The Ecology of Education at UVM: Proposing a More Holistic Approach

Throughout my career at UVM, I have come to realize the extremely limited scope of individual choice in many students’ course of study. Most majors are filled with extensive major requirements – combined with the overall school requirements – leaving students little time to pursue individual interests through electives. Understanding this argument, why then am I proposing an ecoliteracy requirement for all students?

While many do have some knowledge of environmental issues, most students never have been taught their personal role, nor have they been educated in ways to effectively reduce their impact. Many see environmental protection as a complicated legislative process that we individuals have no effect on.

This is entirely false. If collectively, as a university, we started acting in a more environmentally conscious manner, we could greatly reduce that impact through very small, simple steps. These simple decisions, such as ways we travel, food we consume, and how we dispose of trash are examples of easily altered behavior that could significantly reduce our footprint.

Studies have proven that even one environmentally related semester-long course has the ability to alter peoples’ behaviors. Many universities throughout the world, understanding their role in higher education to produce knowledgeable, well-rounded students, have begun incorporating environmental issues and ecoliteracy as a key part of their curriculum. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and University of Georgia, both state universities with over 30,000 students, have been able to successfully institute a requirement.

Recent surveys of the students attending these universities show that students from all academic disciplines are interested and enthusiastic about the requirement.

In preparing students to be well-educated in future decision- making, it is a university’s role to teach them ideas and techniques of environmental protection. Knowledge is the base of our actions and behaviors – and how can one act appropriately if they are never taught the knowledge they need? Our current education system fails to address this.

Students can take sixteen years of school without taking one course on our inseparable relationship to the environment, and how we act upon it everyday. I feel that higher education systems, if adequately preparing students for future decision making, must teach students about the environment.

UVM has a particularly unique advantage in this respect considering the environmentally progressive community we live in and all the educational opportunities it provides, our strong environmental program, and our school-wide declaration to be an “Environmental University.”

A body of ecoliterate students, faculty, and staff will greatly improve the UVM community, quality of life, and, potentially, relations with the rest of the Burlington community. That’s why I proposed an universal environmental literacy requirement for all students.

The goal of this requirement is not solely to create more “environmentalists,” it is to ensure that students are making educated decisions pertaining to the environment. Students should be able to understand environmental issues, including all perspectives and considerations, be able to evaluate the arguments, and make well-educated decisions based on their critical thinking.

In recent years environmental issues have become increasingly more important in the governmental, economic, and social realms. We can no longer ignore the connection between human actions and the environment, as well as the reciprocal nature of such a relationship. This requirement would ensure that our students are well versed in these issues so as to prepare them for the environmental reality the future holds.

Modeling professor-facilitation programs after those instituted at Harvard, Tufts, and the University of Arizona, UVM can hold summer courses for the professors to learn principles of ecoliteracy. The professors then re-write already existing courses to include these ideas, which would infuse ecoliteracy across the curriculum.

The result will be numerous classes within each school and college that combine traditional topics with environmental principles. This will allow students a wide variety of choice in how they fulfill the requirement, in which they can take classes that pertain to their interests, while simultaneously fulfilling other major requirements. This also eliminates unnecessary costs to the university, because it does not require hiring additional faculty, or paying faculty to teach additional courses.

The end result would be a true Environmental University, in which all students attending will be able to understand the complex interdisciplinary nature of environmental issues. It is time we set an example for universities throughout the nation by standing up to our alleged claim.

I am writing this largely to elicit feedback and response from the student body at UVM. I’m anxious to hear any questions, concerns, suggestions on this issue. Most importantly, I want to ensure students receive the environmental knowledge they need in a way that is interesting and exciting, so any and all feedback would be appreciated. Contact me at: [email protected]