March 8, 2021
Today is International Women's Day—and, fittingly, the team behind Vermont Law School's Hothouse Earth podcast just announced a new miniseries focused on women in environmental law. Titled "Elevate," the three-part interview series is the brainchild of VLS student Veronica Ung-Kono JD/MERL'21 and professor Jeannie Oliver. We caught up with the duo to hear more about it.
Q: What gave you the idea to produce this podcast miniseries?
Jeannie Oliver: I was actually inspired to do this series by a good friend of mine, Mary Shirley, who started the Great Women in Compliance podcast, which features conversations with women in the compliance industry. After listening to her podcast and speaking with her about it, I thought, why can’t we use the Hothouse Earth platform to spotlight the great things women are doing in environmental law and policy? Their diverse stories of challenge and success can provide guidance and inspiration to other women navigating this field.
I initially pitched the idea to Veronica Ung-Kono. Veronica is our Hothouse Earth student intern and was one of my students at the Energy Clinic. I had enjoyed many conversations with Veronica about gender and racial equity in the legal profession and our very different experiences and perspective on these topics. I wanted the podcast to be a space to continue these conversations and learn from each other. Veronica’s enthusiasm sealed the deal; this mini-series would not have happened without her creativity, hard work, talent, and tenacity.
Veronica Ung-Kono: A lot of people do not know this about me, but I almost quit law school my first year—until I met the staff at the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE). There I really found my "home" at VLS. Jeannie was one of the IEE professors that made me want to stay.
I spent my first summer and the following fall working at the Energy Clinic under Jeannie. During that time, she became my mentor. During my second year, she and I discussed a lot about a woman's role in this profession (environmental law) and how much we each love podcasts. She and I eventually realized there was a gap in the podcast universe regarding environmental law. A lot of shows spotlight the law itself, but not the people behind the law, let alone the women, and even less focus on women of color or women with different professional backgrounds. Then, Jeannie and I thought, if we have this show, why not showcase the incredible alumni of VLS and women with relationships to VLS?
For me personally, I wanted to create this podcast because growing up I did not know of anyone who looks like me who practiced law or anyone who practiced environmental law. In a lot of ways this is my way of getting to know the industry from the top environmental law professionals. What I love about the podcast is that we aim to humanize the guests on the show. We discuss the law but we don't just discuss their stellar resumes. We also discuss a lot of aspects that are so important to the human experience but are often overlooked in these conversations, like motherhood, knowing your worth, and moving between legal sectors.
Q: Why did you choose to name the miniseries "Elevate"?
Jeannie Oliver: The title reflects our ultimate goal for the series: to elevate the status of women in environmental law and policy. We wanted to acknowledge the challenges women face but steer the dominant narrative toward women’s contributions and successes. We also wanted to acknowledge that the more diversity we have at the table when making, applying, and enforcing laws, the more relevant and effective those laws will be in addressing environmental and climate challenges. In this way, we wanted the title to reflect that by elevating women in environmental law and policy, we elevate the power of the law to achieve meaningful outcomes for affected communities.
Q: Has working on the miniseries changed your perspective?
Veronica Ung-Kono: Absolutely. I think that's the beauty of every life experience: you grow in some way. I know that through this podcast I have grown more comfortable having conversations related to race, gender, economic equity, and environmental justice. I think that is a key element to all conversations: you just have to be present and actively listen; that's the only way we can really move these integral conversations forward.
Jeannie Oliver: One of the enduring themes coming out of the series is the importance of mentorship in developing our careers. It reminded me of what an incredible honor and responsibility it is as a professor to be a mentor and role model to our students as they prepare for their careers in environmental law and policy. I want to be more intentional about this going forward. Working with Veronica on this series also illustrated the symbiotic nature of mentorship; if professors are willing, they can learn a lot from their students too. The series also highlighted the many different areas of environmental law and policy—there is no one-size-fits-all career path. We can all make a meaningful contribution to the environmental and climate challenges around us, drawing on our own strengths, passions, and circumstances.
Q: Who can we expect to hear from in the upcoming episodes?
Jeannie Oliver: There are so many inspiring women in environmental law and policy, choosing just three was the hardest part of producing this mini-series. Three episodes cannot do justice to the incredible diversity of women’s experiences. With this in mind, we tried to select three very different women who together span a wide spectrum of environmental law and policy including public interest advocacy and litigation, private practice, academia, government, consulting, corporate sustainability, and protection of Tribal lands.
Q: Any reflections you'd like to share on International Women's Day?
Veronica Ung-Kono: I think the most important aspect of International Women's Day to keep in mind is that the very fact that we have the freedom to celebrate the holiday, to be here creating this podcast, and for me, earning my degree—that is all a privilege. I don't think we emphasize the larger picture of International Women's Day enough. There are a lot of women in the world, and even in this country, who cannot be in the same place I am because of the reinforced political, economic, and social structures on this planet. So on this International Women's Day, I ask every person in the U.S. to recognize the very privilege that they have by being able to celebrate this holiday and to be intentional about their relationship to women not just at this time of the year, but throughout the entire year.