The Stream

Continuing Middlebury’s tradition

Last Tuesday, the Trustees of Middlebury College announced the appointment of our new president, Dr. Laurie L. Patton, currently Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University.  Dr. Patton will take over as the college’s 17th president in our more than 200 year history.

Environmental initiatives — both academic and operational — have been at the core of Middlebury’s tradition for a long time, since at least the founding of our Environmental Studies Program in 1965, and our efforts here to innovate and diversify our environmental efforts have grown through the administrations of at least the past five presidents.  But the naming of a new president is always brings with it the potential for change, sometimes significant, in direction and emphasis, so I don’t think I am alone in saying that I was waiting for the trustees’ announcement with great anticipation.

It gives me great pleasure to say that, based on her comments in her inaugural address to the college community on Tuesday, Dr. Patton will continue Middlebury’s tradition of leadership and innovation in environmental curricula and operations.  Her speech emphasized three important pillars for the liberal arts in the 21st century: innovation, adaptation, and integration, all three of which have long been hallmarks of environmental program here.

However, she even went further and spoke about what she saw as the “seven virtues” of Middlebury College.  And Number Two among those virtues? Environmental stewardship, and in her justification for that, she spoke about the School of the Environment.  By name.  All of us who have been working to bring the SoE to life over the past few years, and everyone involved with the School leading up to and during its launch last summer, especially the students who made it so successful, couldn’t be happier.  It’s a testament to all of vision and hard work that has come before … and a signal that the best is yet to come.

Check out the video of her speech.  Her discussion about environmental stewardship comes at 7:14.  We look forward to welcoming her to campus … and to the School of the Environment … next summer.

Applications for 2015 now being accepted

It’s official!  Applications for the 2015 session of the Middlebury School of the Environment are now being accepted.

We have great plans in store for the coming summer, recreating the success of last summer with our intermediate/advanced undergraduate curriculum and building in an exciting new direction with an introductory undergraduate curriculum appropriate for college students with no previous environmental coursework.

Both tracks will involve two core courses that emphasize practical experience and interdisciplinary perspectives on environmental issues.  Both tracks include a choice of electives from a range of environmentally relevant disciplines.  And both tracks integrate the curriculum with leadership training and professional workshops.

More information about specific courses and faculty will be posted both on the official web site and here in The Stream in the coming weeks, so check back often to get the latest news.

Spread the word and check it out! And apply now!

Forms of Environmental Resistance

What is the “environmentalism of the poor”? This summer, students in my course “Environmentalism and the Poor” worked toward developing a set of answers to this question. We have written a short document, “Forms of Working-Class / Peasant Environmental Resistance,” which you can download here. We hope that scholars and activists will find this document thought-provoking. We welcome any and all readers’ feedback.

Also, you can download the syllabus for “Environmentalism and the Poor” here.

Sustainability Practicum reflection #3

We have progressed in this course from discussing sustainability in broad conceptual terms to working on specific planning skills — such as systems mapping, human-centered design, scenario planning, and team work — and from there to actually applying those skills to address a specific question: How should an entity like Middlebury College improve its sustainability by addressing its key vulnerabilities to climate change in the next 20 years.

Reflect briefly on your experiences and performance — both positive and negative — with the actual application of these skills to achieve your goal.  This reflection is not about reporting your results, since that will come in your final presentation and report.  Rather, it is a reflection on the quality of your work and engagement throughout this the process.

Provide your answer as a comment to this post. Remember – your comments are public.

Getting your message out

Today’s blog post comes from Eliot Neal, one of the students in this summer’s program.

Week 1 269“The School for the Environment was honored to have Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and popular environmentalist, join us on Tuesday evening for a workshop on writing op-ed pieces. McKibben is something of a media wizard, and can often be seen on television or gracing the pages of well-known newspapers and magazines. Needless to say, he knows how to get his message across. One of his best tools is the op-ed piece. His talk outlined some of the basic guidelines for writing an op-ed piece, and revealed what helps to make an op-ed successful and widely read. Critiquing examples of op-eds that both he and others had written, McKibben taught us how to avoid some of the common pitfalls that plague op-ed pieces. We will be working with McKibben later in the program when we write our own op-eds in our elective classes.

“One of the major focuses here at the School for the Environment is the power of communication. It is not enough to simply measure, say, levels of pollutants in Lake Champlain. You must then be able to translate that hard data into language that everyone can understand. Additionally, if you wish to enact any change, you must be able to get the attention of people who can make that change happen. As we learned from McKibben, one of the most effective ways to do this is to write an op-ed. By acquiring the necessary skills to communicate information and ideas, we will be much more prepared to tackle the environmental issues that we have explored in the SoE.

Week 1 274

The Problem

This poem seems to resonate with the students in the School, capturing a bit of the challenge we all face, whether dealing with issues large or small.  Reference to it has come up a number of times since we read it, exemplifying how poetry helps provide language for grappling with life.

