Students Breaking Ground on the Brand-New Community Garden. One of several projects funded by Green Fee money.

During the 2015-2016 school year, Winona State University students voted overwhelmingly in favor of a “Green Fee” to help continue the sustainability mission of the university.

Each semester, WSU students contribute just under $5 each to fund projects with a sustainability focus that are submitted for approval and executed by WSU organizations and groups. The fee also partially funds the university’s new sustainability director position, for which Nathan Engstrom was hired this summer.

The approach of the green fee is to empower WSU students and employees to envision and develop ways for the community to be more sustainability-minded, in big ways and in small, said Jeanne Franz, professor of chemistry at WSU. The initial round of green fee projects includes the WSU SEED garden, an initiative to provide free reusable water bottles to all incoming students starting in fall 2017, and the installation of outdoor recycling bins across the campuses.

“Sustainability is not something that can be dictated from above. It has to happen from the grassroots,” Franz said. “Small projects funded through the green fee are an excellent way to show that Winona State cares what each individual can contribute to making the world a more sustainable place.”

The WSU SEED Garden will grow plants like sunflowers, beans and tomatoes and will be available for widespread campus use. Organizers Jonathon Mauser, assistant professor of chemistry at WSU, and Jackson Ramsland, public health major, are also hopeful that the garden will provide opportunities for learning across the disciplines—from statistics to teaching to biology.

“The sky is the limit for this community garden,” Franz said.

The reusable water bottle project is intended to help limit the number of disposable plastic water bottles used on campus, said Franz. Each bottle will be accompanied by educational materials about sustainability, the university’s mission and the green fee.

“In the past, students have been welcomed to campus with many picnics, which served bottled water. This is not a message of sustainability,” said Franz. “This project hopes to deliver, from day one, a message of sustainability and continue the message beyond students first arrival.”

Finally, the new outdoor recycling bins are intended to reduce the amount of waste produced on campus, Franz said. Both indoor and outdoor areas now have recycling options, giving community members and visitors the opportunity to recycle no matter where they are.

With the creation of the green fee and these three pilot projects, the university and its students are well on the way to creating an effective model of sustainable living, Franz said.

“The relatively small contribution of each student has made a huge difference in Winona State’s ability to lead in the area of sustainability. We are now able to fund projects like this that can benefit many, if not all, students,” Franz said. “Winona State strives to be a leader as a sustainable campus. This green fee will allow us to do this by funding projects and staff people to lead implementation of those projects.”

For more information, contact Franz at