ISU student prairie restoration project earns national conservation fellowship

AMES, Iowa - An Iowa State University doctoral candidate is one of 40 students nationwide selected as a TogetherGreen fellow from The National Audubon Society and Toyota earning $10,000.

The award will go toward a community project to engage local residents, contribute to environmental health and conserve land, water, and energy.

Lauren Sullivan earned the fellowship through her work restoring a four-acre corn plot (located west of the corner of Ontario and Hyland in Ames) back to native prairie.

Changing a corn field back to prairie requires more than letting it go to seed.

"We worked with plant and seed dispersal, below-ground soil effects, herbivores, birds and other mammals that eat seeds. It is really an expensive project," said Sullivan, who is working toward her doctorate in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology and is a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellow and a Plant Sciences Institute Fellow.

When Sullivan and her team started the restoration project a year and a half ago, they didn't know about the TogetherGreen fellowship, so the money is a surprise that will help offset about half the cost of fences, seed, soil treatments and other expenses the group has incurred.

Sullivan also hopes members of the community will volunteer to work on the project, seeding the ground and being "part of the process."

Community participation will get residents more involved and boost the chance of success, says Sullivan.

Sullivan hopes to continue educating people about ecology after she gets her doctoral degree.

"I'm really excited about education, so this grant is great for me because it gives me a chance to invest a lot of time and effort into teaching the community about this effort," she said.

Part of the reason Sullivan and her group won the fellowship was that her research involved students from the humanities areas of the university - those who may not traditionally study the environment.

"We found out the English department was interested in this sort of thing, and we are working with them to provide some ecological experience and help them, not just look at nature but to understand it a little more," said Sullivan.

ISU's English department offers a three-year program in creative writing and environment that emphasizes study in creative writing - poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama - and encourages writers to identify and explore in their stories and lyric impressions the complex influences of place, the natural world, and the environmental imagination, according to the department website.

Sullivan earned her B.S. in biological and environmental science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Fellowship recipients were required to have at least six years of experience in conservation, environmental education, policy or related issues; a demonstrated passion for conservation and a proven track record of reaching previously underserved audiences. Applicants also needed to express a desire to learn and grow. An advisory committee composed of conservation professionals and experts in environmental education, communications, outreach and conservation planning made selections.

Audubon and Toyota launched the five-year TogetherGreen initiative in 2008 to build the promise of a greener, healthier future through innovation, leadership and volunteerism.