Pod: Seeing the Unseen

This combination of classes will immerse students in experiential activities helping them to understand the diversity, distribution, function, and interactions of plants, fungi, bacteria and other microbes.  Over the whole five weeks, there will be a significant amount of time spent in the field (with an emphasis on soil health analysis and fungal identification and ecology) and in the lab (allowing development of a range of different lab-based techniques such as microbial isolation and visualisation).  Assignments across both classes will be highly complementary allowing students to develop scientific communication skills such as writing a research proposal and keeping a meticulous lab notebook.  There will be opportunity for students to pursue individual interests within these classes.

Enrollment Requirements and Options:

Courses are integrated co-requisites with simultaneous enrollment required. Students in this pod can enroll in online courses, Senior Year Research Project, or Independent Study work. TA-ing Soil, Plants, and Microbes II is possible with instructor permission. 

This pod includes the following courses:

Fungal Ecology 4 cr

Fungi are not always obvious members of the communities surrounding us, but nevertheless they are an essential component of ecosystems in every corner of the Earth. This Fungal Ecology course acts as a general survey of the diversity of life-forms in the Fungal Kingdom, of fungal roles in ecosystem functioning, and of diverse human uses of fungi. More specifically, students will be introduced to the anatomy, diversity and taxonomic classification system of fungi, and to three key roles that fungi have in ecosystem functioning: decayers (saprotrophs), pathogens/parasites, and symbionts to primary producers (lichen and mycorrhiza). Practical techniques commonly used for investigating fungi will also be taught, including techniques for aiding mushroom identification, examining mycorrhizal colonization of roots, and inoculating agar plates to culture fungi in the lab. Finally, a broad range of uses that fungi serve to humans will be examined. 

Soil, Plants, Microbes II 4 cr

Through this course, the students will acquire a deep understanding and appreciation for the myriad of interactions between plants and microbes in a variety of habitats, with a strong focus on the soil environment.  Students will be introduced to how plants and microbes respond and adapt to their environment, both immediately and in the long-term with an emphasis on stress response.  The role of soils as a way to create resilience and minimize stress in ecosystems will also be explored.  This class will provide students with hands-on field and laboratory techniques for use in the study of soils, microbial life, and plant health. Students will engage in writing their own research proposal using primary literature to explore novel ideas. 

Pod: The People’s Stories: Art and Culture

In The People’s Stories: Art and Culture, students will establish foundational understandings in the ways cultures express their personal and collective beliefs and interactions with the natural world through the mediums of visual, performative, and literary arts. Specific attention will be given to the constructed ideas of democracy and interconnectedness and  how these relate to our human, non-human and environmental relationships. Students will explore these ideas through written and oral traditions, photography, food craft, puppetry, improvisation, and community storytelling events.

Enrollment Requirements and Options:

The courses in this pod are integrated and students are strongly encouraged to enroll in both; however, exceptions can be made with instructor permission . Students in this pod can also TA a course or enroll in online courses, Senior Year Research Projects, and Independent Studies with instructor permission.

This pod includes the following courses:

Foundations of Environmental Humanities: Interconnected Web, Arts, and Democracy 3 cr 

Foundations of Environmental Humanities considers a broad swath of cultural production — from poetry to podcast, from food consumption to policy, from the arts to democracy — to explore how cultural production both defines and reinscribes ideologies of the human and more than human landscapes. Focusing on the themes of interconnection, the arts, and democracy, we will investigate what it means to be working at the forefront of ecological thinking and action while interpreting, representing, and shaping our relationships with diverse places and cultures. This will enable us to consider the dynamic nature of cultural traditions, specifically through food, and their interactive relationship to the natural world. Throughout this course, students will be introduced to the fundamental tools and skills of Environmental Humanities as both a field and a transdisciplinary approach to the challenges we face in building more resilient and intentional relationships between all manner of human and non-human worlds.

Stories and Storytelling 3 cr

People of all cultures have relied on the telling and retelling of stories to transmit significant cultural understandings such as cosmology, ecology, spirituality, and social norms. This course will examine the ways in which cultures have used oral narratives throughout time and what functions such narratives serve today in the contemporary world. We will become familiar with a diversity of cultural groups across time and space and will explore how geography and beliefs have shaped both identity and the art of storytelling. We will read, listen, watch and share our own stories as we dive deeper into oral traditions. This course will culminate with an original production for the Sterling community.

