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What Students and Graduates Say

Allison Dennis MSEL 2005

Communications Director, Green Power Partnership, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Kohl's Department Stores, a major department store chain, and Whole Foods Market, the world's largest retailer of natural and organic foods, are in a neck-and-neck race to outdo one another-and not over revenues. Instead, these two major U.S. businesses, and many others like them, would each like to hold the number one spot for voluntary annual green power usage-and all to the benefit of a cleaner environment and increased use of renewable energy nationwide.

Allison Dennis is one of the prime movers behind these initiatives. Dennis is communications director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership (GPP), a voluntary program that encourages governments, educational institutions, and businesses of all sizes to use renewable power sources. It does so by focusing on the barriers to adoption of green power and by providing recognition for environmental leadership. That includes publicizing the National Top 50 Purchasers List: a tally of the partnership's leading purchasers. Read more...

Melissa Arnold MSEL 2005

Land Protection Specialist, Tax Credit Connection, Inc., Colorado

Melissa Arnold woke up in her sleeping bag in Alaska and knew she needed to study law. She and fellow teachers from the Yosemite Institute, a nature education organization that partners with the National Park Service, had traveled to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to study that long-threatened landscape. She had a degree in environmental conservation and had done backcountry work for several years, but wanted new tools for greater influence. "I said to myself, 'I need to know more about environmental law and policy-the secret language they use in conservation bills. I want to have a seat at that table.'"

What was key to getting the most from her year at VLS? "I wasn't limiting myself, but I had this sense of where I wanted to head, and that allowed me to pick courses that started to weave together," Arnold recalls. "I did an independent study with Professor Janet Milne in property law that was just what I needed. By the end of my 12 months, it had all come together." The program is perfect, she says, "for somebody who doesn't want to litigate and provide counsel but who wants to understand how things work in law, and to influence-to have a voice at the table." Read More...

Nisha Swinton MELP 2009
Organizer, Food & Water Watch, Maine

Whiskey is for sipping, and water is for fighting," says a Mainer, aptly quoting Mark Twain in Tapped, a documentary about how the bottled water industry imperils the environment and local economies. Nisha Swinton is on the front lines of that fight. As the Maine organizer for the nonprofit organization Food & Water Watch, Swinton works with residents to protect their groundwater from corporate exploitation. In Maine's case, the corporation seeking to bottle, ship, and sell water from local aquifers is Nestle, the owner of Poland Spring Water. As Swinton says, "Maine has a lot of water-but it's the people, not corporations, who should have control over it. I strongly believe that fresh water is a human right."

Swinton, a longtime activist, majored in international studies with an emphasis in environmental studies and economics at The University of Iowa. Those disciplines got some real-life grounding during a study abroad in Senegal, where fishing communities were struggling to hold on to their lands. Later, while living in New York City, Swinton produced segments on social and environmental justice issues for a community-run radio station. Throughout, she maintained an interest in law but wasn't sure how best to pursue it. "After much consideration I decided a JD program wasn't for me," she notes. "But living in New York, I became increasingly interested in the mix between social justice concerns and environmental degradation. The VLS curriculum was a good fit." Read More...

wenrichMegan Wenrich MSEL 2009

Senior Development Director, National Wildlife Federation

Megan Wenrich looks back on her career as "one big evolution" that began with an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and biology. Early on, she knew she wanted to work close to the environment. She started out as a volunteer in South Carolina for both the Coastal Conservation League and the Sierra Club, where she soon found herself on the club's board of directors.

"I realized, 'This is what I want to do, and I want to get paid to do this!'" she recalls. It was seemingly the eureka moment in her personal evolution, soon followed by the realization that she needed more "employable skills."

As she considered law school, Wenrich knew she didn't want to litigate, and she only needed a subset of the skills that a JD would provide. When she learned of the MELP option, she knew it was the right fit. Wenrich chose to live in Montpelier during her year of studies at VLS. It was another right fit. "I was pretty plugged in to the nonprofits there," she says, noting that the small state capital was rich with people who shared her zeal for advocacy and fundraising.

In the years that followed, Wenrich strung together an impressive list of fellowships and institute work while holding down full-time (and paid) positions, first as an advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and later as legislative and policy coordinator at Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. Read More...