The Environmental University

The study of environment at UVM has long been a collaborative, comprehensive, and campus-wide endeavor.  Cross-college degree programs in environmental studies and environmental sciences have decades of experience in bridging broad student interests. Transdisciplinary hubs in ecological economics, transportation, food systems, and climate change have distinguished UVM among our peers.  Campus sustainability initiatives ranging from learning coops and leadership training, to green buildings and clean energy investment, place UVM in the top 10% of universities in the national Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.   And state and federal partnerships on sustainable agriculture, fish and wildlife, environmental monitoring, and watershed management represent the very essence of our university’s land grant mission and our state’s environmental heritage.

Collaborative, comprehensive, and campus-wide.  These are the cornerstones from which to build an environmental university.  An environmental university actively pursuing climate neutrality, a comprehensive goal set for 2025. One with new collaborative degree programs in sustainable entrepreneurship and environmental public health, areas of research and professional training that the world desperately needs.  An academic leader poised to establish proficiency in sustainability as a condition of graduating from college.

These ongoing initiatives and a full course of next steps were laid out in last year’s report on Envisioning Environment at UVM.  The study group called for “a comprehensive advising ‘map’ for prospective and current students,” which has formed the basis of a new “study environment @ UVM” web portal under development.  They called for better coordination among environmental majors, a charge to a new campus-wide committee that is exploring curricular synergies and enhancements such as gateway courses shared between majors and annual ‘grand challenges’ to encourage interdisciplinary teaching.  The study also proposed an Institute for Environment to elevate environmental scholarship and graduate education, the early stages of which are under development in a proposal due to the Provost this fall.

UVM is making great strides to be the environmental university, but with new leadership in place there’s a feeling we’re just getting warmed up. Our President brings rich experience in establishing an Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota; new Deans in the School of Business Administration and College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences are international leaders in environmental entrepreneurship and engineering; and now the icing on the cake is our new Dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.  Dr. Nancy Mathews joins us this July from the University of Wisconsin where she is director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service and professor of environmental studies at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.  She brings to UVM a wealth of experience in leading institution-wide change and a track record of impeccable scholarship, visionary collaboration, inspirational public service, and a commitment to high-impact learning second to none.

The stars are aligned.  Our ducks are in a row.  We’re pushing the envelope.  Whatever your metaphor, it’s clear that the environmental university has arrived.  However, to be the environmental university is a never-ending journey.  It’s been a privilege to lead the School and take part in these larger conversations over the past two years. I look forward to working with our new Dean, talented faculty, dedicated staff, passionate partners, and incredible students to push our School, University, and State to even greater heights.

Jon D. Erickson
Interim Dean
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources

Published by Jon Erickson

Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science & Policy University of Vermont

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