News

Jenks-Jay honored for life’s work in sustainability

NAN JENKS-JAY

SUDBURY — Nan Jenks-Jay has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from international organization AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Jenks-Jay is the third recipient. The nomination came from author and climate change advocate Bill McKibben, with supporting letters from colleagues at Middlebury College as well as other institutions and partner organizations across the country.
McKibben said, “…her peers, I think it’s safe to say, regard Nan with a kind of awe, as the pioneer of this work. But she wears it with real humility, always eager for the next challenge.” He continued, “…campuses are hard places for administrators to thrive over decades, but somehow Nan has done so. It is testament to the strength of her vision, and the depth of her character.”
Jenks-Jay served as dean of Environmental Affairs and taught in the Environmental Studies Program at Middlebury College for over two decades before retiring last year to follow other long-desired pursuits. In her role as dean of Environmental Affairs, Jenks-Jay worked to advance the Middlebury’s environmental academic programs, as well as foster an integrated institutional vision for sustainability. Professor Peggy Bartlett at Emory University said, “I most admire Nan’s skillful work at Middlebury, weaving institutional policy-building, academic course work, and hands-on student research and action to address urgent societal needs. She has taken each roadblock as an opportunity to move forward boldly.”
For over three decades, Jenks-Jay has been actively involved in the advancement of environmental studies and sustainability programs, their transformation of higher education and their greater impact on the world. During her career, Jenks-Jay has been affiliated with an array of institutions beginning with teaching at Berkshire Community College in Massachusetts. During summers, she worked on the conservation of rare and endangered species — least terns and piping plovers. She obtained her graduate degree from Yale School of the Environment. Jenks-Jay was the founding director of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation in Massachusetts. Subsequently, she became associated with the two oldest undergraduate environmental studies programs in the country – at Williams College in Massachusetts for 14 years and with Middlebury College in Vermont for 23 years. Between them, she took a sojourn to the West Coast where, as director of Environmental Studies and Hedco Endowed Professor, she developed a new undergraduate environmental program for the University of Redlands in California.
Throughout her career, Nan has dedicated herself to elevating the importance of education for the environment and sustainability with the ultimate goal of positively impacting the health of the planet, especially in the face of climate change. During her tenure at Middlebury, she created an integrated vision for environmental education and sustainability to become institutional priorities, launching new initiatives that today are part of the college’s identity.
Highlights of Nan’s leadership at Middlebury include: achieving Carbon Neutrality and setting the stage for the Energy 2028 commitment — once again putting the college in the forefront of institutions leading the way for innovative change; establishing the LEED Platinum – Franklin Environmental Center and green building; developing the Middlebury School of the Environment now in China, the Global Partnerships for Sustainability program in five countries; and the Sustainability Solutions Lab; and actively collaborated with the faculty and administration at the Middlebury Institute in California, extending the college’s environmental leadership to the West Coast.
She played a key role in the establishment of the Lands Advisory Committee and in the conservation of 2,400 acres of Bread Loaf lands, having the foresight to understand how the college could quantify and use the carbon storage and sequestration in the forestlands for its carbon neutrality effort. She participated in the creation of the Bread Loaf Environment Writers’ Conference. To honor Jenks-Jay, an alumni gift established an endowment to support scholarships for aspiring environmental writers in her name.
Over the years, she has been crucial in bringing attention to issues of racial and gender aspects of environmental and sustainability work and helped establish a two-year scholar in residence for Dr. Carolyn Finney, cultural geographer and author of “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors” to address representation, equity, and inclusion in the current environmental moment at Middlebury and beyond. When asked, Jenks-Jay remarks that collaborations have truly been at the core of these exciting and successful initiatives.
Generous in sharing her experience, Jenks-Jay has inspired many other schools and leaders through her presentations and writing. She has served on external review committees for 18 college and university environmental and sustainability programs. Jack Byrne, now the dean of Environmental Affairs at Middlebury, said, “Nan has had a profound and lasting effect on countless institutions of higher education and NGOs. Moreover, she has had a direct influence on thousands of young people and peers and has inspired them to find and pursue their own passions”
Seeking to create a national network to advance sustainability in higher education, Jenks-Jay and other leaders helped shape a vision that later went on to become AASHE, now a global network. She was part of their first cohort of Senior Advisors and remains in that role today. She has held appointments on state governmental committees and national commissions, and locally served on the Vermont chapter of the Nature Conservancy Board and currently chairs the Board for Shelburne Farms, a leader in sustainability education for preK-12. Additionally, Jenks-Jay has been an advisor to Orion magazine, The New England Board of Higher Education, Project Kaleidoscope in Washington, D.C., and others.
Nan resides in Sudbury, where she is co-owner of Miller Hill Farm, Nursery & Gardens (a full spectrum nursery that also specializes in native plants) with her husband Carl Phelps along with their sheep, pony, donkey and three cats.

Share this story:

More News
Homepage Featured News

Documentary puts Vermont food insecurity center stage

A Middlebury filmmaker’s new film charts the evolution and impacts of the wildly successfu … (read more)

News

The eclipse was cool enough to yell about

Groups of Vermonters and visitors spread themselves around town greens, highway pull-offs, … (read more)

News

Lincoln man helps rebuild Notre Dame cathedral

Will Wallace-Gusakov has spent much of his life designing, building and restoring wooden s … (read more)

Share this story: