This fall, the Rubenstein School embarked on a mission to build a new strategic vision, one that aligns with UVM President Suresh Garimella’s and focuses on preparing students to become successful leaders who can tackle and resolve the most pressing challenges of our times. This is a tall order. President Garimella’s vision and passion for our Land Grant mission ensures that we are poised to both serve the public good and create new knowledge as a global research leader. The focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and service to our constituents aligns perfectly with the Rubenstein School’s long-term quest — Impact. We must make certain that our faculty, through their scholarship, are empowered to explore the nexus of complex ecological and societal issues, and through their teaching, guarantee that our students graduate with critical thinking skills and competencies to engage in the most complex environmental challenges.
The Rubenstein School’s vision process will start with Scenario Planning. In September, we engaged an energetic and experienced planner, Susan Stickley (Stratus, Inc.), who charged our entire community with answering several key questions which included:
- What do you believe RSENR does better than any other school of the environment and natural resources?
- What are the most important drivers of change internal and external to the University shaping the future of environment and natural resources higher education?
Though we are in the midst of distilling our survey responses, I could not help but note that many of our alumni reflected on the School’s deep investment in experiential learning opportunities. Whether studying sustainable, bird-friendly coffee production through the Costa Rica semester abroad program, dissecting lake trout at the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Lab, or measuring red spruce growth on the top of Mt. Mansfield, our students thrive when they immerse themselves in real-world applications. Many of us have had these experiences ourselves and can cite the year, location, and person who influenced our own choice to pursue a career in the environment.
For me, as an undergraduate, it was a field trip to visit the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler habitat in Mio, Michigan. I observed first-hand how intense fires created new nesting habitat for the warblers. Though the 1980 fire burned many more acres by mistake, destroyed 44 homes, and sadly took the life of a biologist, it also heightened the realization that land managers have a huge responsibility for both people and natural resources. Since then, after much reflection, my personal passion has been to ensure that we consider people, values, and multiple perspectives as part of any environmental curriculum. This early experience led to my overarching commitment to the School’s integrated learning mission.
In a rapidly changing world, one where impact and relevance are constantly challenged, the Rubenstein School continues to carve a niche for itself as a School committed to learning by doing and reflecting. Learning is transformed by experience, and knowledge is created by constant contextualization through multiple lenses. The drivers of change inside the School and external to campus, no doubt, will be governed by many things, not the least of which will be climate change and our ability to keep pace with its impacts. It is my personal aspiration for the Rubenstein School to make sure that we maintain the nimbleness and creativity to stay abreast of this change. We must equip our students with the knowledge, competencies, and critical reflection skills to become environmental leaders and change makers. Our students must understand the interconnections between biology and sociology, between physics and humanities, between art and technology. As a top School of the environment and natural resources, we will strive to maintain our standing by assuring that our students are prepared to lead with impact and integrity.
Thank you in advance for responding to our survey. We look forward to sharing in the spring. Stay tuned!
Nancy E. Mathews, Dean
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources