The Rise of Club Sports

Sierra Jensen calls joining a club sport at the University of Utah the best decision of her college career. "And I would even go so far as to say in my young adult life," adds Jensen, 21. The senior, majoring in civil engineering, plays Ultimate Frisbee, one of 24 clubs currently active at the U.

Best friends. Better grades. Bonding. The thrill of elevated competition. Road trips. Lasting memories. Growth experiences. And great views, at least for outdoor sports at the U. They're all part of the club sport experience that student-athletes say draws them to compete at the club level versus taking part in intramural sports, pick-up games, or even NCAA-sanctioned play.

"Club sports represent a critical opportunity for students to stay engaged, to stay healthy, to develop new habits and experiences, make friends, and benefit from all of the social components of being engaged in team sports," says Barbara Snyder, vice president of student affairs. "We are very convinced that a well-rounded undergraduate's experience can be enhanced by engagement with club sports."

So, maybe Jensen's claim doesn't seem too lofty, even when you factor in the sometimes high cost to students.


A small amount of funding for each sport comes from student fees collected by the Associated Students of the University of Utah, but Jensen, like all students who play club sports throughout the country, pays plenty out of her own pocket. There are no scholarships in club sports, which also rely on team fundraisers to keep them going. Jensen estimates she spends about $500 to play with Spiral Jetty, the U's Ultimate team. Some of that money covers travel, but it also pays for renting indoor practice facilities on campus during the winter.

Ultimate is one of the less expensive club sports. Others, like hockey, can cost a student upwards of $1,800 in dues per semester. Women's lacrosse player Audrey Burns, majoring in kinesiology, pays $400 for the fall season and $2,000 in the spring, when the team competes and travels more. Burns, 21, notes that her fees pay for travel, accommodations, field space, coaching staff, referees, tournament and league fees, gear, and uniforms. "It's hard to raise money on our own, but it is also rewarding to show people our passion for the sport," she says.

The dividends in the investment, as students report over and over, are many. If they're not practicing, competing, or traveling together on a long road trip to the next game, they're studying with each other or just hanging out. Lots of time together forms tight bonds. Those road trips for Jensen have included destinations like San Diego, Calif.; Eugene, Ore.; Missoula, Mont.; Boulder, Colo.; and beyond.

And don't let the "club" aspect make you think students are in it just for fun. These athletes are competitive. Jensen's club qualified in spring 2017 for the Northwest Regional tournament. The men's Ultimate team, called Zion Curtain, qualified for nationals in 2016, finishing 13th. Other campus clubs, such as the pistol team, compete on regional and national stages every year. The U's climbing club took the national championship at the 2017 USA Collegiate Climbing Series competition in San Diego.


The popularity of club sports at the U factors into why some students choose Utah in the first place. Seth Hughes, a sophomore majoring in kinesiology, picked the U over several other schools because it had clubs in both swimming and water polo, both of which he plays. "This is just an awesome way to stay involved with the sports you grew up loving in high school," says the Chicago native, 22.

Jeff Whipple flew in from Bellevue, Wash., with his son, Patrick, last fall to check out campus and watch the rugby club beat Colorado University-Boulder 52-22 on a warm, sun-drenched McCarthy Track and Field. "Rugby will be a factor in deciding which school Patrick will choose," Jeff says. "I look for a program that's going to be good for my son. The type of community you get into is a big deal. What's the personality like? What's the culture of the team? Are the coaches supportive of academics as well as rugby and fitness? Those are the kinds of things we're looking for when we're on campuses." His son wants a good school that happens to have a rugby club. "I don't want to end up at a school that has a D1/varsity team and then I don't make the team and, as a result, I have nothing to do with the school."

Patrick's point about forming a connection with the school he chooses is one that Snyder echoes. "If you look at involvement in recreational programs in general, students who participate regularly do better academically, they persist to graduation more quickly in greater numbers, and they're more loyal alumni," Snyder says. "For a lot of students, club sports may be one way that they're going to be involved on campus outside of classes."


Club sports is now a big presence—and growing—on campus and requires oversight, guidance, and support, even though each sport is student-formed, and student-led once they're up and running.

U sports clubs are under the purview of Campus Recreation Services, which also oversees intramural sports. Sean Michael Monnier, manager of Intramural Sports & Sports Clubs, provides a lengthy handbook that lays out best practices and policies to govern clubs as well as covering areas like risk management, insurance, injuries, financial guidelines, and facility use. "Club sports help students develop skills such as leadership, organization, responsibility, time management, teamwork, and decision making," Monnier says. His department helps students with forming new clubs, which can start as easily as a click of a mouse on the campus recreation website, followed by paperwork and a few other hoops.

Madi Tripp, Ella Johnson, and Zion Levister joined men's volleyball practices inside the HPER complex last fall as part of their quest to form a women's team. They began talking to leaders of the men's club for tips on how to start a club, held tryouts, and will need to give a presentation to administrators this spring to justify the need. "I hope it's a chance for people who are like me, who aren't playing at the collegiate level, who just want to keep their skills up and be with other girls who enjoy playing volleyball," Tripp says. She hopes her club will be up and running in fall 2018.

Giuseppe Huaman, 27, and Jeff Larsen, 37, helped reestablish a men's volleyball club after the team was suspended, which can occur for a variety of reasons from conduct violations to unauthorized use of certain logos. (Clubs can use the block U, for example, but the drum and feather logo is off limits.) Larsen, who is pursuing a bachelor's degree in accounting, found it would be easier to start a new club rather than try lifting the former club out of suspension. Huaman, born in Peru and seeking a master's in education toward his dream of becoming a teacher like his late mother, has seen club volleyball improve his academic trajectory. "When I first started playing, I saw a change in my grades," he says. "Other players have helped me to achieve my goals for school."

Sometimes a club is formed out of the passion of a single individual, like Vivian Bentley, 20, a junior seeking a degree in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. Finding a place to practice the Japanese martial art of Kendo, initially for just four people, was difficult when Kendo was not an official club. Bentley bounced around from the A. Ray Olpin University Union to the Naval Sciences Building, and finally, when Kendo was designated an official club, the Student Life Center, where clubs are offered free use of the facilities. Kendo now has 18 members.

Students also have to go out and find their own coaches, who wind up working for very little payment. But for the coaches, it's not about the money. "I'm terribly excited to be involved in this. The fact that they're doing this on their own, organized it on their own… it's fantastic," says Will Reeves, who coaches the swimming and diving club. He is well known in the community for having coached at the high school and master's levels. "I love to see these kids given an opportunity to compete." The men's volleyball club team found their coach, kinesiology advisor Loren Finn, by noticing evidence in his office of a lifelong connection to the sport. "And I use volleyball as a medium to life," says Finn. "Everything that I do, I say, 'How can we use this in our everyday life?' " Women's lacrosse coaches Brooke Erickson and Glee Corsetti, former players and then coaches elsewhere, have ambitious goals for their athletes. "We're actually going to change the world, starting right here on this field," Corsetti says. Their philosophy is to help their players to be "powerful, well-rounded women who go into the real world with tools they wouldn't otherwise have."


After a team is established, the level of involvement from other outside entities varies. Neither the National Collegiate Athletic Association nor the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics oversees club sports. Governance for some clubs can come from the National Collegiate Sport Committee or the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association. Other sports take their cues from specific groups—Ultimate Frisbee, for example, answers to USA Ultimate. Governing bodies can help with determining eligibility of athletes, organizing tournaments, and providing officials during competition.

Competition and ambition can reach a fever pitch, compelling those involved to seek NCAA status. That's what happened with coach Brian Holman's men's lacrosse team, which is slated for its first official NCAA-level game in spring 2019. When the change from club to NCAA takes place, that's when the Athletics Department takes over—and it's a whole new game.

"Once you switch, it's a gigantic switch," says Athletics Director Chris Hill MEd'74 PhD'82. Beginning July 1, 2018, his department will kick in support services and marketing for men's lacrosse, along with training facilities and sports medicine resources, promotions, and ticket sales.

The main reason Hill says the U was able to raise men's lacrosse to Division 1 status was money—as in a $15 million endowment to fund the team. Otherwise, he says, his department would not have been able to afford adding it to their roster. Also, he says, there are rules under Title IX that dictate when a university can add a sport.

The downside for students who once qualified to play at the club level, however, is that when their sport graduates to NCAA status, the level of competition and recruiting increases. "I think that there are people who are on the lacrosse club team now who aren't going to be able to play at that level," Hill says. (Sometimes, though, there is enough interest to have both a club and NCAA-level team, as with sports such as swimming and soccer at the U.)

It's estimated that more than two million students participate in upwards of 50 different club sports on college campuses throughout the country—and they draw crowds of cheering fans. At the U, rugby, hockey, men's and women's lacrosse and soccer, climbing, and cycling seem to attract the most spectators. "The Salt Lake City community loves to come out and support us," Monnier says. "The clubs with the biggest crowds seem to have really figured out how to market themselves."

For the athletes, however competitive they may be, the experience is as much about creating lasting memories and friendships—as well as the way it can push them to achieve in not only their sport but elsewhere in their lives. In short, joining a club sport could be the best decision they make during college. "These women make me a better student and make me want to achieve more by seeing how much each of us accomplishes in our lives outside of Frisbee," Jensen says.