Pod: Wildlife, Wetlands, and Conservation in the Northeastern Highlands of Vermont

Located in the heart of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, the Northeastern Highlands biophysical region is composed of unique natural features, rare wildlife species, and a rich cultural history. The Nulhegan Basin is a geological formation in the highlands and will serve as the “classroom” for a combination of field based courses: Wetlands Ecology, Wildlife Conservation and Management, and Conservation and Ecology of the Nulhegan Basin. 

Enrollment Requirements and Options:

This Pod will be a 5 week off-campus program. During that time, the faculty and students will be housed along the Clyde River in East Charleston where we will live and learn as a group. This program includes regular full day field trips with hiking and a multi-day camping trip. Courses are integrated co-requisites with simultaneous enrollment required. Students in this pod cannot enroll in online courses. TA-ing one of these courses is possible with instructor permission. 

This pod includes the following courses:

NS225 Wildlife Conservation and Management 3 cr

The Wildlife Conservation and Management course is built upon the concept of a land ethic, recognizing that the definition of ‘community’ encompasses all living things. How we interact with the land has potential impacts on the needs of wildlife. In this course students will learn wildlife habitat inventory and management techniques as we assess the habitat within the Nulhegan Basin.The historical and current land uses will be considered in conjunction with the field research, culminating in a broader understanding of wildlife needs across the landscape.

NS305 Wetlands Ecology 3 cr

The goal of the Wetlands Ecology course is for students to build an understanding of the ecology of freshwater wetlands, including their flora and fauna, biogeochemical processes, and the critical ecological functions and services they provide. Students will study the various types of wetlands through extensive field time combined with readings and classroom learning. The course will include a strong practical component, including identification of wetland flora and fauna, classification of wetland natural communities, and methodologies for wetland assessment and delineation. An overview of wetland protection strategies including state and federal regulatory programs as well as local conservation initiatives will be discussed. 

INT*** Conservation and Ecology of the Nulhegan Basin 2 cr

Conservation & Ecology of the Nulhegan Basin is a case study on the science and policy of land conservation, focusing on this particular watershed. The Nulhegan Basin is home to the Champion Lands deal, the largest sale of land in Vermont’s modern history and a complex, multi-use and multi-stakeholder conservation project involving state and federal agencies, land trusts, community members and private landowners. The Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe is also named for the Nulhegan River, and students will learn about their recent acquisition of a parcel of tribal forestland nearby. Students will explore the social, cultural, economic and political issues and challenges associated with these projects and evaluate their outcomes through conversations with stakeholders, readings, field trips, and class discussions. 

Pod: The Designed Experience

 Students interested in this pod will find adventure on the rocks of Vermont & New Hampshire, learn of and gain certification in the principles of Leave No Trace, and engage in the process of curriculum design and create curriculum for a local school/non-profit organization. Several off-campus overnights are required.

Enrollment Requirements and Options:

Students may enroll in any combination of the 4 courses in this pod; however, they must choose between Introduction to Rock Climbing and Advanced Rock Climbing. There are TA opportunities for Introduction to Rock Climbing and Experiential Curriculum Design. Students in this pod may co-enroll in Independent Studies, Senior Year Research Projects, or online courses depending on how many of the available credits in the pod they select. 

This pod includes the following courses:

Introduction to Rock Climbing 3 cr

Crag, cliff, and beyond dealing with challenging situations, trusting in others and ourselves, moving through fear and doubt to attain goals. Outdoor sessions begin with an introduction to the history of rock climbing and then proceed to ground school training in knots, rope-handling, and belaying. Next balance, movement, and technique are practiced on the climbing wall. In addition students are introduced to rappelling. We then climb at more extensive sites, while practicing all the basic skills and working as a group to ensure each member feels both supported and challenged. Final activities include simulated mountain rescue scenarios to provide a group challenge and teamwork practice.

Advanced Rock Climbing 3 cr

This course challenges students to integrate and build upon all of the skills learned in AS190 or AS225. Students in this class will further develop their rock climbing techniques, rope management skills, safety and rescue protocols and site assessment. Exposure to multi-pitch climbing and management may be reached by the end of this course. To supplement work in the field, students will explore the current structure of mountain guiding in the United States as compared to around the world.

Leave No Trace Trainer 1 cr

Content includes an overview of the history of the Leave No Trace organization, basic teaching techniques, presentation skills, and an introduction to the seven guiding principles: Plan ahead and prepare, Travel and camp on durable surfaces, Dispose of waste properly, Leave what you find, Minimize campfire impacts, Respect wildlife, Be considerate of other visitors.

