A job during high school at a local Wild Birds Unlimited in Franklin, Massachusetts introduced Mike Perrin ’19 to the world of birding. Turned avid birder with a desire for field experience outside the classroom and more of a hand in designing his major, he chose Environmental Studies in the UVM Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. To pursue his interest in birds and dig a little deeper into the natural sciences, he is minoring in Wildlife Biology. To hone his computer, design, and visual skills he chose a second minor in Green Building and Community Design.
And, Mike, now a graduating senior, took at least one class a semester that got him outdoors where he wants to be. He strives to make things happen for himself.
“The Environmental Studies program stood out to me because of its free form,” says Mike, an Aiken Scholar in the Rubenstein School. “The responsibility is on you to make it structured based on your interests. It’s a healthy, more robust education, and I’ve learned to be confident in my education and experience.”
Courses such as Wildlife Conservation with Lecturer Zac Ispa-Landa and Landscape Natural History with Lecturer Alicia Daniel intensified his passion for conservation, reading landscapes, and discovering a sense of place. In Daniel’s class, he thrived on peer-learning and contributing his own knowledge and love of birds. Design-Build Studio for Community Activists with Lecturer Felix Wai inspired Mike to consider his role as land steward, educator, and community member. He and his classmates engaged children in local food systems by working with them to plant blueberry bushes on elementary school property.
In NR 6 Race and Culture in Natural Resources, his first-year advisor, Lecturer Trish O’Kane, challenged him to think in a different way than someone from a predominantly white, upper middle-class suburb of Boston.
“Trish shaped me to be more thoughtful about the environment and my everyday interactions,” says Mike who became a teaching assistant and student leader at the Sustainability Residential Learning Community on campus. “She pushed me to do more to follow my interests and passion and be focused on what I want to do.”
Mike found summer experiential learning to be as educational as his time in the classroom. “The experiences provide a skillset for my future career and supplement what I learn in lecture,” he says.
During his first summer, Mike interned with his hometown’s conservation commission and focused on ecology and land stewardship at Franklin’s natural areas. Using GPS, he inventoried flora and fauna to help the town better manage the areas. He maintained trails, started a blog for town lands, designed educational signs, developed ecology lesson plans for local schools, and created an ecology tour that visitors can download to their smart phones. He attended town meetings and helped to enforce conservation by-laws and provide stewardship education through interactions with adjacent landowners and visitors.
Prior to his second summer, Mike applied for and was denied a dozen different internships. Instead, with encouragement from UVM Environmental Program Student Advisor Elizabeth “Ibit” Wright, he turned his sights to research and nurtured his passion for birds and conservation.
Under the mentorship of UVM Natural Areas Director Rick Paradis, Mike submitted a proposal and received funding from the Environmental Program to conduct an independent research project at UVM’s Carse Wetlands Natural Area. He worked alongside Rick and Mark LaBar of Audubon Vermont to survey for upland shrub birds, in particular the golden-winged warbler, a declining species. Mike’s survey has contributed to management plans for the warbler and to a conservation plan for Carse developed by Mike and classmates in Rick’s course, Practical Applications of Natural Areas Conservation and Stewardship.
That same summer, Mike also worked for the Forest Ecosystem Monitoring Cooperative directed by Jim Duncan of the Rubenstein School. As part of a field crew, Mike collected forest health data at long-term plots throughout Vermont to help the Cooperative monitor trends and changes in the state’s forests.
“I learned about fieldwork protocol and data gathering and management, all while seeing some of the most beautiful places in Vermont,” he says.
The next summer with Rick’s support, Mike applied for and accepted a Rubenstein School Perennial Internship with the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). He worked with TNC staff Jenny Moffet and Jack Markoski ’14 out of their Montpelier, Vermont office on land stewardship and environmental education projects.
“I am working toward a career in land protection and stewardship to both benefit the environment and peoples’ role in restoring balance to the landscape by helping to shape land ethic and thinking more deliberately about management actions,” says Mike.
After graduation, Mike will work for the Berkshire Natural Resource Council in Pittsfield, Massachusetts as a seasonal stewardship assistant. He will help to monitor 10,000 acres of protected lands, maintain trail infrastructure, and assist on The High Road project which links towns of the Berkshire Mountains via a vast trail network while also promoting tourist establishments accessible along the interconnected trails.