Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 74.47
Liaison Gioia Thompson
Submission Date March 2, 2020

STARS v2.2

University of Vermont
AC-5: Immersive Experience

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Susan Munkres
Director
Community University Partnerships
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution offer at least one immersive, sustainability-focused educational study program that is one week or more in length?:
Yes

A brief description of the sustainability-focused immersive program(s) offered by the institution:

The University of Vermont hosts a variety of immersive learning experiences for students that are available annually. Travel study courses often incorporate ecological or community development and sustainability course material with the pedagogy of service-learning. Service-learning travel study courses offered through the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources specifically introduce students to environmental as well as social, and economic concepts, while inviting students to integrate content with community-engaged practice.

One annual winter course that has been an exemplar of this approach is NR195: Place-Based Ecological Design. This annual 8-day travel study course takes place in the community of South Andros in the Bahamas and teaches principles of sustainability through the foci of food systems and ecological design. In past years, UVM students have worked alongside Bahamian community partners to design and build a closed-loop aquaponics system that combines the production of freshwater fish and vegetables. Students investigate the connection between landscape analysis and ecological design as well as the relationship between ecotourism and place-based learning. Students work with the South Andros High School high school students and community members and work with Nature’s Hope for South Andros, an organization dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism, community outreach, and education to conserve local natural resources. Through this experience, participating students engage in place-based learning, ecological design, and sustainable ecotourism on South Andros.

Another exemplary travel study course is ENVS150/NR185/PRT188: Communities, Conservation, and Development in Costa Rica. Since our last application, this course has gone from a 2-week travel component to a semester-long course, with four integrated courses including one service-learning course, with a cumulative community-engagement project. The semester explores the forces and processes of social change in Costa Rican communities given the rise of nature based travel to this Central American destination. During their travels, students consider the processes of how communities involved in service sector enterprises relate to the general concepts of sustainability, including environmental, social and economic impacts. From a conceptual and operational point of view, students examine the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development (development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs), with an emphasis on community-based sustainable development. The environment for this course is the country of Costa Rica’s Osa Penisula. The Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, and since the 1970’s nearly half of its land base has been put under protection as Corcovado National Park and the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve. Creation of these protected areas have often come at the expense of local peoples, displacing them and/or limiting the ways they can utilize the natural resources. This makes the Osa Peninsula an ideal context to study the pressures of pioneering and implementing sustainable community development practices in the shadow of accelerating global capital investment. The four courses over the semester provide students with the foundational and historical knowledge they need to explore many of the social, economic and ecological dimensions of sustainability, introduces them to competing notions of sustainability (through readings, lectures, participatory research, and experiential learning activities), gives them tools to assess sustainability in the context of a particular community, and finally allows them to synthesize the ideas and concepts they have learned about during the semester to craft their own definitions of sustainable development.

There are a variety of other ways that UVM students engage in sustainability learning through immersive learning opportunities. Some additional approaches include a sustainability focused Residential Learning Community (RLC), entitled the Green House, where residents engage in year-long curricular and co-curricular, community-based learning experiences. With a lens of place-based learning, students examine sustainability topics by immersing themselves in a community committed to practices such as examining food systems, ecological design, natural history, waste reduction, and more.

Another form of immersive experiences includes the summer Perennial Internship program in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. This cost-share internship program works with “perennial” partners to offer students 12-week paid internships in natural resource professions. Students are immersed in professional communities and practice environmental problem solving skills hands-on with partners such as Green Mountain Power, Intervale Conservation Nursery, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. While these immersive experiences may occur on or close to campus, some students are placed in internships farther afield where they live and work for three months. Hurricane Island, in Maine, where students engage in education for sustainability as well as island monitoring and gardening, and Star Island, in New Hampshire, where students support the island’s designated sustainability program, are two examples of this.
Finally, UVM is a Carnegie classified Community Engaged Institution, one of just 361 institutions receiving this classification in 2015. Supported by its Office of Community-University Partnerships and Service-Learning (CUPS), UVM has partnerships in its home community, Burlington, VT, and around the world. By the time they graduate, 45.5% of seniors have taken at least one service-learning course while at UVM, and many of these are related to sustainability and social justice. In our College of Education and Social Services, the work of Gabriella Tufo-Strouse, Volunteer Coordinator of the King Street Youth Center, and Alan Tinkler, Associate Professor in the Education Department, bring UVM students into the critical work of supporting New Americans in Vermont. In our Community Development & Applied Economics department, students take service-learning courses scaffolded through the curriculum, culminating in capstones serving community organizations with public communications and community development skills.


Website URL where information about the institution’s immersive education programs is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:
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