Experiential Curriculum Design 3 cr

Explores the cognitive and social foundations of an interactive learning environment. Students study experiential learning theory from a variety sources including (but not limited to) John Dewey, Circles of Courage, and Coyotes Guide. Students will develop and implement lesson plans for in class use and external projects. In the past, external projects have included curriculum development for a high school environmental science class and a collective of home schooled students. Students complete the course with a project connecting personal interests and/or their senior capstone experience to the area of curriculum design. Special features of this course include a high rate of student led class sessions, hands-on curriculum development experiences, and interactions with a variety of educators.

Pod: Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems

 This pod will use an agroecological lens to introduce students to the foundations of ecology, agriculture, and food systems. 

Enrollment Requirements and Options:

Students are strongly encouraged though not required to co-enroll in these courses.

This pod includes the following courses:

Foundations of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems 3 cr

Using readings from prominent thinkers, innovators, and scholars in sustainable and alternative agriculture and food systems, as well as through films, field trips and on-farm projects, we will explore the major ideas and practices that have driven the development of agricultural philosophies and practices aligned with long-term ecological health and community resilience. Following a model that alternates deep, subject-specific explorations of primary and secondary literature in sustainable food systems with practical on-farm projects, this class provides students the intellectual and embodied foundation necessary for engaging meaningfully in alternative agricultural systems at Sterling College and beyond. Surveying the history and evolution of major problems in agriculture through time and space, we will direct our attention to alternative models that are more compatible with the ethics of land stewardship and a renewed agrarianism for the twenty-first century. We will develop a working knowledge of sustainable agriculture and food systems, while also exploring the environmental, economic, social, political, and cultural dimensions of these systems.

Foundations of Ecology 4 cr

This course is an introductory survey of concepts in ecology with emphasis on ecosystem processes, community dynamics and biodiversity.  Topics include ecosystem energetics, nutrient cycling, global weather and climate, biomes and natural communities, diversity of life, and ecological relationships.  We begin with a broad survey of ecological concepts at play in all ecosystems and apply these to specific terrestrial biomes.  We conclude with an investigation into the factors affecting local and global patterns of biodiversity.


Pod: Nature and The Human Spirit

In Nature and the Human Spirit we explore the human relationship with the natural world from the Pleistocene to the present.  We investigate primal worldview, the development of classical wisdom traditions, and contemporary relationships with nature such as transcendentalism, deep ecology, ecopsychology, somatics and contemporary environmental art.  We explore intersections among art, culture, and ecology and engage in experiential, process-oriented creative expression including mask making, movement and performance.

Enrollment Requirements and Options:

Courses are integrated co-requisites with simultaneous enrollment required. Co-enrollment in online courses is available with instructor permission. Student’s may TA a course in this pod with instructor permission.

This pod includes the following courses:

Nature, Culture, Consciousness  3cr

What is Nature? This course investigates how humans have answered this fundamental question and follows the development of our perspectives on nature from the Pleistocene to the present. The first part of the course explores the world views of hunting and gathering cultures past and present, and how the legacy of eons of hunting and gathering play out in our lives today. The second part of the course explores the wisdom traditions of the world, east and west, that coincided with the development of arable agriculture, and investigates what these traditions have to say about the human relationship with nature. The third and final part of the course explores emerging movements that have coincided with the development of industrialism: romanticism and transcendentalism, ecology, deep ecology, ecopsychology, bioregionalism and biophilia. The course is designed as a second or third year survey and seminar program, integrating content-rich lectures and student-driven discussions.

Performance Ecology: Myths, Masks, and Movement 3cr

This advanced-level interdisciplinary class builds upon foundational theories and practices explored in introductory courses in visual arts, ecology and cultural studies. Students examine the historical and contemporary intersections among art, culture and ecology.  Students engage in process-oriented creativity with nature, working with ecosystem energetics and ecological dynamics to create performance productions. Throughout this course, students explore the ways in which art is used as an agent for landscape and cultural interpretation, and as an avenue to stimulate public discourse. Utilizing emergent- based methods, students engage in interdisciplinary research and explore a diversity of collaborative performance techniques to convey their results.


Pod: Reading the Northwoods Landscape


In Reading the Northwoods Landscape we develop the naturalist skills of field observation, descriptive ecology and landscape interpretation while exploring the forests and geologic wonders of Northern New England.  The program integrates studies of forest ecology and botany of woody plants with studies of geology, including rock types and associated landforms and geomorphic processes.  We spend over half our time in the field.

Enrollment Requirements and Options:

This program includes regular full day field trips with hiking and a multi-day camping trip. Courses are integrated co-requisites with simultaneous enrollment required. Students in this pod cannot enroll in online courses. TA-ing one of these courses is possible with instructor permission. 

