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Rubenstein School to Work with Agency of Natural Resources

By Cheryl Dorschner Article published September 27, 2005

Limnology @ Willoughby
Suzanne Levine's limnology lab students got a lesson on Lake Willoughby from Ethan Swift, alum and scientist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Back to front are Swift, Levine and student Julie Larouche. (Image: Dani Newcomb)

After a night of pouring rain, the clouds cleared enough late on the morning of Sept. 17 for John Alexander to rev up his pontoon boat for a cruise around Lake Willoughby.

On this day Alexander, a lay monitor for Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, had more on board than his gear for sampling water. On his craft and a small motorboat, 10 students from Associate Professor Suzanne Levine’s limnology lab came for a lesson in the characteristics of this unusually cold, deep and nutrient-poor lake. The class tapped the expertise of two DEC water-quality scientists, Ethan Swift and Neil Kamman, both UVM graduate school alumni. Besides boning up on the littoral zone and sediments, “a number of the students asked me about career and internship opportunities with the DEC and the Agency of Natural Resources,” Swift says.

This parlay between monitoring and lessons on the lake, between facts about what lives in its depths and career advice, is exactly the kind of thing that UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources want to foster. To that end, about 50 members of the two groups held a day-long retreat at the beginning of the UVM academic year to identify several issues that will benefit from collaboration.

“We are the education and research arm. They are the on-the-ground interpreters and land managers,” says Don DeHayes, dean of the Rubenstein school. “We respect each other’s roles and want to continue to move forward together to address the environmental issues and opportunities in our state,” DeHayes adds.

“It is important the state’s research university and the state government sat down to plan together. We’re looking for a synergy between the two, so that our efforts build on each other,” says ANR secretary Thomas Torti.

In their joint meeting, the UVM school and state agency hammered out a list of Vermont’s key environmental issues. The two entities share more than the words “natural resources” in their names. The agency is the umbrella organization for the departments of Fish & Wildlife; Forests, Parks & Recreation; and Environmental Conservation. The Rubenstein school’s research and curriculum is in precisely those areas. In fact, Torti pointed out that, like the state employees who led the recent Lake Willoughby excursion, a number of ANR staff are UVM alumni, while others also have personal connections and common interests with their UVM counterparts.

The two groups already work together on a number of projects such as the Governor’s Clean and Clear Action Plan and research on bear habitats.

“The Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit and the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative provide good examples of collaboration between the agency and the school,” said Clare Ginger, who facilitated the retreat. “We’re looking for other opportunities. For example, UVM is doing stormwater research while the ANR has to manage this issue and address public concerns. Can the efforts of each group help inform the other? Our students conduct fish sampling for the agency, perhaps ANR can also work with us in the classroom and our students can learn additional techniques in the field.”

“In 5-10 years I see the possibilities for an internship and job placement program, adjunct faculty with ANR experience, several ongoing projects and a flow of students between the two organizations,” Torti agreed. “Academics need continuous feedback on the real-world application of what they teach so they can make adjustments.”

“Our research results can inform the management and stewardship aspects of the agency,” said DeHayes. He adds, “We want this relationship to blossom.”

The groups agreed to form a committee this month to identify one project and make it happen. DeHayes also plans another shorter session in which the groups answer the questions, “What should our graduates be able to do 10 years from now?” and “What does ANR need to look like to face Vermont’s issues in the next 10 years?”