The Stream

Posts under ‘School of the Environment’

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!

Opening ceremony

This afternoon, under blue skies and bright sun, we held the official opening ceremony for the 1st Middlebury School of the Environment.  Honored guests includes Ron Liebowitz, President of Middlebury College, Michael Geisler, Vice-President of Graduate and Special Programs (of which the School of the Environment is a part), and Nan Jenks-Jay, Dean of Environmental Affairs and the person who made sure that the dream of bringing the School of the Environment to life did not die.

President Liebowitz addressing the studentsAnd, of course, the most honored participants of the ceremony, were the students.  These were my comments to them this afternoon:

You already understand that you are a select group, the founding students of the Middlebury School of the Environment. This is an initiative 19 years in the making, building upon this college’s 50 years of commitment and excellence in environmental education.

I envy you. I have been privileged a few times in my life to have participated in the beginning of an initiative, and I know how powerful it is – years and miles down the road – to be able to claim participation and shared ownership of a true beginning. For this, you will always be able to say that you were among those who were the first.

But what, exactly, are you the first of? That will be revealed to you over the next six weeks as you engage with what lies before you, intellectually, emotionally, and somatically.

You are being called up to let go of any expectation you might have of engagement through modes that have unfortunately become too common in higher education today: modes characterized by passivity, characterized by expectations of being led, like boats bobbing in the water, to wherever the current takes you. The world has had enough of that, and you have chosen to come here this summer to prepare yourselves not simply for a life of the mind but for a life of meaning, to prepare yourselves to help change the world.

We invite you to be co-creators of your experience, to join with us in looking under the hood, if you will, of this experience. Not to critique it as a consumer would, but as someone intent on honing her or his skills at building something new and leading an initiative that you intend will make a positive change.

More than any other educational experience you’ve ever had, we invite your full engagement in making the structure of your experience part of your education.

At the risk of seeming to be a parody of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, here at the beginning of your time with the School of the Environment, I would like you to reflect on four questions.

The first question is: Where do you come from? I know the answers that you all would give if you were asked that in a traditional setting: Lake Forest, IL; Shelburne Falls, MA; Kabul, Afghanistan; Basalt, CO; Potomac, MD; San Francisco, CA; Bedford, NH; Conway, AR; Glenside, PA; Heyward, WI; Wilson, WY; Vienna, VA. But consider what the narratives are of those places, both the cultural and ecological, that led them to be what they are today. Consider what makes them unique, consider what connects them to the broader world, and consider their interconnections with the more-than-just human world. So consider the question: Where do you come from?

The second question is: Where are you now? You know that you are at a place called the Organic Farm, which is part of a place called Middlebury College. But what are the narratives of this place, what kind of system is it a part of, and what does it represent. Fundamentally, why did we choose this place for the opening ceremony? It was not chosen at random, but rather deliberately because it is a visual manifestation of an environmental system that you need to better visualize and understand. It is one that involves food, energy, transportation, ecological diversity, material cycles, water, the built environment, and human engagement all interacting through time. So consider how you need to train your mind and all of your senses to recognize these things wherever you find yourself in the future.

The third question is: Why are you here? I know from your applications that you come to this School for many personal reasons: to both deepen and broaden your education, to prepare for new career directions, and to gain the leadership skills you will require you to not simply to move forward into the world with knowledge, but to do so with the skills and confidence to do something wonderful with that knowledge. But as you engage with your time here, I hope you will continue to ask the question of why you are here, to both broaden and deepen your answer as you encounter things you have never thought of before. However, I do not want to burden you with unreasonable expectations, especially of your path in life, and I encourage you to always hold close to your heart the words of the poet Mary Oliver:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

And the final question is: Who do you wish to speak for? Being an adult, being a citizen, involves coming into yourself as a speaker for others, an advocate for rights, responsibilities, and aspirations that transcend simply your own, but those that encompass others who do not have your opportunities and abilities. For whom do you wish to speak? Your family? Your religious community? Your country? The oppressed? The dispossessed? Endangered species and ecosystems? Future generations? The choice is yours, but here at the Middlebury School of the Environment we encourage you actively to make the choice. And with such a choice you then see your true path and your true calling.

Our classroom

Snake Mountain 2One of our activities on the second day of the School was to climb to the summit of nearby Snake Mountain, about 1,000 feet above the floor of the Champlain Valley and with a spectacular view of the landscape that will be the focus of much of our curriculum this summer.  Note the interplay of both cultural and natural forces that shape the landscape: farmland, wood lots, transportation networks, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondack Mountains to the west.  Over the semester, we will be unpackaging many of the narratives of this place, narratives which influence the environmental realities of the present as well as the options for creating a sustainable future.

But for the students on this day, the real pleasure was in stretching our legs, getting introduced to the landscape that will be home for the next six weeks, and enjoying the first day of summer.