This pod includes the following courses:

Natural History of the North Woods 4 cr

This course is a field-based exploration of the flora and vegetation of the North Woods, with an emphasis on the ecological interplay between temperate deciduous and boreal forest biomes. Students build on foundational principles of natural history and ecology through development and practice of observation, identification, and interpretation skills and the keeping of a refined naturalist field journal. Topics include a botanical survey of woody plant families and representative species, natural community composition and structure, biogeographic concepts, ecological succession, identification and classification skills (including an introduction to botanical keys, as well as extensive use of other types of field guides), and the history and philosophy of Natural History. Course format includes lectures, discussions, and a significant field component.

Geology 3 cr

This course is an introduction to geology and geomorphic processes. Students are introduced to rock types, degradational forces, the geologic time scale, plate tectonics, geologic evolution of landscapes, and major landforming processes such as fluvial geomorphology, periglacial processes, and glacial geology. This course is a global survey but pays special attention to the physical landscapes of the circumpolar regions and Northeastern North America. Course format includes lectures, discussions, and regular field excursions.

Pod: Making and Meaning

The Making & Meaning pod offers the opportunity both to create and to examine cultural objects. The Meaning of Things considers broadly how we value and give meaning to material objects–individually, culturally, and historically. In Pottery, students will hand-make objects for daily use in considering whether a handmade cup can save the world. Together the courses provide context for and examples of the concepts at hand–craft and curation, making and meaning–creating a complementary and synergistic combined study.

Enrollment Requirements and Options:

Students are highly encouraged to co-enroll in both courses in this pod. Being a TA for one or both courses is possible with previous experience. This pod is not a good fit for students wishing to take an additional class or independent study.

Tentative Schedule:

Mondays, all day: Pottery

Tuesdays, all day: Meaning of Things

Wednesdays, all day: Pottery

Thursdays, all day: Meaning of Things

Friday: flex time and work day

This pod includes the following courses:

HM481B The Meaning of Things

This seminar explores how we give meaning to material objects–individually, culturally, and historically. It will be both theoretical and practical, looking at how these ideas play out specifically through museums (how things are displayed, what meaning is given to them, how choices are made about what to display, etc.), as well as the cultural and ecological impacts of the ways in which museums construct and value meanings. It will be a writing-intensive course (and also reading intensive!). There will be a number of field trips to local museums. Each student will curate an exhibition of their own design on campus as a final project (in response to a question developed by the group). Prerequisites: One Foundations course, one 200- or 300-level writing-intensive course, and Junior or Senior status.

HM272G Wheel Thrown Pottery

A challenging hands-on, wheel throwing class. Students will explore and develop some mastery with a range of pottery forms and techniques. This is an intensive, studio based, skill building workshop in wheel throwing techniques. Students should expect to spend at least 3-4 hours a day outside of class time in the studio to complete assignments. Through demonstrations and individual instruction, plus plenty of practice time, students will explore and create a variety of primarily functional forms in clay. Students will keep a collection of sketches and images and glaze notes for self reflection, goal setting and exploration in design. Two small research papers prepared by each student and shared in class will enhance each potter’s understanding of the clay world.

By the end of this course, students will be able to throw a variety of basic pottery forms including bowls, mugs, tumblers, lidded jars, pitchers and candleholders. Students will have some proficiency in a variety of surface decorating techniques including altering, carving, stamping, and glazing. Students will develop a vocabulary to discuss and critique pottery in terms of anatomy, form, craftsmanship, style and functionality. Students will have a good feel for the nature of clay.

Pod: Leadership and Lakes

Build your personal skills in leadership, group facilitation, knot tying and belaying, paddling strokes, woodworking, and awareness of  environmental issues in a supportive group setting.  Facilitation and leadership happens mostly in the context of Sterling’s high and low challenge course.  Flat-water paddling explores different lakes and rivers every week by canoe. Other paddle craft will also be tested while you create your own canoe paddle from local wood.  These two courses are a great combination to experience the field of Outdoor Education, meet requirements of the major, and be outside 4 days a week. 

Enrollment Requirements and Options:

Taking both courses is not required. Students who elect to take both courses cannot co-enroll in online coursework, unless they are a returning student.  Having basic swimming skills (or a willingness to learn) is required for Flat-water Paddling. Being a TA for one or both courses is possible with previous experience and instructor permission.

