Rick Paradis, faculty member in the University of Vermont Environmental Program, will retire at the end of the spring 2018 semester after nearly 33 years with the program. A lecturer in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and Director of the UVM's Natural Areas, Rick taught, advised, and mentored students in the cross-campus undergraduate Environmental Studies major and oversaw the University’s ten Natural Areas.
Growing up on the edge of suburbia in a southern New Hampshire French Canadian village in the 1950s, Rick rambled in the woods and wetlands behind his home, hunted and fished, and developed his keen sense for the natural world. He received a bachelor of science degree in environmental conservation from the University of New Hampshire. After earning his master’s degree in natural resource planning from the Rubenstein School in 1985, Rick was hired by then Environmental Program Director the late Carl Reidel and former Assistant Director Tom Hudspeth to manage the Natural Areas and teach classes in the program.
“Rick’s commitment to our students in the program and the UVM Natural Areas will leave a lasting legacy,” said Nate Sanders, Director of the Environmental Program. “He has influenced the lives of thousands of students, in the classroom and in the field, and his efforts in shaping the Environmental Program and directing the Natural Areas will continue to benefit UVM students and others for decades to come.”
Rick is well-known by colleagues, students, and alumni for his environmental expertise and his dedication to teaching others about the natural world and providing hands-on learning opportunities in land conservation, restoration, and management.
"Rick Paradis has influenced my education by cultivating my passion for conservation through his own commitment to the environment — a commitment that I aspire to reproduce in my own career,” said Natalie Redmond ’18, an Environmental Studies major in the UVM College of Arts and Sciences. “I am grateful to have had the chance to work with someone as knowledgeable and enthusiastic as Rick, both as a student and as an advisee."
It is the student engagement that Rick most valued. “I have enjoyed academia, research, and my faculty colleagues, but my true inspiration has come from the students,” said Rick. “There is something to be said for being surrounded by young, excited, optimistic folks who never get any older as they move through the university and program.”
He educated and guided students as instructor, advisor, and friend. He supervised UVM student employees to maintain the Natural Areas and trails and supported the experiential learning of undergraduate interns and graduate student programs through their stewardship and management of the lands.
“Over the four semesters that I have learned from and worked with Rick Paradis, I have felt encouraged, challenged, and inspired to follow my interests in land protection and stewardship,” said Mike Perrin ’19, an Environmental Studies major in the Rubenstein School who conducted research on the golden-winged warbler at Carse Wetlands Natural Area in partnership with Audubon Vermont. “Rick has been instrumental in guiding my career trajectory by exposing me to positions and leaders in my desired field, and he has always brought energy and excitement into his lectures with his jokes and enthusiasm. I admire Rick’s dedication to the Environmental Program and to the student body, and I thank him for his commitment in protecting, researching, and maintaining the UVM Natural Areas. The countless laughs and lessons will last a lifetime, and I know I will see Rick’s influence in all the conservation work that I do.”
Rick taught 27 different courses over the tenure of his career at UVM. His favorite and longest running were courses in natural areas conservation and stewardship and in landscape restoration. He also taught semester-long courses on the natural history of landscapes outside of Vermont and thrived on taking students for 10-day trips to the American Southwest and the Highlands of Scotland. Honored with an Aldo Leopold Fellowship in 2009, Rick traveled to both the American Southwest and rural Wisconsin to study the words and works of Aldo Leopold which he fused into his courses.
“As Rick’s student, I explored the rich cultural histories and diverse ecological landscapes of New England, the American Southwest, and Highlands of Scotland,” said Peter Pettengill ’12 who earned his PhD in the Rubenstein School and is now an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at St. Lawrence University. “His classes interwove disciplines, challenged contemporary environmental thought, and taught me the meaning of boots-on-the-ground community conservation. Whether walking Centennial Woods [Natural Area] or roaming the Sonoran Desert, an education from Rick was inherently experiential. His dedication to the community, the environment, and experiential learning are what I strive to emulate in my own classroom today.”