And the weather was pretty darn spectacular, as well.

Snake Mountain 1

 

And we begin!

I have been somewhat silent on this blog for awhile, largely in order to focus on final preparations for the launch of the School of the Environment, which have been monumental. But today is the day we begin!  All of the students have checked in at the Arrival Center, and we’re now getting them settled into their rooms.  We are planning to have a group dinner this evening to kick things off, following by a welcoming and orientation session to talk about course assignments, the schedule for the weekend, and our shared hopes and expectations for the semester.

Many people deserve much credit for getting the School to where it is today, poised on the edge of its inaugural launch.  But I want to especially call out thanks to the 12 students who have enrolled in the School this summer.  They are the ones who will make all of this worthwhile … and help us make it even better as we proceed!

I plan to use this blog while the School is in session to post regular — if not daily — updates on what we have been doing.  If you are interested in tracking the daily life of the School of the Environment 2014, this is the place to be!

Gus Speth at the School of the Environment

Gus_SpethI’m very pleased to be announce that Gus Speth will join the School of the Environment as a Fellow this summer, both talking informally to the students about his life as an environmental leader and giving a formal lecture, which will be open to the public.  Throughout his career, James Gustave “Gus” Speth has provided leadership and entrepreneurial initiatives to many task forces and committees whose roles have been to combat environmental degradation and promote sustainable development, including the President’s Task Force on Global Resources and Environment; the Western Hemisphere Dialogue on Environment and Development; and the National Commission on the Environment. Among his awards are the National Wildlife Federation’s Resources Defense Award, the Natural Resources Council of America’s Barbara Swain Award of Honor, a 1997 Special Recognition Award from the Society for International Development, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Environmental Law Institute and the League of Conservation Voters, the Blue Planet Prize, and the Thomas Berry Great Work Award of the Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities.

In short, there are few people who can speak more authoritatively or with more breadth of experience about what it will take for students to become effective agents of environmental change than Gus Speth.

He is the author, co-author or editor of seven books including the award-winning The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability and Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment. His latest book is America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, published by Yale Press in September 2012.

He is currently on the faculty of the Vermont Law School as Professor of Law. He serves also as Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, Senior Fellow at The Democracy Collaborative, and Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. In 2009 he completed his decade-long tenure as Dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. From 1993 to 1999, Gus Speth was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chair of the UN Development Group. Prior to his service at the UN, he was founder and president of the World Resources Institute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (Carter Administration); and senior attorney and cofounder, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Stay tuned for more information about the title, timing, and location of his public lecture.  If you are in the area, it will be well worth attending!

Gregory Rosenthal, in his own words

Last week, the faculty of the Middlebury School of the Environment convened on campus for a two-day retreat to discuss our courses and co-curricular programing for the coming summer.  We took advantage of Gregory Rosenthal being here to talk with him about his thoughts on environmental humanities, globalism and poverty, and his courses for the School.  Check out the video that emerged from the interview.  I think you’ll agree that he will bring an exciting perspective to the School this summer!

Gregory Rosenthal interview screen grab

Spreading the word at TEDx Middlebury

Last November I had the pleasure of speaking at the TEDx Middlebury event called “Research, Rethink, Rebuild.”  The title of my presentation was “Reclaiming the Soul of Higher Education,” and in it I make the case for why I think programs like the School of the Environment are not only important but essential for higher education in the 21st century.  But rather than describe to you what I said, check it out for yourself … and let me know what you think about the message.  The only thing at stake is the very future of society.

SCT at TEDx

 

Gregory Rosenthal, instructor in environmental humanities

Gregory RosenthalI am pleased to announce that Gregory Rosenthal, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at SUNY Stony Brook, will join the faculty in the School of the Environment, as an instructor in environmental humanities.  Gregory will teach a course entitled “Environmentalism and the Poor: Class-Conscious Histories of Globalization,” which he describes as follows:

Environmentalism used to be understood as the privilege of affluent “first worlders,” an exercise in protecting nature from those too uncivilized or too ignorant to care for it by themselves. But this is no longer the case. In the past several decades, environmentalists—and environmental historians who study the history of human-nature relationships—have begun to acknowledge and account for the diverse “environmentalisms” that are practiced by both “first worlders” and “third worlders,” by both rich and poor, by both workers and capitalists, between the global north and the global south as well as within small-town communities, villages, and cities across the world. That class is one of the key determinants in how different people experience and care for the environment is gaining acceptance among social scientists and is inspiring exciting new research in the field of environmental history. This course will explore the relationships among environmentalism, class, and power in human history, as well as the consequences of these relationships for poor and working class peoples. A class-conscious history of globalization—in which “globalization” is understood as the rise of a globallyinterwoven capitalist economy over the past two centuries—reveals the various ways in which “environmentalism” has served the powerful while impacting the less powerful. At the same time, we will examine the resistance strategies of working class peoples the world over, to see how environments can be reclaimed by and for the poor. We will work collectively in this class towards developing a “poor people’s environmentalism”: a blueprint for thinking about global nature and the responsibilities of the powerful and privileged in alleviating poverty and supporting poor people’s rights to, and in, the environment.

