Sarah Nelson poses in front of a light rail car featuring her design for Earth Week. The unique display is the culmination of a partnership between students at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul-based artist Sarah Nelson and Metro Transit.

SOLV Initiative: Investigating the Impact of Innovative Pedagogies on Sustainability Literacy

A collaboration between several St. Thomas partners and Metro Transit is visible throughout St. Paul and Minneapolis. Very visible, in fact: One of the partnership's main components is a Metro Transit light rail public art installation during Earth Week April 22-26.

The project is part of the partnership between College of Arts and Sciences' SOLV; Metro Transit; St. Thomas' Sustainable Communities Partnership "SCP Arts;" Justice and Peace Studies professor Mike Klein’s Fall 2018 Leadership for Social Justice course; and SCP Artist-in-Residence Sarah Nelson.

"Working with SCP Arts has been an incredible experience both as an artist and as an individual who is passionate about sustainability," Nelson said. "Having the opportunity to use my skills to help students communicate research in ways that empower communities is incredibly rewarding. The process generates a final product that can be used by partners to engage communities and that equips students to speak about their findings with those outside of their field of study."

According to SCP director Maria Dahmus, the exterior of the train car features illustrations that were co-envisioned by Nelson and Klein’s Leadership for Social Justice course through an SCP Arts/Metro Transit collaborative project: "Engaging the Diverse Stories of Transit Riders." (Mike Klein’s class also wrote a book about this project, entitled Transit Transformations.) The exterior train car wrap is funded by Metro Transit, as part of their ongoing, multi-year partnership with SCP.

The interior of the train car features Nelson’s artwork illustrating the interdependent relationships between nature, sustainability, community and public transportation. The interior train car wrap is funded by a grant from the SOLV Initiative and by Metro Transit. As part of the SOLV Initiative grant research, students in St. Thomas courses, including Mike Klein’s JPST 298 course (Qualitative Research Methods), will conduct research on the public’s experience of riding this train car.

"These skills of going beyond campus, learning about the community, connecting and understanding the importance of that connection, learning that can only come outside the classroom, is something we will all take forward," said Alayna Marti, who took part through Klein's courses.

The “Investigating Impacts” SOLV Initiative has several components, including the River Corridor Walk on campus, a collaboration between Kevin Theissen in Geology and SCP Arts.

"I see the River Corridor as a first step towards a more interactive, multi-use space to learn about the geology, ecology, and environment just steps away from us on campus," Theissen said.