The Rubenstein School's mission is to create a community that encourages an engaged, culturally diverse, and challenging learning environment that applies foundational knowledge from diverse fields, critical thinking, and integrative analyses to design a more sustainable society. The School’s strategic priorities include partnering with stakeholders across our full mission of teaching, research, and outreach to co-create knowledge and mobilize solutions for the challenges of today and tomorrow. Placing outstanding RSENR graduate students in the community, through a board residency program, aligns with the school’s vision, core values, and strategic goal of building relationships with our stakeholders.
The Nonprofit Board Fellows Program enables graduate students to provide service to our community while learning about potential community impact through local nonprofit board service, in a non-voting capacity. Through the program, partner organizations may also have an opportunity to learn more about the programs and research being conducted at the Rubenstein School.
For our inaugural 2018-2020 pilot, a group of seven RSENR graduate students were matched with three local organizations for a period of 2-3 years: ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and Green Mountain Club. Our inaugural group of students were able to extend their Board Fellow relationship for an additional year to be finished by the end of May 2021.
We have since added The American Chestnut Foundation Vermont/New Hampshire Chapter and Vermont Parks Forever to our roster of partner organizations.
Every year in March, we begin the process of recruiting for a new cohort of students to participate in the initial two-year commitment. These new students will overlap with current students who are already involved in the program.
Applications will be due April 1 for a May/June start. Once chosen, each student will prepare for this role by reading the Boardsource “Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards” and enrolling in a one-credit NR 384 independent study.
Program Timeline Cycle
January–February First Year: Board fellow coordinators connect with organizations regarding their participation in the program.
March–May First Year: Eligible students complete an application and are selected by Carolyn Goodwin Kueffner (former Rubenstein School Graduate Program Coordinator) and Sarah Muyskens (Vermont community partner). Nonprofits are contacted and matched with students based on student interests and experience. In some instances, the Board of the partner organization may require a vote on their new candidates. Students study the Boardsource materials to learn basics about roles and responsibilities of board service, spend time learning about the mission and workings of their nonprofit, and sign up for one-credit of independent study during the appropriate semester for their board tenure. The nonprofit completes a brief pre-service interview regarding participation and expectations for the program.
June–August First Year: Students contact nonprofit organizations to arrange initial meetings, learn about the group, and receive their assigned board partner and possible projects. Students begin attending board meetings, depending on the board’s schedule.
September–August First Year – end of May Second Year: Students participate regularly in board meetings, committee or project work, and report back regularly, which will become a final project report for their independent study. Board Fellows coordinators will meet in person with partner organization leadership to discuss progress of the program and the participating students. If possible, RSENR will hold board trainings for participants from local experts to include team training on personal strengths and set goals for building skill through their board work. Participating Board Fellows attend at least one meeting per academic year with each other to connect and discuss their board experiences.
March–April Second Year: Program coordinators will discuss a possible third-year extension for current Board Fellows.
End of residency: Students and nonprofit leaders will be asked to complete a post-service interview about the student and the role that they filled. Exit interview results will be shared with RSENR leadership and the partner organizations.
Outcomes and Expectations for Board Residency
- Students will strengthen their understanding of the structure and workings of an environmental nonprofit board and organization. Previous Board Fellows have been pleasantly surprised at the diverse range of experiences they have had during these board placements.
- Students will learn how to participate in board service in conjunction with leaders from business and other professions to meet the mission of the nonprofit organization.
- Each student will collaborate with a board partner and executive director to design a deeper learning experience through a committee, special project, or collaboration with the staff or board.
- Students will make contributions through active participation in board service. Given the diverse missions of partner organizations, activities could include: scientific research related to the mission of the partner organization, goal setting, strategic planning, budgeting, program development and assessment, marketing, fundraising and development, membership, decision-making, and special projects.
- In conjunction with the one-credit independent study, students will create a report detailing their board involvement and the project developed for the nonprofit board. Each student will write a reflective summary of how they have accomplished their personal developmental goals, as set forth in the RSENR Graduate Program Individual Development Plan (IDP).
- Students, if available through their board residency program, may choose to fulfill the Professional Skills track of their PhD requirements through this board experience, if they select that instead of the PhD Teaching track.
- Nonprofit leadership (staff and board) will benefit from the inclusion of an early career natural resources professional, their expertise, and other life experiences. This aspect has proven to be extraordinarily successful for the organizations, as the students have used their knowledge to engage in critical special projects.
- Students will be non-voting members of the organization’s board, and leadership may expect the student to contribute as if they are a voting board member in the activities of the board.
- Nonprofit leaders will complete pre- and post-service interviews regarding expectations and accomplishments of the Board Fellow to help further develop their professional development programming and community service.
Rubenstein School Outcomes
- Participation in this program will enable RSENR to further develop meaningful partnerships with community nonprofit environmental organizations. These partnerships may lead to reciprocal benefits for RSENR, the community partners, and the students.
- Student engagement with the organization will help the School better customize its professional development and learning opportunities to better meet the needs of both students and the community partners.
- The focus on active community service and leadership development as a primary goal of the program will ensure that RSENR graduates achieve their aspiration of becoming environmental change makers and leaders.