Sustainable Building Systems (Yestermorrow Semester)

The objective of this course is to develop the understanding of basic principles of building physics, material science, and appropriate technology for a New England climate. Through lectures, readings, class discussions, and assignments students will gain comprehension of building anatomy. They will understand how natural forces, particular to a northeast climate can affect a buildings structural and thermal performance. Through individual research, leaning heavily on sourcing and reading white papers from specialists in the field of building science, students will form opinions and present findings on best practices and relate those findings to sociopolitical and economic factors of accessibility. Guest lectures will introduce students to current sustainable technologies, and students will have the opportunity to experiment through applied material research.

This course is available to Sterling students through our partnership with Yestermorrow Design/Build School. For more information about Sterling’s partnership with Yestermorrow please visit this page.

Sustainable Building and Design Certificate (Yestermorrow)

Our Certificate in Sustainable Building & Design provides students with a solid grounding in sustainable design principles, along with hands-on experience in the design/build process. Ranging from community-scale planning to the details of photovoltaic installation, the Certificate covers a broad spectrum of topics from small to large scale. Balancing theory with hands-on practice, students have the opportunity to explore alternative, innovative, and experimental design and building methodologies and materials. The certificate program is designed for those wishing to learn the art of design/build while developing a strong understanding of the concepts and methods of green design.

The Certificate program includes the three-week Core Curriculum, plus an additional eighteen days of elective courses and workshops.  Students enrolled in the Certificate program will also be expected, with the support of an advisor, to participate in a practicum project and presentation after finishing the full curriculum.  Through this culminating activity, the student documents his/her theoretical and practical knowledge and skills in the area of sustainable building and design in a hands-on manner before a jury of professional architects and builders.  The scope, topic, and form of the Practicum and presentation are determined by the student and advisor, depending upon the skills, interests, and focus of the student.

There is no official start or end date to the program, though we strongly suggest that students begin the program with the Core Curriculum.  One can participate as classes are available and as one’s schedule permits.  With careful planning some participants complete the program within six months, while others might chip away at it over several years.  There are no prerequisites for entering the program.

This course is available to Sterling students through our partnership with Yestermorrow Design/Build School. For more information about Sterling’s partnership with Yestermorrow please visit this page.

Natural Building Certificate (Yestermorrow)

Yestermorrow’s 6-week Natural Building Certificate is a unique course of study providing hands-on exploration of earthen and natural elements and the means by which they can be used to create structures and shelter. From the design and planning stages through the finishing touches, students will gain comfort and experience working with straw, wood, clay, sand, stone, water, and lime as they design, erect, shape, sculpt, and detail the walls, roofs, and floors that enclose healthy, comfortable, and low-impact living spaces. The program includes an Introduction to Natural Building, as well as segments on Insulative Natural Wall Systems, Thermally Massive Natural Wall Systems, Natural Plasters, Advanced Plaster Techniques, Earthen Floors, Natural Paints & Finishes, and will conclude with individual practicum projects and presentations. The Natural Building Certificate provides the opportunity to develop a range of natural building skills for owner-builders and aspiring professional natural builders alike.

This course is available to Sterling students through our partnership with Yestermorrow Design/Build School. For more information about Sterling’s partnership with Yestermorrow please visit this page.

Woodworking Certificate Program (Yestermorrow)

Yestermorrow’s 11-week Woodworking Certificate program gives amateurs and aspiring professionals a solid grounding in woodworking and furnituremaking techniques, led by Yestermorrow’s talented and nationally recognized faculty.  Skills learned in the Certificate program include design and drafting, wood selection and preparation, joinery, traditional hand skills, sharpening, power tool techniques, and finishing. The curriculum has a strong focus on the integration of design in the woodworking process, part of Yestermorrow’s core philosophy of design/build.

The Certificate begins with an analysis of trees and the wood they produce, an overview of felling and milling practices, and an introduction to the tactile essence of working with green wood. The program then moves into the realm of Cabinetry, in which students become oriented to the tools of the woodshop and basic principles of wood movement and layout. Additional program segments include Beginning Furnituremaking, Green Ladderback Chairs, Joinery, Boxmaking, Care & Repair of Shop Machines, Design/Build Process, Intermediate Furniture Techniques, and Wood Finishes. The program culminates in a two-week studio where each student will design and build a piece of his or her own choosing.

