Sterling College awarded $350,000 to establish Annis Center for Ecology

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Sterling College awarded $350,000 to establish Annis Center for Ecology

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 4:26am -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Loss of habitat. Declining pH levels of our oceans. Global temperature trends. The world around us is being changed by human activity and our reliance on fossil fuels. Recognizing that the study of natural systems is the means for both monitoring and mitigating the human impact on the very ecological systems that sustain us, Sterling College announced today the new Robert B. Annis Center for Ecology. 

Thanks to a $350,000 grant from the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation, construction of Sterling’s science and research facilities will begin in May 2019; $50,000 of the award is dedicated to scholarships for ecology students. The Robert B. Annis Center for Ecology at Sterling College will prepare the next generation of environmental stewards with exemplary education and research opportunities, positioning its alumni to solve complex ecological problems. 

Sterling’s commitment to advancing the understanding of humanity’s relationship in the natural world is unique in that the College thrives in a rural setting and utilizes an experientially-based curriculum. “Sterling produces some of the best field ecologists, and is unique in its ability to provide students with hands-on experiences in nature,” said alumnus Dr. Michael Tessler ‘09, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the American Museum of Natural History. “Investing in the technical knowledge and abilities of budding ecologists through lab improvements is surely one of the most efficient ways that Sterling can bolster an already strong program.”

The Robert B. Annis Center for Ecology, to be located in historic Simpson Hall, will include a new science laboratory and equipment, classroom space and a research greenhouse. “While we have strong human resources in the areas of science and research, a renovated, updated and expanded lab space will mean our faculty can absolutely shine,” said Dr. Laura Spence, Dean of Academics and Faculty in Ecology. “A larger, more optimally designed lab made possible by the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation will allow capacity for students working on their Senior Year Research Projects while supporting our accomplished faculty with the resources to conduct research in collaboration with students.” 

The influence of the gift on the College’s ability to teach its students will be locally transformational. “Sterling faculty and students are engaged in issues important to Vermont. This past year, students have been actively involved in the Great Northern Forests Initiative in partnership with The Orianne Society focused on Wood Turtle research along the Black River. The addition of an aquarium to the laboratory, for example, will allow students to replicate aquatic systems, rear aquatic insects and fish, and ultimately be more informed to participate in local efforts to conserve wetlands and riparian areas,” said Farley Brown ‘85, Faculty in Ecology. 

As an ecology major, field study was an integral part of 2016 graduate Nicholas Trapeni’s learning experience at Sterling College. He stressed, however, the importance of lab work. “An effective ecologist must be able to pan back and look at the big picture, but the foundation of such a comprehensive understanding of complex natural systems begins with discovering every characteristic of each of the system’s components.” Victoria Cope ‘19 is researching invasive plants and their relationship to arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi for her Senior Year Research Project. From her perspective as a Research Assistant, “an improved lab space could advance the level and depth of ecology research we can do through the research assistant program.” Victoria works primarily in ecological and agro-ecological research on campus which includes working with plant and soil samples.

“The kind of whole-systems, interdisciplinary thinking that Sterling engenders is critical to addressing the world's complex socio-natural dilemmas,” said Allyson Makuch ‘14 who is entering her second year of a PhD program in Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Chuck Angus serves as a trustee for the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation and is also an alumni parent. "My wife and I and our daughter Hester first became acquainted with Sterling many years ago—as it turned out, Sterling was a very good fit for Hester as it appealed to her interests and values. Those values and interests were also those of Bob Annis. Bob Annis wanted his foundation to help young students achieve their academic goals by exposing them to the many exciting facets of science and technology. It has been an honor for me in my role to be able to direct some of his resources towards that goal. We are confident that the foundation’s grant to Sterling will be part of a lasting legacy to his life’s work."

The R.B. Annis Educational Foundation has had a profound impact on Sterling College, having previously invested over $124,000 in the programs of the College since 2001. The Robert B. Annis Center for Ecology will honor Robert Annis’s legacy in the sciences by substantially enhancing the quality of the education Sterling delivers to all of its students, specifically in the field of ecology. 

Renovations are expected to begin in May 2019. For more information about Sterling College’s ecology department, please visit https://sterlingcollege.edu/academics/ecology/

ABOUT STERLING COLLEGE
Sterling College inspires lifelong environmental stewardship through experiential liberal arts education that prepares students to become knowledgeable, skilled, and responsible leaders in the communities in which they live. The College was among the first colleges in the United States to focus on sustainability through academic majors in Ecology, Environmental Humanities, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, and Outdoor Education. Sterling is home to the School of the New American Farmstead and the Wendell Berry Farming Program, is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education, and is one of only nine federally recognized Work Colleges in the nation.

Source: Craftsbury Common, Vt. -- November 27, 2018 -- Sterling College