When we travel to other states and mention that we live in Vermont, people immediately identify us with Bernie Sanders.
“Ah, you’re from Bernie Country,” somebody responded recently, speaking for most strangers we meet.
“Yes,” I say, “but Vermont has many unique attributes in addition to Bernie!
Chief among them is the state’s growing reputation as a leader in sustainable living. We’re known – justifiably – as a “green” state, one focused on renewable energy, small-scale agriculture, and our rare working landscape.
In my own community, one of the contributors to this effort is Green Mountain College, led by its president, Paul Fonteyn, who’s retiring at the end of this academic year.
For eight years, Dr. Fonteyn has led the college in transforming a lofty vision into reality.
The goal was to create a culture and curriculum centered on sustainability, and Dr. Fonteyn has implemented it with remarkable success.
The projects launched and completed under his watch have spanned environmental, economic and social efforts. The campus has become energy independent through biomass and solar energy. Faculty members and students have worked closely with the town to re-purpose buildings, launch a food coop, develop an impressive trail system for bikers and walkers, and create a hub for the arts. Great strides were made to welcome students from varied backgrounds - including a growing number of international students. This was achieved by strengthening the college’s reputation and by providing financial aid to 95 percent of students.
Green Mountain College has graduated many of the young farmers I meet at local farmers markets, and that in itself is a great contribution to boosting farming in the state. But in recent years, by achieving ratings as the best or almost best “green” college in the country, the impact of this tiny institution is being felt nationally and internationally. Representatives from U.S. colleges and from overseas colleges now visit Poultney to learn from the experts.
This helps further “brand” us as a model for innovation in tackling climate change. It positions us as entrepreneurial in confronting one of humanity’s greatest challenges. All of which is bound to attract innovative young people who will strengthen our economy and enrich our communities.
This is great for both the college and the state. And it furthers our reputation as a tiny state with an outsize impact.