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Diversifying Green Studies

Rubenstein School passes $1 million mark in diversity funds, sees significant gains

By Jeff Wakefield Article published January 17, 2007

Rubenstein diversity
Rubenstein student Richard McCracken visits New York's High School for Environmental Studies as part of the school's efforts to recruit multicultural students. (Photo: Maria Erb)

The environmental and natural resources workforce in the United States, and the programs that train them, are notoriously homogeneous, leaving large segments of the nation's population underrepresented and potentially marginalized on environmental matters.

Thanks to years of diversity-targeted fund raising and outreach, the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources has become a leader in addressing this societal issue.

Two recent federal grants and a private gift have put the Rubenstein School over the $1 million mark in funding designed to promote multicultural diversity in the undergraduate and graduate student body at the school.

The funds, along with the school's long-standing practice of visiting high schools with diverse populations and hosting students from those schools at UVM, have enabled it to increase its undergraduate population of ALANA (African, Latino/a, Asian and Native American) students significantly since it received its first diversity funding in 1989. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the school had no ALANA students. Currently they represent 5.7 percent of the school's population.

The Rubenstein School also made its first high school visits in 1989.

"Throughout the 90s, we graduated six or seven ALANA students a year,” says Rubenstein School dean Don DeHayes. "The number of total graduates has now reached nearly 100. Even though all of them won't enter the environmental or natural resources fields, that's still a significant contribution."

USDA: Rubenstein a model program
The two recent grants, totaling $306,000, came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Multicultural Scholars and National Needs Fellowship programs. USDA has been an important source of diversity funding for the school.

"The Rubenstein School is a model for diversity initiatives within the natural resources and the environment domain," says Dr. Audrey Trotman, National Education Program Leader in Science and Education Resources Development at USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. Trotman says she has referred "several stakeholders" interested in diversity initiatives to the school.

The USDA grants will support both undergraduate and graduate education at the Rubenstein School. The undergraduate grant will fund five UVM students starting in the fall of 2007. The graduate fellowship, the first the Rubenstein School has received to diversify its graduate program, will fund four graduate students starting in the 2007 and 2008 academic years. As in the past, the Rubenstein School will target students with financial need as well as academic interest and ability.

Private gifts totaling $117,000 from two anonymous donors, together with $33,000 from the Lintilhac Foundation Scholarship Challenge grant to UVM, are being used to establish an endowed multicultural scholarship fund in the Rubenstein School, by far the largest gifts targeted to diversity in the school's history. Fifty thousand dollars of the total were given to challenge additional financial support for the Rubenstein School's diversity scholarship.

"We're extremely grateful to the donors," says DeHayes. The gifts "both demonstrate the traction our diversity initiatives have gained and the donors' insight that this is a vitally important issue with much work remaining."

At the request of the original anonymous donor, who sought to honor DeHayes' contributions to the school, the fund will be called the Donald H. DeHayes Multicultural Scholarship. The scholarship will provide annual assistance to one or more full-time undergraduate or graduate students in the school. Awards will be based on the student's academic ability, financial need, commitment to a career in the environment and natural resources and propensity to advance the university's goal of creating a diverse community.

The U.S.D.A. Forest Service has also been a significant contributor to the Rubenstein's diversity funding.

McCrorey a mentor
DeHayes first became sensitized to the lack of diversity in natural resources higher education in the mid-1980s when he met Larry McCrorey, then dean of UVM's School of Allied Health and an ardent proponent of diversifying UVM's faculty, staff and students.

"Larry was talking to all of the faculty about issues of cultural pluralism and asking us what we were doing to improve things," says DeHayes, who had just joined UVM's faculty. Knowing he was a decent teacher able to reach his students, DeHayes "decided to take the show on the road" and began making high school visits.

DeHayes also formed a diversity task force, whose membership grew from two at the outset — DeHayes and one staff member — to 25 today and spearheaded a process that resulted in the development of a long-term diversity plan, which the school has been modifying annually to chart a course to continuously improve representation, curriculum and climate in the school.

The plan and the task force ensure that diversity issues "are part of our day-to-day culture," says DeHayes.