Community-Engaged Environmental Practicum

In 2018, I taught my program’s senior seminar: the capstone “community-engaged practicum” (ENVS 401) required by all our Environmental Studies majors and structured around group projects undertaken by students for our community partners. Under the supervision of myself and Diane Munroe, students worked with Energy Action Network (EAN), the Vermont Natural Resource Council (VNRC), Efficiency Vermont (EVT), Burlington Electric Department (BED), and 350 Vermont (350VT).

A precursor to my Theories of Change seminar, my iteration of ENVS 401 prompted students to explore questions of social change. In collaboration with our community partners, each embodying a different “theory of change” — in our case, organizations embroiled in the politics of renewable energy in Vermont — my students learned how practitioners of social change themselves conceived of social change: what it is, what it looks like, how it happens, and how to do it. These were my remarks to my students at the start of semester:

Working together with your partners — with humility, with respect, and with all the knowledge and skills, the experience and analytical intuitions, the creativity and compassion and courage you can muster, and which you have already spent so many days and nights cultivating through your studies at Middlebury — you will endeavour to think through, carefully and systematically, how we are to thread the needle at this critical juncture before the wind picks up. So, tell us: how exactly are we going to get from “here” to “there”?

In general, ENVS 401 is designed to help students develop skills associated with real-world problem-solving, project planning, creativity, and communication. By coming together with peers and working across disciplines, students learn collaborative approaches that require different expertise from the physical and natural sciences, to social science, to the arts and humanities.

You can read the final reports produced by my students here:

Barca, M., Zabell, S. & Zhou, R. (2018) Insights into 350VT: A Reflection on Core Challenges & Best Practices [download]

Michel, B., Rusbarsky, J., Gonçalves, A. & Cloutier, M. (2018) Perspectives on Vermont’s Thermal Energy Future: Conversations with Fuel & Energy Service Providers [download]

McCarthy, A., Butler, A. & Roe, H. (2018) Envisioning an Electric Future for Vermont [download]

Bartlett, C., Wolfe, C. & Gorman, E. (2018) Towards Vermont’s Renewable Energy Future: A Collaborative Policy Approach [download]

You can also watch brief versions of their final presentations below! (They delivered more extended long-form presentations to their community partners in Burlington at a separate event.)