— Stephen Speckman is a Salt Lake City-based writer and photographer and a frequent contributor to Continuum.


Alpine Skiing







Men’s Lacrosse (club until 2019)


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Innovation, Meet Lifestyle

From where he stood observing the surgery, Brody King could see that the product the surgeon was squirting into the patient’s body would be ineffective at preventing scar tissue adhesions. It was too liquid to work after going through the tiny laparoscopic incision. A few months later, King launched a company, XLynk Surgical, to work on a better product, and he brought on a chemical engineering friend, Jordan Davis, to help with the chemistry. Soon, they had devised a solution that could be sprayed into the body and cover an affected area without dripping away before it could do any good.

After speaking with several physicians and pharmaceutical chemists, King and Jordan partnered with Dr. Raminder Nirula, chief of Acute Care Surgery at the U, and then hired Arielle Hassett to tackle marketing. Now, King, Davis, and Hassett (along with Nirula) are plotting their multi-year path through development, clinical studies, and FDA approval. Not bad for three University of Utah undergrads still juggling classes, homework, and part-time jobs. XLynk Surgical is just one of more than 700 student startup teams supported by the U’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.

Giving entrepreneurship a boost

In 2001, gold mining and investment legend Pierre Lassonde MBA’73 donated $30,000 to the U’s David Eccles School of Business to honor his late wife, Claudette MacKay-Lassonde MS’73. Pierre and Claudette had left Canada in 1971 to pursue master’s degrees at the U (hers in nuclear engineering). Pierre credits his MBA as being the most important degree he’s received, setting him on a path toward success, and he wanted his donation to reflect his and his wife’s melded passions for business and science by creating an interdisciplinary entrepreneur center. The Pierre and Claudette MacKay Lassonde New Venture Development Center would help graduate students develop business plans to commercialize faculty innovations.

By 2006, students were coming to the center asking for help launching their ideas. So Lassonde gifted $13 million more to expand the entrepreneur program. Only five years later, the U hit the Princeton Review’s top 25 universities for entrepreneurship (where it has remained every year since).

Then the Great Recession hit, and technology and the Internet were changing how businesses operated. “Students were coming to us saying, ‘I’m probably going to have to create my own future and control my own destiny, and I need the tools to do that,’ ” says Troy D’Ambrosio BA’82, executive director of what is now called the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.

And further, just being on par with other entrepreneur programs wasn’t good enough for Lassonde or the U. So in 2013, Lassonde returned to the university with a question. What could we do to push the U’s program to the forefront of entrepreneur education, allowing it to compete with not just other universities, but with the growing popularity of online programs?

Taylor Randall HBA’90, dean of the U’s business school, says, “We were tasked with coming up with something unique and different that would bolster the University of Utah’s reputation and take us decades ahead.” First, the center needed a physical location to make its programs more visible. Next, Randall, D’Ambrosio, and Lassonde wanted an innovation space (also called “maker” space)—labs and workshops where students can build and test ideas. Finally, they wanted to try something new: to fold in a residential component where innovators could live and work together.

Yet no one was quite sure what all of that should look like. So they turned to the students. And what they came up with was an innovative approach to innovation, and the perfect building to house it all in.

In the the heart of the Lassonde Studios is the Neeleman Hangar, a 20,000-square-foot “maker space”—think of a cross between lab space, workshops, and a rec room, complete with pool table and a 24-hour cafe. (Photo by Trina Knudsen)

A world-class innovation incubator

The 160,000-square-foot, $45 million Lassonde Studios building opened in August 2016. Its upper floors—the residence floors—are sheathed in copper, and they float above a ground floor encased in glass, where natural light illuminates students studying in small groups, using the woodshop or metal-working tools, 3D printing a prototype of their latest idea, grabbing a meal at the Miller Cafe, and maybe testing out a video game. In offices scattered around the floor, businesses are hatching, with brainstorming ideas sketched in dry-erase marker on glass walls, products stacked on desks, and help-wanted notices scribbled on a community white board.

It looks like the headquarters of a hip technology company. It definitely does not look like a typical college dorm.

As a freshman, Adam Shelton lived in the Lassonde Studios last year and worked with two other freshmen on a phone app startup company. “Whoever designed the building was very ingenious about the social aspects of how people interact,” he says.

That genius? Turns out it was students just like Shelton, whose ideas designer Mehrdad Yazdani tapped for direction. Yazdani, design principal at Yazdani Studio of CannonDesign, says, “What was intriguing to me was the notion of creating a living and ‘making’ environment for student entrepreneurs on the campus, which is rather unique on university campuses.”

