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Megan Cousino

Megan Cousino

After graduating from Middlebury College in 2016 with an environmental studies and geography degree, Megan Cousino MELP'20 launched her career at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VT DEC). She quickly learned that she had a passion for conserving and protecting the natural resources in her home state, all while learning more about Vermont's legal systems and enforcement mechanisms.

While working full time at VT DEC, Megan entered the MELP program at VLS in 2018. She completed her degree with distinction in October 2020.

In October 2021, Megan became the environmental program manager of the Environmental Assistance Office (EAO) in VT DEC. Her team initially consisted of four staff members. The program underwent a complete revisioning under her direction. Over the next year and a half, she built the current iteration of EAO, which now has 10 staff members, three new sections, and two American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) initiatives.

Megan is especially excited to have played a role in developing the Accessible Assistance Section, which focuses on working with overburdened and underserved individuals or communities as they navigate Vermont's environmental regulatory system.  The section is currently distributing over $40 million to hundreds of low-income Vermont homeowners with failed or inadequate on-site drinking water or wastewater systems, as well as to dozens of manufactured housing communities with water infrastructure issues.

In 2023, Megan also became the DEC Environmental Justice Coordinator, where she serves as the lead on the department's environmental justice initiatives.

Her studies at VLS, now VLGS, are put to use on a daily basis—and will continue to be—as she oversees EAO and coordinates DEC's role in the implementation of Vermont's Environmental Justice Law (Act 154). Megan is proud to be involved in a field that drives better outcomes for all Vermonters, and especially those in need.

This feature was originally published in the August 2023 edition of the VLGSAA Master's Only Committee newsletter. Photo courtesy of Megan Cousino.

Gordon Merrick

Gordon Merrick

Gordon N. Merrick JD’20 currently serves as Policy & Programs Manager for the nonprofit Organic Farming Research Foundation, an organization focused on advancing organic agriculture through scientific research.

Gordon Merrick has some unconventional advice for students looking to pursue a career in food and agriculture law and policy: gain experience in a field you don’t want to work in.

The Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS) alumnus currently serves as Policy & Programs Manager at the Organic Farming Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing organic agriculture through scientific research. But it was a summer internship working in trial law during his time at VLGS that helped round out his qualifications.

“[That internship] exposed me to things that make me a better advocate,” explained Merrick. “So, put simply: don’t be afraid to take unorthodox opportunities.”

Merrick is no stranger to unusual career paths; before pursuing his JD, he held a variety of jobs from farmhand and line cook to food hub delivery driver and political organizer. Through experiences in many lifecycle stages of food, his perspective on the food system widened.

Merrick suggests that upcoming graduates should also not limit themselves to experiences they think will lend themselves specifically to agricultural law jobs, which can often be competitive. Instead, he advised, find a variety of skills that can round out your point of view: something that was a particular draw for Merrick, leading him to decide to pursue his higher education in South Royalton.

“Vermont Law and Graduate School is just one of those places that clearly thinks about things differently, and that attracted me to the place,” said Merrick. “The ability to have multiple hands-on experiences doing legal work while also being exposed to thoughtful and robust classes seemed like a no-brainer when compared to other programs.”

He credits his work at the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) with helping him augment his writing and legal research skills, while building a working knowledge of food and agriculture law and policy that would make him a competitive job candidate.

And competitive he was: despite graduating amidst the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Merrick quickly found a fellowship with CAFS and the Conservation Law Foundation’s Legal Food Hub, while also taking an advocate role in Vermont’s Climate Plan. Before joining the team at the Organic Farming Research Foundation in April 2022, Merrick clerked for the Vermont General Assembly Legislative Counsel office, focusing on natural resources, agriculture, and municipal law.

Today, Merrick’s work centers around supporting organic farmers through research and policy support. “My interest is in how the current business model and economics of agriculture don’t serve farmers or the landscape, and how legal frameworks and public programs can change that,” said Merrick.

According to Merrick, one solution proposed by many is “payment for ecosystem services,” a concept that would provide financial compensation for the qualitative benefits of sustainable agriculture, such as clean air, pollination, aesthetic enjoyment, and more. Merrick was able to build upon research on this topic, conducted during his fellowship with CAFS, in his current position.

