University of Vermont

Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources

ecological planning curriculum

EP class 2008

Ecological Planning Class of 2008

  • 2008 students2008 Ecological Planning and Field Naturalist Team
    Top row, left to right: Erin Haney, Ryan Salmon (FN), Emily Schadler (FN), Jesse Fleisher, James Barnes (FN)
    Bottom row, left to right: Bob Zaino (FN), Matt Peters, Sara Mulford


  • Jesse Fleisher Jesse Fleisher
    Jesse's ongoing journey of exploration began with childhood father-son backpacking trips to the Cumberland Plateau highlands of his native Tennessee and has brought him most recently to Burlington, in the picturesque Champlain Valley of Vermont. Growing up on the wooded slopes of the Nashville Basin, Jesse liked to pretend that he was out in the country instead of in the middle of the city as he actually was and spent many a happy hour looking for insects underneath rotting logs, climbing trees, picking up frogs, and ill-advisedly sticking his head into holes in the ground. Unlike many people, however, Jesse never got over this phase of life and spent many of his youthful hours accompanying a local naturalist on occasionally illegal expeditions to hunt fossils and geodes in local quarries, listen for frogs on warm spring nights, crawl through caves in search of blind crayfish, or survey endangered freshwater mussels in various local waterways.

    While attending Earlham College, Jesse pursued an interdisciplinary degree in Human Development & Social Relations and maintained his interest in the outdoors by leading caving/backpacking trips as convener of the outing club. While spending a semester doing anthropological field study in Kenya, Jesse considered both modern and traditional pastoralist land use patterns, eventually coming home with a deeply enhanced appreciation for the myriad challenges facing many sub-Saharan ethnic groups and ecosystems. During his summers, meanwhile, Jesse enjoyed sharing outdoor discoveries with children as the assistant director of a Tennessee nature camp and also pursued his passion for sustainable agriculture while living and working with a community of like minded individuals on a progressive vegetable farm in Northern Virginia.

    After college, Jesse continued to work at farming, but eventually realized that he wanted to revisit the challenges facing African people and their environment and so decided to join the Peace Corps. Assigned to a remote village in the densely rain forested Central African nation of Gabon, Jesse passed his first night at post contentedly communing with the thousands of small bats already living in his traditional mud-brick home and spent the next two years as an active Peace Corps Volunteer working with local subsistence farmers to develop ecologically sustainable and economically viable alternatives to slash and burn agriculture.

    Over the course of three subsequent years, Jesse worked primarily in the West African nation of Guinea, acting first as a technical advisor in the fields of agroforestry, environmental education, and conservation planning, and later as a consultant managing an expanding environmental science education program. Though extensively trained and self taught on the job, Jesse eventually began to run up against the limitations of his non-natural science academic background, and his desire to deepen his practical understanding of both conservation science and its human context has led him to the Field Naturalist/Ecological Planning Program at UVM.

    In the future, Jesse hopes to continue working at the tricky interface between human development and ecological conservation, either in Africa or somewhere closer to home in Tennessee. In the meantime, he has just purchased his first pair of snowshoes and is learning how to stay warm during his first New England winter.


  • Erin HaneyErin Haney
    A curious naturalist is a suitable description of Erin, although she would also add analytical and passionate as descriptors. Erin's passion for everything natural exudes from her core. Her inquisitiveness developed at a young age; as the much older sister of three, she learned to have fun playing by herself in the woods and streams of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Erin's childhood playground was a bucolic landscape with undulating hills and narrow creeks winding through horse pastures. She had the fortunate opportunity to romp in the magnificent Laurels Nature Preserve, a mixture of hardwood forests, streams, open fields, and covered bridges and explore the environment and herself. Erin attended Franklin Pierce College, a small liberal arts college in New Hampshire that focused on educational integration of individuals with the community.

    During an amazing visit to the Laurels while home for the summer after her freshmen year of college, Erin had her first conscious epiphany: a calling to immerse herself in understanding the natural world and how she could conserve its delicate processes. This revelation lead Erin into the field of Environmental Science with a concentration in Conservation Biology, Natural History and Botany. For the summer and fall semester of her junior year Erin participated in The Walk Across Europe, a three and a half month journey through Europe. In Europe the walking group studied the tenets of Sufism, a eastern philosophy of life and integrated it through sauntering through the Alps and jumping off cliffs in Corsica. As you can imagine more epiphanies were generated as well as lasting friendships and killer leg muscles. With the mentality of a Sufi philosopher and a background as an environmental scientist, Erin graduated and went on to work as a breakfast chef, baker, census worker and finally an environmental consultant in Massachusetts. She honed her skills in wetland assessment and delineation, identifying plants, GPS surveying, and writing.

