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Taking a Look Into Environmental Studies’ First Senior Seminar

9 Apr

The senior seminar students works together to identify the potential pros and cons of service learning in the classroom.

This semester, the Environmental Studies program has offered its first Senior Seminar class, which is focusing on the topic of emerging contaminants in the environment. The topic suggests that a significant threat to our water quality may come from drugs and pharmaceuticals in wastewater and runoff in very small quantities and unique combinations. As all the members of the class have individual and diverse concentrations that they have established within the environmental studies program, the students were asked to develop thesis papers that meld the issue of emerging contaminants with their particular focus of their concentrations. The following are excerpts from the six students on what they chose to analyze for their theses.

Victoria Woolner, Class of 2012 – My concentration was “Sustainable Development and Costa Rica: Living with an Environmental Awareness.” For my thesis I chose to discuss the idea of sustainable development and why it has been so controversial and difficult to implement on a large scale, especially in developing countries such as Costa Rica.  To tie in our senior seminar topic of emerging contaminants, I also focused on how as a society, our continued pollution of our environment makes the possibilities of living sustainably even more challenging.  I also specifically focused on what emerging contaminants are threatening Costa Rica’s environment and society.  

Nicole Marcotte, Class of 2012 – I have always been interested in the ways in which people perceive environmental issues through various media, and how these media affect the reaction of the public and the overall respect that they have for nature. My concentration is Environmental Advocacy: Building a Relationship with Nature because I wanted to better understand the ways to advocate for environmental awareness and how advocacy can encourage people to take action. Since the issue of emerging contaminants has only recently made its way onto the public agenda, there still is some skepticism revolving around whether or whether not the public should even be worried. For my thesis, I decided to analyze newspaper and magazine articles, books, and films that addressed the issue of emerging contaminants to understand what strategies the authors, producers, and editors used in order to shape the public’s opinion about the issue.

Colin Miller, Class of 2012 – For my concentration in the Environmental Studies program I choose to focus on Conservation Ecology and to look at how various cultures view and interact with nature. For my thesis I chose to research Wetland Wastewater Treatment facilities in various climates located around the globe to look at various types of wetland wastewater treatment facilities and the effectiveness of these facilities at removing both industrial and residential contaminants from the water. I chose this topic because not only are these facilities effective at treating wastewater sustainably and with little needed energy input, but also provide habitat for birds and aquatic animals.

Anna DiSanto, Class of 2012 – The concentration I chose within my Environmental Studies major was Marine Resources and Aquatic Ecosystems.  For this, I took several courses including Tropical Marine Ecology, Ichthyology, Marine Resource Management, and an independent study monitoring the water quality of the Winooski River here in Vermont.  For my senior thesis paper, I chose to study the effects of emerging contaminants on marine ecosystems.  This involved an analysis of the different consequences chemical pollutants have on the physical habitats, the organisms that inhabit such areas, and the possible direct and indirect impact on humans.

Kevin O’Riordan , Class of 2012- My concentration focuses on the correct way to conserve healthy habitats by managing forests’ wildlife and vegetation, the role of human interaction with the environment and, furthermore, to understand the relationship between humans the natural environment, including the animals and ecosystems that comprise the environment. For my thesis, I decided to focus on the effects of emerging contaminants on various species of wildlife and how our human decisions are dramatically affecting vital species.

Anne Burnham, Class of 2013 – Through my experiences, I was struck by the ability of some businesses to maintain personal relationships with the customer while maintaining positive environmental practices, minimizing their impact on the planet, and still achieving economic success.  At St. Michael’s, I took many classes that emphasized sustainability and living in a more harmonious manner with the Earth than humans have over the past several centuries.  This interest in sustainability, conservation, alternative lifestyles, and business practices drew me towards a focus on sustainable business practices.  Specifically, I became interested in how business practices are shaped by policies formulated both by the government and within corporations, as well as individual commitments to practice business and live in an environmentally friendly manner.   


Organic Farming and Sustainability in India: ES Students Prepare to Go Abroad

30 Mar

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Photo Credit – Valarie Banschbach, taken during a visit to India in 2011 at Navdanya’s Biodiversity and Conservation farm.

This summer, Saint Michael’s Environmental Studies program will be holding its first study abroad trip to Northern India where twelve students will have the opportunity to learn about organic farming and sustainability first hand. This study tour focuses on organic farming, sustainable living, and conservation of biodiversity at Navdanya’s organic farm, a participatory research initiative founded by world-renowned scientist and environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva. The main aim of the Navdanya biodiversity conservation programme is to support local farmers, rescue and conserve crops and plants that are being pushed to extinction and make them available through direct marketing.

Visits on the trip will also be made to two Indian scientific institutes, the Himalayas, the Rajaji National Park, the Ganges River, and Delhi to learn about conservation in relation to Indian culture, history, and economic development. The aims of this course are for students to learn the principles and techniques of organic farming, composting, and seed saving; to apply scientific techniques for documenting biodversity of insects and birds; and to become aware of sustainable living practices and technology that can be employed on a small scale and at low cost.

The following are some reactions, hopes, and anticipations from some of the students who will be traveling to India come May:

“I was first attracted to the trip because of Vandana Shiva’s presentation here last year. I was inspired by all that she was saying and when I found out there would be a trip I knew I had to apply. It’s going to be an amazing experience to help with her work and the fact that it is in India, a place I’ve always wanted to go, makes the trip even more exciting!”Piper Krabbenhoft, Class of 2014

“I became interested in the trip basically because I’ve never been able to apply what we learn in the classroom cross culturally.  I’m most excited about learning/discussing ways of sustainability and importance of biodiversity through hands on experiences.  By the end of the trip I hope we all come out with a broader scope of viable alternative methods for sustainability that apply to our lifestyles, and also to those of differing cultures.”Nick Rucci, Class of 2014

“When I saw the posters around campus advertising the trip, I knew it was something I didn’t want to miss out on. I’ve always been fascinated by Indian culture and it’s still surreal that I have the opportunity to go there. I am anxious to learn more about sustainability in India in terms of energy resources, soil conservation practices, and of course, the culture. I can’t wait to study in such a fascinating place with a group of students with interests similar to my own!”Sarah Main, Class of 2013 

“I was originally attracted to the Environmental Studies India trip because of the interdisciplinary emphasis. “Vandana Shiva’s work has aways appealed to me because she brings together environmental issues and human rights; an approach that I think is necessary in improving both. I am specifically interested in sustainable agriculture within environmental studies, and this is such a unique opportunity to see how the production side of it works, because most of us are so often on the side of the consumer. The opportunity to work in the field on Vandana Shiva’s farm was one I could not pass up. I’m really excited to work with a group of similarly minded students from St. Mike’s and fall in love with a new country.”Nora Stoelting, Class of 2014

“I was first attracted to the trip by a combination of my love for travel, as well as my interest in other cultures and the way in which they face ever evolving environmental challenges. Additionally, as a biology major, I have a lot of  interest in the conservation work that is going on at Navdanya. I am most excited to experience Indian culture, and to learn everything that I can while in such a unique environment.”Anne Burnham, Class of 2013

Saint Michael’s becomes the first Fair Trade College in Vermont

7 Mar

College agrees to make Fair Trade coffee, tea and bananas available in its dining facilities and at college events as a result of Food Justice student club championing Fair Trade.

Photo Credit – Chris Magyar,  Class of 2014

Written By –  Buff Lindau, Marketing & Communications Director and Prof. Valerie S. Banschbach, Environmental Studies Program Director

Nora Stoelting and Piper Krabbenhoft, sophomore Environmental Studies majors, led the Food Justice club in authoring and championing a fair trade resolution that was signed by Saint Michael’s College President Jack Neuhauser at a formal ceremony on March 1, 2012.  The resolution explained that many food producers worldwide are “paid below a living wage and are subject to harsh working conditions.” The resolution further states that “child and slave labor have been found to be prevalent in producing certain chocolate and some clothing that we purchase” regularly. Further it notes that farming techniques in many parts of the world harm the environment and “run contrary to principles of sustainability.” The resolution is intended to further campus-wide education on these subjects, in concert with the college’s new Environmental Studies major.

“I think it is important to inform students that we have the ability to educate ourselves on where our food comes from, and the power as consumers to demand better products. Because Saint Mike’s is such a small, close-knit community, there is a lot of support for student activism surrounding issues like this and we need to take advantage of it by letting people know about what they are eating and that they can ask for better” said Piper Krabbbenhoft, ’14, of the significance of this initiative.

