When the Environmental Program started back in 1972, there were only a handful of students and a handful of faculty. Now, we have almost 500 students in the program. It takes a lot of time, energy, work, compassion, and know-how to help ensure that all of those students get a first-rate experience in our Environmental Program at UVM and afterwards. The person who spends the most time, is the most compassionate, and knows the most about navigating the undergraduate curriculum is Ibit Wright. If you’ve passed through our program in the past 20-odd years, or 20-odd days, Ibit has likely had a hand in helping you navigate ENVS or solved some registration or transfer crisis for you or helped you get the best possible education at UVM. She’s now teaching our APW course on top of all the other stuff she’s doing. And she does so much more, as many of you know. I know I don’t say it enough, but thanks, Ibit, for all that you’re doing for our program and our students. And if you’re a current student or an alum, and Ibit helped you out at some point, send her a quick note to say thanks.
While it is a challenge to manage the almost 500 students in ENVS, it’s almost equally as challenging to manage the 20 or so faculty who teach in ENVS. Some parts of the faculty stereotype are true. For instance, some faculty don’t know what form to fill out for what purpose, or when the forms are due or where they go (that’s the case with me). Some faculty don’t know how to operate the phone in their office (me again…) or the copy machine or the coffee machine (yours truly). I could go on and on. But the person who does know how to do all of that stuff and so much more is the first face you see when you walk in the Bittersweet – Cathy Trivieres. Not only does Cathy support the faculty, she also helps out our students all the time. And she’s been incredibly important in welcoming visitors and new employees to ENVS. She does so much (including occasionally playing with a puppy) to support so many of us. Cathy – thanks.
Cathy and Ibit are vitally important members of our Environmental Program. They both do a ton of work behind the scenes and often don’t get the credit they deserve. But I wanted to make sure you all knew, and they know, how much I appreciate all that they’re doing.
Enjoy the weekend –
When I wear my ecologist hat, I think a lot about space. Some organisms, like the ants I study, often compete for space. Biodiversity varies spatially, and depends on spatial scale. Different warblers often divide up space on trees so as to promote coexistence. Trust me, I spend a lot of time thinking about space, in the ecological sense.
When I wear my Director of the Environmental Program hat, I also think about space, but in a different way. Lately, I’ve been thinking about space in The Bittersweet. In many ways, the Bittersweet is the heart of our cross-campus program. Our students come from three colleges, our core faculty are housed in several different buildings, and our part-time faculty come from many different parts of the state. Nevertheless, all of us are tied to The Bittersweet. If it’s not the heart of the program, it’s at least the hub of our Environmental Program. Many of current students pass through, especially at the start of and near the end of each semester. Some of you come by for meetings with Ibit. Others pass through to drop off paperwork, to attend Peer Mentoring sessions, or to meet the faculty whose offices are in The Bittersweet.
But I want all of our current students (and alumni, for that matter) to know that The Bittersweet is a safe space. If any of you ever feel marginalized for any reason, alone, uncomfortable, or unwelcome, know that The Bittersweet is a safe space for you.
A colleague here shared the “safe space” statement from her son’s school. I’ll paraphrase it here:
We believe that we all do our best when we feel physically, emotionally, intellectually, and artistically safe. Along with you, we are creating and maintaining such a safe space in The Bittersweet.
While I think that the Bittersweet is the hub for The Environmental Program, it’s not quite the hub for our community, and I want it to be. Even when I interviewed here more than a year ago, I heard from students that they felt like our Program is getting so big, that the feeling of community is dissolving. Toward remedying that problem, we are re-organizing space in The Bittersweet to make it more welcoming for students and faculty to interact and engage with one another. For instance, if you walk in the door and go up the stairs to the left (where my office is, by the way), we’ve converted that landing into a thinkspace. We’re installing a white board, desks, and some beautiful neon green chairs for informal meetings. Students and faculty – you can use this space. Please do!
We are also converting Stephanie Kaza’s office on the 2nd floor of The Bittersweet into The Stefanie Kaza Collaboration Room (aka, the Kazatorium). Right now, that space has only a whiteboard and newly painted walls (Thanks, Rick and team!). I’m currently assembling a team of students to help design that room. I envision it having a couple of round tables, some moveable chairs, and some comfortable reading chairs or a couch. But it’s up to the students really. Again – this room is for students to collaborate with one another and with ENVS faculty. If you have any ideas for the space, please shoot me an email. When it’s done, hopefully in a few weeks, it’ll be open for use.
That’s it for now. Enjoy the weekend.
