Sterling College President
Sterling is a small college that thinks big and acts on its convictions. As the leading voice for ecological thinking and action, for nearly sixty years we have been studying, working, and building community in harmony with the natural world and Vermont’s working landscape.
A college adviser once shared that when she advises students about applying, she wants them to know that while there are many colleges that have farms, Sterling College, from her perspective, is a farm. Sterling is much more than its internationally known Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program, it is a college that looks at the world through the lens of ecological thinking and action; but regardless of your academic focus, Sterling is a thoroughly authentic place.
Sterling also strives to be an educational community in which people of all backgrounds and identities feel at home, where are our differences are embraced, and where individuals take responsibility for furthering the dignity of all. Our students come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences and we are proud to offer a robust scholarship program.
Among the other significant distinctions you will find at Sterling is our commitment to hard work. “Working Hands, Working Minds” is much more than a tagline; it describes who we are as a community. One of only nine federally recognized Work Colleges, 100% of our students have jobs on campus.
We welcome you to learn more about this special place. In doing so, you will find something out about yourself as well. Sterling is not for everyone—perhaps no college is—but, this college is genuinely different.
Presidential Transition as of August 5, 2021
Dear Sterling Community,
This week, President Matthew Derr shared his plan to step down from his role as of October 31. Matthew continued the legacy of his two predecessors and served nearly ten years as president. He has led our academic community with vision and passion for which the College will be eternally grateful. Through his good work at Sterling, he has inspired many to consider what is possible in higher education and how it can be a force that strengthens the human relationship with the natural world. Matthew has expanded the College’s aspirations while also honoring its legacy and character.
We are thankful for Matthew’s thoughtfulness regarding this decision, which has been careful and intentional. Sterling is well-prepared for this moment. The College has adopted a bold strategic initiative, is in a strong financial position, and has experienced multiple years of operational surpluses through stable enrollment and mission-aligned philanthropy. In the last year we have celebrated the first commencement of the Wendell Berry Farming Program, seen a collaborative and agile response to the pandemic, appointed an exceptional leadership team, and now have an increased capacity for diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
In a letter to students and employees this morning, Matthew shared, “I am honored to have served Sterling College and sincerely grateful for all those who have worked and learned alongside me. We have accomplished so much in our time together.”
This fall, Sterling will be reflecting on and celebrating the collective successes we have achieved during Matthew’s tenure, which includes the College’s completion of the largest comprehensive campaign in its history, aptly named Nourish the Roots. In his time, more than $20 million in philanthropy has been generated from mission-aligned donors. This record breaking fundraising is four times what was raised in the previous ten year period and enabled capital improvements, new programming such as the Wendell Berry Farming Program, the establishment of the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, andーmost importantlyーincreased affordability and access for those students inspired to make deep and lasting change that improves the health of ecological and human communities and bridges the divide between the two.
In addition to improved access to the pertinent education that Sterling offers, a 24% increase in enrollment over the last decade is credited to the addition of degree programs, minors, and faculty, and expanded access to the College’s Global Field Studies program.
“Matthew’s charismatic and inspiring leadership has attracted the talent to Sterling to execute and expand on his vision for how a rural college is innovating to prepare a generation to address the existential threat of the climate crisis,” said fellow trustee Allison Hooper.
Beginning this winter, Matthew will be working on a forthcoming book and consulting on projects that fulfill his ongoing commitment to ecological thinking and action. Starting on January 1, Matthew—an avid birder—will be pursuing the American Birding Association Big Year challenge to record as many native bird sightings in the United States and Canada in 2022 as possible. Matthew’s partner, Julian Sharp, aspires to complete his Unitarian Universalist ordination, to resume teaching, and continue his civil rights work with the Living Legacy Project.
The Board of Trustees has a deep commitment to Sterling, its mission, and the paramount responsibility to make the identification of the College’s 12th president its highest priority in the months ahead. The trustees will have the support of a newly formed Presidential Transition Team and have named Lori Collins-Hall, appointed as Sterling’s Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in March, as interim president.
Lori Collins-Hall has spent twenty-five years in higher education as a scholar-practitioner, engaging students in transformative learning opportunities and high-impact community engagement, including community-based service-learning, coalition building, and work-based education. Prior to her roles in administration, Lori was a tenured faculty member, department chair, and assessment coordinator. As a Teagle Scholar she did extensive work examining pedagogical models of experiential learning and assessment, with particular attention to small liberal arts schools. Sterling is fortunate to have her expertise.
“I have known Lori for many years during her decades of service. Through her vast range of experience as a faculty member, vice president of academic affairs, and chief operations officer she has a track record of success through collaborative leadership. Lori is deeply committed to the College’s mission and is extremely well prepared to lead Sterling, working constructively with the board, senior leadership team, faculty, staff, and students,” offered Rick Detweiler, Sterling trustee and past-treasurer.
More information about the presidential search committee composition, selection process, timeline, and how community members can engage will be shared by the Board of Trustees as soon as that information is available.
Thank you for your ongoing and steadfast support of Sterling and please join us in wishing Matthew and Julian the very best.