Merrick credits his life experience with leading him to agricultural law and Vermont Law and Graduate School for fostering the environment to build his future career. “There are few times in a person’s life where your only real responsibility is to learn, build connections and friendships, all with a purpose.”

“I just loved the whole experience of being back in school,” Merrick concluded. “I was grappling with difficult concepts and subjects in a community of gifted, passionate people.”

This feature was originally published on the VLGS Blog. Photo courtesy of Gordon Merrick.

Lauren Wustenberg

Lauren Wustenberg

The light of the autumn morning streamed in through the windows of Barrister’s Book Shop, illuminating a smattering of tables and chairs set up amongst the shelves. Inside, Lauren Wustenberg JD/MFALP’21, a Food & Agriculture Law Society (FALS) Board member, was working hard to serve community members at the FALS “Barrister’s Brunch.”

It was the fall of 2019, and Wustenberg and her cohort had worked hard to source ingredients for the meal from local farmers, harvest kale from the community garden, and cook the fundraiser brunch, the proceeds from which would support the South Royalton Community Garden.

“We had no idea, at the time, that it would be our last full semester on campus before we graduated,” said Wustenberg, referencing the Covid-19 pandemic that shut down the Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS) campus in the spring of 2020. “I spent three wonderful years serving on the FALS Executive Board, and it was such a fun process to work with my fellow FALS members to feed our friends, faculty, and community members.”

Graduating from the program in 2021, Wustenberg’s experience at VLGS was shaped by the pandemic—but she is living proof that sometimes, when things don’t go to plan, other opportunities present themselves.

The pandemic delayed Wustenberg’s plans to do an externship in the summer of 2020, leading her to instead earn her final MFALP credits as Legal Fellow with the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry in the fall of 2021, after she had graduated from the JD program and completed the bar exam. Today, she works as one of the Committee’s full-time counsels under Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Most recently, Wustenberg was tasked to work as counsel on Title II (Agriculture) of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, a major piece of legislation in which the role of food and farming on both the economy and the climate is addressed.

Her current work on policy issues related to conservation, climate, environmental regulation, pesticides, and more has been greatly informed by her studies with VLGS. At the end of the day, Wustenberg’s work is driven forward by two overarching questions: how do we improve the economic and environmental sustainability of American agriculture livelihoods, and how do we address the global impacts of Americans’ consumer appetites?

“Having a joint-degree from VLGS helped me specialize within the legal field and develop early expertise in niche issues that made me more qualified and more competitive as a candidate,” Wustenberg explained. “My time with the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems and the Food and Agriculture Clinic gave me the legal and policy analysis tools I need to dive more deeply into answering complicated questions that require multifaceted answers.”

One of the biggest draws of VLGS, for Wustenberg, was the top-quality staff and faculty—not only to learn from, but to help build a network of changemakers in the food and agriculture policy space.

“VLGS attracts a vibrant community of scholars, advocates, and legal practitioners that work within niche fields of environmental, land use, social justice, and food and agriculture law that serve as your professors, mentors, and fellow students,” she said. “It was honestly shocking to realize how quickly my professors at VLGS turned into close collaborators in the professional field.”

While Wustenberg credits these relationships with helping to make her more effective early in her career, it’s not the only advice she has for upcoming and recent graduates.

“There is interest across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors in addressing sustainability and equity issues in our agricultural system, and we need attorneys and policy professionals to help do that work,” she stated. “My best advice is to cultivate not only specialized expertise, but also curiosity, adaptability, resourcefulness, and a strong work ethic. The world needs more people like that as we navigate the complicated problems that face us ahead.”

This feature was originally published on the VLGS Blog. Photo courtesy of Lauren Wustenberg.

Cindy Argentine

Cindy Argentine Headshot

“It has been quite some time since I worked in the legal field, but I don’t think you ever lose what you learn,” noted Cindy Argentine MSL’91. Now a creative nonfiction author for children and teens, Cindy draws upon many of the skills she learned as a student at Vermont Law School.

As a child, she never dreamed of attending law school, but her passions and life experiences guided her to VLS. Cindy grew up close to the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia—a place where she could explore her surroundings while experiencing changing tides and seasons. It was here that she developed a deep appreciation for nature.

