UVM Alumni Profiles in Sustainability
For many decades, the University of Vermont has produced graduates ready to take on what U.N. Secretary General António Guterres recently called the “biggest threat modern humans have ever faced”—the climate crisis.
Many students were attracted to UVM by the landscape, Vermont’s reputation for progressive stances on environmental protection, or friends and family who live in the state.
Some arrived with a sophisticated understanding of sustainability forged early in their lives, while others discovered their life calling as undergraduates. They took different academic and career paths, driven by the mission to make the world more habitable for future generations.
Meet some of them here.
Pooja Kanwar, PhD G '13
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Water Policy Consultant
St. Paul, Minnesota
As a child growing up in Iowa, Pooja Kanwar loved going to the office with her father. The “office” could be anywhere in the rural Midwest. Or it could be China, or Morocco, or France or in India, where her parents grew up.
Her father, Ramesh Kanwar, is a hydrologist by training who completed his dissertation at Iowa State University in Ames. “His research focused largely on water quality and agriculture. He’d ask me ‘do you want to hop in the car?’ And we might go off to take soil samples in a riparian buffer in Nebraska. Eventually he took us all around the world.”
The love of exploring new places and the connection to water—how it shapes local cultures and economies, and the imperative to protect it as a necessary resource—continues to play a central role in her life.
Dan Fredman ’03, G ‘18
Principal Product Manager
Growing up in Westchester County, Dan Fredman’s impressions of Vermont were mostly shaped by ski trips to his great uncle’s house in Stratton and an autobiography by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield about building the ice-cream enterprise Ben and Jerry’s.
Vermont was on his mind when he began applying to colleges. “I just remember feeling a real connection driving up to the UVM campus with my parents,” he recalls.
Overall he found the overall college search process difficult. He walked into the UVM admission office during his first week on campus to volunteer and walked out as a student tour guide, a job he retained through his senior year.
He majored in psychology and minored in geography at UVM, and brought an analytic bent to his studies.
“I’m a technology oriented person but was innately drawn to the human dimensions of everything, so I chose psychology,” he said. “I always felt there’s something about the landscape that affects behavior. That idea was seeded and strengthened as an undergraduate.”
James Biddle ‘17
District Department of Transportation (DDOT)
James Biddle ’17 grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, came to UVM to study forestry. Now he’s working as an urban forester in Washington, DC, not far from his hometown.
At UVM, Biddle became especially fond of the stately white pines on Redstone campus bordering the recital hall. He knew other students shared his affection for the spot.
“You would always see people slacklining there or even camping out,” he remembers.
As he pursued his forestry degree at the Rubenstein School, he began to look at the stand of pines with a more knowing eye. He noted that the meager understory consisted mostly of Norway maple, an invasive species which can outcompete native vegetation and radically alter the landscape.
Biddle became an advocate for the Redstone pines. His junior year he received support from the Vermont Students Towards Environmental Protection (VSTEP) club at UVM and recruited students to cull the invasives. Later he organized a spring effort to plant pine seedlings.
Page Atcheson ‘12
Development Director, Global Warming Mitigation Project
Fundraiser and Advocate
Seattle native Page Atcheson often visited family in Montpelier and she fell in love with the central Vermont landscape. It was the people, even more than the mountainous terrain, that drew her to UVM.
“During my campus tour I had the sense that everyone I connected with was really down to earth, and at the same time, driven to do work that was meaningful to them,” she recalls.
She planned to focus on international development at UVM, but was drawn to the concept of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Classes with ecological economist Josh Farley were especially influential.
“I was interested in the idea of pricing carbon as a way of to bring down CO2 emissions,” she said. “Society ends up paying for emissions through crop failures or sea-level rises or health problems. This is a way to shift the burden to those responsible for outputs instead of the people it affects.”
She became a climate activist at UVM, volunteering for Vermont environmentalist Bill McKibben’s non-profit 350.org. Atcheson joined four community members in launching 350 Vermont, which organizes, educates, and supports people in Vermont to work together for climate justice.
Marcie Gallagher '19
Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG)
Looking back on her budding career as an environmental advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) it’s difficult to identify the moment Marcie Gallagher’s academic career ended and her professional life began.
“I feel like I’m always learning, and that leads me to build new connections and gain more experience,” she says.
Gallagher grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. As a high school senior she was leaning heavily towards UVM, partly because of the university’s strong reputation for sustainability—and also because her older sister was a UVM grad.
“I was committed to being an environmentalist at a pretty young age,” she recalls. “A lot of that came from my sister who is six years older than me—she taught me the importance of turning off lights, recycling, using less hot water.”
Gallagher enrolled at UVM as an environmental studies major in the Rubenstein School and found plenty of opportunities to gain real-world experience.
B Freas '16
BEET’s Educator and Program Manager, CommunityGrows
Educator and Advocate
Growing up in the Baltimore area, B Freas loved being outside and developed a strong interest in nature. By the time their college search began they’d already decided to work in outdoor education.
UVM was a bit north of Freas’ preferred destination both in terms of geography (“I’d never been north of New York City”) and price (“It was the most expensive school I looked at”). And their first visit to campus wasn’t auspicious—it was a cold spring day with steely gray skies and sleet. Still, Freas immediately felt at home, and enjoyed seeing UVM's historic buildings and charming gathering spaces.
“My dad was with me and didn’t say much during the visit. At the end of the day he turned to me and said, ‘You really want to go here, don’t you?’ And I actually started crying.”
Freas was especially impressed with UVM’s dedication to studying the environment in a hands-on way, and they declared a major in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism in the Rubenstein School.