Regardless of what the weather is like outside, it certainly feels like spring semester is barreling toward its finale. By my count, there are only five weeks left in the semester. Yikes! (And Yay!)
This is the time in the semester when we start to hear about our students who are receiving prizes and recognition. And indeed, some of our faculty are too. So let me share some good news with all of you.
Ian Worley (Professor and Director Emeritus) is set to receive the Sally Laughlin Award, which is given to a Vermonter who has shown extraordinary leadership throughout their career in protecting our state's most vulnerable species. The state's Endangered Species Committee voted unanimously to recommend him. I can't think of anyone who is more deserving.
Ali Wood (CAS ENGL/ENVS double major) and Julia Wood(CAS ECON major, ENVS minor) were recently elected to the prestigious honor society Phi Beta Kappa. If you're not aware of this society, this is a big deal.
Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest and most prestigious academic honor society in the United States. Founded in 1776 at the College of William & Mary, it recognizes outstanding performance in the liberal arts and sciences and derives its name from the Greek phrase Philosophia Biou Kybernetes: “Love of wisdom is the guide of life.” Approximately 10 percent of US colleges and universities shelter a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, and approximately 10 percent of students at those institutions are invited to join. Membership in Phi Beta Kappa is a rare honor, and academics and employers recognize it as a mark of intellectual breadth and exceptional academic performance.
The chapter sheltered at the University of Vermont—the Alpha of Vermont—was chartered in 1848, making it the eleventh chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. It has a rich history in its own right, being the first chapter in the nation to elect women and African Americans to membership, which it did in the 1870s. Since 1848, approximately 4,200 UVM students have been inducted.
--From the Phi Beta Kappa page at UVM
Sabrina Smith (CAS ENVS) is going to receive the "Outstanding Service-Learning Student Award." She was nominated by Brian Tokar for "her strong role in supporting a new SL course, including serving as point of contact for three community partners, supporting students in project management and tracking, developing critical reflection assignments and synthesizing themes in student reflective work, and supporting the instructor to more deeply understand student needs and student experience in service-learning."
And finally, though this isn't an award, it certainly is news worth sharing. On Thursday, March 29, 2018, 13 UVM students met with Governor Phil Scott for 30 minutes at the State House to urge him to sign pending gun control legislation and consider banning assault weapons. Students told personal stories of how gun violence has personally affected them since they were children. They also shared their research on gun control laws in other countries like Japan. Governor Scott discussed his concerns about mental health problems among schoolchildren, the impact of social media on bullying, and the proliferation of violence and anger in our society. He asked students for their advice. The meeting was organized by first-year environmental studies major Emma Radeka, who “just had to do something” after the Parkland, Florida school shooting. The 13 students are all enrolled in ENVS 195: Environmental Policy, Media Literacy and Activism taught by Trish O'Kane.
All - I generally like meeting new people. Two weeks ago, in Costa Rica, a met an older couple from Houston, Texas. He worked on oil platforms his whole life, and his wife was really into herbal medicines. They were an odd couple, in a lot of ways that I won't go into here. But when I met them at a smoothie bar, we became fast friends. We chatted for a while, and when they found out I was an ecologist, they mentioned that they had hired a guide to take them on a night walk near Manuel Antonio National Park. I jumped at the opportunity to tag along with them, and I'm glad I did. I saw a Fer-de-lance and my first coral snake among many many other cool things. I think if I'd have met that couple at, say, Nectar's, I'm not sure I would've struck up a conversation with them. But something about being in Costa Rica, and about our shared love of tropical biodiversity (and watermelon smoothies) brought the three of us together, and we had a grand time.
I'm always fascinated by how seemingly different people, with some common interest, connect with one another. At the University of Tennessee, people all over the state, regardless of politics, class, or whatever, loved the Tennessee Volunteer football team. 100,000 people would fill the stadium on Saturdays in the fall. Millions more would watch them on tv.
But this email isn't about Costa Rica or college football. It's about Our Environmental Program and how it unites people across campus. On Monday, Dean Bill Falls and Lise Larose organized a meeting with a bunch of faculty from Arts and Sciences, Brendan Fisher, and me to talk about the future of Environmental Studies at UVM. It was an amazing meeting. There were faculty from Economics, Physics, Biology, Classics, and Political Science, just to name a few departments. But we were all there, united by our common interest in Our Environmental Program. I'm prone to hyperbole, but this was one of the most invigorating meetings I've been to at the University of Vermont. There were a million ideas floated around about ways to enhance and diversify the curriculum, to enrich the experiences of our students, to facilitate research and scholarship among faculty and students, and so much more. I hope there are more meetings like this on the horizon (I can't believe I'm hoping for more meetings, but if they're like this one, I do want more of them).
So, thanks Bill and Lise for organizing. And thanks to the CAS faculty who came and are excited about engaging more with the students and faculty in Our Environmental Program. I think that there are exciting days ahead.
