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Regional Alumni Groups

Across the country and around the globe, VLS alumni make a difference wherever they are. We invite you to connect with fellow Swans in key regions. Learn more by clicking on a location below.

Alumni Highlights

Andy Thompson

Andy Thompson

Andy Thompson MELP’00 credits his VLS master's degree with preparing him well for everything that followed—but his broad perspective enabled him to contribute just as much to his classmates and professors during his time in South Royalton.

Andy's intellect and curiosity have taken him from Virginia to Colorado, Vermont, Ohio, and finally to Tennessee, where he is Bridgestone Corporation's Global Director for Sustainability, Strategy, Policy, and Integration. Along the way, he studied post-World War II environmental policy and how a lack of effective stakeholder engagement in Endangered Species Act implementation led to the timber wars in the northwest; worked as a campus organizer for the Public Interest Research Group; pursued his Juris Doctor from Case Western Reserve after VLS gave him a real taste of the law; represented corporate clients in private practice; served as a regulator in the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency; and worked as in-house counsel leading environment, health, and safety at Proctor & Gamble.

Andy likens environmental policy to a vortex of different perspectives and disciplines that are grounded in science; and his experiences with a broad spectrum of stakeholders enable him to work through the turbulence that can accompany environmental issues. He takes this further recognizing that sustainability, delivering on both customer and societal value, is a competitive advantage for corporations that do it well. With a strong environmental law and policy foundation from VLS, Andy is certainly making a difference.

This article was originally published in the spring 2021 edition of the Master's Only Committee newsletter, and was written by Brenda Brickhouse MERL'18.

Monday, June 14, 2021 10:00:00 AM

Matthew Bishop

Matt Bishop

As a wildlife attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), Matthew Bishop JD'98 is a voice for animal species at risk, particularly for predators found in the West. These top-of-the-food-chain animals need large tracts of land to support vital populations and are critical to maintaining healthy populations farther down the chain.

"My work mostly focuses on the recovery of threatened and endangered species," Bishop said from his office in Helena, Montana. Since 1998, Bishop has won most of the 50-some cases he has brought as lead counsel in federal (and occasionally state) court, protecting lynx, wolverine, and Mexican wolves, and safeguarding unique places from logging and off-road vehicles.

In one of his recent wins, he and his co-counsel reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region. Bishop's work ramped up when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sought to transfer management of some species to individual states—prematurely, according to Bishop. Since then, the level of transparency has changed regarding how listing and delisting determinations are made.

Once Bishop files a lawsuit against the federal government, he likes digging into the evidence. Poring over thousands of pages of records is more like putting together pieces of a puzzle than doing investigative work, he said. A lifelong outdoorsman, his work seems more a life's calling than a job.

"It's a niche practice that I really enjoy."

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Loquitur and was written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Matthew Bishop.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020 12:38:00 PM

Grant Jonathan

Grant Jonathan

A member of Tuscarora, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois Confederacy, Grant Jonathan MSEL'97 saw firsthand how environmental degradation and a changing climate impacted the land and Indian Nations.

"I wanted to contribute and do something about it," he said. Jonathan attended law school at the University of Buffalo and then was awarded a First Nations Environmental Law Fellowship at Vermont Law School. Since then, Jonathan has done nothing but tribal environmental work.

For the past 18 years, Jonathan has been with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as a regional Indian coordinator for the past seven. Based in New York, his role includes providing environmental grants to Indian Nations, helping them plan their environmental programs in reservation communities, and consulting whenever an EPA action has an impact in an area of interest.

Jonathan's work is often complicated by not having enough resources to address issues such as garbage being dumped on Indian land or the polluting of water that for centuries has been used for drinking, fishing, agriculture, and spiritual purposes. To get at these problems, he often teams up with other state and local entities to combine resources.

Jonathan meets annually with leaders in upstate New York to discuss priorities, and this year, climate change was the dominating concern. "Most of these nations are beyond adaptation planning. They've been adapting to the changing weather for decades," Jonathan said. "They're more interested in resiliency projects that make their communities stronger, such as streambank stabilization, removing invasive plants, and controlling flooding." They also look at how climate change has affected their spiritual lives, altering when ceremonies occur—for the first maple tree tapping or for thunder—based on the changing climate.

In his spare time, Jonathan is an award-winning Iroquois bead artist. His intricate work detailing flowers and animals—owls are a favorite—can take weeks to a month to complete.

"I love my job," Jonathan said. "Once in a while, I may reflect through my own awareness, I've come full circle; I'm actually still doing what I set out to do when I went to school."

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Loquitur and was written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Grant Jonathan.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020 12:26:00 PM

Monica Miller

Monica Miller

California-based Monica Miller JD'12 fights for the separation of church and state. As legal director and senior counsel for the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center and executive director of the Humanist Legal Society, Miller's work is often around issues that arise in public schools. When a letter isn't enough, Miller has filed lawsuits in federal court. She won a case against a South Carolina public elementary school for holding end-of-year ceremonies in a Christian chapel and a case against a Mississippi high school for inviting a minister to deliver prayers at graduation ceremonies.

Miller has also prevailed in many First Amendment lawsuits against other government entities, such as state governments that claim to have a public forum for a legislative prayer practice that allows community members to deliver opening remarks. In these instances, Miller has called upon the Satanists for support. One of her clients delivered a Satanic prayer at a Florida city council meeting. "This Satanic prayer gave Christians a mere taste of what it feels like to be Muslim, atheist, or Jewish at these city meetings that regularly open with Christian prayer."

And in 2014, Miller's work took her all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The association and several residents of Maryland's Prince George County sued to remove a 40-foot cross-shaped war memorial sitting on state property. The cross was built as a tribute to WWI soldiers and the state has spent more than $100,000 on maintaining it. Challengers saw it as an unconstitutional endorsement of a particular religion.

In a fractured decision, the Supreme Court allowed the cross to remain.

"Religion is being thrown around as a sword," Miller said. "It's making people wake up. I actually find more people who are religious coming to us reporting—people who are Christian—speaking out against Christian favoritism."

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Loquitur and was written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Monica Miller.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020 12:07:00 PM

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