Sterling College receives $1.5 million grant to launch EcoGather

in Craftsbury/Newport/News/Northeast Kingdom

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — As the world confronts the coronavirus pandemic and economic pandemonium, and the educational system struggles to transition to meaningful online education, Sterling College is poised to confront all three challenges simultaneously with the support of a recently awarded $1.5 million grant.

Sterling College is breaking new ground with EcoGather, the first online higher education platform of its kind designed to advance ecological thinking and action as a foundation for building regenerative communities.

EcoGather will upend the traditional online delivery model of education common among colleges and universities by co-designing courses with communities around the world as they confront the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and an extractive globalized economy.

Communities in Vermont, Bhutan, India, Puerto Rico, and England will collaborate with EcoGather staff to co-create online educational courses and tools that can best serve their specific needs and audiences.

The platform is designed to turn traditional “distance learning” into place-based, community-focused education that is dedicated to the regeneration of ecosystems, communities and local economies.

The first three years of the project is funded by the anonymous grant.

The inaugural EcoGather course is well underway.

“Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time,” launched April 6, and has attracted more than 240 participants from around the world.

“One student in Australia gets up at 4:00 a.m. to participate in our webinars,” said Philip Ackerman-Leist, Sterling’s Dean of Professional Education and co-leader of the new course. “I’ve been blown away by the diverse backgrounds and demographics of the participants, as well as their passionate expressions of need not just for the course content but also for the sense of community they’ve begun to build, even in the initial weeks of the course.

He said the EcoGather platform will serve individuals and communities that might not otherwise benefit from any higher education resources, “much less those that are designed to foster our relationship with the natural world and address the effects of climate change.”

During President Derr’s tenure at Sterling, the college has redoubled its commitment to its mission and has been the recipient of record levels of funding from donors who are committed to its unique programs of study and work.

EcoGather staff are being hired, and eight additional core courses will be added in its first year.

By year three, EcoGather will host 24 core courses that will be gifted to and adapted by each of the partner communities.

For Sterling’s undergraduate students, EcoGather will increase the diversity of educational opportunities, reinforcing the “systems thinking” approach Sterling has been using for decades.

For faculty, the platform will be an additional tool available to connect their students with place-based work around the globe.

Courses will be accessible and affordable to the general public, worldwide.

“EcoGather will convert distance learning into place-based education, transform individualized and industrialized online education into community-focused education, and turn virtual classrooms into interactive social action networks,” said Ackerman-Leist.

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