Green Mountain College’s first year seminar, Sustainable Liberal Arts for Transformative Education (SLATE) Program, explores some of the ways in which human societies make sense of the natural world.
Students read literature that ranges from folklore and poetry to environmental philosophy and natural science, and develop a sense of how culture determines our understanding of our environment. The course begins to develop student writing through formal and informal essays and journaling. Frequent field trips and a Living Learning Community help root students in their new home while they test ideas from classroom readings. The SLATE portfolio is begun in this course and added to in each of the subsequent core courses.
First year students get to know their faculty advisor right away because they will be working together in this seminar. When first year students come for Orientation in August, they’ll meet their professor as well as a student mentor assigned to their seminar—a peer who will be an important part of their first year in modeling the traits and habits of a successful student. Students move seamlessly into our three-week “Immersive” term during which they’ll take just this first-year seminar as they settle into college life. Both their faculty advisor and undergraduate teaching assistant help every student make a meaningful transition to life at Green Mountain through experiences in the classroom, in the Living Learning Community, and in the field, aimed at helping them discover the resources and strategies needed to excel.
SLATE Seminar Course Descriptions
01 SLATE Seminar: Balance & Living Well
with Rommy Fuller-Young
This section aims to equip students with the knowledge and skills to live meaningful, healthy, and resilient lives. It is a survey of topics that pertain to the growth and development of the individual from emerging adulthood and beyond. Research on factors that influence the health and wellbeing of the body, the mind, and the spirit in everyday life will be explored. Through reflective self-awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses, students will be able to make a plan for their personal health and character that will foster a lifetime of happiness and success. We will discuss a myriad of environmental influences on human life in contemporary society as students gain a better sense of their own behavioral habits and beliefs as members of a resilient and just community. Students will consider whether their choices promote a healthy college and post-college experience conducive to reaching their goals, or what they can do to work toward and achieve a more well-balanced lifestyle.
Rōmmy Fuller-Young is a passionate teacher who specializes in language and literacy for students of all ages. She is currently the Education Program Director at Green Mountain College. Professor Fuller teaches Education, Psychology, and SLA-related coursework. Aside from her academic interests, Professor Fuller has a long history of participation and success in competitive sports such as gymnastics, martial arts, soccer, and strong-person events. She is currently an elite level obstacle course racer who competes both nationally and internationally. Health, wellness, and goal-setting are topics that she is particularly interested in, and she loves to engage students in their own self-reflection and growth. Read more…
02 SLATE Seminar: Sustainability in Place
with Teresa Coker
Green Mountain College is proud to be first in sustainability. But what does that really mean? Sustainability has been defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. But in this green place, we don’t stop at limiting negative impacts. We strive for authentic sustainability, working to restore our “account balance” in natural, social, and financial capital. In this course we will explore sustainability through readings ranging from Bill McKibben to Frances Moore Lappe’ to Robert Bullard, through lively discussions, and through various forms of academic writing. Then we will venture beyond the classroom on field trips to see sustainability in action on campus at our biomass facility, our native plant nursery, and our farm before venturing off campus into the local bioregion to explore natural areas, organizations addressing social equity and justice, and to meet people making a difference. Although we will initially focus on our local campus and our bioregion, we will also examine sustainability from a national and international perspective. Finally, we will do more than just read, write, and talk about sustainability; we will take on service learning projects too. As author Frances Moore Lappe’ writes in her book, EcoMind, “[W]e have no choice about whether to change the world. We are changing it every day. The choice is only whether our acts contribute to the world we want…or not.” Join me in changing the world to the world we want. This section will include at least one overnight camping experience.
As an environmental educator who has worked at a nature center, at an environmental camp in the Smoky Mountain National Park, at a public school, and for the USDA Forest Service, Teresa Coker is interested in how to connect people experientially with nature in ways that result in sustainable behaviors. At Green Mountain College, she teaches environmental education courses, elementary education methods courses, and two of the four SLATE core courses. As a transplanted Southerner, she has spent the last 14 years exploring her Vermont home from full moon bike rides on the local rail trail, to learning to knit, to serving on the local school board, to camping in the local state park, to playing alto saxophone in the town band. She looks forward to sharing with new first year students a journey of discovery in nature like Thoreau described when he wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it has to teach and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Read More…
03 SLATE Seminar: Science and Spirituality
with Natalie Coe
This seminar will be an inward and outward journey that will ask you to examine yourself and your place as you become accustomed to your new space in Vermont. Expect to be outdoors (exploring, hiking, kayaking, camping) and willing to allow these experiences to influence your depth and breadth as a burgeoning writer. This is a course for our imaginations, collective and personal, to be allowed to roam. We will be journaling, reading, and writing (rewriting, rewriting,..) daily as well as exploring and utilizing aspects of mindfulness to connect to our creativity. However you see yourself now as a writer, you will see growth and development after this immersive experience that will allow you to soften rough edges only to stretch out to new ones. Readings will be both historical and contemporary and draw from the fields of ecopsychology and sustainability and include multiple genres as well as a diversity of writers. We will spend some time looking at the patterns of nature (macroscopically and microscopically). We will plan to spend a rainy day or two in the laboratory, as Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us “Life is an experiment. The more experiments you do the better.” Additionally, we will be actively engaged in a community service project on local ecological restoration. This section will include at least one overnight camping experience.
