UTRGV Campus As a living lab

Whether it is in the classroom or in a pollinator garden, the UTRGV campus gives a new meaning to "hands-on experience." Students at UTRGV have the whole campus in their hands to explore, learn, and develop real-world skills.

Many of the projects below merge academics with campus wide departments to contribute and provide sustainable solutions to modern problems for our campus community, the Rio Grande Valley, the Nation, and the whole world.

Our UTRGV campus living lab projects include bioswale, community garden & greenhouse, urban forestry, pollinator garden, crawfish garden, solar arrays, demand response, greenhouse gas emissions inventory, tree nursery, campus food security initiative, and the UTRGV Hub of Prosperity farm.

Click a Project or Scroll Down to Learn More

picture of okras at UTRGV's community garden
Community Garden & Greenhouse
picture of bees on a sunflower
Pollinator Cantina
picture of dr. gabler explaining one of the aquaculture ponds on UTRGV Brownsville's Bella Casa C.R.A.W.F.I.S.H. garden
C.R.A.W.F.I.S.H Garden
picture of woman working on bioswale
picture of students and a teacher studying a tree
Urban Forestry Course
picture of utrgv's tree nursery
Tree Nursery
people planting seeds at the hub of prosperity urban farm
Hub of Prosperity
picture of a woman with a face mask holding produce
Campus Food Security Initiative
picture of a utrgv solar panel
Solar Tracking Arrays
solar arrays on top of UTRGV's Engineering building on the Edinburgh campus
Engineering Roof Solar Arrays
picture of the greenhouse gas emissions inventory team
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory
picture of demand response participants looking at pipes
Demand Response
The boat used for Ridley Floating Classroom in South Padre Island
Ridley Floating Classroom

The Office for Sustainability celebrates the endeavors of community organizations, campus departments, faculty, students, and staff in the way they incorporate sustainable development into every facet of their activities.

picture of okras in UTRGV's community garden
picture of a woman wearing an UTRGV Agroecology hat plowing the community garden photo from UTRGV Agroecology
picture of a woman with an UTRGV Agroecology hat pushing a machine across the community garden photo from UTRGV Agroecology
two women planting at the community garden photo from UTRGV Agroecology
picture of 4 people at the community garden by a land of soil and the greenhouse at the back photo from UTRGV Agroecology
picture of okras in UTRGV's community garden photo by David Pike
picture of a woman wearing an UTRGV Agroecology hat plowing the community garden photo from UTRGV Agroecology
picture of a woman with an UTRGV Agroecology hat pushing a machine across the community garden photo from UTRGV Agroecology
two women planting at the community garden photo from UTRGV Agroecology
picture of 4 people at the community garden by a land of soil and the greenhouse at the back photo from UTRGV Agroecology

Community garden & greenhouse

The UTRGV Community Garden & Greenhouse was developed with the initiative to provide fellow students and faculty from the school of Agroecology access to the necessary resources needed to fulfill their research needs. This 7,500 ft2 space is located in the Edinburg campus, within the Northeast wing and provides the necessary to accommodate both, the Community Garden, and the campus greenhouse. The community garden sits at 2,500 ft2 and is fully equipped with 15 raised beds, which essentially allows not only members of the school of Agroecology to complete their research but as well provides the space for student organizations to plant, grow and maintain their own crops. Adjacent to the garden is the state-of-the-art campus greenhouse, which is equipped with a water wall, automated sprinklers, and the necessary fans to maintain an appropriate temperature inside the greenhouse.

