National Undergraduate Research Award

College of Architecture and Planning Student Nominated for National Undergraduate Research Award

University of Utah student Colton Groves, from the College of Architecture and Planning, has been named the 2015 recipient of The Forum on Education Abroad’s Undergraduate Research Award.

The Undergraduate Research Award is an honor reserved for the most rigorous and impressive undergraduate research done in a learning abroad setting each year, with typically only one or two nominations being accepted from each university across the country.

Groves’ research focuses on the sustainability practices implemented in Curitiba, Brazil. Said Groves “I’m excited about all of the work and research that I’ve done, but I didn’t think that the university would want to nominate me for that, and I feel really blessed by that opportunity.”

Prior to the Curitiba trip, Groves took a class called “Green Communities” which sparked his interest in the Learning Abroad opportunity and the urban sustainability research it would allow him to pursue.

“I was interested in what they had done in Curitiba as a community in whole. It wasn’t just environmental elements. There were social and economic elements as well,” Groves said. “I’m really passionate about helping people, and so I thought it was a really awesome initiative for these people that don’t have a lot of money. They were so innovative that it almost puts America to shame with how our social systems work.”

Groves went on the trip to Curitiba during the Fall 2014 semester. He is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies as well as a minor in Urban Ecology and holds a Certificate in Sustainability. He said that he and his fellow classmates had done research on Curitiba prior to the trip, but that once the trip was underway, they were able to pursue more in-depth, directly observational research.

“Leading up to that point some of the research we had done involved trying to understand what Curitiba, as a city is doing, and what they have done already from an urban planning standpoint but also from an architectural point of view,” Groves said. “But when we went to Curitiba we met with various organizations as well as the mayor who revolutionized the city [Jaime Lerner] and made it the way it currently is with things like a really efficient recycling program that gives back to the community, lots of parks that help the flood plains but also add a lot of green space per capita.”

One example of the research Groves participated in during his time in Curitiba was his observation of the recycling program that was instituted by the city’s former mayor Jaime Lerner.

The recycling program, known to the locals as the “trash that is not trash” program, incentivizes proper separation of garbage and recyclable materials by not only recycling the materials into valuable materials for the local people, but also providing jobs and a stable source of economic sustainability.

“At this recycling center we got to learn how they actually take those recyclables and innovate new things that they can be used for. For example, I’ve always thought Styrofoam was one of the most unsustainable materials, but they had found a way to reform it into baseboards that looked like genuine wood for flooring in homes. They would also recycle toothpaste tubes by turning them into roof shingles. It was crazy,” Groves said.

One example Groves gave was that workers would separate newspapers, stack them and then press them together into one-kilogram loads that would then be sold. Not only did this allow the recycling plant to make money and provide jobs, but also boosts the economy by providing business for privately funded recycling corporations.

Groves discovered during his observational research on the trip the importance of community engagement in creating sustainable practices within urban planning.

“It was really encouraging in my personal experience to see people there very conscious of their environment. We would see people picking up garbage, and generally living happily despite the fact that they weren’t wealthy,” Groves said. “At the very least, the community I visited painted a good picture of what we take for granted and all of the privileges that we have living where we are.”

Part of the “trash that is not trash” recycling initiative that particularly incentivized community involvement revolved around the idea of paying citizens who pick up and turn in a specific amount of trash. Those who participated were rewarded either through groceries or tokens for riding public transit.

Groves was also able to observe the rapid transit bus system put into place by Jaime Learner during his time as mayor. Not only is every location in the city within walking distance of a transit station, but the bus system is extremely streamlined to ensure efficiency. That efficiency extends to everything from having customers pay before they load on the bus, to having dedicated bus lanes with traffic light priority and specifically designated entrances and exits to the bus.

“We got the opportunity to personally ride on the transit system to experience it for ourselves. They have very efficient bi-articulated buses with designated exits and entrances, and some of them can even hold as many people as a 737 plane, so as many as 250 people,” Groves said. “This revolutionized things, because instead of it taking one or two minutes for people to get on the bus, fumbling with their change, they’ve already paid and there are dedicated entrances and exits, shaving it down to nearly 20 seconds per stop.”

The Undergraduate Research Award is based both on the quality of the student’s compiled research that resulted as a part of their Learning Abroad experience, as well as the extent to which their time abroad improved and impacted their research.

Part of what made Grove’s research stand out in his consideration for the Undergraduate Research Award, was due to a poster and presentation that he and a classmate had made for the Global U Expo hosted by the Learning Abroad program. The poster, which compiled a large amount of Groves’ research, was presented at the expo where it was positively received.

“We had a lot of interest from students who wanted to know what we had learned and what we were doing, and that’s how I found out from the Learning Abroad office about the award,” Groves said. “As people came up to us during the expo with questions about our poster, we were able to tell them more about what we had learned and our experiences, especially with Learning Abroad and how much that impacted it.”

Groves said that Learning Abroad is something he suggests everyone should experience. Even with a language barrier, immersing oneself in another culture and seeing how different people interact exposes one to the global community that everyone is a part of.

Stephen Goldsmith, University of Utah Associate Professor of City and Metropolitan Planning and Director of the local Center for the Living City organization, said that he was overjoyed to hear about Groves’ nomination for the Undergraduate Research Award.

He said that the blog Groves put together a part of his research was so well done that it is now something that is used as a model for all of his students.

“I worked with Stephen Goldsmith and his assistant Chelsea through the Center for the Living City to create a website,” Groves said. “I wanted to create a portal of knowledge so that people could understand what Curitiba is doing, and by knowing about these things, find a way to improve their own city.”

Groves’ website not only catalogues and discusses news articles of civic change that favor sustainability, but also has a blog component sharing his own experience through pictures and writing as well as links that allow people to share their own stories of civic engagement in sustainability practices.

“Learning Abroad really opened up a lot of opportunities that I didn’t expect, such as this award,” Groves said. “I was really excited about the opportunity to go to Brazil and experience it. It completely opened up new opportunities to get involved with Learning Abroad by sharing my story with them through my pictures and how it changed my life so much.”