Focused on Food Waste
Through a generous grant from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions is providing invaluable support for twelve Diana Davis Spencer Scholars to conduct research on two sustainability projects designed to help develop skills in entrepreneurship, teamwork, leadership and problem-solving.
While one group of Scholars continues to work on the “Strengthening Coastal Economies” project begun last year, a new group of six Scholars was selected to develop collaborative projects focused on food waste reduction in Maine. Additional funding from UMaine’s Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Collaborative (IURC) is also helping support food waste research by these Scholars.
Brie Berry, a Ph.D. student and one of the new Diana Davis Spencer Scholars, is serving as coordinator for a team of five undergraduate Scholars. One of the team’s first accomplishments was the launch of the Community Waste Toolkit—a web platform showcasing best practices for waste reduction in Maine that Berry has worked on as part of her Ph.D. research. The toolkit can be found at umaine.edu/mitchellcenter/community-waste-toolkit/.
The Scholars developed a poster on their research for the University of Maine Student Symposium. The poster focused on their unique interdisciplinary approach to examining and reducing food waste. The students and their faculty mentors also participated in the Maine Resource Recovery Association’s Annual Meeting, an event that brings together waste management professionals from across the state.
Notes Berry, “The students have made great progress in working with their faculty mentors to develop individual projects.”
She adds, “We made a commitment early on to try and break down some of the boundaries that can occur in interdisciplinary work. All the Scholars were really willing to cross those boundaries even when it can be difficult, and that is something I’ve been really impressed with—that commitment to collaboration.”
“The Diana Davis Spencer Scholarship has been rewarding and has opened my eyes to the many things that have to be considered when striving to make an observable, realistic and sustainable change in the world, which is the Mitchell Center’s main goal.” —Shayla Kleisinger
Diana Davis Spencer Scholars
Andrew Flynn, a third-year Civil and Environmental Engineering major, is working with environmental engineering professor Jean MacRae. His project concerns anaerobic digestion of food waste in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen.
Shayla Kleisinger, a junior in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, works with food processing professor Balunkeswar Nayak. Her research focuses on the use of biomaterials such as cellulose nanofibers in food packaging to improve the shelf life of food products and reduce food waste.
Skyler Horton, a freshman majoring in Human Dimensions of Climate Change, is working with Department of Anthropology professor Cynthia Isenhour to study the concerns Maine citizens have about implementing food systems that minimize waste. Their ultimate goal is to ensure that food redistribution and waste recovery efforts address citizens’ concerns.
Taylor Patterson, a third-year Ecology and Environmental Science major, is working with economics researcher Travis Blackmer on enhancing the diversion of food waste. Their project focuses on efforts to create a community-based, commercially-viable composting program.
Hannah Nadeau, a freshman in the School of Nursing, is working with nursing professor Deborah Saber on the large but poorly-researched problem of hospital food waste. She is developing a questionnaire for hospitals to determine how they are dealing with food waste.
Of the experience thus far, Shayla Kleisinger says, “The Diana Davis Spencer Scholarship has been rewarding and has opened my eyes to the many things that have to be considered when striving to make an observable, realistic and sustainable change in the world, which is the Mitchell Center’s main goal.”