University of Vermont

University Communications

Living on the LANDS Semester

LANDS students
Camping for days in wet hiking boots. Collecting hundreds of GIS points locating urban trees. Writing land management plans for Vermont conservation organizations. James Pospishil '16, a wildlife and fisheries biology major, and Flore Costume '16, an environmental sciences major, were two of the fifteen undergraduates who pioneered UVM’s new LANDS Program Field Semester — and had a lot of fun along the way, even in their final presentation to a packed house of faculty and friends at the Davis Center. (Photo: Joshua Brown)

UVM’s new LANDS Program Field Semester is the only program of its kind in the United States. Similar to a study abroad program — but staying on campus — 15 undergraduate students signed on as the first team in the spring of 2014. Then they worked — full-time, all fall — on field-based alternatives to traditional classes — serving as consultants to numerous towns and conservation organizations across Vermont.

A partnership between UVM and the Student Conservation Assocation, “the purpose of LANDS is to promote better land stewardship,” explains Flore Costume ’16, a member of the LANDS team and a student in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. “A lot of the things we were doing involved going outside — and putting what we learned conceptually into practice.”

For example, the students gained skills in plant identification and then applied that for the Vermont River Conservancy. They took an inventory of species along a stretch of Vermont’s most wild river, the Nulhegan — and then wrote a report to help the land trust manage one of its properties. Here’s a photo of the students at work, from the LANDS team blog:

LANDS semester students

The students earned a full semester of academic credit while exploring landscapes throughout Vermont — whether mapping urban tree cover in the town of Vergennes or hiking to a field site on the Long Trail. They developed professional conservation skills and applied their learning to help many local conservation commissions — including Northfield, Bristol and Johnson — as well as organizations like the Green Mountain Club and the Winooski Valley Park District.

“A lot what we were doing involved looking at maps, working on maps — and then creating maps,” Costume says. Like this:

LANDS semester students working with maps

On Dec. 2, the team gathered to celebrate the completion of the first LANDS semester — and talk about their work to an overflow crowd at UVM’s Davis Center. Friends, represenatives from partner organizations, their two instructors and many UVM faculty gathered.

“There are many field-based semester programs, but this is the only university-based program that offers a full-semester, intensive, cohort-based program entirely focused on service-learning and land conservation,” says Emily Brodsky, the LANDS program coordinator and graduate of UVM’s Ecological Planning master’s program.

The semester program will be offered again next fall semester — and is an expansion of the summer LANDS internship program that was begun with leadership from UVM professor Deane Wang in 2007.

“Our sponsors have expressed time and time again that LANDS has allowed them to achieve goals that never would have been accomplished or would have taken a much longer period of time because of their limited resources,” Brodsky says. “They’re able to educate the students about their organizations and the importance of the work they do, and in some cases, they've continued to work with the LANDS students and brought them on as volunteers, interns or staff.”

You can read more about the students’ semester of adventures in their LANDS blog.