Natalie Coe is a biochemist by training and is also an ordained interfaith minister. She teaches classes in biology (Cell Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry), psychology (Genetics of Human Behavior, Neuroscience), religion (Pilgrimage to Ireland, Pursuing Global Understanding Reconciliation and Change) and a myriad of interesting general education science courses. Her research focuses on the metabolic basis of disease and although she used to work with mice and humans, she now works with Beech trees and the unrelenting Beech Bark Disease in our bioregion. Read more…
04 SLATE Seminar: Stone, Water, and The Slate Valley
with Jennifer Baker
As we live in the “built environment” following the turn of a new millennium, it is often difficult to see or imagine the ways in which an area might appear and function in the earliest times of human inhabitance. The area we call the “Slate Valley” holds an abundance of history, endurance, industry, and beauty. This section of our first year seminar will explore the region through observation, drawing, reading, travel, and writing. How does geography define place and culture? This was an naturally abundant region, still creating itself from the earliest times of human settlement and providing the indigenous peoples with the necessities of life. We will be walking, traveling, visiting, and exploring – fueling the content and understanding of our written, verbal and creative work, whilst we take the time to “be” in nature exercising creative expression to more fully understand the impact of culture.
Green Mountain College’s emphasis on both environment and liberal arts integrates Jennifer Baker’s own personal background. Originally from San Francisco, she was a student in San Jose City/State College who was part of the team that founded the city’s FIRST recycling center in 1970-71. Her career has included instruction and educational design in the arts and in the sciences. Following Jennifer’s graduate work in Medical and Biological Illustration at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, she became the Medical Illustrator and head of Graphics at Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute, then Art Director/Medical Illustrator at Tufts University School of Medicine between 1979-1987. Professor Baker came to Green Mountain and Vermont in 1995. Her personal work is largely in carved stone; marble, slate, and mosaic art. She is currently focusing on creating floor art using the traditional Byzantine stone mosaic method learned in Ravenna, Italy during her Spring 2017 sabbatical. Read more…
05 SLATE Seminar: Inhabiting Argument
with Amy C. Murphy
Honest and persuasive communication is central to a just and sustainable society. What does it mean to make an argument? Before emails, tweets, and Facebook postings and as early as the beginning of the written word, people have sought to persuade others through their writing. This section of our first year seminar will examine how the essay has persuaded, amused, angered, informed, and touched readers over the course of its long history, from ancient times to the present. In this course, students will examine the evolution and practice of argument, from Aristotle’s formalizing of the discipline of argument in his Rhetoric, to Martin Luther King’s “A Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he makes a case for the validity of the philosophy of the non-violence as social resistance, to Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation,” a manifesto dedicated to the championing of animal rights. In particular, the course will focus on the development of arguments that call attention to inequities or strive to enact social justice, whether connected to our food systems, our social institutions, or our ecosystems. In addition to exploring written texts, students will investigate how arguments are made not only “inside” of articles and books, but also through field experiences that happen outside: on a local farm committed to sustainable practices, in an apple orchard that grows apples and makes ciders and wine, and in museums that display artwork from a particular vantage point.
Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Amy Murphy has been a professor at both urban and rural college campuses, and has taught literature and composition to a diverse student body, from Florida to Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas, and now in Vermont. While she has specialized in the teaching of British literature, she has also taught writing and composition for over 20 years and has an expertise and interest in helping students improve their writing skills. She enjoys serving students and building their confidence as writers and thinkers as they prepare themselves for their chosen career paths. In her spare time, she loves to travel, walk with her dogs, write, garden, tend her small flock of chickens, cook and bake for friends, family, and students, and spend time with her two daughters and husband. Read more…
06 HONORS SLATE Seminar: The Stories We Tell
with Ric Jahna
From the cave walls of prehistory to the latest episode of Game of Thrones, human culture is rooted in story. In this section of our first year seminar we will consider the role that narrative and storytelling play in our ongoing effort to understand and shape our relationship with the natural world. While much of our focus will be on written “literary” works (e.g. fiction, poetry, memoir), we will also consider narratives from other media, including film, television, and spoken word.
