University of Vermont

Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources

ecological planning curriculum

EP class 2007

Ecological Planning Class of 2007

  • 2007 students2007 Ecological Planning and Field Naturalist Team
    From right to left: Kate Westdijk, Brendan Weiner, Sarah Bursky, Kristen Sharpless (FN), Monica Erhart (FN), Corrie Miller (FN), Katie Pindell (FN), Shana Stewart (FN), Chris Nytch


  • Sarah BurskySarah Bursky
    If you were to catch Sarah with the Field Naturalists/Ecological Planners on a particularly energetic day, you might find her clapping her hands while leading a rousing round of "Big Booty." Just one of her favorite teambuilding games, Sarah has discovered in herself an equal passion for environmental conservation and also human experience and connection.

    These two passions began as a focal point for her at Cornell University, where she studied natural resources, but also communications and science writing. Working for Cornell Outdoor Education, she led students and Ithaca residents into the woods on backpacking and snowshoeing excursions and was drawn to learning the ins-and-outs of group facilitation. A semester abroad in British Columbia with the School For Field Studies, studying the economic and ecological impacts of the logging industry on the temperate rainforests, was a foray into hands-on environmental problem solving, and gave her a feel for the impact of policy on local communities. She returned to Cornell further impassioned by the interplay of human experience and environmental management.

    After graduation, Sarah moved northwards to Vermont, and she jokes that she somehow never managed to leave; indeed, a wealth of different experiences has kept her in the State. Seasons with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps developed her understanding of local conservation initiatives. Working as the Outreach Director with the Lake Champlain Land Trust, she pursued her interest in land conservation while exploring different ways to engage the community. Working as an instructor for the University of Vermont Ropes Course, she continued to ask groups what motivates them to take risks and take action. And a year in Americorps in Vermont's Community Stewardship Program exposed her to Statewide conservation initiatives, and also local community inequities; her eyes have been further opened to the need to ask how, and who, we give voice in our society. More recently Sarah joined in the land management process while working as an intern with the National Park Service at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park in southern Vermont. Sitting in on meetings with community leaders from diverse fields, as they assessed how to manage the living landscape sustainably, she knew it was time to return to school. She is excited to pursue an integrated approach to resource management as part of the Ecological Planning program and plans to explore land management processes and questions of civic engagement.


  • Chris Nytch Chris Nytch
    Chris Nytch has a head full of questions. What are the qualities that define a sense of place? What are the pieces that fit together to develop true and perpetuating ties of community? How do you broaden environmentalism to include people across all races, cultures, and economic backgrounds? How you do nurture a connection to resources that promotes understanding, respect, and sustainability? If you were Chris, these thoughts would swarm about your head. You would also have a strong notion that the answers to these questions lie in the integration and cross-fertilization of traditionally segregated disciplines: sociology, politics, landscape ecology, and natural history.

    Chris deeply values a spectrum of viewpoints and education that encourages wild thinking coupled with learning by doing. At one point he debated becoming a professional pianist, and more recently a geologist, but could not circumscribe himself within the confines of one field of inquiry. He traveled to Honduras with the Peace Corps to promote watershed education and soil conservation techniques. There he lived and worked with farmers who had an intimate connection between their daily lives and the natural environment despite a lack of exposure to complex ecosystem concepts. He saw that this direct relationship between people and place inspired villagers to work for the protection of their resources.

    Chris was inspired too, and wanted to bring the lessons of rural Honduras back home to the United States. The places we live are built upon the physical landscape; our cultural heritage has roots that burrow deep into the contours of the land. Most North Americans no longer farm for their daily bread, but could an understanding of the way society and nature intertwine to craft the intricate fabric of a particular location be key to fostering environmental responsibility and action? Chris thinks so. This realization fed his hunger for knowledge and a desire to gain a better understanding of the world around him – both in academic and field-based settings. He turned to the ecological planning program to gather technical skills and cultivate ideas that he will fashion into an educational archetype that emphasizes the bonds between people and the places they live. Chris plans to pursue community level work that advances conservation and sustainability ideals beyond the realm of an elitist movement, making them accessible to and practical for everyone.


  • Brendan Weiner Brendan Weiner
    After spending the past five years exploring the mountains of the western U.S., Brendan is excited to be back in the east reconnecting with people and places from his youth. Brendan grew up in the Boston suburbs, where he spent much of his free time navigating the wetland in his backyard. Whether he was chasing frogs and turtles, hopping across the marsh on tufts of grass, or climbing trees, throughout his youth, Brendan could usually be found exploring the outdoors.

    In school, however, Brendan became interested in the social sciences, and at college he studied economic theory and English. Following graduation, Brendan worked at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City, studying the international use of the U.S. dollar. He then moved to San Francisco and worked at a small non-profit writing grants and helping to manage international justice projects in developing countries.

    After a few years of city life, Brendan's interest in land conservation prompted him to leave the concrete jungle behind and move to South Lake Tahoe, California. For the next four years, Brendan worked for the Forest Service on local watershed restoration projects and served as a wildland firefighter in California and Oregon. During the winters, he ski patrolled in California and New Zealand, became interested in analyzing snowpack metamorphosis and stability, and performed avalanche control work. While living in the Sierra Nevada and Teton mountain ranges, Brendan developed a love for ski touring and mountaineering, and he gets out into the Vermont backcountry as often as he can. Living in small mountain towns brought new meaning to land use and conservation for Brendan. As he witnessed the difficulties inherent in managing large tracts of federal, state, and private lands, he recognized the need for a balanced understanding of the ecological, economic, and social issues that surround local decision-making processes. Brendan chose the Ecological Planning program because of its focus on understanding ecological processes and how to apply this knowledge to land use issues. Through the program, Brendan hopes to strengthen his knowledge of ecological processes and looks forward to helping Vermont and the U.S. grow in a more sustainable manner.

  • Kate Westdijk Kate Westdijk
    Kate grew up in Central Vermont with her parents and younger twin brothers. From watching tadpoles hatch in a jar on the kitchen table in elementary school to exploring the 130 acres of forest around her home, she developed an early interest in the natural world and pursued that interest through high school and at Smith College. She enjoyed working as a field ornithologist for the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) but felt too out of touch with the social and economic pressures at play in conservation biology decisions. A desire to travel and experience other ways of life brought her to China in 2004, where she taught English and Business with her husband, Bart. Bart had just finished a Master's in Business and Society Management, which focuses on a "triple bottom line" in which businesses consider the importance of social and environmental impact in addition to profit and the economy. Her experience teaching business in developing countries further highlighted the conflict that exists between environment, society, and the economy.

    A desire for interdisciplinary training in these fields led her to the University of Vermont. She was initially interested in the Ecological Economics program offered by the Gund Institute and later learned about the Ecological Planning program which fueled her enthusiasm for studying in Burlington. During the first semester of the program, she has revived her interest in field sciences and had an opportunity to reflect on problems in past approaches to mediating conflicts between ecological, societal, and economic needs. Growing up watching her mother fight a polarized and never-ending battle as an environmentalist and state employee, she is searching for a more balanced approach to conservation that involves cooperation and understanding across fields.

    In the future, Kate hopes to establish an international consulting business with her husband to aid developing economies in finding a similar balance that couples ecological and social health with a healthy economy.

Last modified October 07 2009 09:22 AM

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