Since 1985, Rick Paradis has become synonymous with the UVM Natural Areas, which celebrated 40 years in 2014 with a UVM Symposium on Education and Research in the Natural Areas. “It was the celebration of a milestone for the University to have protected and managed natural areas for 40 years and to look forward to 40 more,” said Rick. “With several hundred attendees, the symposium gave the Natural Areas more exposure and highlighted their importance for research and education to the University and for people beyond UVM.”
He directed the day-to-day operations of the UVM Natural Areas which, under his guidance, grew to 2300 acres and became a preeminent system of field sites supporting education, research, and outreach. Rick is as much a part of each of the Natural Areas as are the flora, fauna, and ecosystems that make up the lands, from lowland Colchester Bog to the high elevation summit of Mount Mansfield and from 3-acre Redstone Quarry to 1000-acre Shelburne Pond.
Rick raised funds through grants to support work needed to keep the Natural Areas open and publicly accessible. He represented UVM at hearings, regulatory boards, and Act 250 and town meetings regarding the lands. He also maintained close ties with community partner organizations, including the Vermont Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy, that helped to acquire and enlarge the UVM managed lands.
Rick claims a special affinity for the Mount Mansfield Natural Area. “I have a great interest in alpine ecology and conservation and all facets of this high elevation ecosystem from the ridgeline to rare plant and bird communities and the unique climate,” he shared. Rick is a longtime member and past president of the board of the Waterman Fund, a nonprofit that works to strengthen the human stewardship of open summits, exposed ridgelines, and alpine areas of the Northeast through grants and awards.
He has been instrumental in securing a National Science Foundation grant to plan for converting Mount Mansfield’s vacant summit station into a research facility in collaboration with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Forest Ecosystem Monitoring Cooperative, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and Green Mountain Club. “I see the facility as a way to put Mount Mansfield and UVM on the map for high elevation research,” said Rick.
His research on stewardship of sensitive ecosystems, in particular restoration of alpine ecosystems, and the UVM Natural Areas became models for Academics for Land Protection in New England (ALPINE), an organization that encourages higher education institutions to include land conservation as part of their mission. Rick will continue in an advisory role with ALPINE and its 25 member schools and colleges.
“When the time came for me to transfer colleges, a key deciding factor for me to choose UVM, and the Environmental Program in particular, was the opportunity to study subjects such as regional alpine ecology and conservation and natural areas restoration in an academic setting with Rick as my professor,” said Pete Antos-Ketcham ’98, an Environmental Studies graduate of the UVM College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He met Rick while working for the Green Mountain Club in the early 1990s. “Not only did I take every class Rick offered, but also sought him out as my senior thesis adviser and would regularly seek his counsel on both academic and professional issues. Of all the mentors, role models, and colleagues I have had over the past 25 years working in conservation, Rick Paradis was one of the most influential and important to me, and I look forward to continuing our connection going forward as he pursues the next phase of his life.”
“What a privilege to work alongside Rick Paradis for 23 years,” said Elizabeth “Ibit” Wright, longtime student advisor and instructor in the Environmental Program. “He has been a true friend and colleague. His students love him and, clearly, he loves teaching and mentoring them. He and I enjoy remembering students and colleagues over the years and sharing news about those who have graduated and moved on. His steady presence contributes to all of us at Bittersweet and in the Environmental Program. We will miss his thoughtful contributions in faculty/staff meetings, his resourceful problem-solving on student issues, and his vast institutional knowledge, his special-recipe punch at our graduation receptions, and his delightful wit. He lives well and serves competently and graciously. I know he will continue to contribute to environmental conservation efforts in his retirement.”
Rick earned a PhD from Union Institute and University in environmental studies in 2008. He served on the town of Middlesex Conservation Commission and is on the board of directors of the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier, Vermont. He lives with his wife Susan, a retired early childhood educator, in Middlesex along a dirt road in a beautiful valley overlooking the Worcester Mountain Range. Rick plans to travel, pursue guitar playing, and keep his hand in environmental education and land conservation through his roles with ALPINE and North Branch.