This week marks the end of summer and the beginning of the new academic year. I am always filled with hope at the start of the year. There are new students on campus, many of whom have left home for the first time and are embarking on their own journeys in life. New faculty have arrived on campus to inspire and enrich all of us (shout out to Karen Nordstrom, who is joining The Environmental Program on a more permanent basis… more on how excited we are about her in a later email). And new courses and programs and collaborations are always on the horizon in a new academic year.
I think part of my enthusiasm for the start of an academic year is that I’ve usually just come off of rejuvenating summer of writing, reading, research and family time. That’s true for this summer as well, although I was in Tucson for the 2nd hottest day ever recorded there, and thousands of biting flies challenged my sanity while I was doing fieldwork in the Colorado Rockies. But this summer also challenged me in other ways, as I’m sure it did many of you.
In a typical summer, my family and I go to the Rockies and basically unplug from the happenings of the world. This summer, it was certainly hard to ignore the rest of the world. I won’t recount all of the devastating news from the summer that rattled many of us. But, despite what’s happening all around us, to many friends, colleagues, brothers, sisters, and other loved ones, to families just trying to hang on, to migrants and refugees who are seeking a better life, to those from minority groups who have fought for some sliver of equality for hundreds of years, to the brave Texans and Louisianans and thousands of people in Mumbai and to so many others in all corners of the world, I remain hopeful. Despite the horrible disasters, both political and natural, I remain hopeful.
When our President said that the US was pulling out of the Paris Accords, many states (including Vermont) and local governments immediately responded and began aggressive negotiations and plans to meet the targets of the Paris Accords. Other countries strengthened their commitments. Local leaders can inspire hope. After the troubling events in Charlottesville, many universities around the country, including our own, re-affirmed commitments to being champions of diversity and free speech. Universities can inspire hope. When the water continued to rise in Houston, neighbors began helping one another. Strangers rescued those in need. People from all over the South rushed to Texas to help where they could, and many are still there. People looking out for people inspires hope. And seeing so many new faces on campus and hearing your brilliant ideas and experiencing your passion inspires hope. Our amazing students inspire hope.
There are devastating and terrible things happening in the world today, many of which are out of our control. But there are things that we can and will solve. And I remain hopeful. When I was an undergrad, I read an essay by Stephen Jay Gould in which he talked about 10,000 acts of kindness. Basically, he pointed out that we tend to focus the most terrible acts around us. But in any given day, there are thousands of wonderful, positive interactions among people. There are countless heroes who go unsung. But they’re there. They persist. And so will we. And that makes me hopeful.
We’re near the end of the year, so there’s a lot going on, so I’m going to cover a lot of short snippets today.
Happy Friday –
One of the amazing (but slightly depressing) things about being a faculty member is that most of our students are 18-22 years old, year after year, but we get one year older every year. When I first started teaching in 2001, I was only a few years older than the seniors in my classes. Now, I’m almost a few decades older than a typical freshman in next year’s incoming freshman class. How did that happen? While it’s wonderful to have new students coming in the door all the time, it’s also bittersweet when they leave. In fact, to me, that’s the worst part of our jobs as faculty: we generally stay in the same place, but our students graduate and go on to live the rest of their lives. Obviously, we celebrate their successes and want them to fledge the nest. But it’s still sad to see them go.
It’s also bittersweet when faculty leave. As some of you know, Kit Anderson is retiring at the end of this year. Kit has been a mainstay in our Environmental Program for a couple of decades, and you can see her handiwork in many of the things we do in the Program. Though I’ve been here only a semester, Kit has profoundly influenced me and how I think about our Environmental Program and where it’s headed. Kit is the embodiment of many of the core principles and values we share. She has maintained high standards in her courses and with her students while simultaneously maintaining a wonderful sense of humor and balance. Her commitment to her courses comes across any time I hear from her students. And her scholarship is fundamentally interdisciplinary. Kit has influenced all of the faculty in our Environmental Program, probably more than she realizes. And she has influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of students who have passed through her classes or who have been lucky enough to sit down with her in her office.
So, Kit, we will all miss you. Thank you for everything. You know where to find us, and you know there will always be a piece of chocolate waiting for you when you come by The Bittersweet.
I’ll see many of you next week at the Senior Celebration on Tuesday night (RSVP if you haven’t already!), at the Arts & Sciences Awards ceremony on Friday, at the reception in The Bittersweet on Saturday, or at graduation on Sunday!
