Skip to main content

College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

University of Dayton River Stewards paint wayfinding storm drain murals connecting campus to the riverfront

By Allison Brace '22

The University of Dayton River Stewards 2021 are adding color to city of Dayton storm drains by designing and painting murals that connect the University of Dayton campus to the Great Miami River.

Building on a project started by University alumna, Katie Norris ’10, the senior River Stewards followed the lead of previous designs painted by local artists in 2015, when the city first introduced this project to the community. Norris, a former River Steward, is now an environmental scientist at the city of Dayton department of water.

The flagship program of the Rivers Institute and administered by the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community, River Stewards is a three-year interdisciplinary program focused on leadership development and civic engagement, based on the model of learn, lead and serve. River Stewards participate in weekly mini-courses, provide service to the community and work together to develop a capstone project during their senior year.

“By creating a deeper connection between campus and the river, the river becomes a catalyst for relationship-building, fostering a deeper sense of the place, and defining who we are as a riverfront community,” said Leslie King, Rivers Institute director.

At the start of their junior year, River Stewards begin to look deeper into environmental challenges within the community while examining the organizations and assets working toward addressing them.

Initially, the 2021 River Stewards were interested in creating interpretive signage along the riverfront, but learned the project might conflict with the Dayton Riverfront Master Plan. After collaboration with community, campus partners and University administration, including President Eric F. Spina, they decided to pivot the project to a wayfinding trail from campus to the river through a series of 12 storm drain paintings.

To move forward with painting, the River Stewards solidified partnerships with the city of Dayton water department and UD Facilities Management.

“Through conversations with the University and the program partners the students realized that people truly want to see a stronger connection between the campus and river, rather than just signs along the riverfront,” King said.

The River Stewards questioned whether developing a way to connect campus to the river was self-serving rather than community-serving, but decided to make this not just a trail for students, but a trail for everyone in the community.

“It has been so great to work with the senior River Stewards on their storm drain mural project as a community partner, and I am really proud of what they have accomplished,” Norris said. “This new artistic connection between campus, the community and the river will be another creative way to connect all of us to the river and to each other for many years to come.”

The River Stewards describe this year's project as “buildable,” meaning it is something future cohorts can continue to develop, whether by adding benches to the riverfront, a destination sign at the end of the storm drain trail or something entirely new.

The River Stewards created the paintings to show ways the community can enjoy the river by incorporating kayaks, bikes and river wildlife into their artwork. They also incorporated wayfinding symbols to better guide people toward the river.

“Contributing mural designs and collaboratively creating with the community for our storm drain mural wayfinding project will be one of my favorite memories from my involvement in the River Stewards program,” said Shannon Stanforth, a senior graphic design major from Novelty, Ohio.

The stewards also created an interactive map that follows the path of the paintings. Once the map is complete, it will have a photo of the storm drain attached to its location point and educational information. This will be used for social media challenges and community engagement events and will be posted on the Rivers Institute website.

“This group worked incredibly well together as a team,” King said. “It was really impressive how well their different majors complemented one another and how well they lifted one another up based on their strengths. The city of Dayton department of water continues to be a great educator and producer of the River Stewards program. This is an exciting next step in recognizing UD as a riverfront campus.”

The River Stewards conclude the 2021 spring semester with the hope their project will connect to other Rivers Institute educational outreach programs, including the RiverMobile and children’s book, Into the River.

“Through this process, I have learned what it really means to be a steward of watersheds,” said Jon Colwell, a senior pre-medicine major from Dublin, Ohio. “I can tell people all I want how important stewardship is, but people will never really understand until they push themselves to do it on their own. I just hope that our senior project can aid people on their way, and maybe lead to something more in the years to come.”

For more information, visit the University of Dayton Rivers Institute website.

Previous Post

University of Dayton health communicator publishes research on using entertainment to teach children about COVID-19

University of Dayton health communication expert Angeline Sangalang researched how shows, such as popular children's show Sesame Street, are being used internationally to teach children about COVID-19.

Read More
Next Post

College Faculty in the News: May 10, 2021

News agencies across the region, the nation and throughout the world often reach out to our faculty experts for their perspectives on today's issues. This media coverage highlights the service, research and scholarship taking place in the College of Arts and Sciences. Find links to a number of recent stories below.

Read More