Journalism Department Engages Students in Community Project and Finds Smallest User
By David Arant
The Cooper-Young community was awarded a sculpture designed by U of M art graduate
student Colin Kidder for winning the “Smallest User” contest that was initiated by
the U of M’s Department of Journalism. The nearly 6-foot, tubular sculpture has a
coating of special paint that absorbs sunlight by day and glows at night.
The Cooper-Young area of Memphis is the “Smallest User” in an energy-conversation
contest that pitted two Midtown neighborhoods — Cooper-Young and Evergreen — against
Cooper Young’s average household energy use was down almost $20 in 2010, whereas energy
use increased by almost $1.50 in the Evergreen neighborhood when compared to household
energy use in 2008.
When the Department of Journalism set out to find the “Smallest User” in a neighborhood-based
energy-efficiency competition, it partnered with Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW),
the Cooper Young Development Corporation and the Evergreen Historic District Association.
The goal was to determine which neighborhood could achieve the greatest reduction
in energy use during a 12-month period beginning January 1, 2010.
Journalism students in professor Rick Fischer’s public relations research class surveyed
the neighborhood prior to the competition to establish a baseline of energy conservation
attitudes and behaviors. Students in professor Beena White’s public relations campaigns
class together with graduate assistant Ashley Akin designed and implemented Smallest
Among them was an art competition to create a conservation-themed art project. Recent
MFA graduate Colin Kidder won the competition and used his award to build a sculpture
featuring solar-powered lighting.
Residents participating in the contest received green Smallest User t-shirts, tote
bags and window clings. Some Smallest User participants received MLGW conservation
kits, and 20 residents were among the first city residents to receive meters in MLGW’s
Smart Grid. Residents received monthly conservation messages in their neighborhood
newsletters, and the Smallest User Web site (www.smallestuser.com) kept residents
updated on the progress of the competition.
Debbie Sowell, Cooper Young Association building committee chair, says she used the
competition with Evergreen to motivate the neighborhood. “Evergreen has the bigger,
nicer homes compared to Cooper Young,” she said. “It’s been nice to be the underdog.
I’ve used that to our advantage, to get the residents geared up for a big victory.”
Funding for the project came from the Strengthening Communities Initiative, a collaboration
among the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, United Way of the Mid-South and
the University of Memphis. Strengthening Communities addresses persistent neighborhood
problems such as safety, housing, health, transportation, education and economic development.