Live & Learn: Dan Fogel, President, UVM

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(HOST) This week VPR is hearing from graduating college seniors and college presidents about what it’s like to Live and Learn in the Green Mountains. This morning we heard from a Middlebury graduate on his future plans. This afternoon, we hear from University of Vermont President Dan Fogel about the educational value of social engage- ment and learning by doing.

(FOGEL) The great educational philosopher John Dewey was a Vermonter and UVM alumnus. Dewey saw education as inseparable from action. Education isn’t preparation for life, he believed, it is a “process of living.” At the University of Vermont, we are his heirs in many ways.

We are deeply committed to our social mission and to developing our students intellectually and civically. So we support our students as they serve – and learn – in the community. Our students spend more than 100,000 hours a year in volunteer service, and tens of thousands more learning by doing in internships and experiential learning programs. Biology majors work at lab benches with professors on cancer studies, for example, and engineering students work in research and development with Burton Snowboards.

Lost sometimes in that huge tally of hours is how individually meaningful every single one of those hours can be. A young social work student was assigned to help a family of Bantu refugees from Somalia on an icy February evening. No one in the family spoke English, so the student communicated with them through gestures. In spite of this, over time the family and the student became close. “You figure out what works and what doesn’t,” the student says.

At UVM, service works.

We were recently selected by the Princeton Review and the national non-profit group Campus Compact as one of the nation’s leading universities for social engagement. We will soon be featured in the book Colleges with a Conscience: 81 Great Schools with Outstanding Community Involvement.

In the past ten years, two UVM alumni went to Oslo to receive Nobel Peace Prizes. Jody Williams won the prize for her work to ban land mines, and John McGill was president of Doctors Without Borders, the U. S. branch of Medecins Sans Frontieres, when that organization won the prize. Closer to home, environmental students have been working with professors and community leaders to find solutions to storm- water pollution.

This close connection of classroom and field experience is a powerful educational practice in the effort to develop future leaders. By correlating real-world experience with classroom activities, service- learning enhances the way students acquire and retain knowledge and skills.

To become leaders in their communities, in the organizations in which they work and across their professions, our students also need highly honed communication skills. Getting ideas across powerfully is necessary in chemistry, food science, philosophy or mechanical engineering. So we are developing writing-intensive courses within students’ fields of focus.

Our goal is to graduate students who are connected and committed to their communities, who are expert problem solvers, both able and eager to make a difference in the world.

I’m Dan Fogel of Colchester.

Dan Fogel is President of the University of Vermont.

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