UL and the North American Association for Environmental Education developed the UL Innovative Education Awards (ULIEA) in 2015 to honor programs in the United States and Canada that are leading the way through project-based learning, community citizenship and using the Environment as a platform to STEM learning.  The 2016 awards went to five organizations that create sustainable community solutions and provide innovative K-12 programming to solve real-world environmental issues.

The 2016 grand prize winner, NY Sun Works’ Greenhouse Project, built hydroponic farming labs into public schools to help students address science and sustainability issues through the lens of urban agriculture, engineering and problem solving.

NY Sun Works, the 2016 ULIEA grand prize winner:

UL:  Tell us about your organization.

NY Sun Works (NYSW) is a nonprofit organization that builds innovative science labs in urban schools. Through our Greenhouse Project Initiative we use hydroponic farming technology to educate students and teachers about the science of sustainability. We envision a generation of environmental innovators and empower students and teachers to create solutions for global resource challenges. Currently, the organization serves more than 21,000+ students at schools in New York City and Northern New Jersey.

NY Sun Works’ mission is based off three core ideas:  BUILD hydroponic science labs in urban schools, TEACH students and teachers about the science of sustainability, and CONNECT by engaging the communities in which we live.

For a list of projects please visit:  nysunworks.org/projects/

UL: Tell us about your award-winning program.

NYSW innovative labs are designed with traditional and vertical hydroponics systems and include fish farms, integrative pest management, worm composting towers, seedling benches, energy bikes, water simulators and rainwater catchment tanks. These systems offer students many opportunities for hands-on, project-based education. Through the curriculum, students learn the general requirements of the mandated New York State Science Standards and the Scope and Sequence Standards. They also address real environmental issues of today’s local and global impact.

UL: Why did you include an environmental piece with the STEM initiative?

In 2007, New York Sun Works created the Science Barge (a floating, sustainable urban farm located on the Hudson River) which was the first high-yield, commercial grade urban food production facility, powered by wind and solar energy, headed with vegetable oil, and irrigated by rainwater.

Because of concern over the inadequacies of environmental science education within NYC’s public school system, the Science Barge inspired us to go deeper and develop The Greenhouse Project which focuses on K – 12th grade education. Our students live with the reality of unsustainable urban population growth. It is important to understand the relationships between culture, the environment and sustainable development and this E-STEM program provides today’s generation with 21st century skills and a new way to learn science.

UL: How has your program been received by the community?

Our first Greenhouse Project Lab opened in December of 2010. Since then we have opened an additional 42 labs in both public, private and charter schools. The NYC community of parents, teachers and other educators has welcomed the NYSW program with great enthusiasm!

UL: What is your program’s biggest success? What do you hope to achieve?

At NY Sun Works we hope to inspire a new a generation of environmental innovators who are empowered to create solutions for global resource challenges. We want the public to understand why this is such an achievement for our partner schools—whether the students are in kindergarten or high school, they are full of knowledge and passion for science and sustainability.

Some of work prepared by students is featured at our Annual Youth Conference. “Discovering Sustainability Science” brings together students from partner schools to highlight their research. These presenters not only must think creatively about science and the environment, but they also must apply complex ideas to understand the challenges and support a more sustainable future.  NYSW helps students build a connection and recognize they are on the right track, giving sustainable solutions and hope for the future.

UL:   How will the ULIEA grant money help your program?

The grant we received from ULIEA will be used to develop an online platform for teachers to house training videos, curriculum, and other aspects of our programming. This platform will provide our partner schools with the necessary information regardless of their geographic location and will help us scale-up our programs. It will become an online community to connect our partner schools and community of educators.

UL:  What does it mean to be a ULIEA Winner?

Being the recipient of UL Innovation Education Award grand prize was an absolute game changer for us making it possible to take The NY Sun Works Greenhouse Project to a new level. It was also a great surprise to discover that the grant is not just about winning important funding, but also about joining a larger team effort, a movement. NYSW has become a part of a strong family of like-minded people who all work toward the same goals. Both the UL and NAAEE teams have been incredibly supportive. We are thrilled and very proud to be a part of this family!