Julie Wormser ‘86 is an alumna of Sterling College, served on the faculty in 1992-93, and has served on the College’s Board of Trustees since 2013.
Sterling College changed my life. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. I was a good kid and a good student from a Boston suburb. I understood how to get good grades, but not how to work hard, not how to be a good friend and neighbor, not how to live a meaningful life.
As a high school senior, I knew I didn’t want to go right into a large, four-year college. I intended to take a year off and wanted to work as a blacksmith or cooper at Sturbridge Village, an 1820s living history museum. The only problem was that women weren’t allowed to play those roles. I would be consigned to wearing a full-length dress and working in the home.
One night my dad offhandedly told me about his friend’s daughter going to Sterling. I applied almost immediately and was thrilled to be accepted. Unlike at Sturbridge Village, I would be doing everything my male classmates got to do!
And I absolutely loved it. For every classroom lesson, there was an outdoor counterpart. I took Elements of Forestry and learned to create beautiful, accurate maps using a hand compass and my own stride to measure distance and direction. I made my own wooden canoe paddle and used it to learn how to whitewater canoe in early spring. One-third of the students’ paddles broke during these classes, leaving them, well, up a creek without a paddle!
I took classes in ecology, literature, philosophy, outdoor education, and plant and soil science. I learned to not only survive but thrive in the middle of the woods during Vermont winters. Over spring vacation, I worked at a horse-powered dairy farm near the Canadian border, helping the farmers harvest and boil maple sap to make syrup. Every morning before breakfast I would muck out the cow’s stalls. At breakfast the children would ask me who’d won: i.e., had I successfully wrestled an enormous wheelbarrow full of cow poop all the way to the manure pile, or had it prematurely tipped over, making a mess of me and the barn floor. Over time, I “won” more often than not.
And that was true in general of my year at Sterling. Over time I became more confident. I became kinder. I learned how to persevere when I was tired and how not to be ashamed of asking for help. I learned a tremendous amount about the natural world and how to manage farms and forestland more sustainably.
After I attended Sterling (which at the time was only a two-year program), I went on to a four-year liberal arts school, graduating with a degree in biology and having a successful, satisfying career in environmental policy. I’m now the deputy director of the Mystic River Watershed Association, working with cities and towns to prepare for climate-accelerated flooding, drought and heat waves.
I still use many of the skills I learned at Sterling, at work and at home. I’ve had a vegetable garden nearly every year since I left Sterling and raise chickens in the city. I winter camp and go on long kayak trips. I regularly run into Sterling graduates and have worked with several. There are special qualities that emerge when one engages with the Sterling curriculum: good-hearted, full of integrity, ready to pitch in.
Sterling changed my life. Let it change yours.