Retired U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy is being honored by the University of Vermont with a new program dedicated to solving challenges faced by rural communities, such as access to broadband and clean water, and mitigating the stresses of extreme weather brought on by climate change.
The Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships was launched Friday at the newly named and renovated Patrick Leahy Building at UVM, formerly the Hills Agricultural Sciences Building.
Leahy, 83, retired in January as the third longest serving senator in U.S. history.
“My highest priority was representing our state,” Leahy said at a ceremony. “What can we do for young people in the state, what can we do to give them a future in Vermont? We are a very special state. We have wonderful aspects to it. But we also have to make sure that we provide for each new generation coming up.”
Leahy said earlier this year that he looks forward “to seeing the ideas and solutions that come out of this program, many of which I suspect will be replicated in our state and across the nation.”
Among the topics for discussion is mitigating the stress of extreme weather events brought on by climate change. Vermont suffered major flooding following torrential rains in July, one of several major flood events worldwide this year that scientists say are becoming more likely due to climate change.
The institute is also expected to address workforce training, sustainable energy, housing, food production, and building welcoming and inclusive communities.
The institute plans to develop an internship and will collaborate with the University of Wisconsin and Auburn University in Alabama, which are developing similar institutes.
The institute was made possible by a $9.3 million award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, with leadership and support from Leahy.
Leahy told The Associated Press in December that he planned to work out of an office at the university, which will become home to his Senate records. The first in his family to go to college, Leahy said he wanted to help young people from rural areas obtain higher education.
In May, the university named the Patrick Leahy Honors College for the senator and its new lake research vessel for his wife, Marcelle, herself a long-time supporter of the university’s mission.
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