When the time arrived to attend college, Cindy chose William & Mary, where she combined her interests via a double major in English and environmental science. She then landed a job with the Chesapeake Research Consortium (CRC), an environmental nonprofit. While working at CRC, Cindy realized the extent to which outcomes were driven by the legal framework.

“Law can be a great mechanism for bringing about positive change, especially in the environmental field, and that intrigued me,” Cindy shared. She discovered VLS while researching environmentally focused institutions, and she and her now husband, Mark, moved to New England where they could both pursue graduate degrees.

Although it was a new part of the country, Cindy quickly settled into life in Vermont, immersing herself in the coursework and establishing new hobbies like cross country skiing. Beginning with her initial class in environmental law, which was taught by Professor David Firestone, Cindy thoroughly enjoyed her VLS experience, and she developed a fondness for legal writing.

“I loved the process of legal writing—researching a detailed case, working through the logic, and finding points to best support the argument,” Cindy recalled. During her stint as a student, she also authored the “Vermont Act 250 Handbook: A Guide to State and Regional Land Use Regulation,” which has served as a valuable tool for individuals looking to better understand the state’s innovative land use law.

After earning her MSL, Cindy went on to work in environmental consulting, providing regulatory advice and helping companies with compliance issues. She decided to shift gears, however, once her three children were born, and her creative instincts led her to writing.

Cindy began her children’s writing career by working for magazines, and she has published articles on a variety of STEAM-related topics for kids from ages four to 18. This work led to an interest in books, and in 2019, she published “STEAM Jobs in Cybersecurity,” which explains the importance of cybersecurity to kids in grades four through eight.

Her latest book, “Night Becomes Day: Changes in Nature,” was released on October 5, 2021. Hoping to create wonder and appreciation for the environment, Cindy invites readers to explore the extraordinary power of nature through vibrant language and stunning, full-page photographs. Aimed at children in pre-kindergarten through third grade, this project was inspired by the many transformations that take place all around us. The story highlights various settings, such as beaches, canyons, and glaciers, just to name a few, and the contrasting types of change—fast and slow, hot and cold, ancient and new—that occur.

“All of our experiences shape who we are, and VLS definitely impacted me and where I am today,” Cindy affirms. From thinking clearly and logically, to presenting ideas in an organized fashion, to carrying readers to an idea or end point, she credits VLS with helping her master these important competencies.

Keep an eye out for future projects from Cindy, who has additional books in different stages of the publication process. In the meantime, you can learn more by visiting

Photo credit: Christie Turnbull

Arturo Brandt

Arturo Brandt Headshot

Arturo Brandt LLM’03 has spent his career working on climate matters in locales all over the world, ranging from the United Kingdom and Germany, to the United States and his home country of Chile. Serving as a senior broker for Latin American Environmental Markets with Tradition Green (part of Tradition, one of the world’s largest brokerage firms). He’s a brokerage service provider within the environmental markets advisory and financial services, and he is senior counsel at Grupo Vial Serrano, a leading Chilean law firm.

Through this work, he’s been steeped in pushing for climate justice, as well as for laws that benefit people living in poverty. In 2020, Brandt was lobbying in Chile in favor of a proposed law that would allow consumers to be able to choose their energy service provider (customers have historically been assigned a provider). Brandt is advising an Argentine energy trader setting up service in Chile with the aim of giving residents more choices. He points out that energy costs are regressive—the poorer you are, the more of a percentage of your income goes to your electricity bill.

“If that law goes through, at the end of the day, people will be able to have cheaper electricity bills,” Brandt said. “In a country where you have 15 percent of people under the poverty level, it’s important to promote bills that promote competition.”

Households can also choose services that support energy efficiency and renewable energy, he said, adding that competition can lead to better energy services, better customer service, and more flexible rates.

Brandt credits VLS for introducing him to the idea of climate change, and teaching him how to quickly find resources and expert information to support his arguments, whether that’s for a court case or a conference. VLS also taught him to be more precise in his arguments, and that’s paid dividends over the course of his legal career. “Right now I cannot say I know everything about environmental law and climate change, but I know who knows, and where to find the information. That saves you a lot of time,” Brandt said.

Part of what drives Brandt in his work is his passion for equal access to resources. The wealth gap is even more pronounced in some Latin American countries than it is in the U.S., he said, and it’s troubling that some people have access to fundamentals like education and health care, while others don’t. Something as seemingly simple as lower energy costs can go a long way in helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds be more prosperous.

