School of the Environment

The SoE heads to D.C.!

I’m excited to announce that we’re adding something new to the School of the Environment’s schedule for this summer.  For one week during our six-week session, we will all be going down to Washington, D.C., to supplement our curriculum and leadership training program with visits with environmental leaders, organizations, and agencies to explore first-hand the strategies for … and challenges of … leading in a time of political change.  In addition, we will engage closely with Frank Sesno and his team at Planet Forward, an organization based at George Washington University with the mission of moving the environmental narrative of the planet forward (hence the name) with evocative storytelling and communication.

Alumni from the MSoE’15 will remember Frank Sesno as our keynote speaker and one of our guest practitioners. He is currently the Director of The George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs and the creator and host of Planet Forward. He was formerly CNN’s DC bureau chief, as well as anchor, interview host, and White House correspondent. He was the long-running host of CNN’s Sunday talk show Late Edition, and he remains a frequent guest host for CNN’s Reliable Sources.

Together with folks at Planet Forward, the MSoE faculty will help the students in this year’s program confront the question, “How can you lead in a time of change?”  In fact, the political transitions we see in the U.S. today call upon all of us to recognize that leadership and strategies for environmental engagement must be responsive to dynamic political and cultural environments, and the question of how to lead in a time of change will frame our entire program this summer.

Our week in D.C. is included in the overall session and will not require any additional costs for the students.  We will depart from Middlebury on Sunday, July 16th, and return on Saturday, July 22nd.  This is the 4th week of our session, giving us plenty of opportunity to prepare in our classes beforehand and to follow-up with what we learned afterwards.  We will be staying in the dorms at George Washington University’s Mt. Vernon campus, and we’ll take advantage of the facilities at the GW School of Media and Public Affairs as well as Middlebury College’s own office complex on K Street.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Washington, D.C., is one of the global capitals for environmental policy and engagement.  The opportunity to integrate this experience with the traditional MSoE curriculum is amazing!

I’ll be posting more about this trip as details are confirmed.  But I can guarantee that the week will be amazing!

Carbon neutrality at Middlebury College!

All MSoE alumni are aware that Middlebury College set for itself a goal of becoming carbon neutral by the end of 2016.  The campus sustainability and renewable energy tours we include in the curriculum emphasize the initiatives that we launched in pursuit of that goal.

And you are all probably aware that we officially reached that goal with the certification of the carbon sequestration on our land that is now guaranteed through the creation of a permanent conservation easement on Bread Loaf land in the Green Mountains.

This is a big achievement, and there are so many narratives related to leadership and environmental engagement wrapped up in this overall story that it’s hard to know where to begin.  First of all, the goal itself was the product of a student group who not only dreamed it up but conceived the college trustees to adopt the vision based on an equal mix of passion and a compelling plan for accomplishment.  Never doubt that you — as individuals or as a small group — can bring about change.

Each step along the way, described quite well in a recent article written by Nathaniel Wiener for our friends at Planet Forward, was its own massive undertaking, involving technology (the biomass plant), educational outreach (energy efficiency), creative ideation on energy diversification and resiliency (solar and biomethane energy infrastructure), and land conservation and law (carbon sequestration on permanently conserved forestland).  Each is a story all on its own (which I hope to describe in the future), but taken together indicates that large goals can be achieved through the combination of several smaller steps.

Now that carbon neutrality has been achieved here, the obvious question is “What comes next?” Carbon negativity?  Local food systems engagement?  Fossil fuel divestment?  Zero fossil fuel use?  The possibilities are great.  And for any one of them, we know from experience that there is a path forward to success.

The coming years in US politics

It’s been almost a week since the US elections.  Although there were numerous offices, from local to federal, represented on our ballots, the office that dominated our consciousness over the last two years was that of US president.  I don’t presume to know how every reader of this blog viewed the results from last Tuesday, but I’m confident that the majority of the readers here were surprised by the results and shocked by the sudden awareness of what the next four years might be like under a Trump administration.  If a Progressive agenda can be described as efforts toward support for peace, justice, and the environment, then Candidate Trump’s campaign can unarguably be described as anti-Progressive.

