Valerie Imbruce

I am the Director of the Center for Environment and Society 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 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 and as a senior, went to 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 dependencies that people have on plant species and completed by doctorate 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 a fellowship at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at CUNY Graduate Center. I research 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’m also 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.

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. I held a graduate fellowship at the Center for the Advanced Study of Education at CUNY Graduate Center that 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.