This course is available to Sterling students through our partnership with Yestermorrow Design/Build School. For more information about Sterling’s partnership with Yestermorrow please visit this page.

Research in Tropical Ecosystems: San Salvador Bahamas (Global Field Study)

Research in Tropical Ecosystems is a Sterling College field study program in which students have the opportunity to diversify their northern Sterling experience with an intensive field course in a tropical region.





kevin dean entering caveThis research oriented course builds on research skills learned at Sterling College and allows students to implement these skills in a tropical ecosystem. Partnering with local biological research stations and the local community, Sterling students have the opportunity to explore the impacts of land use on a tropical watershed and the coral reef. Tropical Ecosystems and Culture (NS 304) is offered during the fall semester and is recommended but not required for participation in this field study program.


Oral History: Family Stories and Cultural Identity (ST)

This course explores how families (as well as communities) serve as sites for cultural transmission by gathering and studying family and community stories. Focusing on various traditions or a ‘tradition bearer’ in students’ families (or in the local community), we will collect oral histories and consider how these traditions contribute to our sense of individual, regional, and cultural identity. Students will also be introduced to methods of folklore and ethnography, including interviewing, collecting, and other forms of documentation. This course satisfies two credits of a student’s writing-intensive requirement.

Studio Art: Natural History Illustration

In this two week long intensive, students will explore a variety of media including: pencil, charcoal and watercolor in illustrating plant and animal forms and cultural objects. We will visit a variety of collections that may include the Fairbanks Museum, Birds of Vermont and the Audubon Society of Vermont, and the Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center. We will sketch and photograph subjects in local fieldtrips. We will draw and paint plants, focusing on specific technical approaches to drawing. We will then turn to drawing insects and animals, from direct observation and from photographs. By the end of the intensive, students should gain new techniques in drawing and painting through working in a sketchbook and gain new understanding of how to use art materials for illustration. Also, students will develop knowledge about the field of natural history illustration and an understanding of the process of constructing natural history exhibits. We will read excerpts from Natural History Painting: the Eden Project, Field Notes on Science & Nature, and Drawing Nature.

Natural History of Great Britain (Global Field Study) (ST)

Great Britain is the largest island of the United Kingdom, and home to (most of) three countries: England, Scotland, and Wales.  At about 81, 000 sq. miles, Great Britain is a little smaller than the state of Kansas.  However, it is an ideal location for a budding naturalist to visit due to the diversity of habitats it holds, and the wealth of knowledge and understanding associated with each of them.  Through visiting sites in three distinct parts of Great Britain:  Shropshire, Northumberland, and the West Highlands of Scotland, this course will introduce students to a broad range of habitats.  Students will experience lowland flood meadows to upland hayfields, sweeping tors and fells to peats bogs, coastal saltmarsh, sand-dunes and off-shore islands, chalk grassland to acidic heath, intensively managed market gardens and arable fields to ancient woodlands, hedgerows and stonewalls to graveyards and hill-forts.  The majority of these habitats are considered ‘semi-natural’, that is, their appearance and ecology are not only determined by prevailing climate and geology, but are intrinsically linked to human activity that has been sustained over hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of years.  Students will explore the characteristics of each of these habitats and the climatic, geologic, and human factors that have led to their development at different stages of British history.  In addition, students will develop naturalist skills including plant identification, use of dichotomous keys, use of biological recording systems, and use of Ordnance Survey. 

