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Tamara Toles, JD/MELP 2009

A photo of Tamara Toles
At VLS you're surrounded by leaders who see a problem and ask themselves, 'What am I going to do about this?'”

Undergraduate Degree:

BA, Political science, City College of New York

Career Before Law School:

Interned for environmental justice programs

Tamara Toles is undeniably a woman with a mission, and it took root early. "I've wanted to be a lawyer since I was nine," she says. So while working for New York City's Department of Environmental Protection as an undergraduate, she set her sights on environmental law. A co-worker pointed her toward Vermont Law School, and she immediately liked what she saw.

"I decided that if the energy of the school matched what I saw on paper—the programs and the offerings—then I was coming here," she recalls. The deal was sealed when she stepped foot on campus.

"I thought, 'Wow, this is where I want to be," says Tamara, who downplays what others may see as a dramatic lifestyle change from an urban to a rural setting. As she spoke with students during that first visit, she quickly learned there were more commonalities than differences. "I heard a lot of things that were reflective of my own values," she says, firing off a list ranging from international law offerings to vegetarian potluck dinners.

Her values are also evident in her résumé. In addition to her New York environmental work, she interned at The Rosenberg Humphrey Program in Public Policy in Washington, DC, where she worked on tribal policy issues. She later interned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development in Colorado, where she tackled lead contamination problems facing tribal communities in that region. With that background, VLS seemed a natural fit.

"At VLS you're surrounded by leaders who see a problem and ask themselves, 'What am I going to do about this?'" she says. "The school encourages involvement."

And she is very much involved. In her short time at VLS, Tamara established a grief and recovery peer support group following the sudden death of her father. She served as president of the VLS chapter of the Black Law Students Association 2007 — 08. She is a blogger on the JD website and has served as a 1L senator with the Student Bar Association.

But it's clear that the role she is particularly proud of is being Big Sister to a 13-year-old girl who lives near campus, a relationship that started during Tamara's first year.

"That's been my rock. It really makes me feel like I have a life outside of my coursework," she says, talking about their bi-weekly ice cream routine. And for Tamara, the relationship with the teenager keeps her humble: "She reminds me that I'm not a big deal, which is exactly what I need!"

VLS has also offered the chance to engage in a favorite pastime, travel. She most recently attended the Comparative Law Seminar in European Union Constitutional Law at the University of Trento in Italy, and is considering a future in international environmental law, focusing on negotiation and litigation.

But for now, she is looking forward to upcoming internships in New York, first with the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she will be working with the Urban Program on the challenges of electronic waste recycling and protection of drinking water. That will be followed by an internship with the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

"I am preparing to have the privilege of being well paid for a job I would have done for free," she says, pausing to wonder if her future employers might, by chance, see that in print.