Agricultural Transition through Transformative Practices in Rural Economies

The University of Vermont is excited to be the host institution for the UDSA sponsored Research and Extension Experiential Undergraduate Learning Fellowship (REEU) program.

Each summer, from 2021-2023, up to 15 undergraduate students from US institutions, representing diverse academic backgrounds, will be provided an opportunity to conduct pathbreaking interdisciplinary research on the cultural, economic and scientific roles of the agricultural transition toward industrial hemp production.

Application Deadline: February 1, 2023

  • Program Description

    This 21-day summer research intensive will run from July 6 - July 27, 2023. Adopting a transdisciplinary approach, students will investigate systems of agricultural sustainability and community development.

    Undergraduate students will explore the economic impact of the food and fiber through workshops and an immersive research experience. In addition to understanding the specific applications and potentials of industrial hemp, students will gain transferable skills related to basic research, production, processing, opportunity recognition, problem solving, prototyping, and commercialization.

Faculty Profiles

Steve Kostell, MFA

Co-P.I. and mentor Steven Kostell is an Assistant Professor teaching design in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics. Kostell’s work in design and cultural entrepreneurship employs a systems-based approach to community-centered design. Kostell has led collaborative projects focused on agri-fiber waste mitigation/conversion and leads the BioFiber Paper Lab where undergraduate students engage in research projects developing value-added products in collaboration with farmers. In this project, The Biofiber Lab will expose students to mechanical processing of hemp fiber to paper prototype. As part of the transition design workshop, students will be led through a visioning exercise that will explore local-sourcing fibers for micro-manufacturing opportunities, identifying socio-technical systems, stakeholder groups, and defining new opportunities for rural communities.

Jane Kolodinsky, PhD

Jane Kolodinsky is Chair and Professor in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics. Kolodinsky’s lab, Center for Rural Studies at UVM works with people and communities to address social, economic, and resource-based challenges. It is home to the State Data Center (SDC), a cooperative program with the U.S. Census Bureau that houses community level Census data, ranging from economic indicators to agricultural data. Kolodinsky will mentorstudents through understanding the research process as it applies to people and places, develop questionnaires, collect and analyze data, and present results.

Heather Darby, PhD

UVM Extension Faculty member and mentor Heather Darby leads the UVM Extension crop, soil and pasture team. The team works closely with the farming community to develop and implement applied research focused on improving crop, soil, and pasture productivity while protecting environmental quality. The team delivers research results to the farming community through web-based materials, mobile applications, virtual reality technology, videos, social media, and more standard formats such as field days and bulletins. Darby’s team hosts the region’s annual Crop and Soil Field Day at Borderview Farm, which will provide a format for students to informally present their work to the regional agricultural community. Students will work at Dr. Darby’s lab, Borderview Research Farm. It is a 235-acre farm with over 3,000 research plots, and is also a dairy replacement operation and biofuel facility. Borderview Research Farm is a leader in the study of best planting dates, varieties, and field management for hemp fiber, seed, and CBD production. Dr. Darby and her team aim to provide the best and most relevant cropping information, both research-based and experiential, delivered in the most practical and understandable ways to Vermont farmers. Students will document models of agricultural transition to develop stories that translate extension research objectives and outcomes. This information will be incorporated into student presentations as part of the annual Field Day at the end of the program.

Eric Bishop-vonWettberg, PhD

Eric Bishop-von Wettberg is an Associate Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont with a research program focused on characterizing the diversity of genebanks and heirloom varieties to harness adaptations to extreme environments in emerging crops. Students will be led through field and lab experiences, viewing and measuring different market classes of hemp, tour farms of regional producers, take measurements on breeding lines, maintain accessions in tissue culture, extract DNA and process it for sequencing from different varieties, sample soil from different production systems, and measure nitrogen and soil microbial communities.

Sarah Heiss, PhD

CDAE UVM faculty member and mentor Sarah Heiss is an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics. Heiss’ teaching and research program is in the area of communication. She regularly mentors and publishes with undergraduate students. She teaches courses in Communicating Science, and Small Group/Organizational/Professional Communication. Heiss will mentor students in areas of professional development, including collaboration, presentation, and defining roles in team projects.


Each undergraduate fellow will receive travel accommodations, on-campus housing and meals. In addition, participating fellows will receive an iPad and a modest stipend of $750.