Buildings are usually based on how similar spaces were used historically. Yazdani and his colleagues, along with architect of record EDA Architects in Salt Lake City, reversed that process, first identifying the culture of the students who would be living and creating there, then designing the building around that culture.

Students at work making their own prototypes in one of the many workshops at the Lassonde Studios. (Photo by Trina Knudsen)

When asked what they wanted in living and creative areas, students requested “spaces that were non-institutional, spaces that students can make their own, spaces that were not intimidating, spaces that promoted easy collaboration and interaction,” says Yazdani. “It’s important that students feel comfortable. That doesn’t mean plush carpets or plush furniture, but spaces where they can make a mess. If an idea comes to them, they can immediately set it up, and they don’t have to worry about spilling something on the carpet.”

The resulting building blurs the line between living and working, immersing students in a unique, collaborative environment. The residence areas are designed for maximum interaction, with single, double, pod, and loft dorm rooms clustered around common areas with kitchens, tables, and seating areas. These open, sunshine-filled common areas entice the 400 residents out of their rooms to join study groups or brainstorming sessions, or just to socialize. Each residence floor has a separate theme: Sustainability and Global Impact; Products, Design & Arts; Adventure and Gear; and Games and Digital Media.

Downstairs, the heart of the Lassonde Studios is the Neeleman Hangar, a 20,000-square-foot “maker space”—think of a cross between lab space, workshops, and a rec room, complete with pool table and a 24-hour cafe. But it wasn’t enough to provide the workshop space. D’Ambrosio and his colleagues filled it with hand tools, sewing machines, metal and wood-working equipment, and whatever else might help a student launch their startup product or service. Better yet, it’s all free and available to all U students.

One thing that’s missing? Classrooms. You won’t find faculty offices here, either. That’s because the Lassonde Institute is focused on student leadership. Walk into the 3D printer lab, and an undergrad will show you the ropes. Want to use the laser cutting tool? No problem, but first you’ll get a quick student-designed training lesson. Want to attend a workshop on writing business plans? A young scholar set up that workshop and brought in industry experts to present it. About 160 students receive scholarships to run the institute’s many programs.

The Lassonde Institute is more than just a building, but the building allows the institute to attract attention from students, other universities (more than 100 have toured the Lassonde Studios), and the business world. Named one of the “nine best new university buildings around the world” by Architectural Digest, the building has appeared in Fast Company and The New York Times. The institute is ranked first in the country for aspiring entrepreneurs by LendEDU, first for technology commercialization by the Milken Institute, and 15th in entrepreneurship programs for graduate students and 18th for undergraduates by the Princeton Review.

In addition to Pierre Lassonde and the Lassonde Family Foundation, other major donors and partners including alum David Neeleman ex’81 ( founder of JetBlue), the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, Zions Bank, the Fidelity Foundation, the Kahlert Foundation, and University of Utah Housing & Residential Education have helped the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and the new Lassonde Studios become “world class and cutting edge in terms of student entrepreneur education,” says Dean Randall. “This building is remarkable in terms of gaining visibility. It lets us showcase what we think are the best practices in teaching entrepreneurship.” Ruth Watkins, vice president of academic affairs, agrees: “It was immediately clear that the Lassonde Studios would be transformative for the U—a facility that would bring together entrepreneurs and innovators from all fields of study to live, learn, and create together. And all of that in the context of a stunning building.”

Eliminating barriers

As stunning as the facility is, all the space, tools, and 3 a.m. pizza in the world won’t get a startup off the ground without the know-how to pull it together. That’s why Lassonde Institute resources include workshops on topics like writing executive summaries, using Adobe Creative Suite, or finding a social cause. Students are paired with mentors and experts such as attorneys, venture capitalists, designers, and marketers.

Get Seeded, a monthly micro-grant competition sponsored by Zions Bank, lets students apply for grants to jumpstart their projects. Last year, 49 student startups shared $100,000 in Get Seeded funding. “Get Seeded was my first real experience at the Lassonde Institute,” says King, whose company XLynk Surgical is actually his third startup. “From there, it was like, ‘Come to our mentors workshop.’ I met with the director of software development at Adobe. Then I met with IP [intellectual property] lawyers, and then I met all of these other people. It was like this chain of reactions. You can get anything you need just by being involved. It doesn’t cost me anything. I don’t pay extra tuition for it. It’s just something I can do whenever I have the time, which is awesome.”

