By Emma Reilly
Incoming Director of the Center for Environment and Society Dr. Valerie Imbruce, who officially takes on her new role on Feb. 1, is looking forward to collaborating with students and faculty to achieve Washington College’s goals for curricular development, extracurricular programming, and sustainability.
As an undergraduate, Dr. Imbruce studied environmental science at Binghamton University.
According to Dr. Imbruce, she became interested in pursuing a graduate degree after studying abroad in Ecuador her senior year.
“It was so humid. We hardly saw the sun and it rained every day, but it was the most blissful period of my life,” Dr. Imbruce said.
Dr. Imbruce received her PhD from the City University of New York, where she participated in a collaborative program with the New York Botanical Garden. Her dissertation focused on food systems.
“Food is what I organize my days around,” Dr. Imbruce said. “From cooking, to shopping, to reading recipes…that family culture that I came from and now cultivate in my own home also became a part of my intellectual interests.”
Dr. Imbruce’s interest in food systems will translate to the new initiatives CES faculty are working to implement.
According to River and Field Campus Director and Associate Director of CES Programs and Staff Michael Hardesty, CES is looking to start a student farm at RAFC with the goal of offering students “hands-on opportunities to grow food for our dining hall and community.”
Hardesty, along with Geographic Information Systems Program Director and Lecturer in Anthropology Erica McMaster, Provost and Dean Dr. Michael Harvey, and representatives of the student body, faculty, and Board of Visitors and Governors were involved in the hiring process.
“It was a very collaborative process and we gelled well as a team,” Hardesty said. “We had a chance to really look ahead and see what CES needs for the future and we had a great consensus.”
According to Dr. Harvey, Dr. Imbruce values interdisciplinary approaches and undergraduate research opportunities — two qualities that keyed the selection committee into the fact that she would be a good fit for CES.
“John Seidel, the outgoing director, has just been amazing in his 15 years, just building CES up into one of the most remarkable programs at the College,” Dr. Harvey said. “It was very important to hire someone with a focus on supporting student research…that was one of the reasons Dr. Imbruce rose to the forefront.”
According to an announcement posted by WC upon hiring Dr. Imbruce, she has experience as a lecturer, faculty member, department leader, and center director.
Dr. Imbruce “served as Director of the External Scholarships and Undergraduate Research Center and as an affiliated faculty member in environmental studies” at Binghamton, the announcement said. “Before joining Binghamton, Imbruce served as a faculty member and director of environmental studies at Bennington College.”
At Bennington, Imbruce was able to get a feel for liberal arts teaching and learning.
“I’m a product of large public universities…but I got my first faculty teaching position at a small liberal arts school. It was an institutional and cultural shift but that’s the teaching I was drawn to,” Dr. Imbruce said.
Once she returned to Binghamton, Dr. Imbruce sought to apply the philosophies and practices of liberal arts education to the large, public university.
“It’s always been really important to me to really shape the institutional structures and opportunities in which I work,” Dr. Imbruce said.
Dr. Imbruce was able to achieve this goal through her work as a part of the Binghamton Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence Initiative.
According to Dr. Imbruce, she developed an interdisciplinary course that “teaches the chemistry and physics of light, color, and materials through narratives, histories, and social contingencies” while collaborating with physicists, curators, archeologists, art historians, and designers.
Dr. Imbruce will carry on teaching at WC, particularly archeology and anthropology courses as they relate to her research areas.
According to Dr. Imbruce, in addition to “building bridges between CES and WC’s academic departments,” she hopes to hear from those who weren’t engaged in the interview process, mainly students.
“What would it look like for every student to have some kind of experience through CES, whether it’s curricular, co-curricular, an internship, or just social?” Dr. Imbruce said when considering her priorities as incoming director.
According to Hardesty, McMaster, and Dr. Imbruce, research opportunities, internships, fellowships, summer programs, teaching and learning initiatives, and recreation and wellness programs are all potential points of expansion for CES in the years to come.
Photo by Grace Hazlehurst
Photo Caption: Dr. Valerie Imbruce will officially join the Washington College staff next month.