Decarbonization Academy

Decarbonization Academy

The Decarbonization Academy provides an immersive sustainability learning experience for students who are interested in working towards UVA’s goals of being carbon-neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel free by 2050. 


Beth Meyer is with a group of five Decarb academy fellows
Fellows exploring the history and ecological context on-site at UVA's Morven Sustainability Lab

UVA’s summer Decarbonization Academy is a paid, summer hands-on learning experience drawing together students, faculty, and staff to work towards UVA’s sustainability goals, most notably, achieving carbon-neutrality by 2030; as well as becoming fossil fuel-free by 2050. The program is open to rising third years, fourth years, and graduate students enrolled in any UVA program. Student decarbonization fellows will be expected to commit to 40 hours of work per week over the 8-week summer academy and will receive a $5000 stipend, paid bi-weekly

UVA’s Decarbonization Academy is designed as a living laboratory. This includes engagement with faculty and staff through two signature components. First, student fellows will participate in multidisciplinary, group-based learning activities such as faculty lectures, site visits, and field work. Second, students will co-create and complete a hands-on decarbonization project with a faculty or staff mentor that directly addresses UVA’s impact. Fellows are expected to work in-person at UVA. 

Applications are now closed for the Summer 2024 Decarb Academy.

Important dates 

  • Applications open: March 25, 2024 

  • Applications close: April 8, 2024  

  • Participants are notified: April 26, 2024  

  • Program begins: June 17, 2024 

  • Program ends: August 9, 2024 

For questions, please contact Ethan Heil with UVA’s Office for Sustainability ([email protected]).  See the five projects below.

Project Descriptions

A. Forest Patches

Led by Tim Beatley, Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning (up to 3 students).

The 2024 decarbonization fellows will continue the work of last summer’s forest patches team. This will include completing the work to design and plant the first five of these new forest patches on Grounds (likely, work will still be needed to plant the remaining two of these five patches). The 2024 team will also work to explore and identify potential new sites for patches, beyond the initial five (where will the next five be?) The team will help to care for the planted patches and also work to develop a plan for monitoring and assessing the patches over time. The team will explore sites and opportunities for other ways of extending and regrowing trees and forests on Grounds, including designating areas for passive rewilding (natural regeneration). The team will also begin to research and plan for ways to ensure the ecological connectivity of these forest patches. The team could also continue the work to document and calculate the carbon sequestration and other benefits of the forest patches.    

B. Visible Social Norms

Led by Leidy Klotz, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering (up to 2 students).

This decarbonization academy team will identify and attempt to influence social norms which are 1) visible on Grounds and 2) which enable or inhibit progress towards UVA’s Sustainability Goals. Such norms are powerful levers because they create feedback loops that lead to rapid change. For this virtuous cycle to kick in, there needs to be a behavior (e.g., installing solar panels on one’s home), and the behavior needs to be visible (e.g., neighbors can see that you have installed solar panels, and become more likely to do so themselves, and so on…). Analogous opportunities on Grounds will be identified by fellows, considering their interests and skillsets. Projects undertaken will likely complement other decarbonization academy projects.    

C. Building Decarbonization

Led by Ethan Heil, Energy and Sustainability Engineer and Director of the Decarbonization Academy (up to 2 students). 

Buildings are the primary driver of carbon emissions at UVA. With a portfolio of over 500 buildings and new ones constantly in the pipeline, a holistic strategy for decarbonizing the University’s buildings will be essential in achieving carbon neutrality. The building decarbonization team will focus on strategies to reduce carbon emissions in buildings through energy efficiency, green building, and the removal of fossil fuels from existing buildings. Summer work will likely build on previous decarbonization academy projects, and ultimate direction will be co-created based on the fellows’ interests and skillsets. 

D. Vehicle Fleet Decarbonization

Led by Mike Duffy, Transportation Operations and Fleet Manager (up to 2 students).

UVA maintains a fleet of over 300 vehicles, which are a highly visible example of the University's use of fossil fuels. The fleet decarbonization team will work to continue decarbonizing our fleet, which is one of the top 5 greenest university fleets in the country. Fellows will work as a team to evaluate and expand opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of UVA's vehicle fleet through strategies including electrification, telematics, route optimization, and other innovative ideas. 

E. Morven Sustainability Lab

Co-led by Professor Manuel Lerdau, Professor of Environmental Sciences and Biology, and Professor Beth Meyer, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Faculty Director of Morven Sustainability Lab and (up to 2 students). 

The UVA Morven Sustainability Lab (MSL), 2900 acres of rural Albemarle County comprised of a historic core, agricultural fields, hardwood forests, and a pine plantation, was launched 18 months ago. We are in the process of conceiving an experimental and experiential living laboratory for pan-university teaching and research. As we complete our 10-year strategic plan, we are keen to activate our lands as a field station that includes two experimental forests, regenerative agro-forestry practices, and individual faculty labs (hydrology, soil science, archaeology, design, and common gardens). Since agricultural practices and forest conversation have a big impact on decarbonization, MSL is keen to record, monitor, measure and analyze the impact of our transition from a traditional non-sustainable farm of monoculture crops and large stands of clear-cut timbering to a model of conservation and regenerative agro-forestry. 

We seek two undergraduate student interns majoring in Environmental Science, Biology or Environmental Thought and Practice to assist us in designing one of our foundation research infrastructural systems—our environmental data collection architecture and archive. Students with an interest in Data Science and Data Visualization will find this work especially rewarding. This system will allow us to collect, aggregate, analyze and share data with scholars and citizen scientists within and outside of UVA. It will include data on weather and climate, soil and water, biodiversity, landcover, and land management practices (forestry and agro-forestry). 

The Summer 2024 Decarbonization Academy work will involve field work and research as well as case study comparison, data set identification, and digital data access design. Students will examine the possible data infrastructures we might join from the NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) to a proposed UVA field station network (Mountain Lake Biological Station, Blandy Farm Experimental Farm, and the Eastern Shore Long Term Ecological Research Station). Students will work closely with the MSL Faculty as well as the UVA Library Scholars Lab to create a data architecture that can be integrated with the MSL data set currently under construction. 

This research will build on the century of data collected at Morven in leather bound Farm Journals (1930-2024). Summer 2023 Decarbonization intern Katherine Larson transcribed one year of hand-written daily entries in the 1930 Morven Farm Journal and discerned connections between local drought conditions and the national Dust Bowl, and concerns about groundwater availability and the design of the farm’s water infrastructure system as well as the formal garden’s design. We are hopeful that our future environmental database will serve scholarly work in the Arts and Humanities as well as Sciences, underscoring the pan-university perspective necessary to imagine an alternative climate-adaptive and responsive future where humans and the planet can thrive and flourish. The Summer 2024 Decarbonization Academy interns’ suggestions will shape and support decades of teaching and research within UVA’s new living laboratory at Morven. 

Decarbonization Academy 2023

The second year of UVA’s Decarbonization Academy during the summer of 2023 was a great success. Use the links below to learn more about the student fellows and read the synthesis report. Individual project reports are also available upon request from Program Director, Professor Lisa Colosi Peterson --  lmc6b [@]

2023 Final Report

2022 Final Report


Decarbonization Academy 2022 at Morven.jpg
Students with the 2022 Decarbonization Academy tour the Morven Farm Kitchen Gardens.