Caroline Hauser, SEMBA Class of 2016 (Valedictorian), on the benefits of spending a year in one of America’s most livable cities
“I could not have asked for a better experience living and learning in Burlington while working toward an MBA.”
I moved to Burlington to start the SEMBA program last August. I’d visited the prior April — it snowed twice and the lake was still frozen. It was freezing but I still fell in love with the view of the Adirondacks over Lake Champlain, the energy of Church Street, and the dollar oysters at Hen of the Wood.
Arriving for school at the end of summer, I drove up from Pennsylvania with my parents and as soon as we crossed the border into Vermont it just felt different. Everything looked brighter, cleaner, fresher. To this day, I am in awe of how beautiful it is here. I could not have asked for a better experience living and learning in Burlington while working toward an MBA.
I lived in New Orleans and Chicago before moving here, so I’m no stranger to southern hospitality and midwestern charm, but Vermonters will invite you in and treat you like family from the minute you arrive. People genuinely care about each other. They’re happy to live here, and happy you chose live here, too. Throughout SEMBA, when I wasn’t scheduled for class in Kalkin Hall, I worked to get out and explore as much as possible. For the first two months I lived here, I walked down to the waterfront for every single sunset, frequently bringing my reading assignments along with me. It’s been a year now and I could still look out on Lake Champlain for an entire day without getting bored.
A business program focused on Sustainable Entrepreneurship was not built here by accident. UVM had a traditional MBA program and, driven to educate a new generation of sustainable business leaders and entrepreneurs, redesigned the curriculum to create the MBA of the Future. Last year, the Burlington area was recognized by the United Nations as a leader in sustainable development. It’s a model of a sustainable community, built from a combination of progressive policy, engaged citizens, natural beauty, and a whole bunch of people who care a lot about our planet. The best part about being a SEMBA student in Burlington is that the city is full of examples of sustainability in action.
Burlington has a culture of participatory governance, a prime example being the Legacy Action Plan, the city’s sustainability plan for 2030, spearheaded by Mayor Peter Clavelle in the late 1990s. The plan weaves together equity, economics, education, and environment – the 4 Es of a sustainable community. To create the plan, the city distributed thousands of surveys, and held participatory workshops, focus groups, and meetings, to create a collaborative community vision for the future of Burlington. This created ownership over the plan and made everyone responsible for the future of the city, not just the policymakers. People of Burlington care about the local economy, local food, and fostering a strong sense of community.
At the downtown grocery store co-op City Market, over 60 cents of every dollar stays in the state of Vermont. My first month here, a classmate invited me to his friend’s camp in the islands north of Burlington. On our way home, we drove past the farm from which I’d bought eggs the week before. I was in the car with two Vermonters, and neither understood why I got so excited about it, it was normal for them. The Burlington Farmers’ Market is open year round – outdoors during the summer and indoors during the winter – and is more like a festival than a farmers’ market. Over 90 stands sell fresh cut flowers, locally made art, baked goods, vegetables, cheese, and meat. The first time I went to the Farmers’ Market I bought beets from David Zuckerman, who casually mentioned his plans to run for Lieutenant Governor, while he and his wife, Rachel, would continue to operate a 25-acre organic farm. Again, my Vermont friends were not impressed.
Burlington has all of the perks of a big city while still feeling like a small town. After being here only one year, I don’t go more than two days without running into someone I know. It has coffee shops that cater to every taste – from those who want just a “cuppa joe,” to those who want a hand crafted, locally roasted espresso drink, to those who want their coffee shop to serve beer and turn into a music venue at night (see: Muddy Waters, Radio Bean). The local music scene is strong, but it’s also the perfect tour stop for nationally known acts en route from NYC and Boston to Montreal. Craft beer fanatics flock here for the hundreds of local brews, and foodies rave about the gems downtown.
However, it’s easy to get out of town as quickly as you want. The Intervale, located within city limits, has miles of trails that wind through organic farmland. The Island Line Trail is 8 miles of paved path along the waterfront, starting at Oakledge Park and ending on a causeway, where you can take a bike ferry across the water to the Champlain Islands. Mount Philo is a quick trip out of town for a short hike to one of the best views of the lake. If you’re ever lonely, head down to the waterfront or to Battery Park at sunset and you’re sure to make more than a few friends who have also come to see the beauty that is a Burlington sunset.
As I explore where my next opportunity will take me, my year in Burlington has left me with more than an MBA and a group of good friends. It’s left me with a year of memories getting to know one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, experiencing the Vermont way of life, and learning the true meaning of a community.