Tweeting for social change, diving in-depth into recently de-classified US Senate Committee hearings and filming a “moose” at Burlington’s Park and Recreation department – these are some of the Vermont internships underway through the Center this spring.

“Parks and Rec -- the TV show -- might not even do something this crazy,” said Senior Mattie Friberg on her recent experience filming a parks staffer in a moose costume at a recent video shoot at Burlington’s real Parks and Recreation department. Friberg, whose senior film studies’ thesis is examining the portrayal of government in “Parks & Rec”; “VEEP” and “House of Cards” is part of a Center project documenting the every-day humanness and capability of Vermont’s small scale government agencies.

Olivia Curtis, on the other hand, is running former Governor Peter Shumlin’s twitter feed focusing on raising awareness of the opiate crisis. “Every day I wake up and try to think like Peter Shumlin” Olivia said, crafting tweets that capture the former Governor’s sharp tone and willingness to attack drug companies and political leaders.

Meanwhile deep in the heart of UVM’s library, Louis Augeri and David Brandt are diving into the rich collection of materials from Vermont’s long-term US Senator George Aiken, working side-by-side with former Aiken staffer Stephen Terry. For 34 years Aiken represented Vermont in Washington, bringing his canny mind and Vermont sensibilities to the inner workings of power. Famous for saying about the Vietnam war: “let’s declare victory and get out” – something he may never have said -- the students are working with Terry to document Aiken’s evolving thinking on Vietnam, diving into boxes of materials and recently declassified materials the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

And who was the most famous foreigner to ever live in Vermont? Russian Scholar Kevin McKenna argues that it was the Nobel prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who spent almost 20 years in exile from Russia, living and writing in the central Vermont town of Cavendish. Film studies students’ Juliet Duncan and TJ Wasserman are bringing this story to life.

And speaking of Vermont towns, Adrian Burnett and Mara Carini are leading a group of students gathering data from Vermont’s town meetings. For many years legendary Political Scientist Frank Bryan sent scores of students out to measure all aspects of town meeting, turning that experience into Real Democracy – his seminal piece of work on democracy. With Frank retired, but still helping, the students are back to collect the data, counting participation and the trajectory of this citizen led-exercise.

Joining them in this project are students in Rob Williams Backpack Journalism class who will “cover” town meeting, bringing the annual event to life in a series of short video vignettes. Other student videographers are telling the story of Vermont’s changing winters and the new wave of “deep recreation” users traversing deep into Vermont’s forests and mountains.

And what is the story of Vermont’s lack of billboards? What does it say about Vermont? English major Zach White is working with Vermont author and historian Mark Bushnell to document this story turn it into a 90 seconds YouTube video.

The Center for Research on Vermont’s mission is to support research in the Vermont “laboratory” -- research that provides original knowledge to the world through examining the state's social, economic, cultural and physical environment.

One way the Center does this work is engaging students directly in research and story-telling. This spring, more than 20 students are directly involved. Other projects include:

  • The history of Burlington’s Community gardens, one of the oldest in the state
  • The development of a scent particular to a Vermont institution
  • Examining Vermont’s role in Sustainable Transportation, and what the state and the Burlington area can do to help more people walk and bike and drive less.
  • In a partnership with the Canadian Studies program, bringing the many initiatives of the program to the public
  • The development of the Center’s Instagram account as a story-telling tool
  • Active use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to bring more attention to Vermont research – research about Vermont – but research that has larger things to say about the world.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter or join the research newsletter to see these projects and others.


Richard A. Watts