Testing the waters: First-gen student prepares for a future in environmental law
Internships build the road to future careers, giving students the opportunity to try out a field and develop professional skills and relationships. But many are unpaid, which can put them out of the reach of low-income or first-generation students.
Amy Liang, a senior majoring in both environmental studies and philosophy, politics and law, received the support she needed through Harpur Edge, which provided a Harpur Edge Funding Award that allowed her to participate in the Harpur Law Council Public Interest Law Internship Program last summer.
The Queens resident is the first in her family to attend college. Like many first-generation students, she initially lacked guidance and resources when navigating her college experience.
“This led me to be proactive about seeking the necessary mentorship and finding a community of first-generation peers, which I definitely found at Binghamton,” she said.
Harpur Edge has funding to support undergraduate students like Liang who have financial need through a variety of channels, explained director Erin Cody. The summer law internship program in particular has provided students with experience and financial support, but there are others, too.
“We encourage Harpur undergraduate students in all majors to check out the Harpur High Impact Learning Endowment and Student Support Fund as well as this program,” Cody said. “We want to encourage Harpur students to dream big and gain experience like Amy.”
Challenges and opportunities
An aspiring environmental law attorney, Liang interned at the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Law Institute, which promotes innovative law and policy solutions through research and litigation. Liang worked on fundraising initiatives, donor outreach and event organizing, strengthening a variety of professional skills along the way, from research, communications and planning to social media and interviewing.
Taking on an internship during a pandemic has its challenges, Liang acknowledged. The pandemic has continued to shape her senior year; while she prefers classroom learning, she is currently taking class remotely.
But challenges are also opportunities, and she came to appreciate the ability to determine her own schedule and work from home, adapting her study and work habits accordingly.
Pandemic aside, Liang’s Binghamton experience has been both productive and busy, filled with clubs and projects. In her first year, she took part in the First-Year Research Immersion program and also served as a peer mentor. She interned and later served as vice president with the Food Sustainability Internship program, where she worked on independent projects to combat food insecurity. She is also president of Binghamton’s chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which she joined in her sophomore year.
Long-term, she hopes to work in environmental policy, climate justice, research and non-profit development, although she remains open to a breadth of opportunities.
“I hope to ensure equitable social, political and legal protections with meaningful involvement of underserved communities,” she said. “My main aspirations are to pursue environmental law while advancing environmental justice and social equity for all.”
She also expressed gratitude for many individuals who supported her when she needed it, from inspiring professors to dedicated Binghamton staff.
“I truly admire the work of Harpur Edge in uplifting their students, especially during such uncertain times,” Liang said. “Their generosity and willingness to help provided a huge support system for me to pursue opportunities in my field without financial barriers.”