University of Vermont

Rubenstein School Welcomes Jennie Stephens, First Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy

Dr. Jennie Stephens
Dr. Jennie Stephens

Dr. Jennie Stephens, the Rubenstein School’s first Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy, arrived in August from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts where she was an associate professor of environmental science and policy. Her interest in the environment, sustainability, and renewable energy; the interdisciplinary, collaborative nature of her work; and her passion for service learning and community engagement could not be a better fit for the Rubenstein School, UVM, and Vermont.

Dr. Stephens has always had an interest in integrating science, society, and policy. “Sustainability science is an emerging field that takes knowledge to action and connects technology, natural science, and social science,” she states.  “It is not everywhere you can do that.  UVM is unique and this position is unique.  I am excited to get involved at UVM and in Vermont where innovative things are happening in energy, environmental policy, and sustainability.”

"We are delighted to welcome Dr. Stephens to our faculty in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources,” acknowledges Dean Nancy Mathews.  “She brings a unique blend of interdisciplinary scholarship and community-engaged learning that could not be a better fit for our growing partnerships with the state and international sustainability focus.  As the first Blittersdorf Professor, Dr. Stephens will bridge the important connection that we have with the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS).  We are deeply grateful to David Blittersdorf (CEMS ’81), member of the Rubenstein School Board of Advisors, for endowing this position to advance understanding of fossil fuel resource depletion, climate change, and the development of renewable energy alternatives."

Dr. Stephens intertwines her research, teaching, and community engagement to connect the technical, social, and political aspects of energy system change and facilitate social learning about the transition from fossil fuels to renewable based energy systems. Her work has centered on wind power, carbon capture and storage technology, and “Smart Grid” technologies that have potential to enhance resiliency and efficiency of electricity production, storage, transmission, distribution, and use. She also examines how climate change science gets used and how to extend that usability to stakeholders, practitioners, and the public.

Her academic background is in the environmental sciences with a B.A. in environmental science and public policy from Harvard University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in environmental science and engineering from the California Institute of Technology.  Her Ph.D. research on the impact of high CO2 concentrations on water and soil chemistry inevitably led to work on carbon management and climate change.  A subsequent post-doctoral position with John Holdren (currently President Obama’s science advisor) and his research group at Harvard’s Kennedy School steered Dr. Stephens toward sustainable energy technology, and she gained insight into the social challenges of changing the energy systems we are so reliant upon.

To foster integration and collaboration between the Rubenstein School and the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, Dr. Stephens will maintain a collaborative appointment with CEMS in conjunction with her primary appointment in the Rubenstein School.

“We are excited about the opportunities that Dr. Stephens brings to strengthen the collaboration between CEMS and the Rubenstein School,” states Dean Luis Garcia of CEMS. “Her broad background will serve as a catalyst for increasing the collaboration on sustainability issues related to energy policy and transitioning to new technologies at UVM and beyond.”

“Strengthening connections among engineering, environmental science, and social science to more holistically address sustainability challenges and opportunities is very important, so I look forward to catalyzing new connections within UVM and fostering collaborations in the state of Vermont,” she shares.

Dr. Stephens brings several projects with her including a study of the social dimensions of Smart Grid funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) program in Science, Technology and Society.  She will collaborate with UVM’s NSF-funded IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Training) Smart Grid program in CEMS.

She will also remain a co-principal investigator heading up communication research on Bio-Earth, a large USDA-funded collaboration with Washington State University and other universities on a regional scale Earth systems climate model.  Her role includes facilitating communication with agriculture and forestry stakeholders about how to make the climate model usable for them. 

With collaborators in Germany, Dr. Stephens also plans to compare social learning on the renewable energy transition in the state of Vermont and the United States with what is happening in Germany and the European Union; both Vermont and Germany are playing a leadership role with their ambitious renewable energy goals and programs.

Dr. Stephens is scheduled to teach the Rubenstein School’s introductory-level environmental sciences course starting fall of 2015 and will also add courses on energy transitions and climate-energy linkages.  She plans to incorporate service learning and community engagement in her classes as she has done in her courses taught at Clark University.

Her efforts to connect classroom and community earned her an excellence in teaching award from her Department of International Development, Community and Environment at Clark in 2011 and a faculty community engagement award from the Colleges of the Worcester Consortium in 2013.