Nourish the Roots Campaign Exceeds $9 Million Goal

As faculty gathered to begin a new academic year, Sterling College announced that it has successfully concluded its five-year Nourish the Roots comprehensive campaign by exceeding the original $9 million campaign goal, raising $11.6 million in gifts and pledges. Sterling College is among the smallest colleges in the United States and during the campaign raised more annually for its environmental stewardship mission than colleges and universities that are many times larger.

“We began this campaign with the assertion that Sterling College has an important role to play in higher education and that we believe small colleges can have an impact well beyond what their enrollment might suggest,” said Matthew Derr, Sterling’s 11th president, who led the campaign. “Thanks to the many people who care about the human relationship with the natural world, today we truly are a small college with a big voice, preparing students for lives devoted to environmental stewardship and the well-being of rural communities.”

Field Ecology class

The public phase of Nourish the Roots was announced in March 2015 with $4.5 million already raised, including a successful $2 million challenge. By the end of the campaign, 1,300 unique donors had committed to 4,584 gifts which includes $643,500 in multi-year pledges and $3 million in estate plan commitments. The College was able to experience such significant success because of its shared values and vision with its donors, including friends of the College with no prior connection to Sterling, who care deeply about the critical issues facing humanity and the need to educate the next generation of environmental stewards.

 Nourish the Roots was guided and shaped by the College’s most recent five-year strategic plan which prioritized the renovation of key academic spaces, increased campus sustainability, financial aid support and academics.

The tone of the campaign was set in 2013 when Sterling College became the first college in Vermont, and the third in the nation, to fully divest its endowment from fossil fuels. Divestment came at the passionate encouragement of the late Rian Fried, Sterling College trustee and co-founder of Clean Yield Asset Management. “Rian was a pioneer in the social investment movement, so it’s no surprise that he spurred the Board of Trustees to divest Sterling’s endowment so early in the fossil fuel divestment campaign,” said Eric Becker, Chief Investment Officer at Clean Yield and Sterling College trustee.

Sterling College Rian Fried Center

The Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems

In 2014, Sterling announced the naming of The Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems at Sterling College. In alignment with the Sterling model of environmental stewardship education, the Center is the instructional laboratory for an experiential and place-based curriculum that unites the farm, forest and kitchen.

Alfond Barn

Alfond Draft Horse Barn

In 2014, The Alfond Draft Horse Barn was the first new structure built for the Center during the campaign, made possible through the generous support of the Peter Alfond Foundation. Alumna parent Peter Alfond passed away in July 2017. His daughter Deborah Alfond ‘13 currently serves on the College’s Board of Trustees.

A farrier shop, wash house and greenhouses were also constructed during the campaign. All of these additions have made a significant impact on Sterling’s ability to educate and inspire its students. “With the acute and systemic challenges facing the world’s food production systems, it has become clear that the future of farming will have to look different than today’s predominant chemical-industrial system,” said Dr. Tony VanWinkle, Faculty in Sustainable Food Systems and co-chair for the Rian Fried Center. “Sterling College is uniquely positioned to prepare a new generation of farmers in the kind of ecologically and socially responsible agricultural practices that will catalyze and sustain this paradigm shift.”

Dunbar Dining

Meal in Dunbar Dining Hall

The campaign also enabled the College to completely renovate and upgrade the Dunbar Dining Hall kitchen and the Houston House teaching kitchen. The renovations supported both undergraduate students and the students of the School of the New American Farmstead. The School of the New American Farmstead, launched in 2015, enables agrarians, culinarians, entrepreneurs and craftspeople continuing education to hone valuable skills while adhering to the College’s mission of environmental stewardship and experiential education.  

Solar trackers on Sterling College campus

In 2016, the campaign was a launchpad to position Sterling as a national leader in campus sustainability. The addition of 11 solar trackers on campus allows Sterling to produce more than 80% of its energy through solar power. New windows across campus support energy conservation and efficiency efforts. With these updates as well as Sterling’s long-standing sustainability efforts, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) ranked Sterling the #1 baccalaureate college in the nation for campus sustainability in 2017.

Campus event in The 1958 Room

Surviving the Future symposium in The 1958 Room

A complete renovation was made to the Admission wing of Kane Hall in 2016, which was renamed the Behrend Admission Center, for alumnus David Behrend ’60. Behrend also enabled significant upgrades to Simpson Hall, where the largest classroom and event space on campus is, now known as The 1958 Room. Most recently, the College’s woodworking program found a new home in the rural arts building, a gift from Craftsbury Academy. The first phase of renovation for that building was completed in 2018.

Access to education for environmental stewards was a major priority of the Nourish the Roots campaign. Nearly 100% of the current student body receives Sterling grant funding. The average institutional grant in 2018-19 is $23,100 and Sterling alumni complete their degree with 50% less loan debt than the national average. “The world can’t have enough Sterling graduates, as leaders and role models and parents. The success of this transformative campaign is evident in the impactful roles taken up by our most recent graduates which includes addressing food insecurity, growing crops and raising meat animals, serving as teachers and naturalists and conserving land through policy and research,” said Christina Goodwin, Dean of Advancement and Alumni Relations. “The faculty of the College understand that access to higher education is a challenge, and this campaign has made a Sterling education possible for many of our students,” added Dr. Laura Spence, Dean of Academics.

Hiking in the snowy mountains of California Summer 2017

Mountains of California wilderness semester

On the academic side, Sterling College was awarded $225,000 from The Endeavor Foundation in 2016 to further develop its Global Field Studies curriculum, which includes two-week and four-week global study opportunities and semester-long wilderness courses. In addition to the significant expansion of the Global Field Studies program, the campaign supported the addition of the Sustainable Food Systems major and increasing the full-time faculty from 11 members to 17. It also allowed the College to restructure the first-year experience, revise the mission statement and implement a new approach to the Work Program. “The evolution of the Sterling curriculum over the past five years has been significant and was driven intentionally by our faculty’s vision and expertise,” said Spence. “I’m particularly looking forward to the implementation of the new Foundational curriculum this fall and a semester-long orientation to the Work Program that will ground students with the context and skills necessary to do good work in community.” 

Class of 2018

The campaign, which is named for Sterling’s historic motto, caps a remarkable time of increased philanthropic success for Sterling. In 2011, before the campaign began, total giving to the College was $518,000. In 2018, Sterling’s annual fund and capital campaign goals were exceeded by $500,000, with $1.7 million raised. “We have truly nourished the roots of Sterling College, but more than that we’ve supported an institution that is preparing graduates who will make our lives richer here in Vermont and in all of the communities in which they live,” offered Jonathan Larsen, donor, trustee and past chair.

Group of Sterling College students displaying axes

The Axe Ceremony for first-year students

This fall, Sterling welcomes to campus both new and returning aspiring environmental stewards as the College celebrates its 60th year. The inaugural class of the Wendell Berry Farming Program also begins this fall in Henry County, Kentucky, based on the lifework and writing of Wendell Berry. In partnership with The Berry Center,  this program represents a chance for Sterling to leverage its resources and mission to scale out, without having to scale up.

Looking ahead, the next strategic plan is in development, a community-wide process co-chaired by Sterling College trustees Margo Baldwin of Chelsea Green Publishing and Allison Hooper, co-founder of Vermont Creamery“Sterling was able to set long-term goals that were both attainable and record-breaking. The College has achieved many accomplishments during my 12 years on the Board of Trustees,” said alumnus parent Pete Chehayl, board chair. “A solid foundation has been laid to build on for the College’s future successes.”


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