“I am deeply committed to justice, not just my job on environmental matters, but in my daily life,” he said. “Something that really moves me is that everybody has the same equal playing field.”

Article written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Arturo Brandt.

Madhavi Venkatesan

Madhavi Venkatesan

Madhavi Venkatesan MELP’16 is passionate about reducing our negative impact on the environment. Over the course of her career, she’s worked at large organizations, but felt there was too much bureaucracy; it was taking too long to see change.

“I really want to start making things happen,” she said. And so she did. Armed with a MELP degree from VLS, Venkatesan founded a not-for-profit organization, Sustainable Practices, which has done meaningful work reducing single-use plastic in her home community of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, making the popular Wellfleet OysterFest a plastic-free event in 2019.

How does one go from working for organizations to founding their own impact-driving nonprofit? In Venkatesan’s case, methodically, with a small staff, and by finding mission-aligned volunteers.

Sustainable Practices incorporated in 2016, and Venkatesan funded the startup by showing environmental justice films and charging a small fee as a fundraiser. One of those films would have a lasting impact on her and the trajectory of Sustainable Practices. “Divide in Concord” is a documentary about an effort in Concord, Mass., to ban small, single-serve bottles of water. Sustainable Practices showed the film in 2018.

“That movie was moving to me,” Venkatesan said. “I recognized the limitations too. One town of 7,000 doesn’t make a significant enough impact.” She thought, why not do this on Cape Cod, which is comprised of 15 towns?

Venkatesan got to work on a plan to incrementally reduce single-use plastic bottles on the Cape. Through Sustainable Practices, she and a group of volunteer members started with the municipalities—proposing a bylaw prohibiting municipal governments from purchasing single-use plastic bottled beverages and eliminating the sale of beverages in single-use plastic containers on town property. That policy is now in place in 13 of the 15 towns on Cape Cod.

Next up was banning the commercial sale of single-use, non-flavored, non-carbonated plastic bottled water of less than a gallon in size. This has passed in seven towns on the Cape since September 2020—and Venkatesan says there’s support for more, though some towns have put the matter on hold while dealing with COVID. She and her organization are optimistic that municipal and commercial bans will be adopted across the Cape this year.

Venkatesan’s efforts show that it’s possible to make a direct difference without relying on people in power to initiate.

As she puts it: “If we know something is wrong, why should we wait until the state tells us to do it?” Venkatesan said her fellow classmates at VLS were similarly passionate and dedicated to making real change. Being surrounded by a supportive group of like-minded individuals allowed Venkatesan to thrive, and she continues to stay in touch with her classmates as they cheer one another on.

“At the grassroots level,” Venkatesan said, “let’s go ahead and make the changes we need to make.”

Article written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Madhavi Venkatesan.

Renee Smith

Renee Smith Headshot

Through her work as state policy manager for the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Renee Smith MFALP’17 advocates for programs and policies that reduce maternal mortality among Black women, an outcome that affects them at three-to-four times the rate of white women.

The Atlanta-based alliance serves as an umbrella organization for groups supporting pregnant and birthing Black people around the country. There is a history of experimentation on and exploitation of Black pregnant women in the United States. For example, the man considered the “father of gynecology” purportedly performed unimaginable surgical experiments on enslaved Black women without the use of anesthesia.

Smith’s work is changing the way Black mothers are treated, and it includes reviewing bills on the state and federal level, talking with doulas and midwives, analyzing data, writing letters of support, weighing in on policy, and other efforts that support holistic maternal health care.

In her role, Smith provides support in public policy, research, analysis, and engages in health systems, particularly with hospitals, midwives, and doulas, to build a shared language and perspective around maternal health equity to eliminate Black maternal mortality.

“Fighting for justice is important to me because it’s embedded in my DNA. I grew up in the South as a Black woman, so injustice is one of the things I’ve known,” said Smith, whose family is of Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage. “To me, justice is a choice. I’ve seen a lot of injustice and it looks like people didn’t have a choice.” Smith said around half of maternal deaths in Georgia are preventable.

“There are a lot of public examples just in 2020 of women who have died during childbirth,” Smith said. “The fact that so much of this is preventable is the biggest issue.”

