UI Office of Sustainability asks citizens to participate in nature cataloging, research

The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability is partnering with the Iowa City to promote the city’s nature challenge.

Photo+Illustration.

Isabella Cervantes

Photo Illustration.

Samantha Bielema, News Reporter


The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability and the Environment has partnered with Iowa City to encourage residents to photograph nature.

The partnership is for the City Nature Challenge, an event that Beth MacKenzie, one of the Office of Sustainability Program managers, said she hopes encourages students and community members to be more sustainably minded.

“We’re really working hard to embed sustainability into academics and research and education on campus,” she said.

To participate, community members must use the iNaturalist app to photograph any plant, animal, or insect. Scientists around the world can then use the photos to collect data for ecological research, according to the iNaturalist website.

The department has many opportunities for students to learn more about sustainability and what it means, said Blake Rupe, the Office of Sustainability program manager.

Rupe said the department strives to provide opportunities that spread awareness throughout campus.

“There’s a core group of student organizations that we work with if a student really wants to get involved,” she said. “It could be for work, for research, or sustainability-minded projects.”

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MacKenzie said she hopes the community partnership means more people will get involved.

“We partnered with the community to get the word out there and get everyone we can to participate,” she said.

Grace Wachholz, an Office of Sustainability communications intern, said sustainability is more than just reposting on social media — it’s something everyone should have knowledge about.

“I think being mindful of your environment and what you can do to protect it is always a good thing,” she said. “Getting people involved in nature is a really cool thing to see.”

Getting the community outside to see nature is the biggest part of this event, MacKenzie said, but using iNaturalist also allows researchers and scientists around the world to explore species of plants, animals, and insects that may have never been seen before.

This is the first year the department has put on an event to promote the use of the app and hopes it takes off, MacKenzie said.

“It’s hard to tell how many people participated, but there are a lot of people interacting with our social media and advertising for it,” MacKenzie said. “Knowing that there are so many issues out there and that a lot of them are going to get worse. One thing we can do is increase people’s understanding.”

Participants will also receive a free succulent or houseplant.

Rupe said her hope for events like this is to get people in the community and on campus to appreciate nature even in more urban areas. There are numerous wild plants and animals that people have never even thought to look for, she added.

“We’re trying, as an office, to expand everyone’s concept and thought process on what nature is,” Rupe said.

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