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Janice Chan, MELP 2008/JD 2011

A photo of Janice Chan
Until everyone in the world has the basics of running water and electricity, we haven’t done our job in terms of human rights.”

Undergraduate Degree:

BA in animal sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Career Before Law School:

AIDS educational outreach in Hyderabad, India

Janice Chan is a law school student today because of mosquitoes.

An animal lover since childhood, she was studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to be a veterinarian when she came to the realization that she had no stomach for doing surgery on cats and dogs. Her next step wasn't clear-until she interned as a researcher at a pesticide company. Traveling around the country, she applied mosquito insecticides in different climates and conditions to test their efficacy, and found a wide range of laws and regulations about their use, from no restrictions in some locales to outright bans in others-an eye-opening experience for a hard sciences student. "It was my first exposure to environmental law, and the fact that it was changeable-and could be changed in a way to improve the environment- was exciting to me."

Vermont Law School got her attention at a law school fair in Chicago: "The VLS recruiter was the nicest recruiter I had ever met, humble, down to earth, and genuinely interested in me," recalls Janice. The school's environmental focus and international offerings sealed the deal.

The twin daughter of Hong Kong immigrants who had met in Chicago, Janice had spoken Cantonese before English. After college, she worked a year in Hyderabad, India, doing AIDS educational outreach-a tough job in the traditionally conservative country. (What worked, she found, was to find key contacts in villages, companies, and colleges who would talk quietly to their peers.) She also worked six months in Cairo, in a program that was supposed to be about cultural exchange but ended up involving office work. In both places, she was struck by the environmental degradation-the air too difficult to breathe, the water unsafe to drink-and she felt driven to do something about it.

At VLS, she first got her Master in Environmental Law and Policy degree, focusing on energy policy and environmental health, and found herself hooked on law through the administrative law course, not usually a student favorite: "Agency regulations run our daily lives, but it's done in a quiet way and not everyone knows about it." She entered the JD program, where she is focusing on international law. "Until everyone in the world has the basics of running water and electricity, we haven't done our job in terms of human rights," she says. An internship in the summer of 2009 at the EPA's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water deepened her knowledge as she analyzed state regulatory compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

To de-stress from classwork, she plays on the women's rugby team. She's also active in the VLS Gay/Straight Alliance, a continuation of her leadership role in LGBT organizations as an undergraduate. And last year, she codirected the Solutions Conference, a hefty undertaking that involved coordinating the student groups that were bringing speakers to campus for a day of solution-focused talks.

"The people here are very open and warm and accepting- maybe because it's so small," says Janice. Last Thanksgiving, she recalls, she couldn't go back to Illinois: "Dean (Shirley) Jefferson gathered up everyone who was still on campus, about 40 of us, and cooked a big dinner for everyone-turkey and dressing, collard greens, mashed potatoes, and pies. It was really fun. People like her have made the community a home for me."