Georgia has a maternal mortality review committee, which is tasked with collecting data and reviewing all pregnancy-related and -associated deaths. Because of this, there is now more awareness that conditions such as hypertension and diabetes—which have historically more heavily impacted Black communities—are further causing devastation during pregnancy and postpartum periods.

“It’s not just these nine months of gestation and then a year of postpartum, it’s really the whole lifespan of a Black woman,” Smith said. “And how during the time of pregnancy, it’s a very critical time for health, and why more attention should be put on that time.”

Smith, who has also worked in agriculture and food policy in Georgia, California, and India, said her MFALP degree helped her prepare for a social justice career.

“I love that they had systems for people to study policy without being an attorney,” she said. “I really like that middle space of being an advocate and having the knowledge of the law.”

Article written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Renee Smith.

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.

Matt Wiese

Matt Wiese Headshot

Matt Wiese JD’87 entered Vermont Law School with the idea that he’d practice environmental law. But after taking a trial practice course, he found a love for trial. He also took Professor Heather Wishik’s Women and the Law class, where he studied situations where battered women killed their accusers—and researched what their legal defense could be.

This sparked an interest that led him to a career in prosecuting domestic abusers. In his role as the chief prosecuting attorney for Marquette County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wiese helps women who are suffering domestic abuse get relief and seek legal justice. Illustrating the respect he has among his peers, in 2019 Wiese was elected president of the Board of Directors of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

“In my career, I’ve seen everything from a push, shove, slap, to a homicide,” Wiese stated. He said he’s learned an incredible amount from victims who share their stories. “One thing that’s key is to listen, to be as straight and honest with them as you possibly can, so they know what the process looks like and feels like, and they know that you’ll be there with them every step of the way.”

Wiese measures success when a victim/survivor never experiences intimidation or violence again by the hands of their intimate partner. Sometimes this means the relationship ends and the case doesn’t go to trial, sometimes the abuser gets the help that is needed, and in some cases, the abuser serves a prison sentence. “For survivors to hear that he’s been convicted and will be in prison for a long time gives them great relief,” Wiese said.

While each case is unique, something that many abusers have in common is that they have a pattern and history of abuse. That’s why Wiese has been working on the prevention and policy pieces as well. He credits his mentor, Ellen Pence, and her Domestic Violence Blueprint for Safety for helping to improve the response to assaults. Wiese has won four Department of Justice grants focused on domestic violence, using some of the funds to pay for a dedicated advocate in the community who is based in the local women’s shelter.

Wiese has been encouraged by the change in cultural thinking around domestic violence. “I remember when juries wouldn’t convict because it was a marriage,” Wiese said, and the thinking was that “every marriage or relationship has problems. We’re seeing now, people would never say domestic violence is OK. Seeing the change in the culture has been one of the most rewarding things.”

Article written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Matt Wiese.

Brian Potts

Brian Potts Headshot

It’s a situation many law school students are familiar with—applying to firms, waiting to hear back, and dealing with rejection.

In 2002, when he was a second-year student, Brian Potts JD’04 sent 100 applications—in print, by mail—to every single AmLaw 100 firm in the country. He kept a copy of every rejection letter he received in return.

Flash forward to today, and Potts, based in Madison, Wis., is now a partner at Perkins Coie LLP. In the midst of the pandemic, he dug out the old rejection letters, and found a congenial but direct letter from Perkins Coie’s hiring partner. It included this line: “Unfortunately, in light of our projected needs, we are unable to consider your application further.”

Potts framed the letter and brought it into his office. He recently took a photograph of it and posted it on LinkedIn, with the caption, “Law students: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” (The caption appears just under his profile which includes his title as partner.)

The likes and comments began to pour in, with questions, comments, similar shared experiences, and cheers. The next thing Potts knew, he was “LinkedIn famous,” as he puts it. The post has been viewed four million times and counting.

“I got contacted after that rejection post by at least a dozen law students and recent grads asking if I would talk to them,” Potts said. Not the kind of person to say no, Potts began taking the calls, sharing what he jokes is “one random guy from Madison’s recruiting advice.”

“There were some really interesting, sad, crazy stories that I heard, and I started posting those on LinkedIn,” he said. He heard from peers unable to find work, some international LLM students in New York even being deported because they were unable to take the bar because of capacity issues related to COVID. After posting the stories on LinkedIn, Potts had an idea: he could start a legal mentor network to help law students and recent grads connect with someone more experienced to talk to. In just a few months since getting the mentor network off the ground, Potts has already connected 190 mentors with 355 mentees. Nearly a dozen of the early career peers that reached out have gotten jobs. “It’s kind of a nice way to give back,” Potts said.

Potts is also an entrepreneur, and he and his wife, Abigail Wuest JD’04, have started three companies together. In the entrepreneurial community, there’s a culture of sharing information and helping each other, something he didn’t see nearly as pronounced in the legal community. He wanted to bring that sharing spirit into the legal community—and he seems to be succeeding.

“Certainly the response I’ve gotten from my post shows that there are a lot of lawyers who are willing to help,” he said.

Article written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Brian Potts.

Christie Popp

Christie Popp Headshot

As an immigration lawyer, Christie Popp JD/MSEL’05 had a challenging four years under the Trump administration. Changes the administration made to asylum law made it much more difficult for most asylum seekers, even those who have experienced horrific violence and trauma.

“Often they’ve been tortured, imprisoned, almost killed, or their family members have been killed,” Popp said from her home in Indiana. She had a case in the summer of 2020 representing an Indigenous woman from Central America who was an environmental and Indigenous rights activist in her country. After they won the asylum case, the woman’s government kidnapped her six-year-old daughter and killed her.

That’s just one of the many difficult cases Popp has worked on; the situations are especially emotionally difficult because Popp gets to know her clients so well while working with them.

Through Popp’s immigration practice, she meets clients from all over the world. She’s worked with human rights lawyers, artists, doctors, and scholars from the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, who feared torture, jail, or even death if they returned to their home countries after speaking out against their governments. Popp also works on cases involving Uyghurs, ethnic minorities in China who have been subject to terrible violence. “That has become a bit of a pet passion of mine given the ethnic cleansing,” Popp said, “So I try to do as much activism and advocacy for them as I can. It’s been really, really important to me.”

Popp’s advocacy doesn’t stop at the end of her work day. She is the chair of the Indiana Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, she serves on the board of governors for the National American Immigration Lawyers Association, teaches immigration law, and does community organizing. Popp also helped create a coalition of nonprofits and religious organizations who work for justice for immigrants in the community. Popp’s work around social justice seems nearly around the clock, though she says she has always felt compelled to stand up for people who are suffering. She became a vegan at age 13, and in college, was involved in activism around sweatshop labor through Amnesty International.

“I feel like being born white and middle class … is such an accident of birth,” Popp said. “There’s nothing that is any better or more special about me than my Indigenous clients or the lawyers from the Middle East. It’s all an accident of birth. I don’t feel like I can live my life with any kind of privilege as long as there are any people in the world who are suffering.”

Article written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Christie Popp.

Chris Adamo

Chris Adamo Headshot

Working on sustainability for the world’s largest B Corporation, Chris Adamo JD’04 helps shape environmental and health policies that have far reaching impact, from the farm all the way to the plate.

Adamo is Danone North America’s vice president for federal and industry affairs, where he helps strengthen the company’s role in driving social and environmental good with its “One Planet, One Health” initiative. Danone owns a number of household name brands, including Activia, Dannon, and Silk.

“A big attraction for me joining the company was trying to use business as a force for good,” said Adamo, who is based in Virginia. “To push for social impact, sustainability for the planet, and for health, by providing healthy food to as many people as possible.”

Adamo’s focus areas include combating climate change, fostering regenerative agriculture, and improving food standards to make them more healthful.

Bringing years of policy experience to his role, Adamo previously worked in the U.S. Senate for a decade, including on the Senate Agriculture Committee. He was also chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality from 2015 until 2017, where he helped design and implement policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

At Danone, a lot of Adamo’s work is external; he meets with government officials, executives, and nonprofit leaders to develop policies and models for climate-friendly agriculture and more sustainable food systems. His internal duties with the company include assisting the Horizon Organic Milk brand with its goal to be carbon net-zero by 2025.

Adamo says he’s inspired by the fact that Danone can use its B-Corp public benefit status in the emerging trend of businesses’ advocacy, similar to the way Patagonia has led the way in the outdoor gear industry.

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time, to maintain our quality of life, and maintain access to the things that we as a society like—stability and economic freedom,” Adamo said.

Article written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Chris Adamo.

Thomas Leary

Tom Leary Headshot

Based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Staff Judge Advocate Thomas Leary JD/MSEL’98 is the senior legal advisor to the commander of U.S. Central Command.

That means Leary is providing a full spectrum of legal advice to a four-star general and his core staff of about a dozen senior military officers and civilians as they make decisions about a range of national security issues, including conflict and war. Leary and his team of 19 are tasked with finding legal and ethical ways of carrying out military initiatives and objectives in such challenging places as Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The arc of my career is defined, as many people in my generation are, by 9/11,” Leary said. “It was certainly a game-changing event for the military. It kicked off essentially 19 years and counting of sustained combat operations.”

Leary said he brings a strong moral obligation to his work and the legal counsel he offers his colleagues.

“As a lawyer, as a citizen, and as a military officer, we do not take the resort to war lightly by any stretch of the imagination,” Leary said. “One of the things every commander wants to do, and a role that every legal advisor plays, is helping to ensure the conduct of hostilities, which can be awful, brutal, and place our blood and treasure at risk, are conducted legally, morally, and ethically.”

Looking back on his career so far, Leary said his life from college onward has been a “series of bizarre turns,” and he never would have guessed in 1998 that he’d be in the role he is today. He realizes Vermont Law School is not exactly known for being war-fighting headquarters, but that it is known for attracting students who want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

“What about VLS prepared me or inspired me? It comes back to the motto of the law school, ‘Law for the community and the world,’ in the sense that I wanted to serve, that’s what drew me to the military in the first place,” Leary said. “That service aspect that VLS is so known for, and for good reason.”

Leary said no other military in the world utilizes its uniformed lawyers to the extent of the United States. “That helps keep us on that moral high ground. That’s a lot of what VLS instills in you as a student, always trying to do things right and for the right reason.”

Article written by Sky Barsch. Photo courtesy of Thomas Leary.

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.

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.

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.

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin | Photo by Jay Mallin

Tamara Toles O'Laughlin JD/MELP'09 commenced her role as North American director for by orchestrating the largest-ever coordinated series of events on climate: the national climate strikes on September 20, 2019.

If anyone was poised to take on a task of this magnitude, it was Toles O'Laughlin. After graduating from Vermont Law School, Toles O'Laughlin interned for "every environmental organization possible" and then made a name for herself as executive director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. There, she was the chief architect of the Baltimore Climate Resolution, which unanimously passed the city council after U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. She has served on and led several environmental boards, including six years at the D.C. chapter of EcoWomen. And she has a network of VLS alumni to tap into. In short, after 21 years in meaningful environmental advocacy, she was up for the challenge.

At, Toles O'Laughlin got right to work, leading all teams in the United States and Canada, and acting as the liaison to global teams supporting strikes in 185 countries. The result? More than 7.6 million people participated in more than 6,100 events on September 20 and, during the week that followed, another 6,000 events led by members of 350's local networks in the United States.

Before the week of action, Toles O'Laughlin pushed for even more social change. She made inclusivity a priority for her teams—multigenerational, mutiracial, multi-able-bodied. She asked her teams to suggest people of color for interviews and to pitch stories to ethnic media outlets. She asked for more opportunities for people who couldn't risk getting arrested or walking out of school. She asked that events be accessible.

"Being excluded from making decisions and then having those same decisions impact your health, well-being, and right to thrive—it's the same thing whether you're talking about meat-packing, insecticides, and so on," noted Toles O'Laughlin. "If you exclude the people who are most likely to be harmed, you can conduct business a lot faster."

The week of action will likely go down in history as one of the biggest moments in facing climate change; and importantly, people from all demographics participated in paving the way toward lasting change.

"Mobilizing, striking—it was amazing—and creates conditions for more work to happen," Toles O'Laughlin said. "It emboldens legislators to write more aggressive and more courageous bills. We saw folks who are willing to push at the state and federal level, and the most engaged group of voters ever seen. We have elders who have hope: they feel like they can leave the planet in peace, because it's in good hands."

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of Loquitur and was written by Sky Barsch. Photo by Jay Mallin.