Rethinking Environmental Legislation

Independent Scholars

SUMMARY: Independent Scholars student Erin Quinn (’22) pursues major that combines interests in environment, politics, economics, and law

 Erin Quinn

Erin Quinn is from Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where she attended Perkiomen Valley High School. Throughout her high school career, she was very involved. She played soccer all of her life and met most of her closest friends through the sport. She also participated in several community service activities. Quinn served as the President of the Perkiomen Valley Rotary Club for two years and was a Freshman Orientation Leader, also referred to as a Link Leader, at PVHS. Through these activities, she learned how to support and encourage others while working to achieve common goals. This was when she realized her passion for wanting to positively affect the lives of others. It was also during high school when Erin began to combine her intellectual interests with her passion for service. She excelled in history and government courses.

Penn State was a popular university for graduates of Erin’s high school, but she wanted to go out of state and attend a more navigable medium-sized school. The JMU Honors College admitted Erin through a competitive admissions process; it seemed a great opportunity for interacting with like-minded, community-focused students. Quinn was also drawn to JMU’s Washington Semester program, which provides students with opportunities to live and take classes in Washington, DC while working a full-time internship of their choosing.

Erin is now a JMU Political Science and Independent Scholars double major, with minors in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies and Economics. Quinn originally declared a political science major, but realized she wanted to continue to challenge herself academically and explore other academic interests, such as economics and environmental studies. Erin says she wanted to specialize in an area of policy where she knew she could make meaningful change. Through Independent Scholars, she was able to reflect on her interest in environmental studies and combine it with her passion for public policy.

 Erin is now completing a self-designed JMU major entitled Environmental Economics and Legislation. Through this major, Quinn is studying the intersection of government, public policy, economics, and environmental policy. Erin says that she wants to get into public policy in order to empower underrepresented voices and drive urgent conversations forward. She recognizes that more work needs to be done to create a sustainable environment to support life in the future. She is particularly interested in climate change and green energy policy. “Digging into these issues is exciting, but also more complex than I thought,” she says. Erin is bringing these difficult problems together into a single Independent Scholars major.

 Quinn says one of her most valuable experiences at JMU apart from being an Independent Scholar was participating in the Washington Semester. The Washington Semester is an application-based program and, once accepted, students must find an internship to complete during the semester. Along with the internship, students take two courses: one with the Program Director, Dr. David Jones, and another with a guest lecturer. During her Washington Experience Quinn took courses focused on American Government and the Politics of Social Movements.

For her Washington Semester experience, Erin was a Lloyd Meeds Policy Fellow at the firm K&L Gates LLP. She specifically worked in the Public Policy group where she assisted Government Affairs Advisors, Associates, and Partners with legislative work. A majority of her work involved preparing legislative reports and congressional hearing summaries, and doing research used by members of the policy group to inform clients, create legislation, and present to members of Congress. Quinn notes, “K&L Gates represents a variety of clients. My worked varied a lot day to day. Sometimes I was working on energy and environment. Other days it was healthcare and antitrust law. Often, I pulled news clips and prepared weekly summaries on education policy and compiled information about grant opportunities.”

David Jones, Professor of Political Science and JMU Washington Semester director says, “Securing the K&L Gates fellowship was itself a major accomplishment because the firm accepts only high-achieving students like Erin. She represented JMU extremely well during a challenging time. Erin was a model participant in Washington Semester in every way, including her internship work.” The internship helped Erin reaffirm what she wants to do: establish a career as a lobbyist on environmental issues and green energy. Erin plans to pursue law school because she believes it will give her an encompassing view of the law, and a better understanding of legal writing. JMU has alumnus Darrell Connor (’91) to thank for the Washington Semester’s connection with the fellowship. Erin is one of six Washington Semester students to secure the fellowship since Connor’s initial outreach in 2015.

Quinn says that Dr. Jennifer Coffman’s class on Political Ecology was extremely good preparation for her Washington Semester. “This was the first course where I really got to study the connections and overlaps between public policy and the environment,” she says. “We discussed solutions to climate change problems, and how they relate to public policy and environmental justice.” In the class, Erin evaluated a piece of environmental policy, the USE IT Act (2019), which would support research in carbon utilization and direct carbon capture. Says Dr. Coffman, “Erin is a highly dedicated, focused student, and she is selective about how she invests her limited time as a university student. Before joining ISAT 474: Political Ecology, she interviewed me to figure out what she might gain from the course. Even the very first time we talked, I could tell she was ready to dig into the material! While she was, of course, a great and always prepared student, the part I admired most was how open she was to critique and continuous improvement. Erin possesses the drive and abilities to understand the complexity of environmental issues legislation without being paralyzed by it. Her dedication, preparation, and commitment to ongoing learning will benefit many of us in the future, as she will be a policymaker – and I’m genuinely grateful for that.” 

In Spring of 2021 Erin also studied at the University of Oxford during their Hilary and Trinity Terms. She took four tutorial classes, including Environmental Ethics, Environmental Economics, Politics of the European Union, and Contemporary Political Theory. “These classes challenged me to think differently about my academic career,” Erin says. “I learned how to evaluate sustainable strategies. The instructors wanted me to think critically and reflect on how I developed my opinions.” The courses involved one-on-one tutorials and personalized learning, which allowed her to follow up on topics that she found to be more useful and interesting.

For students considering the Independent Scholars major, Quinn advises: “Presenting to other students in Independent Scholars, all with different mindsets, really opened me up to new ideas and opinions. I learned fast how to focus my interests.” Erin notes that Independent Scholars is perfect for “passionate learners who want to dive deeper into interdisciplinary topics. But be prepared for how much independent work is involved. You are planning your own major. I remember scheduling meetings with lots of different professors and asking them questions and gathering advice.”

Erin is excited about the future. She plans to graduate in the Spring of 2022 with majors in Political Science and Environmental Economics and Legislation, as well as minors in Economics, and Honors Interdisciplinary Studies. Quinn is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the country’s most prestigious honors society. After graduation, she plans to attend law school and pursue a career in Government Affairs or lobbying. 

 Quinn hopes that through her Environmental Economics and Legislation major she can help create change and implement policy that leads to a sustainable future. She does not want to leave to future generations the grave problems of today. “I am not one who likes to sit around passively and watch things happen,” says Erin. “I want to be a leading figure in rethinking the best pathways for effective environmental legislation in the United States.”

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Published: Monday, March 1, 2021

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 3, 2023

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