Pollinator Cantina

The Pollinator Cantina, is part of the UTRGV School of Biology and was founded with the Transforming Our World grant from the Office of the Provost in 2018 as part of the University's commitment to support sustainability efforts. The Pollinator Cantina is located in the Brownsville campus and was established under the mission to conserve bees, butterflies and other pollinators, such as butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds, and serve as a platform to support experiential learning and research projects for students as well as help emphasize the importance of protecting pollinators and educating the community of their essential purposes. UTRGV has been accredited as a Bee Campus USA certified institution as part of these efforts to enhance pollinators on and off-campus. The purpose of the garden is three-fold: 1) the conservation of butterflies and other pollinators, 2) to act as a platform for experiential learning and research projects for students, and 3) to engage the community by providing information on the importance of pollinators and what they can do to help conservation efforts.

two bees on a sunflower
picture of people viewing and working on the UTRGV Brownsville Campus's pollinator cantina
students working on the pollinator cantina
students working on the pollinator cantina
a desert checkered skipper releasing pheromone to attract a male at UTRGV's pollinator cantina. Photo taken by JA Mustard
two bees on a sunflower
picture of people viewing and working on the UTRGV Brownsville Campus's pollinator cantina
students working on the pollinator cantina
students working on the pollinator cantina
a queen butterfly eating milkweed next to a spider at UTRGV's pollinator cantina. Photo taken by JA Mustard

C.R.A.W.F.I.S.H. Garden

Project C.R.A.W.F.I.S.H (Climate Resilient Agroecological Watershed-Food Integration System for Husbandry) is an effort to help eliminate hunger across the entire Rio Grande Valley. Established by Dr. Christopher Gabler of the School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences (SEEMS), the garden was created in the Brownsville campus and is made up of 12 garden plots, supported by PVC pipes and each contain an agricultural bed, containing fruits and vegetables, a suitable wetland, and a pond for aquacultural species, such as crawfish. The C.R.A.W.F.I.SH Garden is made out of 36 plots and make up 12 garden systems. The entire garden is supported by an earthen berm that maintains control infiltration by rising water outside of garden’s ecosystem.


While the lower Rio Grande Valley has experienced a population surge, the region is prone to significant flooding due to the flat terrain and rapidly expanding urbanization, which affects the natural environment through disturbing lands and replacing natural vegetation with impervious surfaces through roads and buildings, which ultimately affects water quality. With this in mind, The City of Mercedes and the university have collaborated on a proposal that essentially solves this flooding problem. The green infrastructure (GI) master plan to mitigate localized flooding in a high priority region within the city limits that can then be duplicated into other regions across the lower valley. The objectives of the project are to: 1) minimizing the environmental impact of the Rainwater, 2) avoid localized flooding. 3) stop the contamination of the water, and 4) integrate it to the construction projects through the development of natural drainages. The GI masterplan and practices were developed in the City of Mercedes where they had the most permeable pavements/sidewalk and bioretention/bioswales.

Urban forestry Course

The School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences (SEEMS) offers a course in collaboration with the Texas Forest Service to help engage students to learn about tree management and develop a plan in order to help maximize ecosystem services for trees on both campuses and local trees in the city of Edinburg. The course is helmed by Dr. Alexis Racelis and teaches students the basic fundamentals of sustaining trees as well as learning about the tools and programs to collect the necessary data needed for inventory records and improvement efforts.

tree nursery

The Rio Grande Valley heavily relies on Tamaulipan Thornscrub in order to helps stabilize carbon and climate across the region. However, there is a significant shortage of it as less 10% of thornscrub forestry remains in the entire U.S. In an effort to combat the scarcity across the region, the School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences (SEEMS) have committed to plant over 100,000 seedlings of tamaulipan thornscrub across the valley in order to help the local wildlife. Not only will this effort help grow more thornscrub across the region, (and the country) but will also open the door for further research and discovery to in order to help potentially identify more native species related to tamaulipan thornscrub.

