As faculty members and administrators work on organizing community-building events for dual law-environment degree candidates, students are expressing different concerns — namely academic and curricular integration — about the decade-old program.
The dual-degree program, administered by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, offers students the opportunity to obtain a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a law degree from either Yale Law School, Pace University School of Law or Vermont Law School in four years as opposed to the usual five. The program requires two and a half years of study at law school followed by one and a half years at the FES. YCELP associate director Josh Galperin FES ’09 said there is typically a total of 15 to 20 students enrolled in the program per year at the three participating universities.
Galperin said there is now a greater push to make students in the program, whether they are at law school or at FES, feel as though they are all part of one academic cohort.
“I want the students who are part of this program to feel like they are part of a network that can rely on each other,” Galperin said. “I really want these students to feel like they are part of the same team.”
Galperin said he has already hosted social events over the past year for students to get to know each other. However, to strengthen ties between students, Galperin said he plans to organize more academic-focused group events. He said he hopes to host summer internship and research showcases as well as career information sessions with older students to build a stronger student-alumni network beginning next semester.
Dena Adler LAW ’16 FES ’16, a current student in the dual-degree program, said these events will need to be different from those already offered by career offices at FES and YLS to attract students’ attention.
In response to this concern, Galperin said he would make the events more specific to the needs and interests of participating students.
Three out of five students interviewed said they were already acquainted with other students at different stages of the program and felt strong ties to them through their mutual interest in environmental law and advocacy. While community building is not a major problem, they said, one weakness of the program is the disjointedness between the two different parts of the curriculum.
Joya Sonnenfeldt LAW ’16 FES ’16 said that though she has spent most of her time in the program so far at YLS, she has already met members of the program who are currently at FES. However, Sonnenfeldt added that she felt the law school component of the program was distinct from the FES component, and that the program did not feel like one continuous process.
Melissa Legge LAW ’16 FES ’16 also said the two parts of her experience are not fully integrated. She said that though, as a second-year law student, she has not yet started her studies at FES, she has not yet felt the impact of pursuing a dual degree.
But Legge said working with more students in the dual-degree program would be helpful in navigating the often complex bureaucratic links between YLS and FES.
Connie Vogelmann LAW ’14 FES ’14 said she experienced delays in her financial aid when she made the transition from YLS to FES and that a stronger administrative dialogue between the schools have improved her experience in the program.
But YLS professor Daniel Esty, who advises dual-degree candidates, said it is up to students to integrate the different cultures of law school and forestry school.
“I think it’s inescapable that when you’re studying at YLS, you’ll have an experience, and it will be something of a different experience when you’re focusing on the environmental side of the dual degree,” Esty said.
Galperin said the separation between the law and forestry components of the program cannot be completely resolved, but he does believe that hosting more group-based academic programs will build a student network to make this transition smoother.
YCELP program coordinator Susanne Stahl said the dual-degree student handbook, written last year, should also make the move from law school to forestry school more continuous by clearly outlining the relationship between FES and the program’s participating law schools.
“The handbook identifies and hopefully simplifies the key issues students might encounter,” Stahl said. “The hope is that having resources like this available [demystifies] the process and encourage[s] broader engagement — while marking the Center as a whole … a go-to resource for students navigating the program.”
YCELP was founded in 1994.