Our program fosters collaboration and mutual support. Cohorts of students, between four and eight per year, form lasting professional relationships and personal friendships, and they learn at least as much from each other as they do from their professors. Although students often work alone in remote places for their graduate research, they learn and socialize together during the academic year.
Jaime Van Leuven
Jaime holds a BA in Studio Art with a focus in sculpture from the University of New Hampshire. During her time at UNH, she spent a semester in Auroville, India, studying the effects of globalization at the individual, community, and global level. After college, Jaime worked as a hutmaster and naturalist for the Appalachian Mountain Club, where she monitored boreal and alpine plant phenology and presented public programs about mountain ecology. She became a plant conservation volunteer for the Native Plant Trust in 2019 and spent the summer and fall monitoring rare plant populations in northern New Hampshire. In spring of 2020, she continued her work for the organization as a native plant horticulture intern at Garden in the Woods botanical sanctuary in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Jaime has spent much of her life connecting with the land — through farming, making plant medicine, and traversing the backcountry. She is thrilled to be taking a deeper dive into the ecology of northern New England. Her goal upon graduation is to continue her field research and collaborative work with northern, rural communities.
A self-proclaimed environmentalist from a young age, Rachael grew up south of San Francisco and lived there her whole life before moving across the country to Burlington. As an undergraduate at Stanford University, she studied Earth Systems with a focus in ecology. She has worked as a propagation assistant at a California native plant nursery, a blogger and fact-checker for the Sierra Club's print magazine, a hands-on science educator for Science Is Elementary, and a trail guide at the Aspen Center for Environmental Science. Most recently, she has worked as a tutor and after-school teacher of English and Biology. She now joins the AK cohort in pursuit of her passion for environmental education. She is especially interested in connecting with the public on a personal level about caring for the natural world, and in breaking down complex science concepts to make them easier for nonspecialists to understand.
When Rachael was a child, her curiosity and compassion towards even the humblest animal life often puzzled her family. They must have thought she was hurt when, late for Sunday school, she was found on her hands and knees on the wet sidewalk. But no, the recent rain had driven resident earthworms onto the concrete, and she was picking up each worm and depositing it on moist earth before it could be crushed by passing feet. The wrigglers coated her hands in slime, the dirty pavement ruined her good clothes, and her instructor was unhappy with her tardiness, but it never occurred to her that she could have acted any differently.
As she grew, her fascination and empathy with animals transformed into an encompassing love for the planet's biodiversity. From moth to milkweed and from robin to redwood, the natural world calls to her, larger and older than humanity yet so little valued, as resilient as mountains yet as fragile as the soft squirming creatures she helped as a child. Pausing to appreciate all life was her first step towards knowing nature by her first name: towards seeing the natural world, once just a background of green, in as much detail and joyful familiarity as the face of home.
Sarah grew up in the East Bay Area of California. She earned a BS in Biopsychology from Tufts University in 2013, and since then she has worked in environmental education across a variety of biomes. Her employers have included the Pacific Science Center, the Aspen Center for Environmental Education, and the National Park Service. Her dearest wish is to find a hognose snake in the wild.
Laura earned a BA in Classical Archaeology and Early & Late Antiquities from the University of Mary Washington and an MA in Latin from the University of Georgia. She has worked as a Latin and English teacher for over a decade at a variety of institutions. While teaching, she decided to pursue her burgeoning passion for the sciences and environmental conservation. She became an apprentice wildlife rehabilitator, volunteering at City Wildlife and Owl Moon Raptor Center, and took night classes at the University of Maryland in biology, chemistry, and ecology until she joined the Field Naturalist Program.
