Inner Circle Fall 2018 web banner

The Inner Circle: fall 2018



>> Letter from the President and Dean
>> The ELC Welcomes Jennifer Rushlow
>> The Rachel L. Carson Scholarship
>> New Members: Welcome, Chris and Kathleen Colwell


letter from the President and Dean

Tom McHenry

Dear Members of the Leaders’ Circle and President’s Society,

A few of the red maple trees on campus are tinged with red, the recent hot and humid weather is being replaced with cooler days and welcome rain. Meanwhile, as I write to you from South Royalton, we have welcomed our largest class of entering students in several years: 195 JD students, 60 Master’s students and 13 LLM students. This year’s JD class is 21 percent larger than last year, and our administration has had the happy challenge of finding enough space and chairs for all of the new students. 

This year’s entering class is curious, intellectually engaged, skilled and diverse. They hail from 39 states and 11 countries and from over 200 different undergraduate colleges. The class includes elementary school teachers, police officers, general contractors, social workers, biologists, solar power technicians, journalists and emergency medical providers. Some have worked for federal agencies and U.S. Senators and many are veterans from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and the National Guard. 

The energy and determination of all of our students continues to impress our staff and faculty. Last year, I got to know our students at the many events and conferences they hosted. Many have joined me at 6:30 a.m. for a weekly “Dawn Patrol” hike from the Fitness Center up to Kent’s Ledge—even on icy and snowy winter days. It’s been a great opportunity to catch up with students about their studies, extracurricular activities, families, career goals, and housing.  

Last spring, I invited 3L students to dinner at my home and asked them to share their experience of three years at VLS. They offered their observations about everything from recruitment to adjusting to their first year (including the necessary acquisition of a warm coat and micro-spikes), their interactions with career services as they prepared for the bar and the future. They best described their fellow students as “focused and purposeful,” meaning they came to VLS with a desire to improve environmental quality and promote social justice with their law and policy degrees. And they told me they were graduating from VLS with the skills and knowledge prepared to do just that. 

Their only consistent recommendation was to improve campus life by encouraging as much diversity in political views and discussions as possible. To that end, we recently hosted a debate between one of our professors and a representative of the Cato Institute, and the exchange was both thoughtful and thought-provoking—part of our continuing effort to expose students to a variety of viewpoints.

The dedication of our faculty and staff remains impressive: Our professors continue to develop opportunities outside of their classrooms for students to apply academic knowledge and legal skills. The buildings and grounds crew stewards our lovely campus through four seasons, including early mornings at 3 a.m. to clear the snow and salt the sidewalks. The café staff prepare two homemade soups each day and provide locally sourced salads. The administrative staff continue to respond to the myriad housing, curriculum, and other student requests that arise daily. They do it all, and they do it with a smile.

Finally, I am pleased to report that the law school’s financial position is strengthening because of the steps we took last summer to achieve a more sustainable structure. As I explained to many of you over several video conferences, I appreciate and welcome your advice and questions. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with your questions and comments. 

Of course, the financial support we have received from Leaders’ Circle and President’s Society members like you is critical for our financial stability and growth, and it makes a difference for each student’s experience. Thank you for your continuing generosity, and the investment you have made in the law school’s future. 


Tom McHenry signature blue

Thomas McHenry
President and Dean

The ELC Welcomes Jennifer Rushlow

Jennifer Rushlow, Director, ELCAs Jennifer Rushlow navigates the change from making an impact in the nonprofit world to making an impact as director of Vermont Law School’s highly-regarded Environmental Law Center (ELC), environmentalism itself is in transition.

“There’s a need for inclusivity in environmentalism. It’s not an issue just for the elite or merely about pristine wilderness; that approach oversimplifies the reality. At a time when environmentalism is under attack, with our country more divided than ever, we can’t afford to ignore that reality, ” says Rushlow, who came to Vermont Law School in September from the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) in Boston. She is also the associate dean for environmental programs and an associate professor of law at VLS.

Key to that inclusivity is connecting with those disproportionately affected adversely by environmental policies and laws: residents of rural areas, low-income people and communities of color. Environmental justice motivated Rushlow, who was in private practice before she joined CLF, to pursue law school.

The ELC, with a 40-year legacy, and Vermont, a rural state with many low-income communities, are well-positioned to lead in the new generation of environmentalism. “I am so enthusiastic and optimistic about the wealth of opportunity for doing this work at VLS,” Rushlow says. She notes VLS’s 56 environmental courses, six environmental master’s degrees, five environmental certificates and three environmental law clinics. “The depth of VLS’ environmental law offerings and the expertise of our environmental law faculty is truly unparalleled,” she says.

That depth and expertise will be crucial as the ELC moves forward to find solutions to new challenges. “Environmentalism risks losing relevance if it doesn’t evolve to include the broad swaths of people most affected by environmental challenges. It’s no secret environmentalism has done a poor job including those communities,” Rushlow says. “Equity and inclusivity is critical to the success of environmentalism, the ELC and VLS…How we approach our environmental work is critical.”

Rushlow’s approach initially is to gather input from the VLS community on how the school can best meet students’ needs and goals, especially “creating opportunities for students to connect to the outside world on the issues they care about,” Rushlow says.

A self-described doer, advocate and big-picture thinker, Rushlow emphasizes the importance of real-world experience for students. “Making sure we’re giving students the practical skills they need for their particular environmental career path is very important.”

With a background in advocacy on food and agriculture, climate change, transportation and other environmental issues, Rushlow found her advocacy career rewarding because she “could see concrete, tangible changes from the work every day,” says Rushlow, who taught a food policy course during the VLS Summer Session. At VLS, “that impact will be amplified hundreds of times over as our students go on to do great things,” she says. “To help them go and accomplish their goals is very meaningful…There is nothing more impactful than helping the next generation be the best advocates they can be.”

