Dean's Message: Fall 2016

"Lead in a way that brings out the best in people." Echoing the words of Victor Wooten, our Spring 2016 Commencement speaker, I open this newsletter with a revitalized spirit of engagement and empowerment: I encourage our students, staff, faculty, and friends to reaffirm our commitment to the environment and to the well-being of all people.

This is the concept that will guide the Rubenstein School, today and in the future. Working collaboratively with others and across differences is the best way to ensure the health of our environment and the well-being of all people. While the longer term impacts of the recent elections have yet to be felt, it is clear that our School must redouble its focus on the values and vision that have sustained us and made us one of the leaders in environmental education. I am confident that our School will continue to keep environmental justice, sustainability through renewable energy, global conservation, human health, and freshwater sciences as its foremost priorities. It is more important now than ever before that we — researchers and scholars, instructors and mentors, students and future professionals — lead in service to the community while keeping others in mind. That is how we will elicit the best that all have to offer.

In this newsletter, you will see that we have sound reasons for optimism. Our students and faculty continue to make a difference locally and worldwide. One example: research by Professor Brendan Fisher and his colleague, Andrew Balmford of the University of Cambridge, indicates that elephant poaching costs African countries nearly $25 million in lost tourist revenue. While the economic impact is important, these scholars demonstrate that the ethical principles of protecting elephants from slaughter must also advance. Professor Fisher leads the efforts to conserve elephants while enhancing the welfare of local communities.

Another example: Rubenstein School graduate Jean Lee and Professors Lini Wollenberg and Jon Erickson have investigated how to tie the global carbon market to family farmers in Africa. This effort addresses alleviation of poverty even as it improves agricultural practices that reduce carbon emissions, an essential strategy to curtail production of greenhouse gases. Lee, Wollenberg, and Erickson, of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, are leading in a way that mitigates poverty as it lessens emissions.

A third: Professor Trish O’Kane’s nationally recognized model to engage fourth and fifth graders in after-school nature study has achieved enormous success and is now in its second year at Burlington’s Flynn Elementary School. Bird buddies and mentors, our UVM undergraduates build friendships with school-aged children to instill an appreciation for nature and science. All the while, younger students look up to the older and begin to visualize their pathway to college. Professor O’Kane leads in way that connects youngsters to nature, and college students to our community.

The Rubenstein School’s impact on the community is more visible than ever before through the launch of the Burlington Geographic community engagement program. By helping our neighbors understand the rich heritage of Burlington, while bringing the community together on a regular basis, we ensure a strong connection between nature and culture.  Professor Walt Poleman, with his graduate students from the Field Naturalist and Ecological Planning program, is connecting the campus and the community to one another.

Our School is excited to welcome two new faculty members. Nate Sanders and Aimée Classen join us from the University of Copenhagen. Both bring exceptional research programs in the area of global climate change ecology. With their arrival, we achieve a cadre of faculty with vital insights into the science that links human behavior to the planet's ability to sustain life.

We are also very pleased to honor two outstanding faculty members who have been named to endowed professors. Adrian Ivakhiv has been awarded the Steven Rubenstein Professorship to direct an initiative that will create a center in eco-arts, media, and culture. Jon Erickson has been awarded the Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy to lead renewable energy transition and climate action planning.

Thank you to all of our alumni and friends for supporting the Rubenstein School through your gifts. We are on target to reach our goal of $20 million in the next three years! Your gifts enrich the curriculum, support internships, advance research, and enable students to succeed. We appreciate your generosity and express our gratitude to each of you.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Nancy Mathews' signature

Nancy Mathews, Dean

Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources


Nancy Mathews