PennFuture Blog

Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues

Summer 2024 Legal Interns

Since its inception in 1998, PennFuture has emphasized the importance of using the law to protect Pennsylvania’s environment and “create a just future where nature, communities, and the economy thrive.”

Over the past two decades, we have achieved significant legal and policy victories that reduce pollution and protect the environment and our communities. We have provided millions of dollars in pro bono legal services while setting critical precedents and enforcing environmental laws across the Commonwealth.
But as PennFuture looks forward to the next 20 years, we recognize that we need to be more involved with cultivating the people that will continue to support our mission. Our staff have a long history of mentoring interns, externs, and fellows, and we wanted to create a more formal program to inspire the next generation. 
With the generous support of the George and Miriam Martin Foundation and the Otto Haas Charitable Trust, PennFuture created a paid legal internship program to inspire and mentor students interested in making a difference for our environment. 

Ultimately, the goal of this program is to provide the organization a cadre of young legal and policy minds interested in taking on the myriad challenges impacting Pennsylvania as well as to further their potential environmental careers. We’ve seen success on this front as many of our legal interns have found work in the Pennsylvania environmental legal space. We also hope that providing for a funded internship will help to bring more diversity and inclusivity into the non-profit environmental advocacy sphere. 
Over the past four years, our interns have made it possible for PennFuture’s legal team to do more, faster, and better! They have supported our litigation efforts against water polluters and fracked-gas facilities, they have drafted comments in support of stronger regulatory protections across the Commonwealth, and they have helped our attorneys strategize and execute impactful legal actions. We are grateful for all of the hard work, passion, and dedication of our legal interns. 
This summer, we have three fantastic students for our internship, representing a range of backgrounds and experiences. We’ve asked our new interns to explain, in their own words, what environmental law and PennFuture’s mission means to them:

Andriana Vega, rising Third Year student at Penn State Dickinson Law
Growing up in the Midwest around factory farming piqued my interest in environmental law. While farming is crucial to sustaining our population, the effects factory farming has on communities and the environment are devastating. The work done at PennFuture is precisely the reason I chose to become an attorney: to help move towards more sustainable practices in all industries, not just farming.
I am most excited about learning from the experienced individuals at PennFuture and being able to contribute to projects that actually make a difference in the fight to preserve the environment. Climate change may not happen overnight, but it’s the little victories that will tilt the needle.
While at Penn State Dickinson Law I have remained actively involved in the community, serving as President of the school’s Animal Legal Defense Fund; Vice President of Environmental Law Society; Co-founder, Treasurer and Vice President of the school’s multicultural dance organization, The Moving Party; Treasurer of Hearsay Acapella Group; Chair of the Wellness Committee; and member of Phi Alpha Delta and the Latin Law Students Association.


Jessie Staley, rising Third Year student at St. John’s University School of Law
Environmentalism has been a passion in my personal life for many years, but I had not considered it as a future career until I started law school. As a rising third year law student at St. John's Law in New York, I am looking forward to a career in international environmental law.
I completed my BA in Political Science and International Studies, with a focus in Peace Studies, at the University of Missouri. There, I gained an interest in civil armed conflicts and found that many start and persist due to environmental stressors, such as oil and/or food insecurity. I came to law school with the hopes of learning more about International Humanitarian Law and the legal frameworks for the intergovernmental organizations who lead international peace work, like the United Nations. While taking my first year courses, like Property Law, I found more intersections between the environment and conflict. I discovered my niche career path in International Water Law, addressing water scarcity as a strategy for peace work.
I am very excited to work with PennFuture this summer to learn more about the nonprofit space and localized legal advocacy. With their Clean Water initiative, I have many opportunities to learn more about water law and various strategies to advocate for water access and quality. I hope to continue learning about environmental law and to learn new ways to be a better environmental lawyer from PennFuture’s holistic advocacy approach.


Jasmine Gunning, rising Third Year student at Penn State Law
I am currently a J.D. candidate at Penn State Law ('25) at University Park, PA. At Penn State Law, I have the pleasure of serving as Fellowship Chair for the Criminal Law Society, Outreach Coordinator for the Human Rights Society, and Secretary for the Immigration Law Society. Coming into law school, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of law I wanted to practice, but I knew I wanted two things: to feel as if I’m making a difference, and to help others in some way. Environmental law checks both of those boxes for me.
Growing up in rural South Carolina, I’ve always had great respect for our environment and all of the things it provides us with – food, water, recreation, and the space to just be. Over the years I’ve watched my home state develop and grow tremendously. This extreme growth has taught me a lot about the importance of both sustainability and conservation, as well as the interplay between the two, especially in marginalized communities. Wanting to ensure that those two concepts stay at the forefront of development and progress is what led me to environmental law, and more particularly, energy law.
Over the past semester, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant in the shale division of the Penn State Law Center for Agriculture and Shale Law. That experience gave me the opportunity to study the specifics of the oil and gas industry, as well as how policymaking affects the industry, and vice versa. I am excited to apply this knowledge to my time here at PennFuture this summer, while also learning more about other areas of environmental law and policy. PennFuture’s commitment to environmental advocacy is what drew me to this organization and I’m so honored to be part of the team!

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