Pete Chehayl — Alumnx Parent ’06 and Board of Trustees Chair
President Derr was inaugurated in 2012 as the eleventh president of Sterling College. He is nationally recognized in higher education for his expertise in leading institutional change and for strengthening mission-based focus. In 2011, President Derr was awarded a Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Chief Executive of the Year Award.
At Sterling, President Derr led the effort to divest the Sterling endowment from fossil fuels and become only the third college in the United States to do so. After completion of a collaborative strategic planning process, President Derr directed the largest fundraising campaign in Sterling’s history, Nourish the Roots, and secured the institution’s first seven figure gifts. Among the early accomplishments of the campaign was the naming and completion of capital projects for the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems. Unusually for a college president today, Derr also fulfills a role as a faculty member and teaches courses in community organizing.
Prior to his election at Sterling, President Derr was a Fellow at the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA), where he conducted research and advised college leaders on admission and fundraising. His fellowship at the GLCA was awarded in recognition of his accomplishments as the Interim President of Antioch College, where he led an alumni effort to revitalize and reopen the college, an effort that raised more than $25 million in giving and transferred assets of over $70 million. In his role at Antioch over three years, he also developed a concept for a new undergraduate curriculum focused on issues related to sustainable agriculture and food systems inspired by that of Sterling College.
President Derr presently serves as a Commissioner for the New England Commission for Higher Education, and as a board member for The Berry Center, the Center for an Agricultural Economy, and the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation. He is a regular commentator and panelist on issues related to food systems, social justice, and sustainability issues. He has had opinion pieces published nationally and has research published by the Journal of Community Practice. President Derr is the former Chair of the Work Colleges Consortium and the former Chair of the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges (AVIC).
President Derr holds a BA in History from Antioch College, an MSW in Community Organizing from the University of Michigan, and has further graduate studies at the George S. Heyman Center for Philanthropy at New York University and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
President Derr’s partner, Julian Sharp, an alumnus of Antioch College with a BA in Peace Studies, has a Masters in Divinity from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California and is active with the Unitarian Universalist Association. Julian serves as Sterling’s Director of Community Outreach.
President in the News
- Post-election and Post-pandemic: What is Next for Higher Education, Times Argus & Rutland Herald
- What’s Next for Green Mountain College?, Rutland Herald
- As Colleges Close, How Will Vermont Schools Survive? Brave Little State, Vermont Public Radio
- Considering End-of-Year Giving? Colleges Among Nonprofits Making the Case for Dollars, Vermont Public Radio
- Lessons from Vermont’s Demographic Crisis, Chronicle of Higher Education
- Matthew Derr Interview, Comcast Newsmakers
- Derr: Greta is Coming: An Open Letter to Higher Education Leaders, VTDigger.org
- Critical Mission, Times Argus & Rutland Herald
- Higher Education is Complicit in Climate Emergency: Vermont’s Sterling College Adopts New Mission & Vision, Education Dive
- Strength in Smaller Numbers? Inside Higher Ed
- Vermont College President Offers Key Observations and Optimism, Small College Garden blog
- Vermont by Degrees: Optimism for our Future, Times Argus & Rutland Herald
- Higher Education Struggles are Hitting Vermont Hard, Boston Globe
- Sterling College Reaches Out Helping Hand to GMC, Hardwick Gazette
- Vermont Small Colleges Face Big Challenges, Rutland Herald
- For Sterling College, Rural Location is a Benefit, the Chronicle of Higher Education
- Governor Shumlin and Vermont Businesses Join Together to Support Divestment
- At Scenic Sterling College, Get Your Hands Dirty, The Boston Globe
- The Work College Revival, New Yorker
- Sterling College: Environmental and Community Stewardship, Vermont Magazine
- Where the action is: Vermont’s Sterling College serves as role model for a sustainable future, Shelburne News
- The Town Saved by Food, Edible Green Mountains
- Hardwick Electric Ups Net Metering Cap, Vermont Public Radio
- Vermont’s Sterling College to Inaugurate New President, New England Cable News
- Yale and Harvard Are Losing the Fossil Fuel Divestment Game, Institutional Investor
- Sterling College Launches a Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Center, WAMC
- Schools Addressing Students’ Fossil Fears Without Divesting, Bloomberg BNA
Blog Posts, Articles & Presentations
- Vermont by Degrees: Optimism for our Future (Times Argus & Rutland Herald)
- The Civic Role of Higher Education (Huffington Post)
- Why Sterling College Divested From Fossil Fuels (Huffington Post)
- Sterling College: Aligning Our Investments with Our Values (Trillium Investment newsletter)
- Endorsement for Civil Rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People Among Heterosexual College Students: Informing Socially Just Policy Advocacy (Journal of Community Practice)
- 24/7: The New Role of Food in American Life (presentation at New York University, October 2013)
- Where the Opportunities Exist for Improved Socially Responsible Investing and Environmental Social Governance Returns (11th Annual Foundation, Endowment, & Not for Profit Investment Summit, January 2014)
Contact the Office of the President
We welcome your interest in Sterling College and invite you to contact us. If you wish to arrange a meeting with the President, please contact the Office of the President at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Derr, Sterling College Office of the President PO Box 72, 16 Sterling Drive Craftsbury Common, VT 05827 (802) 586-7711 x 111 email@example.com