I’m writing to you from Copenhagen, where I’m attending the PhD defense of one of my graduate students. But while here, I got to have a chat with Abby Adams, an ENVS senior, who’s here doing a semester abroad and studying at DIS, which was great fun. Abby and I talked about life in Denmark, her program, how it’s different from the US, and all of our favorite hangouts in Copenhagen. She also told me that there are several other UVM students in the program here in Copenhagen. If you’re thinking about a study abroad program, I can highly recommend the program herein Copenhagen.
Along those lines, I also just heard from Anywn Darrow, who used an Ian Worley Award to lead workshops on agro-tourism and community gardening, among many other topics, for students at a small high school in the mountains of Honduras. I’m constantly impressed by the international footprint our students have.
But our students are also having impacts locally. One example, out of many dozens, is Lucas Lundell. Lucas, along with being a senior in ENVS, is also running a cold brew coffee company in Barre and is working with other industries to ensure he’s running an economically and ecologically sustainable small business.
In completely different news, here’s something kind of cool. You might be aware ofThe Princeton Review. The Princeton Review ranks universities and colleges in many different ways, including how ‘green’ the school is. Well, our beloved UVM rankedfourth. Forbes.com also recently reported on these rankings, and featured the Rubenstein School.
OK. I’m off to go celebrate with my (now former) PhD student, Chelsea, and friends.
Enjoy the weekend –
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.
If you would like to work with Nate
Please email him a summary of your research experience and research goals, along with a CV.