University of Vermont

Rubenstein School lecture series speaker bios

Brief biographical information for speakers and participants

Opening Panel: Sustainability Insights

Thomas Hudspeth

Tom is Professor of Environmental Studies and Natural Resources at UVM.  His area of scholarly interest in Sustainability applies insights of behavioral sciences to facilitate environmentally responsible behavior -- that is, help people to become more environmentally literate and to live more sustainably.  Tom teaches courses in Sustainability Education, Creating Environmentally-Sustainable Communities, and Integrating Analyses of Natural Resource Issues.  He and others are working to gain recognition of our area as a "Regional Center of Expertise in ESD" as part of the U.N. Decade for ESD, 2005-2014.

Jen Cirillo

Jen is Shelburne Farms Director of Professional Development and Director of Sustainable Schools Project. Jen is the co-chair of the K-12 and Teacher Education Sector of the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, and co-chair of the VT Statewide Environmental Education Program (SWEEP). She works with the Sustainability Academy in Burlington among other schools locally, nationally and internationally to integrate the concept of sustainability into curriculum, campus practices and culture, and community partnerships. Jen is an alum of the UVM Plant and Soil Science Department and helped to start the Common Ground student run farm in 1995. She loves biking on the shores of Lake Champlain.

Peter McConville

Peter is an English Teacher at Burlington High School. While a love of literature lead Peter into teaching, he recognizes the importance of an interdisciplinary approach in providing a thorough education. Not seeing too many opportunities for this type of experience at his high school, he began co-teaching a course two years ago titled "Seminar on the Culture of Place" where students explore place-based opportunities within the framework of education for sustainability. Peter is a 1999 graduate of the State University of New York at Geneseo and received an M.A. in English and an M.Ed. from the University of Vermont in 2006. In 2011 he received a Rowland Fellowship to facilitate education reform within his school.

New Perspectives Panel:

Walter Poleman

Walter is a Senior Lecturer in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and the Director GreenHouse Residential Learning Community.  He also directs the PLACE (Place-based Analysis and Community Engagement) Program in collaboration with Shelburne Farms.  He specializes in landscape natural history and ecosystem geography and teaches Measurements and Mapping of Natural Resources (NR 25), Place-based Landscape Analysis (NR 378), and Ecology of Place (NR 85).  He has taught ecology for the past ten summers at Vermont Law School, and serves as a trustee for the Vermont Land Trust. His teaching awards include the 2003 Kroespsh-Maurice Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 2005 Outstanding Service-Learning Faculty Award.

Matt Kolan

Matt is on the Faculty of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and a graduate of the Field Naturalist Program.  His work is fundamentally about strengthening, renewing, and restoring relationships.  As an avid naturalist, tracker, and gardener, Matt is inspired and guided by the wisdom of nature and the language of the land.  He teaches courses on diversity, power and privilege, ecology and natural history, systems thinking, problem-solving, and educational design for sustainability.  Matt has won university awards for his teaching and work facilitating service-learning and community partnerships.  Matt’s research explores educational practices that create conditions for transformational learning (at the individual and organizational levels).  He also studies convening and facilitation practices that work with difference, use tension as a generative force, and foster emergent new properties, patterns, and relationships.  Matt also works as an educational and organizational consultant for a variety of organizations including the Center for Whole Communities, the PLACE Program, Shelburne Farms, the Midwest Regional Collaborative for Sustainability Education, Burlington School District, NatureBridge, and the International Nature Mentoring Movement.  He currently serves on the National Parks Advisory Board Committee for Relevancy.

Karen Nordstrom

Karen is a doctoral candidate in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. Her research focuses on sustainability education at the level of higher education and involves her in the development of courses and programs that focus on sustainability and food systems. Karen holds a masters degree in education from the California State University Monterey Bay, where her work focused on the integration of K-8 garden-based science instruction with English Learners to a teacher professional development model of the Monterey Bay Science Project.

Guest Lecturers:

Bill McKibben

Bill is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. He is the author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. Time Magazine called him 'the planet's best green journalist' and the Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was 'probably the country's most important environmentalist.' Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, he holds honorary degrees from a dozen colleges, including the Universities of Massachusetts and Maine, the State University of New York, and Whittier and Colgate Colleges. Bill has been awarded Guggenheim and Lyndhurst Fellowships, and won the Lannan Prize for nonfiction writing in 2000. In 2011 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Bill currently resides with his wife, writer Sue Halpern, and his daughter, Sophie, who was born in 1993, in Ripton, Vermont.