The Rachel L. Carson Scholarship

Rachel L. CarsonAs a top institution in producing environmental leaders and problem-solvers, it’s fitting that a new Vermont Law School scholarship is named for a pioneer in conservation and public health issues. The Rachel L. Carson Scholarship will give opportunities to students from diverse backgrounds and enrich the educational experience at VLS.

The three-year scholarship, for students with demonstrated financial need who are committed to practicing environmental law, will award more than $10,000 annually to each recipient. Eligible students will represent underserved populations, particularly people of color. The anonymous donors “want to increase the diversity at the table among people grappling with environmental issues,” VLS Vice President of Alumni Relations and Development Mary Welz says. The first award will be given to a member of the 2019 entering class. “The donors hope this scholarship will make a difference in students being able to attend the nation’s No. 1 environmental law school,” Welz says.

The scholarship also will advance a VLS goal. “We want to help these students graduate with a manageable amount of student debt so they have the option of pursuing public service jobs that may pay less but provide a significant opportunity to work for positive change,” David Mears, former director of the Environmental Law Center, says.

VLS officials expect the scholarship to help with student recruitment. The assistance the scholarship provides will enhance the learning environment. “Much of the value of the learning experience derives from the diversity of students in the classroom. Students from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives help each other explore complexities of social, economic and legal issues that arise in environmental law,” Mears says.

Carson, a marine biologist who died in 1964, is best known for her nonfiction books — “The Sea around Us” and “Silent Spring” — about conservation and public health. “We owe our current system of environmental laws to the movement Rachel Carson helped launch,” Mears says. VLS is “dedicated to the use of those laws to advance the cause she spearheaded.”

The Carson scholarship will be one of the largest endowed scholarships at VLS. The donors’ initial $250,000 gift will be increased by $150,000 when VLS raises an additional $100,000. 

New Members: Chris JD'91 and Kathleen JD/MSEL'91 Colwell

Chris and Kathleen ColwellChris Colwell JD’91 remembers his Vermont Law School torts professor Ben Aliza calling VLS “completely different from any other law school.” Students worked on homework and studied together, assisted if a peer had trouble answering a question in class and made extra copies of relevant cases for classmates.

“People helped each other rather than cut each other’s throats, which was unusual. It was fun to go to law school,” Chris says. “People were genuinely friendly. I think it’s because of the setting and the type of people the school attracts. Being in a rural area, there’s not the noise or the pressure. The student body tended to bond more.”.

Chris bonded early on at VLS with a classmate who became his wife, Kathleen JD/MSEL’91, whom he met his first day at school. While at VLS, the two sometimes helped with sheep shearing at Broadbrook Mountain Farm in South Royalton and got to know owner Holly Wolff JD’91. She told them, “You should be more than friends,” Chris recalls. “She was right. And we became more than friends.”

With VLS the first bond between the Colwells, they remain bonded with the school today. Reconnecting with friends at their 25th reunion, “We felt a sense of home,” says Kathleen, who also notes the collaborative, supportive environment at VLS when she was a student.

In addition to support, the Colwells gained skills and values at VLS that they draw on in their work. As planning director for the City of Methuen, Massachusetts, Kathleen interprets laws and writes regulations for environmental permitting and drafting city zoning ordinances. The lawyerly skills of analytical thinking, writing and presenting arguments, and public speaking are important in her position.

Chris’s VLS education prepared him well for his law career. When he went to law school, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be an attorney. But VLS impressed on him “a need to help others, to serve the greater community, to go out and change the world and do good for the state, the country, the local area. It was inspiring,” says Chris, who has a private practice in Methuen.

Now he’s inspired “to help people who would not be able to navigate the criminal or civil justice system without an attorney,” he says. “When you deal with indigent clients in a criminal setting, every day is exciting because every day is different.”

In February, the Colwells became members of the VLS Leaders’ Circle. As sustaining donors, the Colwells are motivated to give to VLS to ensure future students can benefit from the school’s values, environment and distinct brand of legal education. “We have such a fond memory of our time there,” Kathleen says. “We want to make sure other people can have that same experience. We have a love of the school and its mission.”

“I’m proud to be an alumnus of Vermont Law School. They have excellent teachers,” Chris says. “I look at the friends I made there, including my wife, and it’s got a culture I want to support.”

Not yet logged in on vlsConnect?

Access our jobs board, alumni directory, and your giving history through secure registration and login. Share your professional news with us so we can promote you and your accomplishments. Join our online alumni community!



Register for vlsConnect button


Log in to vlsConnect button


Inner Circle Archive

«« Fall 2018
«« Fall 2017
«« Summer 2017
«« Winter 2017
«« Fall 2016
«« Summer 2016
«« Spring 2016
«« Winter 2016
«« Summer-Fall 2015
«« Spring 2015
«« Winter 2015
«« Fall 2014

Welcome New Members

The Leaders' Circle continues to grow!

The following people have joined or renewed their membership in the Leaders' Circle since the fall of 2017:

  • Christian Colwell '91 and Kathleen Bradley Colwell '91
  • Robin C. Curtiss '86
  • Polly deVeau Davis '91
  • Christopher ‘78 and Jennifer Leopold
  • David M. Martini '78
  • James Moreno '88 and Sarah Nicklin
  • Douglas A. Mulvaney '83
  • Thomas McHenry and Elena Phleger
  • Susan E. Oram '83
  • Todd M. Rego and Lori A. Rego P'18
  • Dr. Rom Stevens and Dr. Marianne Mikat-Stevens P'17
  • Matt and Nikki Tashjian
  • Lisa M. Werner JD/MSL'93 and Alan Pike
  • Barbara J. Yarington '94

See all Leaders' Circle members