Happy (but slightly bittersweet) Friday –
There is always so much going on this time of year. Our current students are preparing for finals (and maybe their final finals, if they’re graduating). Others are defending theses. Some might be gearing up for a summer in the mountains (like me) or for a summer interning, hiking the AT, summer schooling, or working.
The other thing that happens this time of year are the celebrations. In the Environmental Program, we do an amazing job of celebrating our successes and our students. Last week, I got to have dinner with several students who’ve received scholarships and the wonderful individuals who have contributed funds for those scholarships. I was lucky enough to share a table with the generous and warm Forciers, Gail Fendley, and Diane Gardner Quinn, as well as some of our very best and brightest ENVS students.
Last night, I had dinner with many current and former recipients of the Ian Worley Award, as well as Ian Worley and Gary Simpson. We talked about everything under the sun, from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium to what life was like at UVM in 1970. It was a special night, for sure. I got to see Ian teach and inspire students in ways that only he can. At the same time, the students were equally inspiring, whether they were talking about sustainable agriculture in Honduras, water quality, sunsets and human well-being, or the Rio Olympics.
Both of these celebrations highlighted for me one of the most amazing things about our Environmental Program – our sense of community and connections, across disciplines, across colleges or schools, and across generations. I’ve been here for only a few months, but I know that I’ve made friendships that will last forever, and I’ve met students who I know are going to move mountains. I’ve met alumni who have already moved mountains.
Developing and maintaining connections are easy when a program or group is small. But we’re big, and growing! We have more than 400 majors on campus right now, and it looks like there’ll be about 100 first-year ENVS students arriving to UVM this fall (which is the largest incoming cohort in at least several years). Plus, there are more than 3000 ENVS alumni scattered around the planet.
How can we do a better job of facilitating community among the 100 incoming students? What about the 3000+ alumni, our current students, and the faculty and staff in ENVS? We talked about it last night over dinner and came up with several possibilities that we’ll be pursuing this summer and fall, so stay tuned. But I’d love to hear any ideas that you all might have, whether you’re a first-year student or someone who was last at UVM in 1972. Just shoot me an email, stop me in town, or swing by the Bittersweet for a chat.
In the meantime, enjoy the end of the semester and the beginning of spring/summer.
Happy Friday –
I’ve spent the past week or so watching red-winged blackbirds, mallards, painted turtles, green frogs, bullfrogs, water striders, water beetles, and much much more come to life at a small pond on our property in Williston. My kids and their friends from the neighborhood spent much of last Saturday and Sunday in little paddle boats floating about in the pond catching leeches. I spent Thursday morning on our deck, switching between writing a paper and looking through my binoculars at the painted turtles and green frogs. Aimee and I are enjoying the pond more than we thought we would. And I bet it’s true for our kids as well. It’s certainly true that I had no idea my kids would get pleasure out of catching leeches.
The pond on our property does more than just entertain us and provide my kids with leeches. It harbors biodiversity, obviously. But it provides an important service for our neighborhood as a storm water catchment. As you probably know, some of the faculty in our Environmental Program and the Gund Institute for Environment are world leaders in this area of scholarship – on the benefits provided by nature.
Rachelle Gould is a rising star in this area of scholarship (if she’s not already a star). Just last week, she had a novel paper published in the journal Ecosystem Services that I would encourage all of you to read. The paper points out that while “Ecosystem Services” attract lots of attention, the Cultural Ecosystem Services that nature provides have largely been ignored. Her paper proposes three new “Cultural Ecosystem Services,” based on empirical data from Hawaii. Those three services are:
Ingenuity: ecosystems aid in developing innovative ideas, approaches, or practices
Life teaching: an ecosystem’s provision of opportunities for learning life lessons and personal values
Perspective: ecosystems’ helping people to gain perspective on their place in the world, to see where they fit, or to "put things back in perspective"
The paper concludes “The benefits of creativity, perspective, and life learning arose repeatedly in our open-ended questioning and find nuanced support from a long history of scholarly work. We hope that naming them will encourage innovation in how to characterize and subsequently incorporate them into studies and practitioner efforts. The ultimate goal of ES work is to allow decision-making based on more complete information; we argue that, when the three new bodies of meaning we suggest are included, the information provided will be just a little more complete.” I absolutely agree.
On a completely unrelated note, I’m really enjoying the Senior Thesis and Honors Thesis presentations I’ve been to so far, and I’m really looking forward to upcoming ones. I’m trying to get to as many of them as I can.
Happy Friday. I’ll be sure to let you know how many leeches my sons catch this weekend.