Through the consideration of these texts, we will consider how storytelling can foster awareness of natural beauty, sound alarms over ecological threats, and propose sustainable solutions for the challenges we face. Together, we will develop our critical thinking skills through readings, writings, discussions, projects, and field trips. As part of this process, we will create new narratives, stories of our own that will help bind us together as a group and as members of the college community.
Ric Jahna grew up along the Lake Wales Ridge, the highest “peak” in peninsular Florida and a region whose land, people, and lore appear in much of his fiction. He teaches courses in literature and creative writing, including special topics such as narrative in film and the graphic novel. His research interests include American literature, literature of the South, and popular culture studies. In his spare time, Ric enjoys travel, performing stand-up comedy, and contemplating linear time. Read more…
07 SLATE Seminar: Food for Thought
with Eleanor Tison
How does the food we eat reflect and shape our relationship to nature, as well as our culture, community and identity? How can our choice of ingredients and meals affect our own wellbeing as we adapt to a different place and new routines, as well as impact the sustainability and resilience of our local environment? What is the taste of this new ‘green place’ in Vermont we now inhabit? Will exploring these tastes and traditions connect us more meaningfully to the land and people? What foodways can each of us bring to the table from our own heritages to diversify this foodscape, and nurture conviviality, civic engagement, and a more fair and just community? In this section of our first year seminar, we will ponder these questions and more through reading authors such as Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, Amy Trubek, and Michael Pollan, as well as by journaling and building our academic writing skills-. We will be experiencing the bounty of our community food system almost every day at its late summer season peak. This will include frequent forays to our college farm, Cerridwen Farm, both in the fields to harvest crops, or to wildcraft edible weeds, then into the Farmhouse kitchen for collaboratively creating meals to share. We will also venture out on field trips to a diverse range of area farms, orchards, and kitchens. On these edible journeys we will meet the people–including a beekeeper, wildcrafter, maple sugarmaker, hunter, goatkeeper, baker, and cooks, among others–who are feeding the community, and then write profiles about them to develop our descriptive and analytical writing skills. Our goal is to cultivate a deeper understanding of solutions that those who work to nourish us sustainably may offer to meet the challenge of balancing food, nature, and culture.
Eleanor Tison is an anthropologist who also teaches classes about food preservation, culinary nutrition, and food justice, as well as about community research methods and sociology. She is interested in contemporary food movements and social sustainability. Originally from Savannah, Georgia, but with roots in coastal Maine, and now a resident since 2003 of Poultney, Vermont, when she and her family joined the Green Mountain College community, Eleanor keeps busy in many capacities (usually involving food & people!), and is active on the local co-op board, gleaning at area farms in the summer, and with the town’s historical society. Read more…
08 HONORS SLATE Seminar: Revealing the Hidden Forest
with Jim Harding
The forested landscape in Vermont reveals amazing and dynamic stories in natural and cultural history. It is one thing to be able to stroll through the woods and enjoy the rustle of leaves, chirps of songbirds, and the earthy smell of a rich soil; it is another thing to be able to take this same stroll and be able to read more deeply into the history of the woods and uncover the myriad of biotic interactions that occur all around us. In my section of SLATE Seminar, we will practice our forestry skills in the local bioregion and discover parts of the forests that most people pass right by. We will learn how to identify certain trees (paying particular attention to how they differ from other species). We will look for clues about past land use and forest disturbances. Ultimately, we will use the forest to develop our skills in observation and description. Understanding the depth and diversity of our native forests is a key component towards maintaining a sustainable ecosystem. This is particularly true when a good portion of Vermont’s economy is directly dependent on the quality of our forests. This section will include at least one overnight camping experience.
In addition to SLATE Seminar, Jim Harding teaches classes in forestry, environmental studies, and mathematics. Jim has spent most of his time as a professor exploring the many different ways that humans interact with natural areas whether through recreation, resource extraction, or personal renewal. Jim has lived and worked in Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Montana, and Kentucky, before making his home in Vermont. He lives with his family in a log home up a dirt road where he hunts, fishes, and tends a small orchard of fruit trees. In his spare time, Jim enjoys crossword puzzles, tying flies, and reading just about anything. Read more…