How well President Trump’s agenda aligns with or achieves what he stated repeatedly during his campaign remains to be seen.  In the last few days, much has been written by better pundits than me about how much of his campaign was merely empty rhetoric, how much Congress will follow his rather than their own agenda, and how much he is really interested in doing the hard work necessary as president.  I have my own predictions, but if last week’s results tell us anything, it’s that predictions don’t really mean a thing.

But what I do know for sure, based on a lifetime of experience that includes the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, is that no one should take last week’s results as evidence that our work is done.  Giving up because “this is not my America” should not be viewed as an option.  If anything, the results call upon us to redouble our efforts, roll up our sleeves, and dig into our work even harder.  Work — and progress — on behalf of peace, justice, and the environment did not halt under previous administrations precisely because people did not stop working toward what they believed in.  They did not stop speaking their truths … and especially speaking those truths to power.  And they did not stop trying to improve their abilities to be effective agents of change.

I say this to all of the MSoE alumni who went through the program thinking that the issues aren’t real and that their engagement as leaders would not really be needed: Take a close look at the US and the world today, and truly understand how much you are, in fact, needed.  Your work is not done simply because you completed the MSoE curriculum.  Your work is just beginning.

And I say this to all of you who are wondering if the Middlebury School of the Environment is really necessary: Take a close look at the US and the world today and ask the question of whether we need more people willing to work effectively and creatively toward a more positive future.  Your answer must certainly be “yes.”

Last week’s results sadden me, but no more so than a thousand other events that have unfolded over the last several years that call into question humanity’s directions in the immediate future.  More than anything, I am reminded of why the Middlebury School of the Environment is so important, and I recommit to redoubling my efforts, rolling up my sleeves, and digging into the work.

Join me.

Calling all MSoE alumni!

We know you’re out there, doing great things and continuing on your path to creating a life of meaning for yourself and the world.  After three summers of MSoE sessions, the number of alumni is starting to grow.  Folks have gone on to graduate school, law school, positions in government, and positions in the private sector.  We have Udall winners, field researchers, journalists, and educators.  And, of course, we have alumni who are still college students and who are interested in connecting with any one of a number of career paths.

It’s time to think about creating an MSoE alumni network.  I’m thinking of something where students could connect with alumni from across the years to ask about job opportunities, advice on job searches, and resources for GSD (“getting stuff done”), as well as advertising and marketing your own initiatives.

So here’s the question: What would be the best platform for this?  What social-media applications would you use and would allow the kind of information sharing that a real network service allows?  You all know that I’m not a digital native and that I’m several decades past my undergraduate years, so I am not well versed in what digital environment would be the most valuable for you all to use.  Facebook? LinkedIn? A listserv mailing list?

The goal is for this to be of use to you.  So I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Comment here or reach out to me via email.

Lines are open, and operators are standing by.

Another successful session!

The 2016 session of the Middlebury School of the Environment came to a close on Friday (August 5th), bringing a successful conclusion to six weeks of classes and environmental leadership training for 21 students from colleges and universities all over the U.S.

SoE 2016.closing banquetThe faculty and staff of the MSoE were extremely grateful for the hard work, humor, and personal engagement all of the students brought with them.  In all eight of the courses, all of the leadership workshops, and all of our time together on field trips, the students were amazing.  We only hope that all of them have safe travels home this weekend, and that we have another amazing group of students next year!

And speaking of next year … we’ll be back for the Middlebury School of the Environment starting June 23rd, 2017.  While it is too early to commit to exactly what the course catalog will include, I can promise that we’ll be offering hands-on practicums, interdisciplinary seminars, skills-based electives, and a wide-ranging program of leadership workshops.  I’ll be announcing instructors, courses, field trips, keynote speakers, and visiting practitioners in the coming months as the schedule comes together.  Stay tuned for details about MSoE 2017 … and stay engaged with the world around you!  We live in critical times that call upon all of us to be leaders for positive social and environmental change.  Let’s all do our part to make it so.

And don’t forget to rock on!

Increased funding available for Summer 2016

From the start, several generous donors have made need-based scholarships available for students to attend the Middlebury School of the Environment.  In recent years, many students have been able to attend this six-week summer environmental studies and leadership training program, held on the Middlebury campus, who otherwise might not have been able to attend.

