Clinic Classes: An Excellent FES Experience

Environmental Protection Students on a field trip to NRDC Headquarters in New York

Hello again, FES blog followers! Emily here again, writing to you from a New Haven finally in the fullest throws of autumn. What leaves that survived Sandy have turned all shades of orange, red, and yellow. This is one of the best times of year to be in New Haven (although, I honestly think most times of year are great to be in New Haven).

Speaking of “best of,” I thought that I would use this post to elaborate on what I would consider one of the best parts of the FES curriculum—the clinic classes. The clinics offer a real-world experience within the safety of a classroom. What I mean is: the clinic classes offer an opportunity to work with real clients that are external to Yale. You get a real project from these clients, and they (not the professor) are the ones who take the lead with guiding you through the deliverables. However, if you totally screw up, or if you don’t find something that your client wants, it isn’t your job that’s on the line. Most of the clinic courses are offered as pass/fail courses, so as long as you put the time in, you will get credit for the course, whether your client is totally pleased or totally disappointed with what you delivered.

However, finding that balance of pleasing your client and spending the right amount of time on the course is the biggest learning objective of the clinic courses. You learn how to deal with a client, how to give them what they want, and how to say no if their wants are unrealistic. That’s why it’s nice to practice these skills in a classroom setting before your job depends on doing this whole thing right.

The clinics come in several different flavors, to cater to the different interests people have and the different kinds of consulting people can end up doing once they leave the school. But even if consulting is something you wouldn’t want to do after leaving school, the classes are a good chance to do some networking with businesses who may one day need intelligent, environmentally-minded young Masters like yourselves after 2 years at FES.

The first version of consulting clinic is The Business and Environment Consulting Clinic. In this class, students are first put into groups and then paired with a private business and asked to work on some project that deals with greening some aspect of operations or a particular product that the business produces. This class is generally good for you business-y people out there, and for people who intend to work as an environmental consultant later in life. Student groups will generally meet with their clients over the phone around once a week, and will always present their final product to the business at the end of the semester.

The next version is The Environmental Protection Clinic. In this class, you are once again put into groups, this time working with government organizations (like the UN) or non-profit organizations on a project. This course is cross-listed with the Yale Law School, and is generally well split between FESers and Law Students. It also means that the projects that you do are focused more on policy analysis or environmental law issues (don’t worry, there is a law and policy boot-camp during the first week to get you up to speed with basic law-language, plus the YLS students are usually quite helpful if you have no idea how to translate law-speak into English).

Finally, we have Management Plans for Protected Areas, designed mostly for our MF-ers (Master of Forestry folks) and others interested in land conservation and management issues. Like the other two classes, you are put into groups and paired with a client, this time a landowner (most of whom own land adjacent to our school forest Yale-Myers). Management Plans is a highly intensive class where you get to spend many weekends in the field collecting information for your landowner, eventually coming up with some kind of prescription that allows the landowner to get out of their land what they want (timber extraction, maple syrup, no more badgers, fewer deer, etc), while protecting the integrity of the ecosystems within these properties (most of which are north of 100 acres). These projects fall under the larger scope of the Quiet Corner Initiative, which aims to protect the entire northeastern corner of Connecticut from development—but more on that project next time!

I took the Environmental Protection Clinic for two semesters during my second year at FES (you can do that!), and I really feel like it was an excellent experience, even though I am generally uninterested in law and policy issues. I was paired with an excellent client working on a really cool project (doing the research to lay the groundwork for 100 Fountains NYC). My partner in the class was a law student who helped me understand the aspects of our project, and I got to spend my time doing research on public art projects, reading about recycling, and making maps of NYC—all things that are super fun for me to get to do. Because my client was located in NYC, I was able to go to their office every other week or so to have meetings with key people, get work done, and share the advantage of in-person brainstorming sessions. Others in my class had clients in places like Greece, and, yes, they got to visit their clients too.

The best part about these classes? All of them count as Capstone Classes, so if you’re an MEM looking to fill this requirement, look no further!!

As always, I’m happy to chat further about my experiences of these courses if you’re interested.

Until next time,