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UNF Environmental Center changes name to Institute of Environmental Research and Education

Environmental students working on the beach in West FloridaThe University of North Florida’s Environmental Center announces a name change to the Institute of Environmental Research and Education (IERE) to align with the center’s expanded focus on research, curriculum and outreach to students, faculty and the Jacksonville community.

UNF's Environmental Center was founded in 2004 by Dr. Ray Bowman, UNF Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, with the goal of enhancing the quality and distinctiveness of education by stimulating interdisciplinary teaching and research related to the environment. The new IERE is in the process of strengthening this successful programming and developing new initiatives geared toward greater collaborative research, career or graduate-school readiness, enhanced academic programming, student engagement and community focused involvement.

The IERE will focus on expanding focus on students, curriculum, research and community. A few of the many exciting new projects and initiatives at IERE are highlighted below.

Research initiatives include:

  • Seed Grants: IERE will expand their longest running program, the Seed Grants. This program supports the creation of interdisciplinary research projects related to the environment by providing faculty with research development funds and is currently funded by generous donation from the River Branch Foundation and Vulcan Materials Company Foundation. Since 2006, IERE has awarded 58 Seed Grants and provided $198,058 in research funding to more than 100 faculty/staff representing all five UNF colleges.
  • Research Consortium: A new initiative to support the development of interdisciplinary faculty and student research collaborations within the University will kick off this fall.
  • External Grant Support : IERE will expand their external grant support for UNF faculty with continued outreach and education components.


Education efforts include:

  • Exploring Florida Field School: Taking the extremely successful St. Johns River Experience program that hosted over 125 participating students during 12 years of annual trips, the new Florida Field School program will have a new updated focus on introducing students to conservation and environmental careers. The program will feature an extended spring break field experience that focuses on learning to conserve various parts of our regional area and include full-day events featuring lectures, hands-on activities and networking.
  • Environmental Studies Minor: IERE recently took over leadership of UNF's interdisciplinary environmental studies minor in 2020. The program currently has 58 students enrolled, who take courses in physical/natural sciences, health, social sciences, and human services. IERE staff help students by offering advice and sharing announcements about special topics courses and volunteer/job opportunities.
  • Internships: IERE is expanding their internship program with additional opportunities for students to participate in programs like the Green Jax Project or the Sawmill Slough Preserve Digital Archive.
  • New Course Content: IERE will develop environmentally conscious course programming for faculty instructors to use in the classroom. The newest Sustainable Living 101 mini-course packet will be available in fall 2021.


Student engagement and professional development efforts include:

  • Environmental Leadership Program: In the Environmental Leadership Program, students learn about green leadership and sustainability within their communities and complete experiential projects with 15 unique community partners. The program has grown from a handful of students to over 25 students this year. Thanks to generous funding from the Cummer Family Foundation and Felburn Foundation, over $33,000 was granted to these future "green" leaders for merit-based scholarships last year. The program looks to grow to include 50 students and 20 community partners next year.
  • Environmental Sustainability Living Learning Community: UNF's Living Learning Communities are options for new freshman students to live near and foster relationships with other students with similar interests on campus. The Environmental Sustainability Living Learning Community will open this fall semester as a IERE student outreach initiative, a welcoming community to foster students' critical thinking about environmentalism and sustainable projects.
  • Kappa Alpha Omicron (KAO) Honors Society - Chi Chapter: UNF chapter of Kappa Alpha Omicron, the honors society for the Interdisciplinary Environmental Association, gives students opportunities for volunteer service, professional growth, leadership development and networking. IERE has recently recruited 35 new members during the pandemic and hosted events including a 60-day carbon challenge, a faculty guest speaker lecture, a wave pool demonstration with UNF's coastal engineering program, workshops at the Ogier Gardens and a clothing drive.


The Institute of Environmental Research and Education serves all six UNF colleges. IERE staff include James W. Taylor, assistant director; Kelly Rhoden, coordinator; Dr. Erin Largo-Wight, half-time faculty director and public health professor; and support from an Executive Board consisting of faculty representing each college. IERE is also developing a Community Council of local environmental leaders that will launch in fall 2021 to collect feedback and advice on programming and make connections to foster partnerships and networking support. With a focus on environmental research and education, the IERE mission is to provide innovative and interdisciplinary programs that enhance the student experience and create the next generation of environmental leaders.