Students enrolled in this course will co-enroll in AS/NS370 Nature Conservation on a Crowded Island

Learning objectives

  • To understand the roles of climate, geology, and history of human land management in shaping different habitats and landscape features in Great Britain;
  • To appreciate the history of human usage of Great Britain from Neolithic times to the present day, and the legacy of different historic eras on the landscape;
  • To be introduced to the field of phytosociology: the categorization of habitat types based on their plant species composition;
  • To develop skills in reading the landscape both while immersed within it, and inferring from a map;
  • To develop skills in vascular plant identification and the use of dichotomous;
  • To be introduced to the concept of biological recording systems;
  • To be able to use Ordnance Survey maps to plan routes to explore the British landscape


Nature Conservation on a Crowded Island (Global Field Study) (ST)

While the UK is about eight times larger in area than Vermont, it has a human population of over one hundred times greater.  Many Americans view the UK as a ‘crowded island’, and can imagine little room for green space. Is it possible for wild nature to thrive in a land with so many people?  This course will delve into this question, examining evidence for and against this possibility.  It will first attempt to define the ‘problem’ that human pressure poses to nature conservation in the UK, and will then explore multiple approaches to conservation, conducted by multiple types of agencies and individuals.  Through lectures, field-trips, meetings with practitioners, and a local service project, students will develop an understanding of approaches towards conserving and preserving nature on this crowded island. 

Students in this course will co-enroll in NS270A Natural History of Great Britain.

Learning objectives

To become aware of the threats to nature in the UK and the need for nature conservation;

To understand the nature of semi-natural landscapes and the importance of the working landscape for their maintenance;

To be introduced to the contribution and approach of different organizations towards nature conservation in the UK including the EU, the UK parliament, local government, quangos, NGOs, private landowners and the interested citizen;

To become familiar with the concept, and examples, of agri-environment schemes;

To explore species-based vs. habitat-based approaches to conservation and the practice of evidence-based conservation, habitat restoration, and re-wilding;

To explore relationships between field-sports, hunting and conservation in the UK

To understand the importance of green-belts and planning regulations for nature conservation


Desert Expedition Skills Practicum (Field Semester)

This field course builds on foundational outdoor skills and trains students in all aspects of wilderness trip design and implementation, as well as both front country and backcountry field camp skills and management.  The program begins with a series of vehicle supported long-term basecamps in remote locations, where students learn field camp set up, functioning and management.  Specific topics include kitchen set up and management, food planning and purchasing, cooking, living space set up and management, study resources and library management, tarp and tent systems and vehicle management and logistics.  Additional topics include small group decision making models and group communication skills.  The wilderness component occurs through immersion on a series of multi-week expeditions into remote Southwestern environments in the Sonoran Desert, Central Highlands and Colorado Plateau.  We begin with logistics, including route selection and itinerary development, food planning, equipment selection and preparation, and establishment of group culture.  As we move to the field, we learn, practice and hone skills such as minimum impact camping techniques, map reading and navigation, water location and procurement, backcountry medicine, establishing and maintaining high functioning field camps, equipment maintenance and repair, group communication and organization, and travel skills such as on-trail and cross- country backpacking, routefinding, and general canyoneering.  

Natural History of the Southwest (Field Semester)

This course is a field-based exploration of the flora and vegetation of the American Southwest and the physical factors such as climate and geologic history that shape the region.  Emphasis is placed on the ecological interplay amongst desert, chaparral, and temperate conifer forest vegetation types, the climatic and physiographic factors that determine community distribution.  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, desert adaptations, geologic history, geomorphic processes and related landforms, and southwest weather and climate.  Students gain skills in identification, classification and interpretation of organisms, field journaling, species accounts and systematic species lists, and reading the southwest landscape.  Course format includes lectures, discussions, and a significant field component.


Ancestral Lifeways of the Southwest (Field Semester)

This field course is an experiential exploration of the early peoples of the present-day American Southwest.  We will explore migration patterns and creation stories of peoples in the region and the interactions amongst the cultural groups up to the time of Euro-American contact. We will investigate aspects of culture including material culture (i.e. artistic rock paintings, and ancient baskets), language, spirituality, and subsistence systems and their resulting lifeways.  The class will visit ancient sites such as Montezuma’s Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments, as well as several unnamed sites of cultural significance to Tohon O’odham, Mogollon, Hohokam, Puebloan and several distinct Athabascan groups.  Simultaneously, we will manufacture material implements in the tradition of archaic and paleo southwestern peoples, including cordage, containers, packframes, baskets, firemaking tools, cutting edges, food procurement devices and preserved traditional foods and use these materials on field outings.  These experiences will help students explore basic human subsistence and relationship with landscape that every culture, including modern cultures of the Southwest, must engage in.