Hub of Prosperity: Urban Farm

The Hub of Prosperity is a 5-acre research and education farm located at the Edinburg First United Methodist Church. Currently managed by the UTRGV Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement and the UTRGV Agroecology Program, the Hub aims to be a regional model of a local, sustainable food system that encourages civic engagement and develops scientific capacity around food and agriculture while improving food self-reliance for the University and the local area community. Purchasing from this farm will support the work and the financial sustainability of this effort. You can learn more at the Hub of Prosperity Urban Farm's website and connect with them through Instagram.

campus food security initiative

The UTRGV Campus Food Security Initiative (CFSI) is a unique and innovative model that provides experiential learning opportunities for students through on-campus employment, to promote food security, and foster healthy eating habits.  CFSI aims to address food insecurity by creating easy access to locally grown and sourced fresh produce and plant-powered food, while supporting local farmers. Guided by faculty and staff mentors, students participate in immersive experiences to learn about food sustainability. Such experiences include research on sustainable food practices, plant-based nutrition, planting and harvesting produce, food demonstrations. Additionally, the initiative provides student organization fundraising opportunities through farm-to-plate events.  For these events, students pick the produce from a farm, prepare meals using fresh vegetables and staple items from the food pantry, and sell lunch plates on campus via pay-what-you-can model. CFSI’s projects are vetted and supported by the UTRGV Sustainable Food Network, created in 2021 with campus stakeholders that address food insecurity, to bring campus resources together and promote sustainable food systems. Learn more at CFSI's websiteand connect with them throughInstagram. 

tracking solar arrays

In 2010, the then University of Texas – Pan American (now known as UTRGV) partnered with TXU energy and installed two solar array panels in the Edinburg campus for the purpose of improving solar power research. Since 2011, this tracking system has allowed students record and collect the necessary data to research the precise measurements of solar radiation through a photovoltaic (PV) system, in which then utilizes the solar panels to convert sunlight into energy. These arrays help students get the necessary access to practicing electrical engineering integration and installation as well as help develop further sustainability solutions on-campus. While they serve as a tremendous tool for research purposes, these arrays also help pave the way for clean energy across the Edinburg campus.

engineering roof solar arrays

Information coming soon...

greenhouse gas emissions inventory

The essential purpose of this initiative is to develop an energy management system that reduces the amount of electrical energy used within the campus grounds. This project helps collect data that estimates the amount of greenhouse gases produced by university students and personnel across both campuses. An established energy management plan is produced and calculates the amount of energy usage and how to conserve it without compromising or disrupting university operations. Through this data, an effort to educate students and faculty about energy management and sustainability is made in order to promote the importance of conserving energy across our campuses.

FY16-19 GHG Emissions (Baseline) Report FY20 GHG Emissions Report FY21 GHG Emissions Report

demand response feasible study

As electricity usage is at an all-time high in the state of Texas, it is critical to evaluate all options possible we as the Vaquero community can do as far as consuming energy around campus. The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley spends approximately $7 Million per year in energy consumption alone, however, if energy conservation efforts are thrown under the rug, it may lead to serious consequences that can interfere with the university’s operations, classes research and residents. For this reason, the Edinburg campus participates in a demand response event approximately every four months in order to avoid any potential blackouts and conserve as much energy as possible.

Ridley Floating Classroom

The Ridley Floating Classroom is a floating laboratory setup by the university to give students a greater understanding of the marine environment and the impact of climate changes. Students board the R/V Ridley for a 2 hour discovery cruise through the Laguna Madre and ship channels that border South Padre Island. The Ridley is a 57 foot marine vessel fully equipped for research and learning. The students will use plankton nets, trawls, water and sediment samplers, and test kits to gain an understanding in the research of marine biology, ecology, and human impacts on the marine environment. Onboard touch tanks and microscopes allow the students to closely observe and learn about adaptations and taxonomy in lessons led by the Floating Classroom’s educator-naturalists. In addition to the hands-on learning experience offered on the Ridley, sightings of bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, and brown pelicans are common in the Laguna Madre. The goal is to enhance the understanding of this unique marine environment and inspire stewardship of our coastal natural resources in students of all ages.

Do you have a project you would like to include on this list or would like to update the content?

If so, please feel free to contact our office at sustainability@utrgv.edu with the name of your project and a project description including who's working on the project, what is being conducted, and which of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals the project is contributing to. In addition, also send links to your website or social media accounts and 5 images. If your project is currently on the page and you would like to update the project description or the images, please feel free reach out as well.