One of the challenges of education in the environment and natural resources field is to convey and create practical knowledge in a multidisciplinary context. At the University of Vermont, one way that many Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (RSENR) faculty approach this challenge is through community-based teaching and research with community organizations locally, nationally, or internationally. This research sought to determine the current level of community engagement in the RSENR, identify opportunities and barriers that exist for faculty to engage with the community in the future, and present recommendations for the future of the school as an engaged institution within the broader University as well as Higher Education community. According to interviews and an online survey in which the majority of RSENR faculty and staff were represented, many faculty partner extensively with the community through their teaching, research or service. Rubenstein School faculty are motivated by the benefits community engagement can provide for their students and the community. However, the consensus among RSENR faculty was that time constraints and institutional disincentives (particularly in the reappointment, promotion, and tenure (RPT) process) are a significant barrier to community engagement activities in the School. Given the current extent of community engagement activities, the commitment of faculty to continue this work, and the support needs identified, this research recommended:
1. providing faculty support at an individual level;
2. approaching service-learning planning from the curriculum level;
3. documenting and evaluating these activities at the school level; and
4. taking action at the policy level to ensure that engaged-scholarship is valued.
In 2007, as a result of this research, the RSENR created a new Office of Experiential Learning with new staff support to plan and implement programming to facilitate and sustain community-based teaching and research in the School. This office is uniquely situated as a bridge between an academic unit and two central co-curricular offices (Career Services and the Office of Community-University Partnerships and Service-Learning).