Joanna is finishing her legal fellowship. She has words.
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Finishing her fellowship, Joanna reflects on growth and change in her professional and personal life. Like baby Vaila!

Joanna is finishing her legal fellowship. She has words.

By Joanna Cahoon, legal fellow

Two years ago, I left my position as a disability rights attorney to follow a vastly different pursuit —conservation.

Finishing her legal fellowship, Joanna reflects on growth and change in her professional and personal life. Like baby Vaila!
Joanna selfie–skiing with Vaila.

It was an exciting and daunting move that has been well worth the transition. The last few years have been packed with professional growth and new perspectives. It’s been incredibly rewarding and I’m finishing my two-year legal fellowship a better and more inspired advocate.

When I joined Trustees for Alaska I was immediately impressed and, honestly, a bit intimidated. Trustees always takes on the most urgent and pressing conservation issues facing Alaska, and the staff are incredibly effective at what they do.

Pitching in to help protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas extraction, halt construction of the Ambler road, challenge the massive ConocoPhillips Willow proposal, and protect polar bears on Alaska’s North Slope was beyond exciting.

It didn’t take long to realize just how steep the learning curve is for a newbie in the field of environmental law. There was so much I didn’t know and, because my first six months corresponded with the end of the Trump administration, things were moving pretty quickly.

Piling on growth and change

Then, as if a new job in a new field in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t enough, my family welcomed a new baby in 2021. This too was exciting and challenging all at once.

Growing the family. Photo by Joanna.

Vaila is an amazing and feisty little person, but she has shockingly little regard for her parents’ professional ambitions or related sleep needs!

Thankfully, Trustees was endlessly supportive. My initial feeling of intimidation gave way to admiration.

It’s all about relationships

Yes, I have learned a lot as a fellow, but what has really made the difference for me was the opportunity to connect with coworkers and coalition members as the pandemic eased.

In person, it became a lot easier to see that Trustees effectiveness is fueled by a lot of heart. The staff think many steps ahead and feel every success and setback deeply because they are committed to the people, communities, and organizations they work alongside.

I feel quite privileged to have worked with many people whose lives and livelihoods are inextricably tied to the places and animals that Trustees works tirelessly to protect. All of these people and their collective fight to protect what is essential will stick with me, because they speak to and fill my heart.

Read more from Joanna in her story about her connection to nature in “This seasick soul is lovesick for the sea.”