Mike Dietz, left, and Dave Dickson, right, take Congressman Joe Courtney on a tour highlighting UConn's innovative storm water management practices.

Mike Dietz, left, and Dave Dickson, right, take Congressman Joe Courtney on a tour highlighting UConn’s innovative storm water management practices.

The College’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) received the 2016 Provost’s Award for Excellence in Public Engagement, Career Recognition for a Team. A reception was held at the William Benton Museum of Art on November 17, with awards presented by Provost Mun Choi and Carol Polifroni, director of the University’s Office of Public Engagement.

The Provost’s Awards recognize faculty, staff, students and alumni, for programs that engage the public and address social issues.

“We’re honored to be recognized,” said Chet Arnold, director of CLEAR . “This is an award for many different programs and projects that are all interwoven amongst a team that works very closely together. Every single person on this team deserves this award.”

Since 2002, CLEAR has developed award-winning programs designed to address issues related water management, land use planning, climate resiliency and geospatial technology. CLEAR is a partnership between the Department of Extension, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and Connecticut Sea Grant.

Dave Dickson, left, instructs a participant in CLEAR's course on smartphone GPS mapping.

Dave Dickson, left, instructs a participant in CLEAR’s course on smartphone GPS mapping.

“CLEAR’s work is vitally important for Connecticut communities,” says Bonnie Burr, head of the Department of Extension. “Their work is the embodiment of the outreach model that has been the goal of the land grant system. A public service mission is hardly unique at the University, but I believe it’s somewhat rare among major University-wide centers.”

“The CLEAR team is widely known and respected throughout the state and beyond for their work,” says John Volin, professor and head of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. “The breadth of their activities in terms of issues addressed, target audiences, partners, funding sources and local impacts is really quite astounding for such a small group.”

CLEAR consists of three main program teams: the water team, geospatial team and land use and climate resilience team. The core group includes Arnold; Michael Dietz, Connecticut NEMO program director; Juliana Barrett, associate extension educator, Connecticut Sea Grant; Dave Dickson, national programs coordinator; Kara Bonsack, CLEAR communications and design; Cary Chadwick, geospatial training program coordinator; Emily Wilson, geospatial educator; Bruce Hyde, Land Use Academy director;  Tom Worthley, Forest Sustainability Program; and James Hurd, research associate. CLEAR emeritus faculty include Dan Civco, former co-director, and Joel Stocker.

Cary Chadwick teaches a course in online mapping to land-grant colleagues in North Carolina.

Cary Chadwick teaches a course in online mapping to land-grant colleagues in North Carolina.

The water team specializes in stormwater management and green infrastructure and has worked with over three-quarters of Connecticut’s 169 towns, in addition to playing a lead role in bringing innovative stormwater practices to the UConn campus. With help from the geospatial team, the water team developed the innovative smart phone app, Rain Garden, the first app developed at UConn. The app teaches people how to design, plan, build and maintain a rain garden to manage stormwater runoff on their property. The app resulted in national recognition for UConn as well as funding to adapt the app to other states. Fifteen states now have their own version of Rain Garden, with ten more states planning an app next year.

The Geospatial Team has trained over 2,000 people in the use of digital mapping technologies that include GIS and GPS. The team runs the Connecticut Environmental Conditions Online (CT ECO) interactive mapping website used by 25,000 people each year. CT ECO is a partnership with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and provides the primary online source for the state’s natural resource-related maps.  Training manuals written by the team have been used by colleagues at the University of Rhode Island, the University of New Hampshire and the NOAA Office of Coast Management.

Mike Dietz (in the red hoodie) oversees construction of a rain garden as part of his rain garden training.

Mike Dietz (in the red hoodie) oversees construction of a rain garden as part of his rain garden training.

Partnering with the Connecticut Bar Association, CLEAR’s land use and climate resilience team operates the Land Use Academy, training more than 1,500 local decision makers over the past five years. The team also manages the Climate Adaptation Academy and is developing the UConn Climate Corps, a new academic and service-learning program for UConn juniors and seniors enrolled in the environmental majors.

“Public engagement is at the core of CLEAR’s work, which focuses on helping Connecticut communities protect their natural resources while allowing for economic development,” Arnold says.

“CLEAR is built on the community service ethos of the Land Grant and Sea Grant university systems,” Arnold notes. “Our goal is to integrate research, outreach and education in such a way that our information is easily accessed and immediately useful.”

By Kim Colavito Markesich