This pod includes the following courses:

Foundations of Outdoor Education 3cr 

The course will provide a broad introduction to leadership and facilitation skills as they apply within the context of outdoor education, as well as an overview of the history and philosophical/theoretical underpinnings of adventure programming broadly speaking, and challenge-based experiences more specifically. Students will identify and cultivate the skills necessary for working effectively with groups, including assertion and listening skills, group assessment, briefing, facilitation of reflection, tone setting, intervention, working one-on-one, and other leadership and facilitation skills. The vehicle for skill development will be facilitation of high and low challenge course activities for middle and high school age students. Students will also understand how to apply new facilitation and leadership skills in a variety of settings and will gain practice doing so through experiences built into the course as well as through structured reflection. Attention will be given to cultural contexts and applications of challenged-based programming, and to diversity and inclusivity theory and practice in challenge course settings. The course will introduce students to important thinkers and practitioners in the field and will provide exposure to a range of work opportunities in the field of outdoor education. By the end of the course students will be able to identify, use, and safely facilitate the use of a variety of high and low challenge course elements. Students will receive intensive leadership development through feedback and self-evaluation, and will increase their own confidence and competence in confronting physical and interpersonal challenges. Writing competency will be a central focus of this course through use of a portfolio which requires twice-weekly reflective writing to engage students with course materials (course readings, class sessions, and practical leadership experience) as well as two formal written assignments that will utilize a revision process and peer review.

Flat-water Paddling 3cr   

In this course participants delve into the region’s paddling and boat building history, while exploring local rivers and lakes; realizing the treasures in our own backyard and the environmental issues affecting them. Students learn to improve their paddling skills; reading the water, turning in control,  mastering the J stroke for straight paddling, and rescuing a swamped boat. Students will also build their own laminated wooden canoe paddle and then utilize them on the water. 

Beyond just canoeing we discover the wide range of flat water paddling options and differing boat characteristics; racing and recreational, solo and tandem, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards. Sterling is proud to partner with the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and the Upper Valley Land Trust to help further the organizations’ missions to educate the public about northern New England waterways, riparian ecosystems, and watersheds, including their recreational opportunities.  Successful students will be able to rent Sterling canoes for their personal use on flat-water.

Sterling will supply all boats and basic paddling equipment and also provides spruce wood for making one laminated paddle. Students are responsible for providing appropriate footwear and clothing.


Horse Care

According to Stephen Budiansky, “Horses have been enveloped in human dreams, myths, ambitions, and sentiments for so long that the story we have come to think of as theirs is often but a distorted reflection of our own desires.” Horse Care explores five interrelated modules designed to build a base of knowledge for students interested in horse ownership or entry level jobs in stable management. We begin by exploring horse behavior through a mindful analysis of equine social structure, the complexities of herd dynamics, and the role of the horse in human history. Nutrition requirements and nutrition management including pasture systems and paddock design principles make up the second module. Horse health care is a daily occurrence for any horse owner or stable manager, the third module explores common horse ailments and pathways for prevention. Understanding facilities design and developing practical stable management procedures is the hallmark of successful horse owners or stable managers; delving into infrastructure systems especially horsekeeping on a small acreage comprises the fourth module. Finally, hoof care and management of common hoof ailments completes the course. Following this introductory course, students will have honed a basic skill set to better understand the management practices associated with horse ownership or stable management.    

Provisioning Your Pantry (ST)

Food preservation can help you put by the bounty of the harvest for winter months, as well as adding value to raw food products.  Most of all, preservation can transform food and make it more delicious.  In this course, you will practice all the basic preservation techniques such as freezing, canning, pickling, drying, and fermenting–in your own kitchen, with guidance through the process from Allison and Liz.  Learn to make sourdough bread, cheese, jam, dried fruits and vegetables, kombucha, vinegar and more, as we explore the fundamental principles of how heat, salt, sugar, acid, cold, alcohol, pH, and manipulation of moisture and oxygen, help us to keep food fresh. Ingredients and most supplies will be sent to students in advance for them to produce products in their home space. A stipend will be given to students to obtain fresh ingredients. Students must have access to a kitchen with basic equipment. 

Introduction to Foraging Ecology (ST)

According to most estimates, 47% of the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems are grazed. In this survey we take a holistic view of grazed ecosystems and their interacting components, including biotic and abiotic interactions among plants, animals, soils/topography, climate, and humans. We begin by exploring various grazed systems and the known suite of biotic adaptations to specific environments. We then explore the behavioral and physiological adaptations of the grazing animal to their foraging environments.  We use our knowledge of these co-evolutionary adaptations to develop ecologically-based strategies for managing domestic and native grassland herbivores. During this course we use case studies to demonstrate the tensions that can arise between conflicting human values and their use of these landscapes. This course is offered through distance-learning.