September 23, 2020

SIU’s Green Roof marks 10-year anniversary with plans for an upgrade

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — As Southern Illinois University Carbondale marks the 10th anniversary of its innovative Agriculture Building Green Roof sustainability project, a virtual event on Friday will highlight a new chapter in its life.

The virtual rooftop festivities, which will feature guest speaker Chancellor Austin A. Lane, will be available via livestream beginning at 11 a.m. Sept. 25.

A decade of excellence

Other speakers will include John Groninger, associate dean of agricultural programs and forestry professor; Karen Schauwecker, sustainability program coordinator; and Karen Midden, emeritus professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems. It was Midden who sought funding and designed and installed the original Green Roof with help from students and the university’s Plant and Service Operations.

The speakers will focus on the roof’s history, significance and future, discussing opportunities for more cross-campus and multidisciplinary involvement, projects and research. The initial role of the student-initiated Green Fee in funding the roof, and what new additional funding means will be presented.

Grant will help revitalize roof as a teaching tool

Built in September 2010 after the Agriculture Building roof was replaced, the green roof features space to showcase native plants, grow vegetables and flowers and conduct research and it demonstrates the benefits of sustainable roofs. These benefits include providing habitat for wildlife, green space for recreation, reducing urban noise and slowing water runoff while cutting heating and cooling costs and making the rooftop more aesthetic. The green roof has also served well as a teaching tool and research site for students.

The space will now also become a multidisciplinary innovation hub through the hard work of numerous people and the Green Fee. The project received $2,155 in spring 2020 to modernize the roof through low-cost engineering projects: adding an autonomous irrigation system, wind turbine and data acquisition device.

University Innovation Fellows lead effort

Two SIU undergraduate students initiated the current project in conjunction with their selection as University Innovation Fellows, a program operated by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( to empower students to become leaders of change in higher education.

SIU has participated in the UIF program since 2013. Two of the seven students selected for 2019-2020, Nelson Fernandes and Prem Rana, are involved with this project. Fernandes is a junior majoring in mechanical engineering with an energy engineering specialization from Skokie; Rana is a junior computer science and radio, television and digital media major with a machine learning specialization from Bolingbrook.

“Our primary goal is transforming the green space into a multidisciplinary innovation hub for students across campus,” Fernandes said. “Originated as an urban horticulture, research and demonstration facility in 2010, only one percent of its 4,500 square feet of planting area is occupied by research today. We have the opportunity to expand an innovative space for future Salukis and we are doing so by installing an autonomous irrigation system, which combines mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and machine learning into a singular project.

“Additionally, we are installing a micro wind turbine, a renewable energy technology project. These projects give our students valuable experience in sustainable energy and illustrate the limitless resources the university has to offer for an education in energy, Fernandes said.”

Extensive involvement

Support and funding for the Green Roof Team and its projects is coming from several stakeholders across campus, as well as externally and from other universities, with students from a wide variety of majors eager to get involved in the multidisciplinary research project, he said.

In addition to the Green Roof Team led by Rana and Fernandes, more than 20 students from SIU and other universities are also committed to getting involved with green roof projects.

Along with SIU alumni, participants come from a wide range of universities including Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Texas A & M, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Interamerican University of Puerto Rico and the University of Twente in Enschede, Netherlands.

Fernandes said there are plans for workshops and project days in the future that will be promoted through social media.

Get involved

Learn more about SIU’s Green Roof and its history by visiting and follow the project’s progress through social media at