Interdisciplinary, cross-college program is open to all undergraduate students

A new Place-Based Education (PBE) Certificate program now available for undergraduate students draws on UVM’s nationally recognized Departments of Education, Geography, Community Development and Applied Economics, and the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. The PBE program aligns with UVM’s land-grant mission and long tradition of expertise in experiential education and environmental education distinguished by a commitment to sustainability and social justice. 

Developed in partnership with Shelburne Farms and other community organizations, the new program will provide unique opportunities for UVM students to immerse themselves in the social-ecological system they are studying, actively engaging and deepening connections to people and places in the community and environment. Through an interdisciplinary construct, students in the program learn to address social, cultural, and environmental issues.

"This new intitative is another example of UVM’s commitment to creative community collaboration, innovation, and leadership in educating for a sustainable future," says Megan Camp, executive vice president and program director of Shelburne Farms.

“COVID-19 put a renewed emphasis on outdoor education and utilizing the local environment and community as a context for teaching and learning,” says Dr. Simon Jorgenson, program coordinator of the PBE Certificate. “Our society is also experiencing increasing climate disruption and a profound reckoning around racial and social justice right now. The PBE certificate, because it focuses on the intersection between education, environment, and social justice, is uniquely positioned to prepare students to better understand and act within this current moment.”

Although coursework in the program targets students who major in environmental studies, environmental sciences, geography, natural resources, community development and applied economics, and teacher education, the PBE certificate is open and beneficial to all UVM undergraduates. Jorgenson emphasizes that PBE prepares students from any major to become better wilderness trip leaders, environmental educators/activists, community organizers, park interpreters, classroom teachers, ropes course instructors, museum educators – whatever future professional role they can imagine for themselves.

Interested students can enroll in a new course titled EDTE 061/NR 061 Foundations of Place-Based Education to be offered this spring. The course will be co-taught by Jorgenson, who teaches in the College of Education and Social Services (CESS), and Dr. Walter Poleman, a senior lecturer in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (RSENR). Students can take the foundations course without committing to the certificate. The course also fulfills UVM’s General Education requirement for sustainability.

“We are working with our local partners to design an exciting mixed course that combines in-person meetings with engaging field experiences,” explains Jorgenson.

Poleman specializes in place-based landscape analysis, natural history, and education for sustainability. He currently serves as co-coordinator with Shelburne Farms of the Greater Burlington Sustainability Education Network and is the founding director of the PLACE (Place-based Landscape Analysis and Community Engagement) Program, a partnership with Shelburne Farms. "The PLACE Program’s Burlington Geographic initiative will be a key learning resource for students in the foundations course," he explains. "Burlington serves an outstanding classroom and source of mentoring for UVM students, providing opportunities to make meaningful contributions to the sustainability and quality of life in the city in return."

Jorgenson's research and teaching focuses on the convergence of STEM education and environmental education. His courses are designed around John Dewey's experiential approach to teaching and learning. He brings unique expertise and many years of experience teaching outdoor education, farm-based education, social studies, and science methods courses. Utilizing place-based education and design, he partners with local organizations such as Shelburne Farms to create engaging field-based learning experiences for students.

Interested students can visit the Place-Based Education Certificate webpage for more information about the program and specific coursework. They can also contact Simon Jorgenson, their academic advisors, or CESS Student Services with any questions about enrolling in the new Foundations of Place-Based Education course. 


Doug Gilman