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Seed grants: Funding student ideas

Joseph Villers, staff writer

The Warren Wilson Campus Greening Seed Grant Program got its start in 2001. The program encourages students to submit proposals that green the campus, and imbue them with the power to solve large environmental problems working on a small scale.

The first seed grant awarded was a tree-planting proposal at the farm. Its purpose was simple: to protect soil from erosion and river water from runoff. The Seed Grant Program provides up to $500 for a good idea, and the number of grants awarded varies based on the number of proposed projects and their cost.

The campus has seen the introduction of a cistern system for watering greenhouses, solar lights for illuminating the steps of Morse and Carson, bio-diesel for FMTS vehicles, soy bean oil for chainsaws, and numerous other examples, all initiated by students with the support of faculty.

Stan Cross, Director of the Environmental Leadership Center, said, “Anybody is eligible for a seed grant. The idea behind the seed grants is to support student-initiated projects that seek to solve environmental issues on campus, in partnership with a staff or faculty member. The community bike shop was started with a seed grant. The wellness’ herbal tincture program was started on a seed grant.”

The catch for some will be that simply having an idea is not enough; applicants must be willing to put in time and sweat to make it real. Still, the number of applicants has been rising.

“In the last two years we’ve seen an increase in applications for seed grants, and they’re really wide-ranging,” said Cross. “We have many amazing students with amazing ideas. We can help bring those ideas to fruition.”

Said junior Kathleen Turner, the student who wrote the seed grant for the Witherspoon cistern, “I applied because we use a ton of water taking care of plants in the greenhouse, and it’s all municipal water. It made sense to use rainwater instead. Rainwater is naturally soft, no chlorine, no minerals, no fluoride.” Kathleen Turner gained the support of Lab Supervisor Natasha Shipman and also applied for a grant through Buncombe County’s grant program, which assists people trying to collect rainwater. Buncombe County paid seventy-five percent of the cost of a sixteen-hundred gallon cistern, and the seed grant paid the rest.

“It makes sense, with drought restrictions coming up and water becoming more and more a commodity,” said Turner. “We hope to have the greenhouse off municipal water by the end of the semester or so.”

Students seeking a grant must explain the problem they are addressing, how their project will solve it, and who will benefit. Also, how the project will be maintained over time, how success will be measured, and a full, itemized budget for review. The deadline for submissions is Dec. 19, and awards will be announced following Christmas break. As Director Cross says, “Don’t be apathetic and cynical, apply for a seed grant today!”

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