COLCHESTER, Vt. – Saint Michael’s College students will soon harvest the benefits of a hands-on education thanks to a new learning center that didn’t require construction or open with a ribbon-cutting. In fact, it’s not a building at all.
The Center for the Environment is an outdoor effort that will engage students in field courses, with the hope of educating environmental stewardship “in a manner different from any other liberal arts institution.”
The school will use existing resources for the initiative, including their farm, teaching gardens and 360 acre conservation area.
Kristyn Achilich is the Center’s first director, and a Saint Michael’s alumna. She’s spent the past three months developing the framework for the center, an effort that included planting 120 trees on the campus.
“It really comes alive for the students,” Achilich said. “They start to understand some of the practical job skills that are necessary within the industry. Something that might be theoretical and nondescript for them in a class will come alive and jump off the field for them.”
Saint Michael’s environmental program started just five years ago, but it’s already grown to become one of the most popular majors. There’s hope among staff that the Center will highlight work already being done by the department.
Karen Talentino, a professor of biology and environmental science, touted the potential for students to make new connections with community partners.
“We’ve been doing work with the Intervale, Community Food Network and Community Garden Network”, Talentino said. “In a place like Vermont, there’s already a lot of environmental organizations and nonprofits that are looking for interns.”
Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt said the Center is “a pivotal undertaking for the college and a unifying effort.”
With climate change presenting today’s students with an uncertain future, Sterrit added that the Center’s core principles of research, contemplation and action are “the foundation for meaningful progress on the matter most crucial to the survival of our species and planet.”
The Center will also be used by philosophy, media journalism, digital arts and education students. Though the lessons will differ, the end result, Achilich said, is consistent.
“We want them to understand where they’re living and the impact that they have on the world,” Achilich said. “We want the students to engage with their world and feel that they have practical, tangible skills as they move on from the institution.”