Happy Friday -
When I remember my time in college, I was pretty disengaged with the rest of the world. If I wasn't studying or working, I was probably, at best, hiking or fishing, or at worst, wasting my time with friends or just wandering around bookstores in Boulder.
But I'm blown away by how engaged students in our Environmental Program are. I met a student this week who is driving to Alaska to campaign against a potential dam building project this summer. I learned about Amanda Morelli ('17) who now works at Clark University in the Multicultural and First-Generation Student Support Office. Spending her junior year in Guatemala and her interactions with the Mosaic Center for Students of Color at UVM "confirmed that [she] was on the right track and that racial justice, youth development, and immigrant/refugee related services" was what she was most passionate about.
Several students in Trish O'Kane's class published Op-Eds in the past week or so. Zoe Spett has a piece in the Burlington Free Press on F-35's. Amanda Duffy has an op-ed on school safety. Jillian Scannel has an essay on engaging in democracy. And Trish just shared this with me:
A student in this same class--a freshman--just informed me last week that she has arranged a meeting with our governor on March 29 to talk about gun control. She'll be taking 20 students from the class. These young people are blowing me away. Something is happening here...something very, very good. Just had to share this. It is so thrilling to see their voices in major media.
I'm sure there are other examples of our students engaging with the world in important ways. But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how proud I am of our students (and others) who have been so involved in fighting for racial and social justice, diversity, and inclusion on campus over the past several weeks, and longer. The fight isn't over, by any means.
This will sound corny, but I'm going to say it anyways. When I feel myself starting to lose hope, that we'll never dig ourselves out of this hole we've dug for ourselves, I seek out stories about our students, the ones who are effecting change and fighting the right fights, for all of us. Whether it's the incredible students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, or our own students on campus, we should be proud that they are engaging, and we should do all we can to support them.
I really don't like to talk about myself, but I am going to for about two sentences as a launching off point for the rest of the story. I learned yesterday that I've been elected to be a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America for research that increases our "understanding about causes and consequences of biodiversity change … from local to global scales." Since the announcement, it's been great to receive congratulatory notes from so many friends, colleagues, and former students. But, many of the previous fellows are pretty old, so it makes me feel like I'm getting to be pretty old.
But I bet well over 90% of the research I've done has been in collaboration with students (including many undergraduates), postdocs, or collaborators around the world. I wanted to tell you about some of my amazing students and collaborators.
Some of you might have seen Case Prager and Xin Jing in Bittersweet. They're postdocs working mostly on how biodiversity effects the functioning of ecosystems. Kenna Rewcastle is a new PhD student in Rubenstein who works on nutrient cycling and climate change. All three are rising stars and are co-advised by Aimée Classen, who is also a close collaborator in ecology, but a closer collaborator in life (she and I are married, FYI).
Nick Gotelli in Biology here at UVM is one of the world's best (and most famous) ecologists, and he and I have worked together since about 1999 on literally dozens of scientific articles. He's a great friend and wonderful mentor, and a big part of the reason I'm at UVM.
Rob Dunn was my first postdoc. He's now a best-selling author, renaissance thinker, professor at North Carolina State University, and my closest collaborator. He is a blast to collaborate with and even more fun to play ping pong with.
I have learned so much from my former PhD students - Matt Fitzpatrick, Lara Souza, Greg Crutsinger, JP Lessard, Mariano Rodriguez-Cabal, Katie Stuble, Lacy Chick, Quentin Read, and Chelsea Chisholm. Each of them continues to make important scientific contributions, and each has become a life-long friend.
Former Masters students like Windy Bunn work for the National Park Services. Jarrod Blue is an environmental lawyer. Jaime Ratchford, Josefine Møller, and Emilie Elten are all working for state agencies.
And of the dozens of stellar undergrads I've worked with over the years, a handful stand out. Raina Fitzpatrick spent the last two summers with us in the Rockies. She's not only a family friend now, but a brilliant chemist. Johannah Reed studied hemiparasitic plants and is going to be a wildlife biologist. Kerri Crawford is now a professor of ecology at the University of Houston, and a rockstar. Raynelle Rino works on social justice issues in the Bay Area. I could list a dozen or so more, but will pause here.
The work I do now is largely collaborative, but only with collaborators that I enjoy as people. Life's too short to work with people whose company you don't enjoy. And any time I collaborate, I always make sure my collaborators (or students) are smarter than I am (which isn't that difficult), because I want to learn something from every collaboration. Indeed, one of my favorite aspects of this job is collaborating with smart fun people. So, for those of you thinking about what comes next in life consider doing what I did - find a way to surround yourself with smart, fun people who will teach you something and make you laugh frequently.
Happy (snowy) Friday -
If you would like to work with Nate
Please email him a summary of your research experience and research goals, along with a CV.