I’ve been Director of the Environmental Program for about 4 weeks now, and I’ve enjoyed meeting many of you (and hope eventually to meet most of you). It’s great to hear and see so much passion about and commitment to our Environmental Program. Of the many conversations I’ve had, one stands out among all the rest. Yesterday, I had the wonderful pleasure of chatting with Ian Worley. For those of you who don’t know him, or have only seen his name on the website, Ian is a worldly and interdisciplinary scholar, teacher, and all-around wonderful human. He was a long-serving Director of the Environmental Program, and he teaches Landscape Natural History every fall, a course I highly recommend.
I had penciled in 30 minutes between 12:00 and 12:30 for the meeting with Ian. But, about an hour and a half into our conversation, I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. We paused long enough for me to grab a hunk of bread, and then kept our wide-ranging and (for me at least) inspiring conversation going for another 30 minutes.
We talked about many things – the history of the Environmental Program, Ian’s first days teaching at UVM, WWII, Vancouver, Ohio, and the ups and downs of the Environmental Program. One theme kept emerging and re-emerging in our conversation – the interdisciplinary nature of the Environmental Studies Program and the ENVS major. No matter what is happening around the Environmental Program, at UVM, in Vermont, or in the Federal Government, that interdisciplinary nature is the common thread running through our program, what makes us unique, and what provides the opportunity for our students to grow and our scholarship to flourish.
Before my conversation with Ian, when I thought about interdisciplinary research, teaching, or scholarship, I envisioned something like a Venn Diagram, with one circle being something like “Ecology” and the other circle being something like “Policy.” And the area in which those circles overlapped, that’s where the interdisciplinary bit is. But Ian pointed out how I had it all wrong. Instead, he said, imagine two circles. Now imagine a tangent running from the top of one circle to the top of the other, and another tangent running from the bottom of one circle to the bottom of the other. That space defined by those two tangents is where the interdisciplinary magic happens, and that is the space we hope to provide for our students to be creative and to thrive. That’s the space where interesting and innovative scholarship happens. I’m sure many of you realized this long ago.
I spent only two hours with Ian and learned so much. I’m jealous of the many many students who have been lucky enough to spend entire semesters with him. Ian was instrumental in shaping our program, and he continues to influence where we are today, and where we are heading. Some of you know about the Ian Worley Award, which was initiated by Founding Donor and ENVS alum Gary Simpson. This award facilitates independent thinking and creativity and goes to students and faculty who are pursuing innovative, novel, and creative ideas in addressing environmental topics. I’m hearing occasional reports from the fall 2016 recipients and have been incredibly impressed. I can’t wait to hear more (and when I do, you will too).
All of that is to say that our Environmental Program has a long and storied history, and many people have led us to where we are today. Let’s certainly not forget where we’ve come from. Knowing where we’ve come from is going to help this interdisciplinary, university-wide program get to where we want to be in the future.
Happy Friday –