Today, she credits the “ideal liberal arts education” she says she received at CC with giving her the confidence to embark on a career in environmental law — a field in which she has excelled for 30 years. Petsonk works as an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund and is a visiting scholar at George Washington University Law School.
Petsonk lives with her husband, John, and three-year-old son, Nicholas, in Washington, D.C.
Earlier in her career, she worked on the biggest hazardous waste case in the U.S. and also spent four years in Africa practicing international environmental law. That opportunity came after she fell in love with Africa while on safari there with some CC friends.
“CC gave me the confidence to pursue law,” Petsonk said. “Prior to that, I was confident working with mitochondria, but not working with words. At CC, I really had to learn how to write, because writing was emphasized so intensively.”
Petsonk’s recent work has focused on international climate treaty negotiations, both as a lawyer and as a professor. And in her teaching, she draws on her CC experience.
“As a teacher, I take an interdisciplinary approach similar to what I experienced at CC. I’m interested in how we can design laws to protect the environment using what we know about human behavior as well as economic incentives.”
Petsonk has stayed involved with CC since graduating. She keeps in touch with former classmates and some favorite professors, and has served on her reunion committee and on the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability. She has done that both because of her personal connection and a strong belief in the college’s mission.
“The intensity of the Block Plan, coupled with the sense of place … It’s called a unique intellectual adventure and that’s really true. I feel fortunate to be able to maintain my ties with CC and help perpetuate that.”