Gregory will also co-teach the course on “Interdisciplinary Understanding of Place: Lake Champlain,” bringing to this class his unique perspective on how historical perspectives on culture diversity and identity help illuminate the narratives that frame a comprehensive understanding of a landscape and its possible environmental futures.

We are  excited to have Gregory join us for the inaugural summer for the School of the Environment.  He specializes in global environmental history with a focus on migrant labor, indigenous peoples, and human-environment relations in historical perspective. At SUNY Stony Brook his Ph.D. research examines the history of Native Hawaiian migrant labor in the nineteenth-century global economy. He has published in Environmental History and World History Bulletin and received grants and fellowships from the American Historical Association, the Huntington Library, and the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. In college, Gregory studied traditional Chinese music and indigenous ethnomusicology (and even attended Middlebury’s Chinese Language School). He holds a Masters degree in Public History from SUNY Albany and formerly served as Education Coordinator at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in upstate New York. He also previously worked as a Park Ranger in New York City, and when not at Middlebury, Gregory continues to lead historic walking tours of Manhattan’s streets while also enjoying hiking, birding, swimming, and clamming in the city’s urban forests and coastal waters.

Gregory joins Steve Trombulak and Cat Ashcraft as a member of the full-time faculty in the School of the Environment, and will participate throughout the six-week session in creating the full immersion program we have planned.

Welcome!!

Are you creative?

One of the most valuable skills for manifesting positive change in the world is creativity.  Being able to envision possible solutions to a problem — whether it’s a small improvement to a home or feeding the world — is the first step in bringing solutions to life.  But too many people feel like they simply aren’t creative.  Creativity, they think, is for artists, writers, and musicians, but for them.  We all start out life as creative people; just think back to your early years when you had no trouble drawing and play-acting with joy and complete abandon.

But somewhere along the way, many of us hit barriers that led us to believe we just didn’t have what it takes to be creative.  Maybe it was a teacher, a parent, or a peer who said, in effect, that we weren’t very good artistically or musically.  And as a result, we shut off that part of our identity, and closed off the world to the benefits of our insights and intuition.

It’s against this backdrop that Tom and David Kelley offer a way forward in their new book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the creative potential within us all.  Based on their decades of experience with IDEO, the acclaimed design and innovation consulting firm based in San Francisco, and d.school (aka the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University), the Kelley’s offer up a guided tour that not only demolishes the myth that creativity is a gift only given to a select few but also offers a way forward for everyone to unlock their own gift within.

Creative ideation — the act of formulating, testing, and implementing creative ideas — is at the heart of the School of the Environment’s curriculum, and therefore Creative Confidence will be at the core of our reading list.  Over the next several weeks, I want to unpackage the practical steps that the Kelley’s lay out so that everyone can unleash the “creative” within.  So get a copy and read along.  It’s well worth the journey.

In the meantime, ask yourself these questions:  Do you feel like you are a creative person?  If not, what happened to convince you of that narrative about yourself?  And more importantly, how has that belief prevented you from unleashing your positive influence on the world?

Welcome to The Stream

Our flow into a more just and sustainable future — both as individuals and as a society — requires that we engage with others to understand current issues and to craft effective solutions to environmental problems.  This seemingly simple statement is, in fact, complex in execution.  “Engagement” requires open-minded listening to the views of others as well as persuasive communication about our own views.  To “understand current issues” requires that one think critically about both facts and attitudes across a range of lenses used to understand any issue, including history, culture, politics, and environmental science.  Only with a truly interdisciplinary perspective to understanding the narrative of how an issue came into being in a particular place can the solutions that will move us forward from the present be seen or effectively advanced.  And to “craft effective solutions” requires more than just knowing the scientific facts and the sociopolitical history of an issue.  It requires people who have the skills needed to become effective agents of change.  It requires leaders.

The School of the Environment seeks to be a doorway into a learning environment that will help students become the environmental leaders of the future.  And this blog, The Stream, is one of the tools we intend to use to promote engagement, understanding, and leadership.  We don’t think of the School as an isolated six-week experience that comes into being each June and then disappears again in August.  The School is an on-going … and growing … network of people who want to be a part of creating that just and sustainable future.  The Stream is our way to keep the conversation going and to build the community.

Posts on The Stream will largely focus on topics related to the classes we will be teaching in the upcoming year, so if you are a prospective student, you can get a good sense of what you will be exposed to at the School.  We will also post on topics about leadership skills, social change, and the School itself.  And I have every expectation that it will grow over time and adapt to meet the needs of students, alumni, and anyone who wants to be part of this community.

Welcome to The Stream.

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