Tiffany Nourse Sargent ’79 Retires, Leaving Strong Community Engagement Legacy

In this story, we celebrate some of Tiffany’s major career accomplishments, announce the new Public Leadership Award created in her honor, and share reflections from colleagues and from Tiffany herself during this time of transition.

After working at Middlebury for the past 35 years, Tiffany Nourse Sargent ’79 retired this March. During her tenure, Tiffany contributed in innumerable ways to the College, our local communities, statewide initiatives, and beyond.

Tiffany began at Middlebury College as a student, where she studied religion. Working over the summer on campus, she met her husband who also worked at Middlebury College. After graduation, Tiffany worked in the admissions sector of higher education at four other institutions, including as the Director of Admissions at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont, until 1985. She returned to Middlebury in 1985 and helped create the College’s volunteer and student employment programs, and then direct student activities, before launching Middlebury’s service-learning program in 2000. Tiffany worked tirelessly to develop relationships, partnerships, and programs that enhance learning opportunities embedded in our communities.

Tiffany (standing) greets Addison County Privilege & Poverty interns and community partnerships at the summer 2018 P&P dinner.

Career highlights include creating Vermont Campus Compact, a statewide network of 26 Vermont college and university presidents committed to promoting the public purpose of higher education; Academic Outreach Endowment service-learning grants; cohort-based local Addison County and national Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty internships; the Privilege & Poverty (P&P) Academic Cluster with Professor James Calvin Davis; the Vermont Educational Alliance on Poverty with Professor Davis and colleagues from the University of Vermont; programs such as Language in Motion and the Japan Summer Service-Learning program; and serving on the Experiential Learning Centers Leadership Team. 

Qualifying for institutional recognition through the Carnegie Community Engagement Elective Classification in the inaugural round in 2006 (and again with reclassification in 2015) and anchoring the Center for Community Engagement offerings through Academic Affairs have been key professional benchmarks. She leaves a legacy of strong campus-community collaboration through curricular and co-curricular means that promotes civic engagement and helps meet community-identified needs.

Six volunteers pose with a panther statue.
Tiffany (middle) poses with fellow volunteers at a United Way Days of Caring service site.

Spanning four decades, Sargent and her colleagues have expanded community engagement from including dozens of students participating in a handful of programs to current offerings where the vast majority of Middlebury College undergraduates participate at some point during their undergraduate years, in and out of class, offering tens of thousands of service hours, locally and around the world, each year.

Liz Robinson ’85, former director of the Experiential Learning Centers, reflected that “[Middlebury College’s] liberal arts tradition has us appropriately rooted in a commitment to foster community engagement and to prepare students to be ethical and thoughtful citizens,” and that we are fortunate “…to have had Tiffany at the helm of these foundational, yet vital initiatives for a very long time.”

Liz celebrated qualities Tiffany brought to that important work: “Tiffany is collaborative, empathic, authentic, loyal, generous and thorough. Her standards are sky high in every aspect of her work. She was also, frequently, an unsung hero who worked behind the scenes, assisting others and always putting students and community needs first. She is known for her integrity. She modeled these qualities and characteristics for her students and staff around her in a way that always inspired.”

James Calvin Davis, professor of religion who co-founded the Privilege & Poverty Academic Cluster with Tiffany, honored the “transformative effect” Tiffany has had on faculty. In particular, “Tiffany has taught me important lessons about the benefit of integrative learning… This has resulted in a deeper appreciation for experiential learning, and a rich approach to classroom learning. I am fundamentally a different teacher than I was before I began working with Tiffany Sargent, and other colleagues on the faculty would boast the same. Her impact on the academic mission of the College is extensive and profound, all in the name of an inclusive and engaged community.” Looking more broadly, James celebrates how Tiffany “…has kept Middlebury engaged in its communities, and we are a better educational institution for it.”

Peggy Burns, director of the Center for Careers and Internships, shared: “I can state unequivocally that Tiffany spent her career at Middlebury changing lives and changing the world.” Peggy admires, “…the extraordinary commitment, passion, and generosity of spirit that Tiffany brought to her work here, not only in terms of countless hours spent advancing initiatives but also in her thoughtfulness and deep, deep sense of purpose and obligation to building community in every sense of the phrase.”

