Dear Sterling College Community,
It is with a mixed heart I write this letter to share with you that I am retiring from my employment at Sterling College.
When I arrived at Sterling in June 1991 to direct a Summer Youth Employment Program, I did not realize I had landed at a place that shared my values and passions or that I would continue to work at this ecologically mission-driven college for going on 30 years. My life has been enriched by my time at Sterling College. I feel blessed that Steve Wright and Sarabell Hitchner recognized that I was a worthy fit for Sterling College and offered me a full-time job. My college degree was respected as well as my work and life experiences.
Where else would I find a place that honored my work for the Youth Conservation Corps using an ax, trail work, building a small house a mile by foot in the woods, working at a variety of outdoor centers, taking wilderness trips, supervising and cooking in kitchens, and living a life focused on living lightly on the earth combined with a Nutrition Degree and related work in a large teaching hospital? At the onset, I certainly did not comprehend how my life passions were closely aligned with a Sterling College education. I am now deeply grateful for the mission of Sterling College and honored to have been part of this community.
I feel profound gratitude for the mentors I have had the privilege to have as collaborators over the years. Through their example of humble dedication to experiential education Ann Ingerson, Dave Brown, Ross Morgan, and many others have helped me be a more empathetic and passionate teacher. My life is richer through the friendship of these and many other committed colleagues. I met my love and life partner at Sterling College. Together we have supported each other through the years, watched children in the community grow and raise our son at Sterling. Sterling has been a key part of our family.
My life has been enhanced through deep relationships with the impressive students who have chosen a different path to learning than their peers. Working with them has taught me how to be a better person. It has been a privilege to guide students in their learning and be a part of the exciting moments when they have stretched themselves to perform a challenging skill. These were as diverse as cutting down a tree, starting a chainsaw, expressing feelings to a group, reflecting deeply on a reading or activity, eloquently sharing their thoughts or finishing a research project. We shared devotions for good and just food, an ecological way of life and more. The many experiences and lessons gained outside the classroom were equally important as we were closely involved committed members of the Sterling community. My friendships with students continue to last long after they moved on.
I am thankful for the community partners who have been supportive of experiential education to allow students in classes I taught to gain experience through their organization– Pete’s Greens, the Craftsbury Schools, Shelburne Farms, Green Mountain Farm to School, Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Four Winds Nature Institute, Center for an Agriculture Economy, the Hardwick Area Food Pantry, Northwoods Stewardship Center, HungerFreeVermont, Salvation Farms, and many more. I will miss working with these generous partners who have been involved in advancing Sterling’s mission.
Since that first summer years ago Sterling College has been more than a job for me, it is my community and vocation. In that way the end of my work at Sterling College will not be an ending, it will be a gateway to continued learning and community building. I am grateful to each of you who I have worked, laughed, sang, problem solved and dreamed with throughout my years at Sterling. Thank you all for your commitment to this important place.
Allison Van Akkeren