University of Vermont

'Envisioning Environment' Work Group's Report Available for Comment

The Envisioning Environment faculty work group reported to the Faculty Senate this month its findings on the strengths and opportunities for improving environmental education and research at UVM. Charged last October by the president and provost to assess the university's comparative advantage in this area, the work group took stock of UVM's current organizational structures supporting these endeavors as well as best practices nationally and internationally.

As part of its inquiry, the group broadened its understanding of the task and expanded its focus from environment to environment, sustainability and health (ESH), areas with significant cross-college expertise. The inclusion of all three areas reflects, the group reports, a "systems approach that addresses the synergistic relationships necessary for long-term planetary and human well-being." UVM's areas of strength among these categories include: sustaining landscapes and watersheds, environment and society, promoting regional food systems and environmental health.

To arrive at these findings, the group held weekly public forums on a range of topics, where more than 50 faculty and staff reported on their units' contributions to environmental education, research and outreach at the university, as well as their visions for how to strengthen environment as a core theme of UVM's academic offerings. The work group also conducted interviews with UVM deans and and surveyed environmental education leaders at other institutions, including Stanford and Colorado State University.

Out of this effort, the Envisioning Environment work group created two sets of recommendations to focus and improve ESH efforts at the university: a set of "big idea" changes as well as a set of immediate action steps.

First among the "big idea" initiatives named in their report is the creation of a ESH institute or collaborative, correlating to the three areas where UVM has comparative depth and breadth of strength. Other "big ideas" include the creation of an ESH associate provost position; coordination of undergraduate curriculum in ESH; significant expansion of graduate support for ESH; and the creation of an "Environmental Commons," a physical hub and informative website for ESH activity, as well as a "one-stop office" for supporting environmental internships and research opportunities for undergraduates.

The report also names a number of immediate action steps, including: enrolling UVM in a national sustainability ranking program, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS); appointing faculty leadership for implementing recommendations; approving and implementing general education learning outcomes for sustainability; creating an ESH marketing piece for prospective students; and converting the work group's inventory to a master list accessible for public review.

"The report represents our best efforts to gather input from across the university. We are impressed with the tremendous range of ESH work going on at UVM. This is an obvious place to invest in UVM's future," says Professor Stephanie Kaza, who co-chaired the effort with Beverly Wemple, associate professor of geography. "We are now in the 30-day public comment period requested by the president, so we invite members of the campus community and beyond to submit comments on our findings and proposals."

The full report is available on the Office of the Provost’s website. Comments may be submitted through Feb. 14 via the input form or directly to The Envisioning Environment work group will review comments and submit the final report, public input summary, and any report amendments to President Sullivan and Provost Low on Feb. 28.

Faculty members of the work group included co-chairs Faculty Senate Vice-President Stephanie Kaza, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and Beverley Wemple, College of Arts and Sciences; Bob Bartlett, College of Arts and Sciences; Breck Bowden, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources; Alison Brody, College of Arts and Sciences; David A. Jones, School of Business Administration; Ernesto Mendez, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Matthew Poynter, College of Medicine; Taylor Ricketts, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources; Donna Rizzo, College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences; Don Ross, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Regina Toolin, College of Education and Social Services.