ThuLan Pham '25: Navigating the Waters of Environmental Law as a Vietnamese American

June 17, 2024
Elisabeth Haub School of Law student ThuLan Pham standing in front of the US EPA building

As a Vietnamese American whose family immigrated to the United States as refugees from the Vietnam War, ThuLan Pham ’25 entered Haub Law as a first generation law student. “I was driven to law school by a passion for environmental conservation and helping those most affected by environmental issues,” said ThuLan. “Growing up in Moore, Oklahoma, I experienced the quick deterioration of the environment from rapid weather changes to frequent fracking earthquakes, heard stories from my family about Vietnam, and was able to see Vietnam with my own eyes and how fishers are negatively impacted by human-made disasters. These are my anchors as I make my way through law school.”

Elisabeth Haub School of Law student ThuLan Pham standing in front of the DC Capitol Buildling

Since beginning at Haub Law, ThuLan has had no shortage of opportunities to pursue her passion. “It was a surreal experience being able to work in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Headquarters in Washington, DC.” ThuLan worked with the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) and participated in the Environmental Law DC Externship during her 1L Summer. “It was my first legal position ever. My supervisors really cared about fostering my growth as a young law student. I learned how to be more consistent in my writing and gained hands-on knowledge about federal and administrative work. The class portion of the externship was very impactful as well. Professors Solow and DeWire created a safe place for us to learn every week, reflect on our summer positions, and help us practice giving oral presentations on an environmental legal issue.”

Recently, ThuLan interned with the New York State Attorney General Office’s Environmental Protection Bureau where she deepened her understanding of legal powers on a state level. “I’ve learned that, especially with environmental law, there is so much room for states to make new laws to protect the environment and that New York has some very robust environmental rights. It was an added bonus to be able to use the intercampus Pace shuttle to travel into the city every Monday. I also loved being able to walk to places like Joe’s Pizza or over the Brooklyn Bridge right after work.” And, this summer, ThuLan will gain experience as an intern with the Ocean Conservancy in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Elisabeth Haub School of Law student ThuLan Pham standing inside the UN

During her time at Haub Law, ThuLan has also been able to gain learning experiences at the United Nations Headquarters. She participated in the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) training session on Ocean AI and the Blue Economy. “I was able to hear from and meet industry, international policymakers, scientists, and lawyers alike. That changed my life. It reaffirmed that I want to work with ocean law in the future on an international scale.” ThuLan also went to the UN for World Water Day 2024. “The Mission of Tajikistan hosted the event and invited Haub Law students to attend. We got to be on the ground floor, not just viewing from the balcony, as delegates from around the world explained international water issues and concerns based on their respective countries. It was a surreal experience. The opportunities that students have in environmental law at Haub Law are endless. The students here are so smart and driven, it is empowering to be around, and the faculty and staff are always willing to guide and mentor you.”

For ThuLan, she has found a mentor in Achinthi Vithanage. “I am fortunate enough to serve as Professor Vithanage’s research assistant and have gained so much experience and knowledge from her. Seeing all of her hard work, intelligence, and the various ways she is a leader not only at this school but around the globe, she has guided and inspired me to work as hard as I can, learn as much as I can, and give my all. Also, as an Asian American, it is very inspiring to have someone to look up to in the Asian community that is such a powerhouse.”

Not one to slow down, ThuLan has also immersed herself in law student organizations. She is president of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, International Director of the Environmental Law Society, 2L Representative for both the Latin American Law Student Association and International Law Society, and a Barbri representative. “I really enjoy being involved in student organizations at Haub Law Law. I have found it an amazing way to connect to different groups of people and form real friendships.”

Elisabeth Haub School of Law student ThuLan Pham standing in front of a sculpture in NYC

In addition to her pursuit of a law degree, ThuLan also tutors English and Spanish online and loves Latin dancing. Social media and content creation is also a passion of ThuLan’s and she runs very active social media accounts where she chronicles, through comedy, the daily life and experiences of a law student. “It has become my pride and joy, but hard work nonetheless. I love to make people laugh and this is another way for me to do that. I also wanted to give some representation in the environmental field as well because I never knew, and never heard of anyone who was Asian American, especially Vietnamese American, fighting for the environment, and hopefully one day I will be the Asian Environmental Influencer that some little kid looks up to and says ‘Wow, if she can do it, so can I’.”

Although she has another year left at Haub Law, ThuLan is steadfast in her goal to work to better the environment. “I hope to work in International Environmental Law, particularly focused on water law and/or ocean law. Life is short, so I want to use my time here on Earth to obtain a law degree to be a voice for those who have not been heard.”