Who am I? And who do I want to be? Those are some of the fundamental questions that many undergraduates ask when they arrive on campus at the University of Vermont. Through interactions with friends, coursework, field trips, reading, thinking, experimenting, interning, and engaging, we hope many of our students find the answers to those fundamental questions by the time they graduate.
But who are we as an Environmental Program? And who do we want to be? That’s one of the questions I’m asking a lot of you when we meet at Henderson’s, go for walks, or sit around a table in Bittersweet. Our Mission Statement says we are "a university-wide academic unit…(that) serves as a catalyst for change through our teaching, scholarship, research, service, and outreach." At a recent ENVS retreat, I listened to nearly all of the faculty and staff describe the Environmental Program at UVM. The words I heard over and over were community, collegiality, and interdisciplinary (see the cool Wordle attached). As I’m sure many of you can attest, we are definitely a community of collegial and interdisciplinary scholars. That’s who we are. And that’s who we will always be.
But what do we want to be in addition to a community of interdisciplinary scholars and students? Do we aspire for more? I think the answer is obviously yes. At that same retreat I heard from from the faculty and staff about what they would like to see more of in the Environmental Program. One of the answers that came up again and again was a desire to see our scholarship and research recognized more, here at UVM, but also nationally and internationally. By “our” I think most faculty meant the incredible scholarship and research that many of our students do during their capstone courses, but I also think that many of the faculty would like our own scholarship to be recognized (and many of us would like more time to focus on our scholarship, but I’ll save that discussion for another day).
Toward that end, one of the things I would like to do with all of you on a regular basis is share the highlights of our students’ work and our own work. In the longer term, one of my main ambitions is to increase the quality and quantity of undergraduate research on environmental topics here at UVM. But today, I’ll provide just a couple of examples of recent work that I’ve had the time to read (or at least talk about!).
In the past couple of months, Brendan Fisher has had two papers come out in Nature Communications. One is about the economic benefits of elephant conservation in Africa and the other is the ecological and economic benefits of reforestation in China. Cecilia Danks has a really neat paper on the sociopolitical context of forest carbon projects in the Ukrainian Carpathians. Rachelle Gould has a thoughtful and thorough paper on people’s perceptions of and actions taken to protect the environment. Adrian Ivakhiv’s book Ecologies of the Moving Image has been well received, and he’s beginning work on another one. Ernesto Mendez has several papers examining family farms, farm management, and climate resilience.
I could go on and on and report on other new scholarship by our ENVS faculty (and I will in future emails to all of you, I promise). But I’ll stop here and simply say that the scholarship in this group is impressive and impressively diverse. That scholarship enhances our teaching and improves our students' experience in the classroom, in the field, and around the discussion table. I think the exciting work we’re all doing can also, as our mission statement proclaims, "serve as a catalyst for change" in how we think about, teach about, protect, attempt to understand, and enjoy the environment.
Keep up the great and inspiring work -
p.s. Feel free to share you good news with me at any time! I’d love to hear more about what you're doing here at UVM or after you’ve left UVM.