It all adds up to an ideal minimal-risk environment for students to explore the entrepreneurial world. Many student startups may not succeed. Many real-world startups fail, too. But here, failures are embraced as learning experiences. “You can be a fine arts student or an engineering student, and you can come in here and get engaged, run a business, and get that experience,” says D’Ambrosio. “You might fail, you might succeed, but nobody rides a bike the first time. This is a safe place to try, test, experiment, and not be penalized for failure.”

Such real-world experience helps students stand out in the job market. “It’s the skill building at this point that’s really valuable,” says XLynk Surgical’s Hassett, whose role in the medical device startup has expanded from making videos and presentations for potential investors to supporting every facet of the business, including helping with the general design and building of the prototype. “Your idea doesn’t have to be amazing. They just want to see that you have an idea, and that you have your next milestone that you want to get to, so that you can try it and see if it works.” As a bioengineering and modern dance double major, Hassett had never considered entrepreneurship until King hired her. Now she’s hooked, and she’s co-directing the institute’s Utah Entrepreneur Series competitions.

JoCee Porter started and runs her own business renting prom dresses to underprivileged high school students. (Photo courtesy JoCee Porter)

Entrepreneurship isn’t just for technology. JoCee Porter, a computer engineering major, started a nonprofit in her parents’ basement while in high school. Loaning a prom dress to a financially struggling student blossomed into a full-blown nonprofit entity called Celebrate Everyday, providing hundreds of free prom dresses to underprivileged populations. “I was running my nonprofit every day, but I didn’t know what business was; I had no interest in it,” she says. “Going into Lassonde, I realized a nonprofit needed to be run like a business. I can serve more people by using business strategies.”

Students at the institute aren’t just the ones with the big business ideas. Few people can run an entire company alone. They need help from people with different skill sets, like marketing, design, law, accounting, fundraising, programming, or manufacturing. So Lassonde is also a place where students can find each other, team up, and see where the possibilities take them. The Neeleman Hangar is a hot spot for interaction. “If you’re in the library, everybody’s kind of head down. Here it’s okay if somebody is working on something to walk up to them and interrupt them to say, ‘Hey, what are you working on? That’s really cool. Can I help you?’ or ‘Can you help me, because I’m trying to solve that same problem?’ ” explains D’Ambrosio.

The Lassonde Studios’ interactive floor plan invites hardworking students to relax, too. “If you want to make new friends, Lassonde is the place to go,” says phone app creator Shelton, a pre-med finance major and a swimmer. “It’s a very social, vibrant community. There is always something going on. Lassonde never sleeps!” The Lassonde Institute has undeniably taken the lead in entrepreneurship education. “The Lassonde Studios is a true partnership of an academic unit and student affairs,” says Watkins. “I think that this type of partnership is likely to be much more common in the future. We are fortunate to have a highly successful model of collaboration at its best.”

For students, the transformative experience can be far-reaching. “There are so many resources at Lassonde, but the biggest resource is the people,” says Porter. “In 10 years, when I start my tech company, I know my cofounder will be someone I met in this building. They’re the people I’m going to call, because they’re going to be great people in their industry, and great friends.”

Kelley J. P. Lindberg BS’84 is a freelance writer based in Layton, Utah, and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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The Cave that holds a Million Bones

Imagine you’re in a cave about the size of a long garage on the side of a lake. It’s cool, dry, and so remote that no humans have made it their home. Owls are the only inhabitants, and they spit up undigested bones, fur, teeth, and insect shells in the form of owl pellets on the cave floor. Week after week, year after year, century after century—indeed, millennium after millennium—owls do this mundane task, a part of their biology, in a remote cave no one knows exists. In so doing, they leave an unspoiled record of the creatures they ate: a compact time capsule of an ecosystem.

In the mid-1990s, archaeologists Dave Madsen and Don Grayson found and excavated a cubic meter of bones from such a cavern—now called Homestead Cave— west of the Great Salt Lake. Somehow, prehistoric humans never made it their permanent home, and its location within the Utah Test and Training Range has kept modern humans out.

This one cubic meter of bones represents 18 distinct strata dating back 13,000 years, and hundreds of thousands of carefully packed tiny bones have made their way to the permanent collections at the U’s Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU).

Student researchers examining small mammal and reptile bones deposited by owls at the mouth of Homestead Cave, Photo by Isaac Hart


Before finding his way to the museum perched just above campus, Grayson spent five years in a lab, sorting hundreds of thousands of tiny bones and classifying the age of the layers. Owls eat everything from rodents to fish, lizards, and other birds, and Grayson’s team sorted the bones into these categories. Next, researchers took a first crack at identifying the small mammals and the fish.

Both sets of bones have yielded significant and somewhat surprising insights into how these communities changed as climate changed. Homestead Cave was initially under the waterline of huge Lake Bonneville. But around 13,000 years ago, as the lake’s water level was declining, Homestead Cave was revealed. The layers of bones can now tell us what happened to the diversity and relative abundance of the owls’ prey as the lake continued to dry up.

Jack Broughton, a faculty member in the U’s anthropology department, dove into the trove of fish bones. Of the 14,866 fish bone specimens representing 11 freshwater species, he found that most came from the first stratum of the cave. Broughton explains that dramatic increases in fish remains mark periods when the lake level fell, causing increases in water temperature and salinity and ultimately the fish populations to die off. “There are two such apparent die-off events, one at 13,000 and one near 10,400 BP [Before Present],” he says. This helps paleoclimatologists get a much more precise look at climate in the Great Basin.

Broughton writes that “since there is perhaps no more sensitive measure of regional climate than the size of closed-basin lakes, paleofish faunas can potentially provide one of the more direct proxies of climate change.” According to Broughton, things heated up significantly around 10,400 years ago, as shown by a massive fish die-off.

Rebecca Terry and Rebecca Rowe, collaborators with NHMU’s Vertebrate Zoology Department, examined the Homestead Cave rodents to gain even more insights into Utah’s ecological history. Rodent diversity and abundance took a nosedive not 10,000-some years ago, but in the 1800s. Terry and Rowe attribute this decline to the change in food source, specifically the rampant proliferation of non-native switch grass that was introduced by modern human migration. Rodents adapted to the conditions that spelled the demise of fish in the lake, but were greatly affected by an unforeseen consequence of human settlement.



With small terrestrial mammals and fish now counted, classified, and analyzed, there remain several other treasures from that square meter of Homestead Cave yet to examine: reptiles and amphibians, pollen samples, and birds. Allison Wolfe MS’16, a doctoral student in zooarchaeology and awardee of an NHMU Summer Internship, is hard at work tackling the tens of thousands of avian bones found at the site.

Allison Wolfe sifts through some of the oldest bones from Homestead Cave. She's catalogued nearly 4,000 bones, from up to 50 different species.

Wolfe has been sifting through many plastic bags filled with bones from just the first two strata (the oldest ones), and learning much along the way. “We know there were some big owls, like Great Horned Owls, because we’re seeing some big bones, like duck,” she explains.

In the bottom 10 cm (stratum 1) of the excavation, Wolfe has catalogued almost 4,000 different bird bones, representing potentially 50 different species. The original sifting through the bones and rough cataloguing was hampered by the lack of comparative skeletons to help identify them. Thus, some could only be identified to the genus or even family level. Thanks to the resources at NHMU and the Anthropology Department at the U, Wolfe can be much more specific with her identifications. While the work is mind-numbingly voluminous, it does have its moments of excitement: at times she has had to develop her own criteria to differentiate between species in a way that has not yet been formally described in scientific literature.

Broughton is enthusiastic about Wolfe’s work. “Distinguishing different species of closely related birds from fragmented bones is extremely difficult, and developing this skill can take many years of detailed study. I was truly shocked at how fast Allison picked this up—she has a rare gift,” he says.

Wolfe is just finishing stratum 2, with 16 more to go. In the oldest two levels she’s seeing a lot of ducks, grebes, shore birds, and small passerines (perching birds). Already in this span of time (a few thousand years) she sees less big, fish-eating grebes and diving ducks and more small grebes and dabbling ducks. “We’re confirming ecosystem and habitat theories of fauna with hard evidence,” she says.

Wolfe is excited to see what larger narrative might emerge. For instance, she has identified a lot of greater sage grouse bones, and there has been some discussion recently of putting that bird on the endangered species list, so she wonders if this contiguous record of the bird might reveal when its abundance changed. What’s more, now that we know humans are affecting climate, we can look at how birds responded to climate change in the past and forecast from there.

Two families of creatures—terrestrial and aquatic—have changed in different ways and at different times within our interconnected ecosystems in Northwestern Utah. And with Wolfe’s examination of airborne animals, there appears to be one more tale yet to unfold.

—Michael Mozdy is a science writer for the Natural History Museum of Utah.


An exhibit on NHMU’s third floor gives visitors a chance to read more about Homestead Cave and even imagine what this bone-combing work entails. Between the Basin and Range geology ramp and the Past Worlds dinosaur gallery is a table dedicated to Homestead Cave, complete with owl pellets and a clear tube of tiny bones researchers found on the site. It’s well worth a visit.

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Gardening, Elevated


Perched 95 feet above the streets of downtown Philadelphia, Cira Green is no ordinary public park. A sea of Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue flows across the football field-sized roof of a 12-story parking garage wedged between two gleaming residential towers in the city’s University District.

Cira Green will help reduce flood control and storm water management costs by absorbing rain and snow. But it’s also expected to do more. The man who designed the grassy aerie, crisscrossed by walking paths, has another abiding objective.

“We can share the cities with nature in a way that is engaging and keeps us connected to who we are as human beings, and as organisms on the planet,” says Charlie Miller MS’76 MS’82, founder and president of Philadelphia-based Roofmeadow, a firm that pioneered the design of living roofs—or “green roofs”—across the United States.

“There’s a little bubble around you when you’re on a green roof,” he adds. “It gives you a sense of intimacy and security. Psychologically, the green also will be soothing to you.”

But green spaces, including parks, are under siege. The United Nations reports that 66 percent of the world’s population—compared to 54 percent now— will live in urban areas by 2030. Further, the World Health Organization says that physical inactivity due to lack of access to recreational areas accounts for 3.3 percent of global deaths.

Cira Green (which won the 2016 Philadelphia Design Award from the American Institute of Architects) and other green roof projects could be part of the solution.The roofs are commonplace in Europe, and they’ve been expanding in the U.S. since Miller launched Roofmeadow in 1997, when it became one of only two businesses of its kind in the country.

“If you can provide a dozen green roofs in a big city, and you have enough parks connected by a necklace of green areas, you can start to reap psychological benefits,” Miller says. Green spaces are also credited with, at least incrementally, reducing cities’ heat island effect, which refers to localized warmer temperatures brought on by human activities. Through evapotranspiration, plants secrete water through the pores in their leaves, cooling the air in the process. Supporters note that there are other benefits: plants also filter the air, which improves air quality by using excess carbon dioxide to produce oxygen.

Miller has designed more than 200 green roofs in 25 states—including Chicago City Hall, whose roof teems with 20,000 plants representing 150 species, many of them native to the prairie. Flora include shrubs, vines, and two trees, which provide a verdant home to a pair of beehives.

Nineteen years ago, Miller’s idea struck some as daft, eliciting blank stares as he articulated his unusual vision. But it didn’t take long to find believers. High-profile clients now include the Baltimore Convention Center, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Kansas City Central Library, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

“Charlie has pushed the boundaries of design,” says Ed Snodgrass, founder of Street, Md.-based Emory Knoll Farms, the first nursery in the country to exclusively grow and sell plants for green roofs. “He’s an innovative and creative designer who’s good at what he does because he’s always learning.” “He understands the whole assembly,” Snodgrass adds. “You’re dealing with a structure, waterproofing, draining, engineered medium, and plants. It’s a completely unique assembly compared to anything else.”


Cira Green, Philadelphia.

Cira Green, Philadelphia. Photo by Albert Vecerka/ESTO

Designing living roofs wasn’t always Miller’s career ambition. After graduating from the College of William and Mary with a degree in chemistry (“It turned out I loved chemistry, but I hated being a chemist”), he enrolled in the University of Utah’s highly regarded master’s program in geology and geophysics.

His love for geology was informed by his experiences as a kid growing up in Lancaster County, Pa., where Miller thrilled to discovering limestone formations shot through with clear quartz crystals. “Things like that caught my attention,” he says. After obtaining his master’s, Miller worked as a field geologist for a year and a half with the Kennecott Copper Company and Getty Oil Minerals, both based in Salt Lake City.

But there was one problem. “When I got married, my wife said I had to have a sedentary job,” he says. “So I went back to the University of Utah and got another master’s degree, in civil engineering.”

A 1997 trip to Germany changed his career focus yet again. A German friend, a professor of environmental landscape design at the University of Pennsylvania, suggested that the pair travel to Berlin to check out the city’s Potsdamer Platz, a public square where high rises abound with green roofs. At that point the roofs had been a fixture in the city’s urban landscape for two decades.

“I could see that not only was the business potential to do something like this great, but you also could do it on such a scale that you could change the hydrology of cities and begin to reverse some of the negative effects of development,” Miller says. “I came back from my encounter extremely energized and excited, and I thought naively that if I could just explain what I had seen and what the potential was to my fellow architects and engineers and developers, that this would sweep across the United States.” Instead, he notes, “I spent a decade just trying to educate people what a green roof is. That job is not done.”

Back home in Pennsylvania, Miller wasted little time plotting his business venture. He began to mix his own soil substitute—or medium—often of light porous substances such as scoria or pumice. Laying plants and medium over a roof, after all, requires a delicate touch. Soil typically weighs 100 to 120 pounds per cubic foot; Miller’s homemade creation registers 60 to 75 pounds per cubic foot.

He designed his first green roof, a 3,000-square-foot “freebie,” atop the Fencing Academy of Philadelphia, where the husband-wife proprietors lived in a penthouse apartment. He went on to design a 6,000-square-foot roof at an alternative medicine business in Hazleton, Pa. Then came Chicago City Hall. The big-name clients have continued ever since.


Not all of Miller’s efforts lend themselves to foot traffic. In Chicago in 2006, he designed a green roof for Walmart, which sought to control storm water runoff at one of its stores. The retail giant has since added green roofs to two other Windy City stores, and to another in Portland, Ore., where the retailer worked with Portland State University to study roof impacts on everything from heat island effects to improving overall building performance.

Green roofs are actually easier to maintain than their plant-free counterparts, says Don Moseley, Walmart’s senior manager of sustainable facilities. The roofs are planted with drought-tolerant sedum, a kind of succulent. Volunteer rose bushes sprouted at one of the Chicago stores, where a pair of geese raised their goslings amid the unlikely garden.

The roofs have also proven durable; Miller guarantees them for 20 years. “The roofing membrane itself is quite protected by the soil and vegetation,” adds Moseley, “so there’s very little or any degradation as a result of ultraviolet rays from the sun.” Green roofs, which cost from $6 to $150 per square foot, typically are overlain with four to 12 inches of medium, Miller says. “Putting four or five feet of soil on top of a building is not really a green roof,” he says. “My business is built on systems that are lightweight and thin.”

Another of Miller’s high-profile projects is Lakeside, a Brooklyn, N.Y., skating complex in the borough’s 149-year-old Prospect Park. Completed in 2013, a pair of pavilions totaling 30,000 square feet stand partly submerged in man-made hills, the roofs of which Miller topped with a mélange of trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York. Photo by Albert Vecerka/ESTO

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York. Photo by Albert Vecerka/ESTO

“It was a pretty big undertaking, and a pleasant surprise,” says architect Andy Kim, who designed the pavilions for award-winning Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. “Buildings on parkland usually don’t take risks like that; they go for safer solutions.”

“What makes Charlie really useful and kind of unique is, he’s got an artistic design sense, but he’s also got a rigorous, highly pragmatic and sophisticated technical knowledge about that kind of construction,” Kim adds. “He shares what a lot of architects who are good share—a balance of traits that includes a sense of composition and the materials—but he also has the ability to execute something that will stick around for a long time.”

A New York Times review said Lakeside “is all about the seamless integration of architecture and landscape,” calling it “subtly remarkable” and a work of contemporary architecture “that looks as if it has been here all the while, emerging from the land and integral to it.”

“You can walk up the path for the first time and not quite know where the line is between the park and the top of the building,” says Kim, who lives nearby and takes his two children to the park’s pair of skating rinks.

While thousands of green roofs now dot the United States, Miller doesn’t expect them to ever be as commonplace here as in Europe, where he says there is “an imperative to garden.”

“There’s a devotion to horticulture, and there’s more faith in Europe in general to undertake large public programs with the expectation that it’s going to create a substantial public good,” he says. “There’s much more forbearance when it comes to establishing regulations and criteria that would result in city greening laws to be visually and hydrologically transforming.”

That said, Miller helped to spawn a movement with a following all its own in America. There are now hundreds of green roof designers across the country, many of them “mom and pop” operations that take on smaller projects.

Older and wiser, Miller says he’s driven these days by a Zen-like “spiritual imperative,” a different kind of evangelism than his early days in the business. “I always used to lead with the engineering side, as in ‘We can make our cities work again. We can make them absorb water, and we can cure nuisance flooding and all sorts of things using this technology. And, oh, by the way, they’re pretty,’ ” he says.

“My company’s approach at this point is to say that you can have something on your home, on your business, in your city, or at your college that will be special and will create a unique environment that you will treasure. And it will allow you to understand what it is to be an urban dweller in a way that you may not have conceived it before.”

—Andrew Faught is a California-based freelance writer who has written widely on issues and ideas in higher education.

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Campus Scene: Farewell to OSH

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Farewell to OSH

Orson Spencer Hall, affectionately known by nearly everyone throughout its 60-plus years on campus as “OSH,” is no more. The two-story, mid-century modern building was razed in late October. Named for the first chancellor of the university, OSH was one of the first post-WWII structures on campus designed exclusively for classrooms. Nearly every U student since then has had a class in OSH and can probably still remember the sound of the bell signaling five-minute class breaks and the ensuing swarms of students navigating the crowded halls. Those times will be missed. OSH will be replaced by the new Carolyn and Kem Gardner Building.

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