I am pleased to announce that in addition to the scholarship opportunities that were already in place, new funding has become available for the summer 2016 session. We are now able to meet up to 100% of demonstrated need on a first come, first served basis, and are offering merit aid ranging from $500 to $2500 for those who do not qualify for need-based aid.

Students have the option to live on campus or at home (at a reduced rate) while attending the program, and will earn 9 credit-hours (3 Middlebury units of credit) during the summer.

To be eligible for consideration for this funding, students will need to complete the admissions application (online application, recommendation, fee, and transcript) by midnight May 8, EST. To apply for need-based aid, they must also submit the online financial aid application.

Feel free to contact the director of the School of the Environment, Dr. Steve Trombulak, with any questions about this opportunity … or the School in general.

Persuasive public speaking

Traditionally, colleges and universities have placed a lot of emphasis in their curricula on persuasive writing.  This is all to the good.  It seems to me, however, that the vast majority of communication asked of us — especially if we are trying to advance an idea — is verbal.  Yet verbal communication, or public speaking, is one of the skills that is given the least amount of attention in higher education.  And when we do provide exposure to it as a skill, it is most likely to be oriented toward formal presentation of research results in the format most appropriate for a professional conference.

It’s not that the ability to speak effectively at a professional conference is unimportant.  It’s just that it represents only a small part of the persuasive speaking asked of us in being agents of positive change in the world.

We need to be able to make our points clearly and succinctly in public forums.

We need to be able to convince someone in 30 seconds or less to give us a hearing in a full proposal.

We need to answer questions convincingly.

We need to engage audiences, large and small, with compelling stories that capture their imaginations.

In other words, public speaking comes in all forms, for a host of reasons, and directed to a diverse range of listeners.

And to be effective, it all needs to be persuasive.

At the Middlebury School of the Environment, we focus a great deal on honing our skills in persuasive public speaking.  Much of it comes within the formal classwork, but it all builds off of our workshops on public speaking.  Lead by Mike Kiernan, these workshops are fun and engaging, but more importantly, they are effective in helping students become confident in their abilities to use their voices to make a difference.

Colchester, Vermont (January 29, 2013) - MiddCORE Winter Term (j-term) class at VPR with Jane Lindholm. (Photo © 2013 Brett Simison)

Mike is a physician, actor, public speaker – and one today’s most energetic and engaging voices for creative leadership and communication.  He will once again be joining the Middlebury School of the Environment as a Fellow to engage with the students on persuasive communication skills.  He has been an instructor in Middlebury College’s leadership and innovation training program, MiddCORE, since 2008 in all areas related to leadership and communication: crisis management, networking, story-making, and both strategic presentation design and delivery. He has also worked as a communications consultant with political candidates, physicians, business executives, and teams on leadership retreats. Mike is an actor and member of the local professional theater company, the Middlebury Actors Workshop. He is also a physician and recently was President of the Medical Staff at Porter Hospital. Mike serves on the Technical Advisory Group for the Green Mountain Care Board and the Executive Counsel of Vermont Medical Society. He is also an advisor to the State of Vermont Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Committee.

He has consistently been one of the School’s most popular presenters, and we are excited to have him join us again this year!

Fundraising as a leadership skill

In my role as a professor of biology at Middlebury College, one of the classes I teach each spring semester is Conservation Biology. I teach the course not only through the lens of how the principles of ecology and genetics can be applied to conserving life on Earth, but also through the lens of how conservation is practiced out in the real world.  Many of my students want to become conservation practitioners, working for government agencies or environmental NGOs, and as practitioners they need to be fluent not only in the knowledge base that informs our thinking about what we should do but also in the skill set in how to do it.

Over the years, as I explored what that ideal skill set ought to look like, I continually asked the conservation leaders I worked with — agency heads, executive directors, entrepreneurs, activists — what skills they found most critical to being successful in there jobs.

When I began this informal survey, I was expecting them to tell me about special technical skills like GIS, remote sensing, plant identification, animal tagging, DNA barcoding, and the like.  The kind of skills that we try to incorporate into our traditional academic majors.  What I found was the exact opposite.