Laura’s love story with the environment started with a slow burn, each natural encounter and connection fanning the flame. She began her affair poring over National Geographic as a child, entranced by the beauty of this world and a great admiration for the humans within it, especially those of the ancient realms. While her path initially led her to explore humanity, necromancing dead languages and the material remains of the past, inevitably and constantly she returned to the natural world. Antiquity was her gateway: excavated remains telling not just a geological story of stratigraphy and soil alkalinity, but also a story of ecology, humanity, and the environment; each moment recorded in the bones and belongings of the deceased, as well as in the soil which entombed them. Laura sees humanity and nature as inextricably linked. The way forward is a Gordian knot that can only be resolved by taking both intertwined. Her road branched to accommodate her meanderings, leading her to further explorations in the natural world, as a scientist, educator, and classicist. Now as a member of the Field Naturalist Program, she’s found her way under a single beautiful canopy: a conservator of dead language and of the living world, curating wisdom from the past to cultivate paths for the future.
Chris studied literature at Cornell University and the sciences at Central Oregon Community College. He’s taught language in the US and abroad, as well as doing related consulting and freelance work. He’s also spent a number of seasons on construction, farm, trail, and fire crews.
Cohort AJ (Class of 2020)
Watching the mayflies hatch in Kentucky Lake was always Meredith's favorite part of summer. Not only are the abundant larvae excellent fishing bait, their delicate bodies and adventurous lifecycle delighted her curiosity. Growing up among the agricultural fields and suburbs of Indiana, Meredith found wildness in life underwater. In the water, the world moves a little slower and the neighbors are even more peculiar.
Since the summers observing mayflies, Meredith has always found complexity and adventure in the minute. With her head down in a stream, a vernal pool, or a patch of grass, she has spent many happy hours inspecting what others step over. She has analyzed ant genetics, catalogued guppies, sorted aquatic insects, and led hand-lens safaris from the tropics to Vermont.
Her most recent exploration of detail came while working as a carpenter, which combined her love for consuming physical work, challenging problem-solving, and tangible results. At UVM Meredith is learning to better understand people and the environment, hoping to collaborate with both. Ultimately, she keeps looking to the natural world because of the enchantment and comfort she finds in its complexity. She wants to make sure that the details are always there for others to find their own mayfly moment, and hopes eventually the natural world can have a greater impact on us than we do on it.
Eric grew up learning about plants and birds at the heel of his father in the woods of Wisconsin. He left for Massachusetts to study ecology at Williams College, and nurtured his love for botany in the Taconic mountains and Berkshire hills. After graduation he switched paths for four years, pursuing interests in agriculture and carpentry. In southwestern Massachusetts he worked as a livestock apprentice: milking cows, making hay, processing chickens and managing the farm's pigs. After finishing his apprenticeship, he travelled for four months in Peru, where he bought a donkey named Maria. Together they walked ancient footpaths without a map or timeline. Returning to the states, he learned carpentry on a construction crew and raised pigs, selling them to friends and neighbors.
Eric has learned a lot over the years. As a child he learned about steadfast care. In farming he learned about the cycles of life and death. In travel he learned how to make neighbors out of strangers, and in carpentry he learned the price of sweat and the satisfaction of craftsmanship. Here in Vermont, he is grateful to be learning to care for what he loves most: the natural world.
Grace made her first ascent of Maine's tallest mountain just before leaving her home state for college. The tableland of Mt. Katahdin stretched before her, glinting with a hundred strange botanical jewels. Sensing that the place was special but unable to say why, she vowed to find the words to tell the story of that island of alpine tundra.
She went on to study botany at Connecticut College. Then, with chainsaw in hand and head full of jumbled Latin binomials, she returned to Katahdin to work on a trail crew, constructing bridges and fences to keep hikers from trampling the fragile mountaintop. She carried a wooden rocking chair to a backcountry campsite on the Appalachian Trail, where she lived alone as a caretaker and led plant walks above tree-line. On the tops of mountains she discovered the joys of teaching people about life underfoot. She left Maine to track wolves on skis across Wyoming's jagged, snowy ranges. Now she returns to the familiar plants and places of the northeast.
Grace thinks life is richer when we feel a deep connection to our home places, when we know the things that live there too and call on them like neighbors. She likes to tell stories through music and maintains a repertoire of old logging camp songs and murder ballads. And every now and again she climbs up to the comfort of Katahdin's tableland. The tundra plants wave their low arms wildly in the chilly wind and she waves back, greeting each of them by name.