Ashley Laux ’06 first worked with Tiffany as an undergraduate student, and then as a professional colleague. Ashley became the director of the Center for Community Engagement this spring. She reflected: “I am grateful for the care and particular attention to building reciprocal relationships that Tiffany brought to her work on campus and in our local community. Tiffany’s approach towards working alongside community has shaped my own professional path and the efforts of her work have positively influenced thousands of students, staff, faculty, and community members. I know that the values around which Tiffany developed the CCE will continue to infuse our vision and shared work for many years to come.”

Tiffany smiles and greets faculty member.
Tiffany greeted Professor James Calvin Davis at the 2019 Public Service Leadership Awards.

To recognize the impact of Tiffany’s leadership connecting Middlebury College and the town of Middlebury in her roles at Middlebury College, the Center for Community Engagement created a new Public Service Leadership Award in her honor. The Tiffany Nourse Sargent ’79 Engaged Partnership Award will be given annually to honor an educational partnership between Middlebury College and a community organization to address community needs. The partnership honored could be a collaboration that supported academic coursework, research, student organization(s), or another meaningful learning endeavor. The first winners this year, The Wild Middlebury Project and Hannaford Career Center, are an excellent example of the kind of reciprocally beneficial, thoughtful relationship that enhances learning for all involved– the kind of partnership that Tiffany championed throughout her career.

Staff in the Center for Community Engagement asked Tiffany to reflect on her career in three areas as she finished her work at the College. We are happy to share the wisdom and insights Tiffany provided in her responses:

Tiffany, you created a culture, in the CCE and the College at large, that holds deep responsibility to infuse the values of reciprocity and accountability with the wider community into its big-picture and day-to-day functions. Why does that matter to you, and how has that evolved?

At the core of just about all of my work are the relationships formed and to be true to these relationships, reciprocity and accountability are essential. Seeing and hearing about the College and local issues from the perspectives of the community was also enlightening. Working alongside of and listening to our community colleagues fostered authenticity. These connections have deepened both my love for and nuanced understanding of this community (and beyond!) and served me well in my roles.

The centrality of reciprocity and accountability were further reinforced through my work with Vermont Campus Compact (VCC), a network of Vermont campuses dedicated to promoting the public purpose of higher education. Through VCC, I was able to attend several national and regional meetings with practitioners and leaders on the forefront of the civic and community engagement movement at a pivotal point in time. I learned so much from these amazing people, including affirmation about the importance of reciprocity and accountability, locally and globally.

On-campus, I was always grateful for the support and flexibility to build our programs, accordingly.

What’s something you’re especially proud of in your work?

Dedicating a career to connecting students, faculty, and community partners in ways that deepen academic learning, cultivate civic identity and skills, and contribute to addressing community needs was a labor of love. Helping individuals (and the institution!) find their connection to and value in community engagement, complicating understandings, and leveraging resources in ways to contribute to the public good was a joy. Hiring and collaborating with generations of colleagues as we continued to evolve and expand our programs, including national and global initiatives and supporting participation from across the Middlebury enterprise (“the Big M”), has been incredibly profound. And now in retirement, knowing that our team will carry us into the future during these unprecedented times is a real source of pride.

One area that stands out, especially, is the energy among faculty, students, community partners, and the administration to further build and deepen opportunities for experiential learning. Having spent twenty years nurturing this foundation, I’m thrilled to see dedicated energy and commitment from among all stakeholders!

What will you miss about the work, and what do you hope to bring with you into retirement?

The great thing about this work–besides being deeply meaningful and important–is that you can approach it from multiple perspectives. I can continue the “work” whenever I want, wherever I am, regardless of whether or not I’m formally “working.”

I will miss the people, but it is the right time for change. The values continue on and new doors are opening. I’m finding time for reflection in ways that I had trouble prioritizing while working. For me personally, retirement has aligned with beginning treatment for a cancer diagnosis and the global pandemic, so it has rushed me to quickly grapple with so much and reimagine my priorities and daily practices almost overnight. I’m so grateful for how well I am doing and the great team of professional and personal support I have. I am, indeed, treasuring this time at home–walking every day, reading, cooking, deepening my meditation practice, and pursuing a sort of spiritual pilgrimage. Bill and I are enjoying our time together, becoming novice “birders,” and look forward to when we can spend more time with the rest of our family.

To all my dear friends, past and present, feel free to drop me a line at P. O. Box 103, East Middlebury, VT 05740. Cheers and thanks, for everything!

Thank you, Tiffany, and we wish you all the best in your retirement. 

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