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UMD and the Morrill Act: Learning from the Land

Environmental Steward | Legacy of Perseverance | Researching Solutions for the Future

The Morrill Act called for universities to provide research and career preparation for the future. From combating invasive species to educating engineers for resource industries, UMD's contributions make a positive impact.

Environmental Steward


Julie (Klejeski) Lucas is passionate about the significance of northern Minnesota's resources. "Mining is tremendously important to the economy in Minnesota," she said. "Every job in the mining industry creates about two jobs in the community. Globally we rely on iron ore to produce materials that we use every day." Most of the iron ore that's extracted from the Iron Range is used to make steel for products like vehicles and appliances in the United States. Iron mining's total economic impact on the state and region's economy is $3.1 billion.

With an undergraduate degree in biochemistry ('00) and a master's degree in water resource science ('05), Lucas is the environmental manager for Hibbing Taconite, which is managed and partly owned by Cliffs Natural Resources. She oversees any environmental impact, such as air and water quality, from the Hibbing Taconite's mine and plant operations. "We reuse the water," she said. "As we dig the taconite out of the earth, pit lakes are created. The water from those pits is pumped back into the plant and is used for processing." The water is also used for drinking water, fire safety, and scrubbers, which are devices that clean the air by removing particulates from plant emissions.

Lucas is a James I. Swenson Scholar and is grateful. "Without the help of the Swenson family, it would have been difficult to get through college without a lot of debt." Many faculty members inspired her. David "Doc" Mayo taught philosophy. "Studying environmental ethics changed my life," she said. "Doc Mayo is the reason I decided to pursue a career in environmental work."

Photo: Julie (Klejeski) Lucas ('00, '05)

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Legacy of Perseverance

Jean-Baptiste Quillien

In 1851, before the Land-Grant Act was signed, the Permanent University Fund (PUF) was established. PUF monies are generated from royalties received from timber and mineral rights on 72,000 acres of state-owned land and are used for public university education. Minnesota Representative Tom Rukavina (DFL 5A), who will retire this year after 13 terms in the House, worked tirelessly with the legislature and the UM Board of Regents to ensure that a significant part of the fund returned to northern Minnesota. Through revisions in 1994 and in 2012, the Natural Resources Research Institute receives funding for minerals research. PUF revenue also supports the Iron Range Scholarship program which has provided nearly $6 million in scholarships for UMD students in the past 18 years.

Photo: Representative Tom Rukavina ('72)

Researching Solutions for the Future


Over the past several years, the work of UMD graduate and undergraduate students, as well as professors, on 100-acres of UMD-owned land, has been supported by more than $2 million in allocated funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Throughout the rugged, wild acreage, several students are currently studying the effects of climate change on a Duluth native species of goldenrod. At the same time, a study of invasive species conducted by graduate student Elise Cordo is housed on a far corner of the research facilities, consisting of several large tanks occupied by the brown goby, a Caspian and Black Sea native which was accidentally introduced into Lake Superior. This muddy-colored fish has thrived by diminishing the native, lakebed species traditionally found in
northern waters.

With an eye on reducing future generations of the brown goby, Cordo is focusing on the vocal mating call sent by the males to the females. "I am basically creating a way to 'jam' the call." The future of the project could reach throughout Minnesota because Cordo may be involved with the creation and production of an easily deployable machine that Department of Natural Resources' stations would implement.

Nearby, a pocket of wild rice research inhabits several hundred square feet. Based on a collaborative effort among NSF, UMD, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the study of wild rice recently celebrated its eighth year.

"The Fond du Lac Tribe approached us," said John Pastor, professor, Department of Biology. "They were concerned that sulfate released from the mines could affect native wild rice downstream. Sulfate itself may not be harmful, but once it enters the wild rice beds, it can be converted into sulfide, which may be toxic to wild rice."

Throughout their research, the students follow the process of sulfites through the whole system of the plant.

"This opportunity at UMD is incredible," said graduate student Josh Ditsworth. "We're outdoors, we're studying the real thing, and we're finding real answers. We have been empowered by our professors and given the chance to test our ideas. It doesn't get any better than this."

Photo: Graduate student Elise Cordo with aquatic species trap; the invasive species brown goby; and above: UMD students Nate Dahlberg, Emily Wack (foreground), and Josh Ditsworth (background) study wild rice.

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Last modified on 09/20/12 10:13 AM
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