Student Spotlight: Michael Dziennik

Some graduate students, especially those in more academic fields, never see their thesis projects advance beyond the theoretical stage.

For Michael Dziennik, however, what was born on paper quickly became a reality.

Working under the guidance of Prof. John Harrington, Dziennik designed a project to test plant species native to the Wisconsin prairie for their survivability in an urban, green-roof environment. Choosing species including the Gray Goldenrod, Western Sunflower, Rough Blazing Star and Prairie Smoke, Dziennik devised a plan that would place the plants in a 1,536-square-foot area on the third-floor green roof at the University Square building in downtown Madison.

“The hypothesis [was] that, based off the land that these plants naturally grow in, they all should survive and be good candidates for becoming green-roof species to choose from,” Dziennik said.

Then, last June, he put the plan into action.

“Luckily for me, we were able to get some funding and help from Agricol,” Dziennik said. “They gave us a reduced rate on all of the plants, which is what actually made the project more plausible – and actually go and be installed.

“With the help of other grad students and friends, we actually planted all the plants and actually got it in the ground and running. Normally, it’s a little plot [where] you would get to test a few plants, but I was able to get 1,024 plants planted up there.”

Dziennik said that, now halfway through the yearlong observation, a vast majority of the species are doing well. As for where the project could go from here? That looks promising, too.

“For me, I’m going to be the one who started the project and will pass the torch on to another student or even a person who, if they wanted it for a part-time career, could take it and further implement more plants … to create almost a seamless prairie up on the roof,” Dziennik said.

The project has been a rewarding experience for Dziennik, who said he has enjoyed it even more than he expected to at the outset.

“The one thing that has really surprised me is seeing the little change that can occur with just what I did,” Dziennik said. “When I was up there [the first time], the only insects I was seeing were hornets and grasshoppers. Today, after six months of it being up there, I’ve seen butterflies, honeybees, bumblebees, grasshoppers, dragonflies. I’ve already seen an increase in the insect populations. To me, it’s [evidence of] how little of a change can actually make a drastic output.”