Without exception, the skills that were named were these:

  1. Raising money.
  2. Managing money.
  3. Managing people.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense.  Success emerges from the effective operation of a system, whether that system is an organization, volunteer initiative, business plan, or political campaign.  And such systems require money and people.

This understanding informs much of how the Middlebury School of the Environment approaches the issue of environmental leadership, and in particular, why it includes “fundraising” as one of its eight important leadership skills.  Some people are naturally gifted (or naturally un-self-conscious) at asking others for money to support their good idea.  However, for a variety of reasons, many of us have an aversion to asking for financial support: embarrassment, shyness, a sense that money itself is a “bad” thing.  The list goes on.

The good news is that this aversion is complete unnecessary.  Fundraising need not be viewed as something that must be done against our wills, and thus as a negative.  Rather, it can be viewed as a positive, a way to help others with financial resources to support achieving their own goals and desires.

Sue KavanaghThis is the foundation for the Fundraising workshop offered in the MSoE.  Taught by Sue Kavanagh, we guide students through the steps for a positivist view of fundraising.  With over 25 years of fundraising experience, Sue currently serves as director of principal gifts at Middlebury College, where she is responsible for providing direction and support for the cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of Middlebury’s highest-level potential donors.  With most of her career in higher education, Sue’s work has focused primarily on individual fundraising.  Her practice spans two comprehensive capital campaigns at Middlebury and before that at Paul Smith’s College in the heart of the Adirondacks when that institution was developing its first environmental programs. Sue started working in political advocacy and fundraising in New York State’s capital following completion of her BA in communication at the State University of New York at Geneseo.

With Sue’s guidance, students in the MSoE will comes away with greater confidence that they can successfully attract financial support to launch their ideas that will make the world a better place!

What does “Teaming” mean?

In a blog post last fall, I identified “teaming” as one of the eight essential leadership skills that everyone who wants to make positive change in the world needs to have.  In fact, I identified it as the first of the eight.  This likely sends shivers down the spine of every student who has ever been forced to do a group project in a class.

Sometimes they are positive experiences, but more often than not they are painful, involving a complex dance of seemingly having to force others to do things the “right” way, to get them to complete their parts of the project on time, and to drag them along with you to get to completion.  Few students actively seek opportunities for group work, preferring to work alone in their own way and in their own time.

But there’s a saying that highlights why working in groups is effective: If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.

“Far” doesn’t just mean distance.  It also refers to the magnitude and importance of the challenge.  The greater the stakes, the greater the scope, and the greater the potential impact, the greater the need to do it in a group.  In a team.

And thus, the greater the need to be able to work effectively in a team.  Not just in a grin-and-bear-it kind of way, but in a way that allows you to harness the imagination, creativity, and skills of everyone involved and promote the kind of interactions that elevate everyone’s contributions.

Teaming, the ability to work effectively in a team, is so critical that emphasize and practice the skills associated with it throughout the School of the Environment, both in our formal classes and through workshops taught by experts and practitioners.  Effective environmental leadership demands it.

Applications for 2016

We’re pleased to announce that applications for the 2016 session of the Middlebury School of the Environment are now being accepted.  We’ve simplified the application process this year, moving entirely to an on-line system both for the application and the submission of letters of recommendation.  Our goal is to make the entire process easier for students and for their recommenders, as well as to make it possible for us to give students a decision on their applications more quickly.

As always, detailed information about the upcoming session is best obtained through the MSoE website, but we’re anticipating that this coming summer will look a lot like last summer …

  • Three courses for credit through Middlebury College.
  • A robust leadership training program.
  • Six weeks, from June 24th to August 5th.
  • Financial aid is available.
  • Two tracks of study, one focusing on sustainability (for students with previous college coursework in environmental studies) and one on systems thinking (for students at a more introductory level).
  • Electives on Environmental Video Production; Wicked Environmental Problems; Environmental Pollution; and Religion, Nature, and Justice.

What’s new for the coming summer is the addition of a non-residential option for students who have alternative living arrangements in the Middlebury area.

Our session in 2015 was a huge success, and we are excited to begin to shape the class for 2016!

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.