Following the lead of the Saint Michael’s College Student Association, the Saint Michael’s College faculty agreed unanimously at the Faculty Assembly on Oct. 21, “that this campus declare itself to be a Fair Trade University.” Prof. Jeff Ayres, faculty advisor to the Food Justice Club, brought the resolution to the Faculty Assembly.  Thus the College agreed “to work with its food service contractor to make Fair Trade coffee, tea and bananas available in its dining facilities at all times,” to use Fair Trade coffee and tea at college events, and to “integrate Fair Trade information and events into the programs and culture of the school to ensure that the principles of Fair Trade continue to be part of the policy and social fabric of the community.”

In terms of the future Piper states “ The fact that we are now a Fair Trade University has sparked a lot of interest in the student community, and we hope that we can get more fair trade products into Alliot and other places on campus.”

Saint Michael’s College hires first Environmental Studies professor with specialty in water resources and the human environment

10 Sep

“I’m very excited about expanding the inter-disciplinary program in Environmental Studies at Saint Michael’s with a focus on sustainability.”


Written By: Buff Lindau, Marketing & Communications

Dr. Laura J. Stroup, assistant professor of geography at Texas State University, San Marcos, has been named Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Saint Michael’s College, starting with the fall 2011 semester. Dr. Stroup is the first professor in the college’s newly developed, cross-disciplinary major in Environmental Studies.

With extensive experience in exploring the changing impact of the human environment on water resources, Dr. Stroup is pleased to have many collaborators amongst the Saint Michael’s science, geography and economics faculty.

Dr. Stroup earned her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in Environmental Management from Franklin and Marshall College in 2002, with a minor in Geosciences. She was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa there in 2002. She earned a master’s degree in geography with concentration on physical/environmental geography from the University of South Carolina in 2004, with a thesis on “Getting the Structure Right: Adaptive Management for the Everglades Restoration.” And she earned a doctorate in geography in 2008 from the University of South Carolina with a dissertation on “Climate Change Effects on U.S. Water Resources Management.”

Dr. Stroup will be teaching Environmental Studies 101 and 102 in the fall, as well as the capstone senior seminar, which will focus on water. “Of course we want a beautiful, clean Lake Champlain,” she said. “But water touches everything; water is the sink for everything.”

“I’m very excited about expanding the inter-disciplinary program in Environmental Studies at Saint Michael’s with a focus on sustainability,” she said. “I’m also interested in incorporating field experiences into the classroom, and may create an Everglades field study over winter break sometime in the future.”

“I’ve learned about the excellent Saint Michael’s College Wilderness Program and hope to develop a collaborative Environmental Studies project with that program,” she added.

Dr. Stroup was at Texas State from 2008 to 2011, where she taught graduate courses in Geographical Analysis, Geographic Aspects of Water, Water’s Role in Environmental and Ecosystem Restoration, Applied Water Resources, and undergraduate courses in Introduction to Physical Geography, and Water Resources. She team-taught Regional Field Studies: Physical Geography and Geology of the U.S. Southwest. She also advised a number of dissertations at Texas State. She taught geography at the University of South Carolina, and served as a laboratory and research assistant in master’s and doctoral programs there, from 2002 to 2008.

Dr. Stroup received several grants, including one in 2009 with a colleague, from the Texas State University Research Enhancement Program called, “Change, Complexity and Central Texas Water Utilities: Strategies for Resilient Water Management in the 21st Century,” for $10,100. She and a colleague received a National Science Foundation grant in 2007 for a project titled, “Climate Change Effects on U.S. Water Resources Management,” for $9,520.

She has published refereed journal articles in Society & Natural Resources and The Journal of Geography. And she has articles in review at City, Culture and Society, and The Professional Geographer, and a book chapter titled “Towards Effective Risk Decision-making and Engagement under Global Environmental Change.” She also has an extensive record of reports and conference proceedings publications, and of invited lectures and conference presentations, many focused on climate change and water resources.

Winooski resident
Dr. Stroup and her husband Joseph Baird reside in Winooski. Her husband is certified to teach middle and high school and has a position at Mansfield Academy in Underhill, an alternative public school. They have a small dog named Napoleon and a big cat named Sidney.