on the Side
by Kevin Foley
Hudspeth, with thirty years of experience in the Environmental Program,
is no exception. This years winner of the George V. Kidder Outstanding
Faculty Award, the campuss highest teaching honor, has devoted his
career to promoting sustainability, the practice of providing for the
present without sacrificing the future. When Hudspeth works his way into
his students minds, he might leave some train tickets, a tidy compost
bin, or other ideas to help them tread on the Earth with smaller shoes.
he differs from many other talented teachers is in the subtlety and empathy
of his approach. Some professors pace around the lectern with grand gestures
and lecture in eloquent sentences that rise and fall with the cadences
of the Baptist pulpit, twisting and forming into paragraphs, pages, chapters.
Hudspeth calls these star professors sages on the stage, and
he admires them. But his style is different. Hudspeth, a soft spoken man
with a very large beard, borrows from the scholarly literature of his
specialty, environmental education, for another description. He sees himself
as a guide on the side, asking probing questions, encouraging
thoughtful answers, and painstakingly creating an atmosphere to support
students as they collaborate rather than compete.
students grow is exciting and powerful, he says. You see them
come in as unsure 18-year-olds and then you see them graduate. After that,
you stay in touch. So many of them go on to do things in the field. They
become colleagues rather than students.
the backyard, Hudspeth moved to the national parks, taking advantage of
a private program that placed students in park jobs. His interest in natural
history and conservation gained momentum there, accompanying him to Williams
College, which launched one of the countrys first environmental
studies programs after he arrived. He graduated in 1970, moved on to graduate
work at the University of Michigan, and landed an instructors job
at UVM in 1972, where he played a crucial role in starting the universitys
in his teaching career, Hudspeth often lectured in front of auditoriums,
teaching the basics to hundreds of first- and second-year students. I
had butterflies in my stomach every time, he says. For Hudspeth,
teaching with lectures is like driving the interstates; you quickly get
where you want to go, but lose something in the journey. While willing
to take the direct route and lecture, he prefers to meander the back roads
via bicycle, guiding his students through the material in creative ways,
but also trading off and letting them guide each other and himself.
Its a partnership informed by Hudspeths considerable experience
and insistently high standards (he approvingly refers to an influential
past teacher as a confidantand a tough coach), but its
theres a fine line where my scholarship ends and where my teaching
and the students scholarship begins, and I think thats healthy,
developing ecotourism projects in Island Pond to field-testing new ways
to teach kids about the environment at Lewis Creek, much of what Hudspeth
does is integrally tied in with what he teaches. His twenty-six-page curriculum
vitae lists hundreds of papers, presentations and grants; many have student
contributors, or even co-authors. Its exciting to work with
students and share my interest in things I find intellectually intriguing
and have them play a role in these projects, he says.
of his current teaching time, and some of his scholarly efforts, are devoted
to international projects, which he often pegs to travel study courses
in Latin America. The traveling courses drop a small group of students
into Costa Rica, Belize or Honduras for a few weeks, letting them see
how a village protects a refuge for biodiversity or farms sustainably.
The students share their expertise with area projects (one of Hudspeths
classes collaborated with students from the Honduran Conservation Corps
to create interpretive displays for a national park), but Hudspeth says
they learn far more from the local people than they teach.
the landscape instructs. At a coffee plantation near Lake Yojoa in the
humid heart of Honduras, students wander through a pre-Colombian site,
envisioning past temples, priests, and ballfields. The class walks and
imagines, and then Hudspeth takes them to a small stream, just a few inches
wide. The tiny trickle of water is surrounded by a dead margin of scoured
rock easily a football field in width, the legacy of a deadly 1998 hurricane.
In mountainous Honduras, impoverished campesinos work poor soil on steep
hillsides; most of the good bottomland is owned by corporations. When
the hurricane came, the rain swept the soil down the slopes, creating
massive mudslides that killed thousands. Standing on the spot, a scar
slashed through lush greenery, lectures and readings gain renewed power.
see it, says Hudspeth. Globalization isnt just a fuzzy
concept there, its real.
draws some inspiration from a collaborative project hes run with
students for several years. Students find individuals and groups working
toward sustainability and showcase their efforts in a public access television
show that debuts during Earth Week, and runs again throughout the year.
Students research, interview, and produce video for the program. Hudspeth
launched the show because he was tired of seeing people who reduced their
ecological impact have the effort ignored or even ridiculed in the mainstream
press. Having students tell the stories of green heroes puts
them in close contact with potential role models, and lets them turn abstract
knowledge into advocacy. You cant help but feel positive once
you see how people are making a difference, he says.
students find lessons in life (and putting life in lessons), is another
thing that great teachers like Hudspeth do. He expects that his students
will finish their semesters with deeper appreciation of sustainability.
He expects them to leave understanding how ecological responsibility,
economic reality, equity and education can harmonize and help people find
lasting ways to protect their lifestyle and surroundings. But education
is more than that. Sometimes it is walking a class along a gash in the
landscape; sometimes it is a piñata.
the summer of 2001 and Hudspeth is teaching in one of the remotest parts
of Costa Rica. His daughter, Bonnie, a UVM sophomore, is along on the
trip, and it is her 19th birthday. The group is exhausted, sweaty, fried
from a day of birdwatching, lectures and work that began at sunrise. But
its a birthday. A party is in order. Hudspeth and the group take
a box of cooking flour and fill it with candies and coins. They cover
it with banana leaves, palm leaves, native plants of every shape and description.
A bird of paradise becomes the head, and a local man fashions a luxuriant
tail. That tropical bird piñata, a gift more precious than the
usual DVD players and skis, embodied a fathers love for his daughter
and the triumph of meaning over the material.
lot of students wrote in their trip journals what a powerful experience
it was, hitting at that piñata, this gorgeous bird made of palm
and flowering plants from the tropical rain forest, Hudspeth recalls.
It was so unlike a typical birthday.
Even though hes a year and thousands of miles away, Hudspeth smiles, just thinking of it.