Valerie Imbruce

I am the Director of the Center for Environment and Society and a Research Associate Professor of Anthropology at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. I am facilitative leader who takes a collaborative, transdisciplinary approach to strategic planning and implementation. I believe that a liberal arts education is a powerful vehicle to create a resilient society that is grounded in the present, cognizant of the past, and looking ahead towards new horizons.

There are two main concerns that are central to my professional life. The first that shapes my teaching and research is an interest in the way that everyday food politics and cultures of consumption shape urban marketplaces, agricultural practices, and the environment. This interest merges my love of nature with the importance of cooking, eating and exploring new foods in my life. I studied environmental science as an undergraduate at Binghamton University, culminating in a year abroad in Ecuador to study tropical botany, ecology and Spanish. This was an inspirational educational experience. I embraced the opportunity to be an independent undergraduate researcher, and my eyes were opened to the explosion of biodiversity of the tropical montane cloud forest, and the different ways that people depend on, and shape, nature.

I was particularly drawn to the cultural uses of plant species, an interest that led to my doctoral work on the food system of Manhattan’s Chinatown in a uniquely interdisciplinary program at the New York Botanical Garden and City University of New York Graduate Center. I was mentored in the traditions of cultural anthropology within a plant sciences degree program, and I held fellowships at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, and the Center for the Advanced Study of Education at CUNY Graduate Center.

I researched networks of trade that bring together contract farmers and smallholders in Honduras, American industrial farms and backyard commercial homegardens in South Florida, and a decentralized, bustling and multicultural urban food environment in NYC. I’ve been involved with organizations that directly support new modes of farming and marketing. I’ve consulted for organizations in Peru and Ecuador that promote agricultural biodiversity, been a core member of Central Harlem Community Supported Agriculture, and a coordinator of the Bennington Farm to Plate Council. Currently I am working to understand how people who rely on a particular urban neighborhood to purchase culturally relevant foods and to make their livelihoods envision and navigate issues of equity, the economy, and the diverse needs of others in the multi-cultural, inter-generational global ethnic hub that is Manhattan’s Chinatown. I am turning to applied anthropology in my food systems work.

The second motivation of my work is my belief in the potential of higher education to transform the lives of individuals and to shape society. My fellowship at the Center for the Advanced Study of Education at CUNY Graduate Center oriented me towards questioning teaching and learning. This approach was put to practice while I taught and directed an environmental studies program at Bennington College. Bennington is a small, private liberal arts institution, and one with progressive pedagogies, student-centered learning, and individualized concentrations of study that each student formulates with a committee of faculty. With support of the National Science Foundation, I led the “Mill Town Project,” a community engaged, place-based curriculum designed to introduce students to environmental studies. I advised the student farm and guided the College to become a signatory of the Campus Climate Commitment to pledge carbon neutrality.

I returned to Binghamton University in 2015 to become the Director of Undergraduate Research and External Scholarships. I developed transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research programs and created new opportunities for undergraduates to engage in research, scholarship and creative activity – the same kinds of initiatives that shaped my academic career but are still not the norm for all students and faculty. At Binghamton, I was able to innovate, creating the “Source Project,” a new first-year research immersion program in the social sciences and humanities. I co-directed the project “Materials Matter,” a project supported by the National Endowment of the Humanities that has created a set of courses and research projects that view materials as objects of scientific inquiry as well as cultural and historical contingencies. I also oversaw the McNair Scholars Program, a long-standing program of the United States Department of Education that supports first generation and underrepresented students to succeed in college and go on to graduate school for research-based masters and doctoral degrees. I enable students to engage in research, present and publish their work, orienting them as undergraduates to be drivers of their education and producers of knowledge. I have advised students who have gone on to receive Fulbright awards and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

Now I have been given the privilege and responsibility of leading the Center for Environment and Society at Washington College. This is one of three "Signature Centers" at this historic, small liberal arts college. It is uniquely well endowed with $25M, six research positions, and about 15 staff who work on experiential education opportunities, community engagement, communications, GIS, bird banding, and natural lands restoration. It is a unique asset for a liberal arts college and my hope is to lead us to social science centered environmental studies through deeper partnerships across the College. We are working to develop new projects in the areas of watershed management and regenerative food and agricultural systems. This work brings together all of my experiences and interests in a way I never dreamed possible!