Greg Smith

Greg is Professor of Teacher Education at Lewis & Clark. His current writing and research revolves around the practice of place-andcommunity-based education. This approach to education focuses on using local knowledge, phenomena, and experience as the foundation forteaching and learning. Its aim is to connect children and youth more firmly to their own communities and region and to prepare them toparticipate in the shaping of a more just and sustainable society. He is a fellow of the National Educational Policy Center based at theUniversity of Colorado-Boulder, serves on the board of the Rural School and Community Trust, and is a founding member of the EnvironmentalMiddle School in Portland. He is the author of several books with his most recent, "Place- and Community-based Education in Schools" (2010)co-written with David Sobel.  He is a native Oregonian -- strongly hooked to the Pacific Northwest.

Taylor Ricketts

Taylor is Professor of Natural Resources & Environment and Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont. Taylor’s interests focus on the overarching question: How do we meet the needs of people and nature in an increasingly crowded, changing world? In his research and teaching, Taylor integrates natural and social sciences to address both fundamental scientific issues and real-world conservation problems. Taylor’s recent work has focused on the economic benefits provided to people by forests, wetlands, reefs, and other natural areas. He is co-founder of the Natural Capital Project, a partnership among universities and NGOs to map and value these natural benefits. Taylor also served as Convening Lead Author for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a 5-year, UN-sponsored effort to assess global ecosystems and their contributions to human well-being. These and other collaborations are part of a continuing effort to link rigorous research with practical conservation and policy efforts worldwide. Before arriving at UVM in 2011, Taylor led World Wildlife Fund’s Conservation Science Program for nine years, and he remains a Senior Fellow at WWF. He is the author of over 70 scientific publications, and his work has been featured in over 100 stories in more than 20 media outlets.

Jon Erickson

Jon is Professor and Managing Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont. He is currently the President of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics, Executive Editor of the Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, and board or advisory committee member of numerous nongovernmental organizations. His research on topics such as energy & climate change policy, land conservation, watershed planning, environmental public health, and the theory & practice of ecological economics has been published in journals such as Science, Climatic Change, Land Economics, PLoS Medicine, Energy Policy, and Ecological Economics. Recent books include The Great Experiment in Conservation: Voices from the Adirondack Park (2009), Frontiers in Ecological Economic Theory and Application (2007), and Ecological Economics: a Workbook for Problem-Based Learning (2005). Jon is also an Emmy award-winning producer of documentary films such as Bloom: the Plight of Lake Champlain, Transparent Radiation, and the forthcoming Vermont Energy Independence Day. He has been a Fulbright Scholar at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania; Visiting Professor at the University of Iceland, Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in the Dominican Republic, and Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra; and was on the economics faculty at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before joining the University of Vermont.

Jon Young

Jon has pioneered blending Native mentoring techniques from around the world with the tools of modern field ecology. Under Jon Young's guidance, Wilderness Awareness School, which was originally founded as a high school nature club, has grown to reach students all around the world with its programs that help people reconnect with their native environments.  Jon has created several popular audio training series which can be purchased through the products section of this website, he is the principal author of both The Kamana Naturalist Training Program and Animal Tracking Basics, and is co-author with Ellen Haas and Evan McGown of the forthcoming Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature - for Kids of All Ages and Their Mentors, a book about our curriculum. He is also the director and founder of OWLink Media and the Shikari Tracking Guild, and serves as a guest expert instructor for the Anake Outdoor School and certain other Wilderness Awareness School programs.

John Todd

John studied agriculture and tropical medicine at Montreal's McGillUniversity. He holds a doctorate in fisheries and oceanography from the University of Michigan but left his work as a "doom scientist" toco-found the New Alchemy Institute in Falmouth. He says, "I was discovering what was going wrong; I decided I would rather discoverways of making things go right," so he began to explore how nature could solve some of the man-made problems he had encountered. This ledto his development of the first Eco Machines. He recognizes that we need sustainable solutions to waste, food and energy in order to meetthe needs of the Earth's human population. To date, his Eco Machines have included a 600-meter-long restorer which has cleaned up a stretchof heavily-polluted urban canal in Fuzhou, southern China; an aquaculture system in Burlington, VT which uses nutrients from fishwaste to nourish fish and vegetables for human consumption; a restorer which treats waste water from a food processing plant in ChesapeakeBay; and a compact desktop model: "It transforms drinking water with a fair amount of contaminants in it, including chlorine and heavy metals,to pure living water. We call it Vermont tonic." John and his wife, Nancy Jack Todd, founded the non-profit organization, Ocean ArksInternational, which promotes and educates in ecological design via its Web site. He joined the University of Vermont as a professor in 1999,where he teaches ecological design. That same year, he received a "Hero of the Earth" accolade from Time Magazine.

Thomas J. Votta

Tom was an early leader in creating and advancing environmental best practices in collaboration with organizations throughout the world. He received his B.S. in Civil/Environmental Engineering from the University of Vermont, and an M.S. in Environmental Management and Policy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to earning his PE from the State of Vermont and working on clean water design projects with Metcalfe and Eddy, Tom was a senior scientist with the Tellus Institute’s Business and Sustainability Group, and served as the Deputy Director of the Chemical Strategies Partnership. He pioneered work in the areas of resource management, supply chain management, pollution prevention, environmental accounting, and corporate environmental strategy. He worked with a range of companies and institutions, including General Motors, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin as well as the US EPA, counties, and local school districts. Tom was an intellectual leader, advancing environmental best practice with his tremendous work and clever humor.  The newly established Thomas J Votta Memorial Fund at the University of Vermont will be used to provide scholarships to applicants whose potential equals their passion for advancing environmental best practices and related activities, in honor of a man who spent his short life in that same pursuit.

Jill Kauffman Johnson

Jill is cofounder and Executive Director of the Chemical Strategies Partnership, a nonprofit organization working with manufacturers to reduce their use of toxic chemicals through an innovative supply chain approach. She helps clients strategically assess their manufacturing operations to improve environmental and chemical management, reduce the use of hazardous materials, and reduce costs. She also initiated a membership arm of the organization, the CMS Forum, which includes leading chemical suppliers and their customers. Jill is also a Principal at the consulting firm, California Environmental Associates (CEA), where she leads the Sustainable Business practice area. Before joining CEA, she was the founding Director of the Pacific Coast Regional Office of the Ocean Conservancy. She also served as a market analyst for recycled plastic at U.S. EPA. Jill received the 2005 Pacific Industrial and Business Association Award for Outstanding Safety, Health, and Environmental Leadership to the Silicon Valley Environmental Health and Safety Community. She earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in human biology from Stanford University

Paul Ligon

Paul is a  business executive with decades of experience in the environmental field launching, managing, and leading successful, profitable and award winning organizations, business units, and service offerings on behalf of Fortune 500 companies, governmental agencies, start-ups, and NGOs throughout the world.   Paul is currently Vice President of Development for Casella Resource Solutions, a Vermont based public corporation - and early leader in the resource management field that provides recycling, organic residual processing, energy, bio-fuels, and closed loop recovery solutions to businesses, universities, and communities.  Prior to joining Casella, Paul served on the senior leadership team of Waste Management's Upstream Division, where he was responsible for launching and scaling profitable zero waste service lines for Fortune 500 companies. From 1990 to 2011, Paul worked for the Tellus Institute, a global environmental research and consulting NGO, where he was responsible for advising agencies and businesses on emerging best practice and policies related to product and material recovery, recycling, and reuse.  Paul received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont and a Master's of Business Administration from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. He co-founded the University of Vermont's "Vermont Student Environmental Program" in 1988, and Tuck's "Business and Sustainability Initiative" in 2002.

Debra Rowe

Debra is Senior Fellow in Education for Sustainability at ULSF - University Leaders for a Sustainable Future.  She has been professor of renewable energies and energy management for over 20 years at Oakland Community College. Students in her alternate energy technologies courses regularly include builders, architects, engineers, building trades people and facilities managers. She won the State and Regional Professional Development Award from the Association of Energy Engineers ( for the curricula of the Environmental Systems Technology program. She is an active consultant for many organizations including:  a national consortium of community colleges entitled PETE (the Partnership for Environmental Technology Education), where she created a model energy management degree design for community colleges, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. She also consults for twenty colleges, helping them incorporate energy and/or sustainability into their institutions' operations and curricula. In addition, Dr. Rowe is the energy and sustainability consultant to the National Science Foundation funded National Science Database Library. She is on the education division board of the American Solar Energy Society. She is the author and editor of numerous publications on the integration of sustainability into education. 

Last modified February 29 2012 11:35 AM

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