (3) propagation of plant material by the UK Horticulture Club; (4) construction by the UK Student Chapter, American Society of Landscape Architects, with the guidance of faculty and staff and in cooperation with PPD; (5) planting by SC/ASLA, the Horticulture Club, and Arboretum Volunteers with the guidance of faculty and Arboretum staff; and (4) longer‐term monitoring by UKLA. The result will be both functional and beautiful, demonstrating that using ecological principles to manage water and landscapes creates more desirable human environments.


  • Publications: 2 in process on assessment of root systems and cultivars favorable to infiltration and water quality and quantity improvements in the upland areas.
  • Team awarded funds in second round of SCG funding to develop a wet meadow near the Children’s Garden
  • Students engaged in design and construction of the basins and plant cultivation. 
  • Registered as a Monarch Waystation and utilized as living laboratory for plant and water quality studies

Big Blue Impact | Making Sustainability Visible

Project Summary: Our project,Big Blue Impact (BBI) | Making Sustainability Visible, is an emerging pluridisciplinary collaboration inherently crossing the fields of design—architecture, learning, psychology, statistics, fine arts, physics, building engineering, and biotechnology. This proof-of-concept pilot study aims at collecting data about sustainability behaviors that can be captured, analyzed, and integrated into comprehensive models that can support visualizations that can serve as rapid feedback to shape sustainable behavior. The vision of the project is rooted in documenting an individual’s impact on the campus sustainability agenda demonstrating how learning can lead to new modes of creativity based on the use of a novel, multi-modal display. Participant students will be issued a small "wearable" microcomputer, about the size of an SD memory card, to monitor and collect both autonomous data and self-reported data of student activity related to sustainability. In some cases self-reported activity will be collected via a smart-phone enabled web interface. The wearable microcomputer is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled and will report individual performance data to web-enabled beacons for collection and aggregation of data. A further means of investigation, the BBI team will evaluate the data through statistical analysis and then connect the data into behavior models that can visualize the data on a variety of arduino-based inscribed surfaces whereby, translating decision-making into art.

Outcomes:  Workshop proposal based on design and developmental framework accepted to 2015 eCAADe International Conference in Vienna, Austria.

The Campus Tree Initiative (UFI) 

Project summary: Urban trees contribute substantially to environmental, economic, and social sustainability, significantly enhancing quality of life in urban environments. Yet, at less than 17% canopy cover, the UK campus has considerably less tree cover than that of Lexington, which at 25% is well below that of nearby cities (Cincinnati 39%, Nashville 47%). This project focused on the tremendous opportunity at UK to enhance the campus tree canopy and its associated benefits, especially during this period of intensive construction, while raising awareness within our community of the value of trees in urban settings. Our overarching goal was to amplify the perception, value and function of the urban forest on campus and in Lexington by marshaling partnerships across academic and operations interests of the campus community, along with local, state and federal entities. Our project contributed to sustainability on campus and regionally by: increasing the visibility and awareness of the campus tree canopy and its contributions to campus sustainability through the development of a dedicated website and Adopt-a- Tree program; quarterly publication of online articles (“Tree Talk”); creation of curricular linkages to several courses on campus; and the building of an interdisciplinary, collaborative working group comprised of students, faculty, staff and outside professionals to impact outreach, operations, academics and research relative to urban trees. We have measured the success of the Urban Forest Initiative in terms of direct involvement of students, faculty and staff; engagement with campus tree educational materials and social media; engagement of students through curricular linkages; and successful engagement of the urban forestry community on campus and in the surrounding community.


  • Developed an education and outreach program for primary and secondary students and engaged UK students in academic and service learning projects
  • Launched website and developed associated social media presence.
  • Team received additional funding through various sources to support seminar series and awarded funds in second round of SCG funding.
  • Developing a growing core of members fostering civic, community, corporate and academic engagement.
  • Developing UFI project with KY Dept of Forestry for central KY communities 

Cultivating Place for a Sustainable Community; Revitalizing the Shawneetown Community Garden

Project Summary: The Shawneetown Gardens began as a student initiative in 2009, and has grown from a gardening space for 20 residents to over 70 plots currently. Although the gardens are heavily utilized by Graduate and Family housing residents, a crumbling infrastructure, lack of organized design, and isolation keep it from functioning to its full potential as a sustainable initiative on the University of Kentucky campus. While closely linked to minimizing impact on the ecosystem and promoting ecoliteracy, a sustainable community garden can also generate physical, ecological, and socio-cultural sustainability. Such diverse components of sustainability carry implications for plants and people which this project aims to explore through a synergy between students from the School of Interiors, the College of Agriculture, Food, and the Environment, and associated student organizations to revitalize the Shawneetown Community Garden.

Following the research and framework developed by Bethany Turner in the article “Embodied Connections: Sustainability, Food Systems and Community Gardens”, faculty will mentor students in each department as well as student organizations through evidence based research, design thinking, project-based learning and campus engagement to transform the existing community garden to evoke a sense of ‘place’. Success as it relates to both the plants and the people will be measured by different means at various points throughout the project, which will enable the Shawneetown Community Garden to act as a pilot for a potential network of community gardens on the University of Kentucky campus.


