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50 Years of Environmental Education & Leadership at Middlebury

Franklin Center

Please join us this fall as we celebrate 50 Years of environmental education and leadership at Middlebury, marking the 50th anniversary of the Program in Environmental Studies, the first of its kind in the nation. The semester-long campus-wide celebration includes diverse interdisciplinary and thought-provoking lectures, film screenings, art installations, and more, with featured events taking place October 8th and 9th.

View the full schedule of events here.

In five decades, Middlebury has left an indelible mark on the environment and sustainability in higher education. Today, the College is an internationally recognized leader in environmental thought, research, and action, and as we prepare for this celebration, we remember past achievements as well as imagine new ones.

Established in 1965, the Program in Environmental Studies has sought to emphasize an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the natural world and its relationships to humans. Biology Professor Howard E. Woodin taught in the early years of the program, as did Professor Louis Poole in chemistry, Professor D.K. Smith in economics, Professor Roland Illick in geography, and Professor Brewster Baldwin in geology. Today the program is sustained by more than 80 professors from 28 departments and is one of the largest majors on campus.  To learn more about the history of the program, visit the student-created digital exhibit Fifty Years of Green.  

Beyond the ES Program, the College’s commitment to environment spans the institution. For nearly two decades, the dean of the Environmental Affairs has contributed leadership and vision to emerging environmental topics in higher education. The Office of Sustainability Integration is tasked with incorporating sustainability into all facets of Middlebury’s academics, operations, and planning. The summer School of the Environment, which just completed its second year, is already becoming a leader in place-based environmental learning. Poets, journalists, and novelists gather at the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference, where they hone their craft in the bucolic Green Mountains, strolling the same paths Robert Frost once walked. The Center for the Blue Economy provides data, research, and education to value our oceans and coasts. And the Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest partners across the Middlebury enterprise to create an array of programming that engages students, faculty, and staff in identifying innovative solutions to pressing environmental challenges.  View a timeline that illustrates the history of environmental/sustainability iniatives at Middlebury.

One of the distinguishing hallmarks of environmental and sustainability education at Middlebury is the integration of classroom, field, and laboratory with research—both academically oriented and community based—and hands-on learning. Collaborations among students, faculty, staff, and administrators have resulted in myriad breakthrough ideas, including Middlebury’s recycling and composting programs; an ecosystem-based approach to College land management; the Organic Farm; two Solar Decathlon houses; biomass gasification and biomethane facilities that will enable the College achieve carbon neutrality by 2016; and the recent, unprecedented protection of over 1,400 acres of land on the Bread Loaf campus.

Middlebury’s commitment to environmental education and leadership continues to grow, encompassing emergent topics in global and local sustainability, race and gender, public- and private-sector conservation approaches, and environmental justice. We do this while maintaining our roots in the liberal arts and interdisciplinary inquiry. Today environmental learning at Middlebury extends from the classroom to the board room and from collaborative research to committee work.

As we prepare for our 50th anniversary celebration, we ask ourselves—as we ask our students—not what is reasonable but what is possible. Not what is easy but what is right. And not what is now but what is next.