Every year, CELO recognizes outstanding faculty, students, and community partners for their work in creating rigorous and reciprocal community-engaged learning opportunities for students, which benefit communities in Vermont and beyond

The Community-Engaged Learning Office (CELO) is delighted to announce our award winners for 2020. Each year, we recognize faculty, students and community partners for their leadership in creating transformative learning experiences that meet community needs. These service-learning courses, designated at UVM since 2007, connect academic learning goals with community work and projects. Supported by their faculty and community partners, UVM students prepare for their lives after graduation by deploying their academic skills within community partnerships. Together, about 50 faculty members, teaching 100 courses, with over 200 community partners, create real-world learning experiences that reach over 40% of UVM's graduating seniors.


This year, we recognize Lucia Possehl with the Student Award for Outstanding Leadership in Service-Learning. Lucia has served as a Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (SLTA) in two different courses — GEOG 061: Place, Landscape, & Environment in Vermont and HCOL 086: Qualitative Research Methods for Sustainability Studies, both with Prof. Cheryl Morse. Lucia has played a key role in developing reciprocal projects with community partners that respond directly to community context and need, while simultaneously supporting students to complete the projects at a high level. She has taken the lead on designing critical reflection assignments and curricula, encouraging students to consider the urban/rural dynamics in Vermont and how they shape place-based community perceptions. In nominating Lucia, Prof. Morse described her work as being akin to a colleague, demonstrating a level of competence, emotional maturity, and collaborative leadership rare among undergraduate students. Lucia has also leveraged her deep knowledge of community-engaged learning to create a grant proposal for a new service-learning course centered on opioid addiction and the criminal justice and rehabilitation experience. The review committee noted her skill and commitment in taking on multiple community-engaged projects — and various roles within them — over the course of several years.

Community Partners

Ray Coffey, Community Services Director and Heather Carrington, Economic Development Officer, for the City of Winooski are recipients of the Outstanding Community Partner Award — New Partnership. They partnered this past fall with David Raphael's PRT 138: Landscape Architecture for Parks & Recreation, on a project to envision possibilities for "Lost Spaces" for the city. The ideal service-learning partnership includes obvious mutual benefit: students given meaningful opportunities to engage their academic knowledge and competencies, and partners are fully invested in the project; the award reviewers noted that "this partnerships had everything we were looking for!"  In this case, students were able to work on city park and lost spaces design, and the results of their work were professionally critiqued, as well as utilized. Heather and Ray were engaged in all phases of the project, on site with the students at the beginning for multiple days, meeting with student groups throughout the semester, participating in end-of-semester feedback and presentation sessions. The students were able to address a real need with the partner, rather than simply for the partner. We in CELO know that effectively building new projects like this takes work, time and intentional commitment; we’re so appreciative of Ray and Heather’s efforts, and are pleased to honor the opportunities they have provided for our students. 

Susie Merrick of the South Burlington School District's Healthy Schools Program is the recipient of the Outstanding Community Partner in Service-Learning Award — Sustained Partnership. Since 2015, Susie has partnered with two CDAE courses: CDAE 166: Community Entrepreneurship (2015-16) and CDAE 120: Strategic Writing for PCOM (most semesters since fall 2016). Nominator Joyce Hendley explained that Susie creates a professional environment, offering a “creative brief” at the beginning that mirrors real-world projects, and partnering effectively with projects of varying scope and scale, tailoring them to the particular students with whom she was working in a given semester. Susie consistently leverages student energy to address a variety of organizational needs, willing to provide consistent communication and feedback at the beginning, middle, and end of the project. We applaud Susie's long-term and thorough commitment to service-learning engagement.


Winners of the Outstanding New Service-Learning Faculty Award are Nicole Conroy, Assistant Professor of Human Development & Family Studies, and John Lens, Professor of the Practice in Civil & Environmental Engineering. Both faculty were participants in CELO's Faculty Fellows for Service-Learning program; John in 2016 and Nicole in 2017. Both also took over existing service-learning courses within their departmental curricula, and revised them to deepen student learning and increase reciprocity with partners.

