Nico Viglucci in school bus

Applied sustainability: High Meadows Foundation supports campus-based projects that yield real-world results

Feb. 19, 2018, 9:37 a.m.

The High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund supports campus-based projects that yield real-world results. A recipient of the funding, junior Nico Viglucci, a mechanical and aerospace engineering student, is leading the retrofit of an old school bus into an energy-efficient “tiny house,” complete with solar panels and an experimental heating and cooling system.

In the fall, Princeton junior Nico Viglucci taught himself to weld. His goal? Creating a rack to hold solar panels atop an old school bus Viglucci is painstakingly converting into a mobile “tiny house” filled with energy-saving add-ons and an experimental heating and cooling system. The bus will also be outfitted with monitors to collect data about its energy use.

“Princeton is very big on theoretical academics,” said Viglucci, who is majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering. Gesturing to the massive rack on the floor, he said: “This is very hands-on. On the spectrum, it's all the way on the other side.”

Viglucci’s “School Bus Tiny House” is one of more than a dozen projects supported in 2017 by the High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund, which is administered by the Office of Sustainability. Since 2008, it has awarded grants of up to $10,000 to Princeton students, faculty and staff who have an idea that exists at the intersection of sustainability and tangible action. The fund highlights “measurable outcomes that will contribute to cultivating a sustainability ethos on campus.”

Junior Artemis Eyster is another student to receive support, for a student-initiated seminar titled “Analyzing Ecological Integrity: An Assessment of Princeton’s Natural Areas.” In the fall, the class sent Princeton students paddling on Lake Carnegie to measure bottom sediment, wading in feeder streams to install water-quality monitors, and trekking through patches of forest to catalog plant communities.

Eyster, a geosciences major, designed the class with an eye toward utility: she hopes the hard-earned environmental data will help inform decisions on campus restoration, construction and storm-water projects. She hopes the methodologies will spur more data collection at natural areas across campus.

“We're trying to show the importance of quantitative measures of natural resources,” Eyster said, “to determine management strategies.”

Artemis Eyster sketching a spicebush

Junior Artemis Eyster, a geosciences major, led a hands-on seminar last semester to catalog and measure natural resources around campus. Here she sketches a spicebush, Lindera benzoin, a native plant whose berries are an important source of food for migrating songbirds each fall.

Other recent projects the fund supports are the Princeton Vertical Farming Project, a pilot study of solar-powered golf carts for the Princeton University Art Museum, and the student design of an electric boat motor for use on the crew team launch boat. Over the past decade, the fund has awarded support for 110 projects that have included faculty research, senior theses and other campus-based initiatives.

“The early years of the fund supported some of the first ‘Campus as Living Lab’ academic and administrative projects at the University,” said Shana Weber, director of the Office of Sustainability. “Those efforts were test cases for whether using the local setting to really dig into scalable solutions to global issues was a viable idea here at Princeton. And clearly it is.”

The fund provides seed funding, and Weber notes that other opportunities for applied research have become available. Princeton faculty can now find support for sustainability-related research projects from the “Innovation Fund for the Campus as a Lab,” which is a multi-departmental pilot initiative launched in 2016 and administered by the Office of the Dean for Research.

“It’s exciting to see members of the campus community collaborating on applied projects, with increasing cooperation across courses, entrepreneurial programs, academic research, administrative processes and departmental initiatives,” Weber said. “Within my office, one of our priorities is to support the momentum around Campus as Lab wherever possible. That includes helping smooth the sometimes bumpy road between academic and operational endeavors.”

Princeton students, faculty and benefits-eligible staff members are encouraged to apply for 2018 funding from the High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund. Proposals with budgets up to $5,000 are accepted year-round, and proposals with budgets up to $10,000 are accepted three times per year.

This article is adapted from the Office of Sustainability's February newsletter