GMC to offer new advanced degree program
By Bryanna Allen
Staff Writer | June 24,2014
POULTNEY — Green Mountain College is the first in the country to offer an online master of science degree in resilient and sustainable communities.
The degree is based around different aspects of environmental sustainability, offering programs such as sustainable food systems and environmental studies. GMC has offered online classes since 2006 and more than 260 graduates have gone on to further their education in sustainability.
The two-year program, accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, will begin in February 2015 with a residency by author and climate-change activist Bill McKibben of Middlebury.
“If we have one need on this planet, it’s for resilient and sustainable communities,” McKibben said, “so it’s good someone is thinking hard about how the heck to build them.”
Although GMC offers other online programs, this one is different, said assistant professor of environmental studies Sarah Mittlefehldt. Mittlefehldt helped develop the program and said she is excited to see it kick off next year for the spring semester.
“We are pushing the envelope with this new program,” she said.
The program uses GMC’s “bioregional” approach to distance learning by using online discussion panels allowing students from around the country to interact with each other by offering their own input on different issues addressed in the program.
Students will study land-use planning, economic development, energy production, food systems and resource management while developing skills in leadership, group organization and conflict resolution.
Students will not only learn how to construct sustainable communities, but also learn how to make them resilient against the natural disasters that come with changes in climate.
Mittelfehldt said that a Vermont student will be able to bring a different perspective on natural disasters, such as flooding, than a student from California, who may have experience with wildfires and drought, for example.
“Students will come together online to compare and learn from each other,” Mittlefehldt said. “It’s very interactive.”
She said students will also learn how to lead communities and have a plan to adapt when a natural disaster does strike — a skill that is becoming more sought out in many regions of the world.
“Our graduates can help their own communities adapt to conditions brought about by climate change, depletion of fossil fuels and a growing inequality in wealth and access to resources,” said program director Dr. Laird Christianson, “Communities around the world are already rethinking their approaches to energy, food, transportation and governance.”
The program will help prepare students for a wide range of careers, such as energy production, community development and resilience planning.
Since the courses are online, students can complete the work when it fits their schedule, similar to many of the other online classes offered at GMC.
“Nontraditional students will bring a lot to this class,” Mittlefehldt said. “They live in different locations, have different careers and are different ages,” aspects that she said will bring a lot of variety and brainstorming to the course, “enriching the experience even more.”