Hi all –
One of the (few) downsides of my being the new kid on the block is that I don’t yet know a lot of students in our Environmental Program. However, good news about current and past ENVS students makes its way to me, from all over campus (and the country, actually). Today I wanted to share a couple stories with you about our current students. A couple of weeks ago, I think I shared with you the importance of talking with those outside your bubble. These are two stories of speaking up when the time is right.
The first story is about Julie Macuga. Julie speaks for the warblers. (You’ll have to read her commentary published hereto know what that means.) But just briefly, Julie and many others have opposed the development of the Vermont Gas Pipeline. Trish O’Kane inspired Julie to become a shareholder in the Quebec-based company that is overseeing the development of the pipeline just so she could go to the shareholder’s meeting and speak up about both the environmental and economic downsides of the proposed project to the other shareholders, the CEO, and interested parties. In a word, this is bravery. When I was in college, about the bravest thing I did was knock on doors in Denver and Ft Collins for the Sierra Club. I did stupid things on skis and mountain bikes that I called being brave. But what Julie did in Montreal was true bravery. And it’s also inspiring.
The second story is about Kaitlyn Morris’s ENVS002 class that made the trek over to Montpellier for the annual VPIRG Lobby Day. I’m sure that many of our students went to engage with our representatives in state government. But I loved that students in our ENVS002 classes are already engaging in important activism. Here are just a few quotes from a few of the inspiring students who went:
“Wow! Such a powerful experience to be surrounded by a group of young committed activists. It reminded me that our generation has the power and responsibility to make a change.” -Isabel Lisle
“I regained a sense of hope after observing how dedicated the younger generations are about making a positive difference in the world.” -Annie Brown
“When individuals on the ground choose to come together and express their values, it can have a great influence on decisions and policy of those higher up. -Zachary Guillian
“The experience I had at the Youth Lobby Day in Montpelier was not only educational, but inspiring as well… What I took away fro Youth Lobby Day is that knowledge and awareness are powerful tools to use in order to make change, so now going forward, I am excited to put these tools to good use!” -Victoria Nash
It’s often said that the future belongs to today’s youth (a refrain oft repeated during graduation ceremonies). But what I think our students demonstrate is that it’s not just the future that belongs to today’s youth. It’s today. Our students are effecting change all over the world. Keep it up. And keep in touch.
Happy Friday –
All - something slightly different today. The below is a letter cowritten by myself and colleagues here at UVM.
Best wishes -
Science is essential. Evidence is helpful. Facts don’t have alternatives.
We are writing to encourage you to participate in the March for Science on April 22, either in Washington DC or here in Burlington.
This is not about political parties, climate change, or funding. It’s more fundamental than that.
Science underpins our economy and our lives: more people have better medicine, technology, nutrition, renewable energy, and safety because of science. Evidence improves policy: big decisions need to account for what we know as well as what we believe. Science is discovery: the stuff we learn is breathtaking and inspiring, and we need to engage more people in that inspiration.
Others have laid out their own reasons, and we encourage you to look at the March principles, statements by AAAS, AGU, ESA, and more than100 other organizations. Also, read this powerfuleditorial by a leading scientist about his family. And a nice blog post on inclusion and access.
Here is what we hope you will do:
1. Go to the march website and register now to go to the Burlington or DC marches. Adding your name now helps.
2. Bring at least 2 non-scientists with you. This is important. This is a march for science, not for scientists.
3. Use this timely event to discuss the issues in your classes and with your peers.
4. Get together with your friends and colleagues to discuss links above, your own message, make signs, etc.
5. If you agree with this message, share it by email or with this link: http://bit.ly/2ofxIS5
This isn’t the world’s only issue these days, or the only concerning thing about our current leaders. But science is essential to continued progress in this country and the world, and it’s relevant to the mission of all centers of education and research. We hope you’ll add your voice.
Robert Bartlett – Professor, UVM
Breck Bowden – Professor, UVM
Alison Brody – Professor, UVM
Chris Danforth – Professor, UVM
Stuart Hart – Professor, UVM
Jane Knodell – Professor, UVM
Chris Koliba – Professor, UVM
Jane Kolodinsky – Professor, UVM
Beth Mintz – Professor, UVM
Taylor Ricketts – Professor, UVM
Donna Rizzo – Professor, UVM
Nathan Sanders – Professor, UVM
Stephanie Seguino – Professor, UVM
The comments or opinions here expressed are our own and should not be taken as a statement, opinion, position or endorsement by the University of Vermont.
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