    Eventually, Erin broke out of the rat race and took a 6-month fellowship with the New England Wild Flower Society; just as the fellowship ended she accepted a position in Vermont as a state wetlands ecologist. For the past three and half years, Erin has been assessing and playing in wetlands throughout Vermont. Always knowing that she wanted to further her education in the natural resource field, but not necessarily become a specialist in any one discipline, she chose the Ecological Planning Program. Erin is more than ecstatic about being a part of this integrated community of learners and practitioners. When she is not with the X-8 cohort you can find Erin hiking and photographing the Greens, in a yoga studio, or at home baking an assortment of goodies, caching for the winter.


  • Sara MulfordSara Mulford
    Sara grew up with three brothers and an assortment of pets in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Since her dad was a professor and had a lengthy summer break, she and her family escaped the asphalt and strip malls of suburbia for weeks at a time in the summer to camp and hike in the Adirondacks, coastal Maine, and the hills of Virginia and West Virginia. There was also ample time in the summers to grow enough vegetables to feed the family and most of the neighbors. Interacting with nature, frequent trips to the mountains and getting away from developments and consumerism being the themes of her childhood, Sara's job choices and re-location patterns make a lot of sense.

    Sara earned her B.S. in Biology at Houghton College in western New York, slipping in a semester in the Himalayas and a semester in Tanzania, to keep the educational experience real and exciting, aided Sara with a wide range of outlets for fun and creativity and friendships during school and beyond. Field Botany, Sustainable Agriculture and Alpine Ecology are the three courses that Sara considered to be "life changing and inspiring." Sara lived in Waldorf house (an intentional community of undergraduate women from several disciplines), took extra courses in ceramics, photography, kayaking, rock climbing, and equestrian studies, and spent the seemingly endless winters cross-country skiing and making quilts. During college, Sara worked as a boating instructor and wilderness guide at summer camps in New York and Colorado. After a brief time of assisting with website and on-line curriculum development, Sara returned to the mountains and wilderness in Colorado to work with adjudicated youth. Since then, she has worked as a teacher's assistant in East Africa, a barista at an independent coffee shop, an Assistant Crew Manager with the VYCC in a Vermont State Park, and the one and only Aquatic Nuisance Species Sticker Coordinator for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

    By her frequent outbursts of, "I love Vermont!" and "That was the most exciting day of my life!" after a day in the field with the other first-year Field Naturalists and Ecological Planners, she leaves little room for doubt that she is thoroughly excited to be living here and studying at UVM. She is also unashamedly in love with the eight wonderful egg-laying chickens residing at the Butternut house in Williston (which is her residence as well), filling up her travel mug with Green Mountain Coffee, and talking to vendors at farmer's markets. Anything that takes place outside is her "favorite thing to do," and she'll give you a list if you ask for a single favorite book or movie. Sara's guidelines for herself in any place in life are, "every day is an adventure, take time to enjoy the simple things, cultivate friendships, leave the cell phone at home sometimes, get enough sleep, call a family member every week and don't forget to eat."


  • Matthew PetersMatthew Peters
    As a child and to this day, Matt's most precious times are spent out of doors, wandering and exploring whatever undeveloped lands may be close at hand. This has fostered a deep and vital relationship with the natural world that has always been the motivating core of his interests and actions. Growing up in suburban Minnesota, a backyard garden, an unruly neighborhood greenspace, and a neglected wildlife management area down the road served as his daily teachers and sources of wonder. Coupled with annual wilderness canoe trips, family road trips to the west, and an early predilection toward field guides, these teachers lead Matt toward study in the natural sciences.

    Moving to the prairies of western Minnesota, Matt studied biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris. During his summers and in the years following his degree, Matt pursued field jobs in ecological research. These jobs expanded his self-developed botanical skills and carried him to new landscapes across the continent. From Maine to Southeast Alaska to Idaho, Nebraska, and back to Minnesota, Matt absorbed these landscapes and the challenges that face them. Following these years of roaming, he returned to Minnesota for a year of more involved research in prairie restoration at the St. Croix Watershed Research Station. Through this travel and work Matt pondered the questions of how conservation efforts could become more successful and how to be a part of them. While he enjoyed these experiences, Matt became increasingly aware that ecological research alone was not effective at motivating conservation in the real world and that incorporating social and economic realities are a vital part of the conservation process.

    To explore this idea and his longstanding interest in pottery, Matt engaged in a year long apprenticeship at the St. John's Pottery, an art studio that seeks to integrate local, sustainable resource use with artistic expression, connection to nature, land stewardship, and quality of life. This experience stimulated not only his love of playing with mud but also an interest in ecological design and a deepened realization of the need for conservation to address human values and needs in concert with those of nature. Matt seeks to engage these perspectives to develop a more holistic vision of conservation that works to reunite people with their environment in a mutually beneficial relationship. It is to further this goal that he joined the Ecological Planning program and plans to study in the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics.

    When not engaged in such academic efforts, Matt is most likely to be found exploring the woods and fields, making wood-fired pottery, or foraging to fill his belly with the fruits of the land.

Last modified October 07 2009 09:22 AM

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