At the University of Vermont, we are in so many ways the heirs of John
Dewey, the great educational philosopher, Vermonter, and UVM alumnus.
Dewey saw education as inseparable from action; it isn't preparation for
life, he believed, it is a process of living.
That kind of thinking is woven into our University's very fabric. We are
deeply committed to our social mission and to developing our students
intellectually and civically. So we support our students as they serve
- and learn - in the community. Our students spend more than 100,000 hours
a year in volunteer service, and tens of thousands more learning by doing
in internships and experiential learning programs. These might include
a biology major working at a lab bench with a professor on a cancer study,
perhaps, or an engineering student working in research and development
with Burton Snowboards.
Lost sometimes in that huge tally of hours is how individually meaningful
every single one of those hours can be. Take a young social work student,
assigned to help meet a family of Bantu refugees from Somalia on an icy
February evening. No one in the family spoke English, and the family and
the student communicated with them through gestures. Over time, the family
and student learned to communicate and became close. You figure
out what works and what doesn't, the student says.
At UVM, service works. We were recently selected by the Princeton Review
and the national non-profit group Campus Compact as one of the nation's
leading universities for social engagement. We will soon be featured in
the book Colleges with a Conscience: 81 Great Schools with Outstanding
Community Involvement. The efforts of two of our alumni, Jody Williams
and John McGill, were recognized with two Nobel Peace Prizes over the
last ten years.
For the future's leaders, we are rapidly expanding our successful service-learning
efforts. By correlating real-world experience with classroom activities,
service-learning enhances the way students acquire and retain knowledge
and skills. In addition to this effort, UVM strives to provide undergraduates
with a wide range of experiential learning experiences - environmental
students working closely with professors and community leaders to find
solutions to stormwater pollution, for example. This close connection
of classroom and field experience is a powerful educational practice.
We want our graduates to be leaders in their communities, in the organizations
in which they work, and across their professions. Highly honed communication
skills are essential to this. Writing matters in all fields. Getting ideas
across powerfully contributes to one's being a leader in chemistry, in
food science, in philosophy, or mechanical engineering. So we are working
to develop our ability to teach this through writing-intensive courses
within students' field of focus.
The goal, always, is to graduate students who are connected and committed
to their communities, expert problem solvers, both able and eager to carry
the UVM ethos into the world and make a difference. Supporting them in
this process is our work and our privilege, hour by hour, student by student.
President Fogel's message was originally aired, in an abbreviated form,
as a commentary on Vermont Public Radio in May 2005.