Program Schedule





Students arrive at UVM
Welcome reception – Program overview



Team building: Intro to Design Thinking

Small Group Communication & Collaboration



AM: Introduction to Transition Design

PM: Community capitals; Collecting community data

TRiO dinner presentation—all about college success


Agripreneurship & Innovation Tour



Lab Rotation (all) - Documenting Systems



Lab Rotation (groups of 5)

CRS/ BioFiber Lab / Plant & Soil Lab


Lab Rotation (groups of 5)

CRS / BioFiber Lab / Plant & Soil Lab


Lab Rotation (groups of 5)

CRS / BioFiber Lab / Plant & Soil Lab


Lab Intensive - Borderview Farm


Lab Intensive – Center for Rural Studies


Lab Intensive - Bio-Fiber Lab


Lab Intensive - Plant & Soil Lab



AM: Communicating Science

PM: Communicating to your audience



AM: Presentation Design

PM: Data analysis/ Data visualization


Farmer’s Market—collecting student data-All (Lime survey on tablets)


Lab Intensive

In their labs—mentoring on analysis; data reporting; time to draft research reports



AM: Presentation Design

PM: Group meetings


Public Presentation

Field Day @ Borderview Farm, UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program



AM: Professional Development / LinkedIn

PM: Project presentations 


Final Debrief

Student discussions about learning experience, process, presentation experience



  • The University of Vermont Summer REEU Site is open to current undergraduate students from all U.S. institutions – including 2-year and community colleges, and all private and public colleges and universities.
  • Applicants must be U.S. Citizens or Resident Aliens at the time of application and throughout the duration of the Summer REEU Site program.
  • Students from under-represented/served groups in STEM sciences, students from low socioeconomic experiences, and students from institutions with limited or unavailable research opportunities are particularly encouraged to apply for this opportunity.
  • Students who have received their bachelor’s degrees and are no longer enrolled as undergraduates at the time of the Summer program are not eligible to participate.

Application instructions

When you click on the “Apply to Be a Fellow” link on the right (or at the bottom on a tablet or phone), be prepared to respond to the questions below. 

You may prepare answers in a word processing document and simply copy and paste answers into the appropriate sections. Please limit each response to 1500 characters.

  • What is your interest in the fields of agriculture, community development, plant biology, and design?
  • What aspects of the program most appeal to you? Why?
  • Discuss what you hope to gain as well as contribute to the program.
  • Describe any prior relevant academic, research, or work experience.

The application will ask for you to rank your first choice and second choice of the disciplines addressed by this project (Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities, Agriculture Systems and Production, Plant Biology, Design).

___ Agricultural Economics & Rural Communities

___ Agriculture Systems & Production

___ Plant Biology

___ Design & Prototyping

To complete your Application Package, you will be prompted to upload the following documents as a .PDF or .DOC:

A. Letter of Introduction, describing your interest in the Summer REEU Site at the University of Vermont and how the program will contribute to your educational and professional goals (up to 500 words)

B. One (1) page resume (educational, employment, and volunteer work experiences)

Please use the link on the right side of the project webpage to request letters from your recommenders. Be sure to confirm they have received a link to the recommendation form and that they have completed the recommendation.

Application Deadline is February 1, 2023. Review of applications for this year’s program will begin on March 1.

This work is supported by the Undergraduate Research and Extension Experiential Learning Fellowship, grant no. 12889837/project accession no. VT-0085CG, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute if Food and Agriculture.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or U.S. Government determination or policy.

Workshops will introduce theories of change through transition design, link methods of innovation from design thinking, expose students to data analysis and visualization, and emphasize collaboration and small group communication.

Field experiences focus on production and cultivation of industrial hemp at various levels of scale through trips to regional farms, processing and production facilities, and retail outlets.

Research experiences test soil samples, assess varieties and market classes, grow hemp in tissue culture, sequence DNA, process fibers, protype bioproduct-to-paper, and utilize survey methods to design, collect, analyze and report consumer data.

View and download the promotional PDF

Recent Headlines

Statement on Covid-19: We are anticipating that the Summer 2023 USDA NIFA REEU Site program will move forward as an in-person program taking place in Vermont. We will adjust to observe guidelines set by the university, public health officials, and local, state, and federal governments.