Nicole Conroy teaches HDFS 001 — an introductory-level writing intensive and service-learning course — for first-year HDFS majors. The course provides an orientation to the field, and to the skills and lens of the HDFS professional, including direct service experience and intensive written reflection. Jackie Weinstock, from whom Nicole took over HDFS 001, nominated Nicole for this award, commenting that she had strengthened the course, which is demanding for both students and professor alike. Nicole thoughtfully deepened the course's attention to social justice in critical reflection, recognizing that the reflection process must be attentive to the needs of all students in the classroom. Nicole has also strengthened the service-learning journals into a three-part reflection process, introduced over time, with scaffolded grading and opportunities for revision. Finally, Nicole has worked closely with the partnering organizations to make sure students' schedules work for the organizations and that the students are prepared and able to meet the organizations' needs. The review committee found Nicole's course to be a true exemplar of direct service best practices.

John Lens teaches the senior-level capstone design experience in Civil & Environmental Engineering. John taught the course once in its one-semester format, taking over from Mandar Dewoolkar in spring 2016. He then pioneered its evolution into a 2-semester capstone in AY2017. Between 50 and 70 students work with up to 20 community partners, on projects recruited by John from towns around the state. Students work with partners as clients, gaining valuable pre-professional experience, and are also challenged to consider social, environmental and economic aspects of the designs as they respond to the community partner's needs. Students present in multiple venues, to partners, CEMS faculty and to broader audiences at Senior Design Night. The reviewers were impressed with the department's commitment to service-learning, and John's ability to cultivate partners in small towns without access to these kinds of resources, in addition to a suite of projects for Burlington Public Works. Nominator Priyantha Wijesinghe acknowledged John's additional work to ensure that the designs are fully vetted before being provided to partners. We are delighted to recognize John for his commitment to high-impact teaching, and providing a model of project-based community-engaged learning that truly fulfills our land-grant mission.

Finally, Bill Keeton is the 2020 recipient of the Lynne Bond Outstanding Service-Learning Faculty Award. Named in honor of our office’s founder, professor emerita of psychology Lynne Bond, this award goes to faculty with a long-standing commitment to service-learning, and whose teaching exemplifies the principles of academic rigor, community reciprocity and reflective engagement. Bill has been teaching ENSC 201: Restoration and Recovery of Altered Ecosystems yearly (minus two sabbatical years) since 2001.

He was nominated by two long-term community partners of the course, Rose Paul of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Dan Cahill of Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront. Both partners highlighted not only the value of the students' work, but the intentional and reciprocal nature of the partnership. Rose Paul lauded Dr. Keeton's proactive development of projects: in active collaboration with TNC staff and well in advance of the semester. Bill ensured open lines of communication and engaged students thoughtfully, with reflective questions. The process resulted in "useful, informative, creative plans tailored to each SL site for stream bank restoration, in-stream habitat restoration, management of invasive plants, recreation trail enhancements, and vegetation restoration." Like TNC, Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront has benefitted from the collaboration with ENSC 201. Dan Cahill, a RSENR alumnus himself, explained that the partnership has transformed ecological restoration from a distant academic concept to a lived reality of natural community restoration in three parks in Burlington, with over 4000 trees planted, 400 volunteers engaged impacting over 14 acres. Further, the involvement of Bill's class has also allowed the city to leverage additional resources and volunteers for significant impact. 

But the course offers more than services rendered; it provides the City with opportunities to engage in support and mentoring of students, and critical review of their projects and proposals. "The City of Burlington increased its competency and capacities through this partnership, but it is also evident that nearly 200 students’ lives have also been enriched through the imprint of Dr. Keeton’s pedagogy, process and most of all his passion. In my experience as both a student and a community partner, I cannot imagine a more deserving nominee for this award," said Cahill. Rose Paul echoed this praise: "As conservation professionals, a big part of our jobs at TNC is ecological restoration of the lands we own and manage. It is truly rewarding for us to see a large cohort of students each year begin to experience and practice what they aspire to for their careers — making places better for people, for wildlife and for our planet."


Susan Munkres