  • Presentation: 12th International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic, and Social Sustainability. (January 2016, Portland, OR)
  • Presentation: Interior Design Educators Council, Annual Conference (March, 2016, Portland, OR.)
  • Publication: Turner, H., and K.L. Jacobsen.  Cultivating a sustainable campus community garden through creation of place.  Submitted to The International Journal of Sustainability Education, 3 March 2016. (in review)

Development of Sustainable Bus Shelters

Project Summary:  The College of Design, School of Architecture (CoD SoA) & The Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) continue on a path to construct critically placed high-performance transit shelters—plugging into campus transportation to physically manifest the University of Kentucky’s sustainability and transportation agendas. Our designs integrate sustainable site strategies, context specificity, high-performance architectural skins, sustainable materials, photovoltaic systems, storm water management, high-efficiency lighting and infographic displays to reimagine what a shelter can be. This project will contribute to a “Sustainable Campus Exemplar” [1] that positions the University of Kentucky as a standard bearer for the Commonwealth’s energy infrastructure and sustainability programs.

The UKSCG Committee funded the project last year, allowing us to deliver on our stated goals – plus much more.  We analyzed the campus and integrated our analysis with the master plans, designed new graphics for the system, designed four site-specific shelters, constructed a solar mock-up, started a publication and presented this work to stakeholders and President Capilouto.  We are in dialogue with UK Administration earlier than imagined and are now in position to deliver our first constructed shelter.  The continued support of the Sustainability Challenge Grant program will catalyze the integration of sustainability and educational aspects within the design as it transitions toward real world implementation, leveraging the impact of campus research to engage students in a dialogue about sustainability, alternate transportation, the value of design, and the possibilities of collaborative research at UK. 


  • Elements of the design process (abstract process drawings and models) were exhibited as part of ACADIA held this year in Cincinnati, Ohio. 
  • Publications: Book to document the design process from beginning to end (in process)
  • Student Engagement: collaboration between EE design team and School of Architecture students to develop prototype energy source, develop shelter structure, and conduct site analysis.
  • Collaborations: Project team developed relationships with campus stakeholders to help champion the project as well as external experts and leaders in their professions to augment the team.

North Limestone Neighborhood Sustainability: Establishing Public Spaces and the Arts

Project Summary:  The North Limestone neighborhood (hereinafter as NoLi) in Lexington is actively working on improving the lives if its community members.  Moving forward with their creative placemaking initiatives, this sustainability project will assist in preparing for the leadership, collaboration, and participation of stakeholders through facilitator training, empowerment of youth and the physical planning and design phases of the ideation for shared public spaces and arts in NoLi.  Currently, the community has several interested parties and a diverse group of constituents that can work more effectively through a systematic facilitation of effort.  Through this project, NoLi will increase the ecological integrity of their existing environmental conditions and identify public space needs and visions.  By working with diverse groups, the community will be able to increase their social capacity through training of facilitated leadership, improve intergeneration communication and develop a stronger sense of place.  Potential community leaders will be trained in how to lead walking tours and gather information from the diverse interest groups.  Youth in the community will be taught skills to empower and motivate themselves to be healthier and more effective contributors.  The students in the UK Landscape Architecture Department will learn how to lead design workshop(s) with community youth and graphically represent the dreams and visions of the NoLi youth into actionable endeavors.


  • Challenge Grant funds used to leverage $135,000 from three funders to expand the initiative into new phases.
  • Involved the community by implementing radical walks and surveys to critically assess public spaces 
  • Engaged students from LA Design and STEAM academy in design process
  • Created long-term cross-disciplinary relationships within the campus community and engaged several organizations in the NoLi area

“This initiative has built a sense of solidarity among North Limestone stakeholders that did not exist before. The Radical Walks are part of capacity building in which participants realize they have power in shaping their public spaces”

UK Food Summit

Project Summary: In collaboration with the UK Food Connection and the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment, this project aimed to: (a) create a strong culture on the UK campus that supports both on‐ and off‐campus efforts for building a sustainable, healthy, and socially just food system in Kentucky; and (b) facilitate dialogues among faculty, staff, and students at the University of Kentucky on food‐related topics to improve our knowledge and skills in building a sustainable, healthy, and socially just food system. In order to achieve these objectives, we proposed to carry out a campus‐wide survey and organize the first Food Summit to bring together on‐ and off‐campus stakeholders. We experienced tremendous challenges in achieving our objectives. Although we developed a survey instrument and an application to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), we did not receive access to the mailing lists required to administer the survey. Although the scope of the UK Food Summit was scaled down, with the fund from the Sustainability Challenge grant and a matching fund from the UK Food Connection, the first Food Systems Studies Symposium will be held on April 7 and 8, 2016. The symposium will consist of two components, including the panel of three invited speakers Thursday afternoon and a day‐ long workshop to articulate our visions for a new curriculum/program on Friday (see the attached symposium agenda)


  • Engaged discussion between scholars, students, and community members in Symposium on Food Systems Studies to define assets and vision for a food studies program
  • Assembled a cross-college planning committee to develop ideas, initiate project tasks, and set priorities for the group based on the summit outcomes.




































© 2013 Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment