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Solar prairie grows with new addition

Solar prairie grows with new addition

Mary Kate Newman '23 September 21, 2021

Student-designed educational signs are installed at the solar prairie at Curran Place.

Reflecting in the windows of Curran Place, as if stretching for miles, UD’s solar prairie serves as a reprieve from the standard brick view of campus. Last month, informational signage created by art and design students was installed to inform visitors about the prairie and the science behind it.

The signage was part of a larger project with professor John Clarke’s design-science synthesis course completed by senior design students, in collaboration with the office of Facilities Management, Energy and Environmental Sustainability.

The panels were first installed in 2018 in what was once an empty field, but is now a sprawling 6-acre prairie that includes more than 80 species of plants. A project almost four years in the making, the solar prairie is at the forefront of Dayton’s sustainability efforts. The solar array contributes around 2 percent of power on UD’s campus.

The signs project was a collaboration between design students and the office of Facilities Management, Energy and Environmental Sustainability.


Alumna Elise Erhart ’19 helped with the initial design and plan for the prairie installation while she was a student. When Erhart joined project, the solar panels had been installed, and she helped create the pollinator prairie installation around the panels in early 2019.

“Environmental projects are amazing … but a lot of people who aren’t in the environmental realm have no idea what’s going on,” Erhart said. “I think it’s very important to explain to people what is going on and not just tell them what to do but explain why and how.”

“I think it’s very important to explain to people what is going on and not just tell them what to do but explain why and how.”

One of the class members, graphic design alumna Emily Gorenc ’19, helped create the signage and continued to propel the project forward even after the class had ended and the pandemic had stalled the signs’ installation. Gorenc said she came into the sign project with no prior knowledge of the solar prairie and the University’s larger sustainability effort, but she left as an avid supporter.

“I think being immersed in that content made designing so much easier. We were truly passionate about it,” Gorenc said. “We really became advocates."

While both Gorenc and Erhart have graduated, they credit the solar prairie project with helping them find jobs after college. Erhart is an outreach specialist with the Hamilton County Environmental Services office. Gorenc previously worked as a graphic designer at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and is now a senior digital designer with Nestlé.

“It was a really awesome opportunity right before going out into the real world,” Gorenc said. “During my interview process, that project was definitely a talking point for me.”

Both alumnae said they are making plans to return to campus soon to see the finished product.

Photos by Andrew Buchanan '22.

Immersed remotely