The Problem

By Taylor Mali

The guy in front of me trying to get into the subway
who is blocking my way into the subway
is not the problem.
He’s my problem,
but even I am not so self-centered as to think that my problem
is THE problem.
Besides, he’s trying to do what I’m trying to do:
get on the subway.
I recognize him as my brother in transit.
No, he’s not the problem.
Nor is the woman in front of him,
nor even the people in front of her.
None of us is the problem,
we few, we happy happy few,
we band of transit brothers.

But there’s a guy inside the subway
with nothing but empty space to his left.
You know who he is? He’s the problem.
I wish he would look at me and say
“What’s your problem?” so I could say
“Don’t you mean, who?”
All he would need to do is step aside
and we could all get on.
But does he realize this? Noooo.
Does he know he’s the problem? Noooo.
Do problems ever realize that they’re the problems?
That’s why they’re problems.

Which makes me think,
am I anybody’s problem?
Am I keeping anyone from getting somewhere?
Not out of calculatedly malicious intent
but unwittingly lazy complacency.
If I knew where to look, would I see someone pointing at me
angrily trying to get me to do something
that might not occur to me otherwise?

New life resolution:
try to be aware of the problem.
If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably you.
So step aside.

Out and about on Lake Champlain

One of the dominant narratives of the Lake Champlain basin is the story told by the geology and hydrology of the lake.  This story is one that unfolded over a billion years of continental collision and crustal faulting, but especially over the last 15,000 years as the last glacial ice sheet retreated from the Vermont landscape.  Following the retreat of the glacier — as well as a sequence of freshwater then sea water then freshwater again transitions in the valley, the lake now known as Lake Champlain was formed.

DSCF6314And what a lake it is!  The sixth largest lake in the U.S. in terms of surface area (after only the officially-designated Great Lakes), Lake Champlain offers a complex story of water flow, sediment development, and ecological history, none of which have been completely unraveled.

In addition, the lake has a relationship with the cultural narratives of this region, not the least of which is that the lake receives run-off from several rivers and streams that flow through settled portions of Vermont, New York, and Quebec, carrying into the lake a diverse mix of elements, molecules, and microbes that derive from human action — such as phosphates and nitrites from fertilizers, mercury from fossil fuel combustion, and E. coli from sewage — that potentially have harmful effects on heath and ecosystem function.

DSCF6322How we come to understand this mix, which society is apt to call “pollution,” requires consideration of factors, including sources, transport, quantity, effects, and standards.  And we are just beginning to unpackage these through various means, including direct sampling of water and sediment in Lake Champlain aboard the R/V Folger, Middlebury College’s research vessel.

Yes, data on currents and phosphorus (in particular, unfiltered total reactive phosphorus), were collected.  Consideration of the story these data tell will take place in class throughout the semester.  But on this one particular afternoon, fun was had by all!

DSCF6330

Sustainability Practicum reflection #2

We have progressed in this course from discussing sustainability in broad conceptual terms to working on specific planning skills, such as systems mapping, human-centered design, and scenario planning. Reflect – using at least one specific example from the readings, your experience, or general knowledge – on your views of how such planning skills can contribute – or not – to developing practical strategies to promote sustainability.

Provide your answer as a comment to this post. Remember – your comments are public.

Kenny Williams — GreenThumb Program

Kenny Williams 2Last week, Kenny Williams, of the GreenThumb Program in New York City, came and talked to students about his experiences as a someone working to make a difference promoting the development of community gardens.  Kenny brought an important perspective to our exploration of what it takes to be an effective leader.  He is a recent college graduate (Class of 2012), yet despite that, he has tried a lot and learned a lot about what it takes to design, implement, and manage a project meant to make the world (or, at least, a part of it) a better place.

Kenny WilliamsKenny currently works as an Outreach Coordinator for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation GreenThumb Program. GreenThumb supports community efforts to create and maintain over 500 community gardens throughout the city. He joined GreenThumb shortly after graduating from Middlebury College in the spring of 2012. During his undergraduate career he and a group of fellow alumni created a school garden summer program at the Bronx Academy of Letters Charter School. The experience directed him towards further exploring the city’s approaches to gardening, particularly regarding conservation and community engagement.

One of our students, Joseph Interligi, summarized their conversation like this: ” Kenny Williams lecture fell right in line with our course curriculum by expressing how the lessons we are learning now in regards to the environment and implementing change are employed in the working world. Knowing the knowledge is important but you have to be willing to put that knowledge to work. The “sweat equity” you must dedicate into a project or idea, as Mr. Williams most eloquently stated, is one of the most important aspects of executing change. You cannot just talk the talk you must be willing to walk the walk as well.”

Word.

Sustainability Practicum reflection #1

Sherman (2008) makes the argument that the concept of sustainability complements areas of inquiry within numerous disciplines. Reflect on your views on how sustainability, as characterized by the elements we listed in class, is relevant across multiple disciplines at your college or university.

Provide your answer as a comment to this post. Remember – your comments are public.

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