With a passion for the Chesapeake Bay, an F&M alumnus honors his mentor—and gives students a window to environmental policymaking The Chesapeake Bay Watershed spans six states, from southern New York through Pennsylvania and Maryland to the Virginia tidal basin, and the border of West Virginia to Delaware. The vast swath of land includes waterways that all lead to the largest estuary in the United States. The story of Franklin & Marshall College’s Steinwurtzel Legal Fellowship with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation reflects the meandering journey of those rivers, creeks and streams.
It starts in New Jersey, where in the 1960s a junior high school student raised his hand in response to his biology teacher, who at the end of the academic year asked which student wanted to take home the fish, frogs and other small animals they’d observed in class.
“The basement of our house was a menagerie,” says Robert Steinwurtzel, Esq., ’75, P ’16, recalling his time as the animal-tender volunteer.
Steinwurtzel’s concentration at the time was sports, and later his college search focused on institutions that would allow him to use his athletic prowess. That changed when a high school guidance counselor summoned him during his senior year and asked why he was concentrating only in that area.
“She was a wonderful woman,” Steinwurtzel remembers. “She said, ‘I think you need to go to F&M.’” He followed her advice, and the voyage began. It has led to a career in law and passion for the environment, especially his beloved Chesapeake Bay.
Now Steinwurtzel is helping F&M students begin their own journeys—in policymaking, environmental studies, or whatever else they might choose. He's done it by launching the Steinwurtzel Legal Fellowship, which provides students the opportunity to work as paid legal fellows with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Mid-Atlantic region’s largest nonprofit organization working solely to restore and protect the bay. Established in 2013 with a gift to the College, the fellowship honors Steinwurtzel’s friend and mentor, Grier Stephenson, F&M’s Charles A. Dana Professor of Government.
“We want students to be able to see up close how policy is made and to make contacts as they pursue their careers,” Steinwurtzel says. “The College benefits, the students benefit, the environment benefits, and Grier is honored. It’s a win for everybody.”
An Enduring Bond
Steinwurtzel arrived at F&M with a strong interest in environmental issues, but the College had not yet developed a curricular program in that area. He instead majored in government, where he met Stephenson. Relatively new to the College at the time, Stephenson had taught at the National War College at Fort McNair, a garrison that sits on a peninsula in Washington, D.C., at the juncture of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, the latter of which is a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
Steinwurtzel took one of Stephenson’s introductory courses and was profoundly affected by the professor’s enthusiasm, openness and friendliness.
“I was very fortunate to grow to know him as a professor, mentor, friend,” Steinwurtzel says. “He helped me focus my studies and provided me with opportunities,” such as a personal meeting with Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun during one of the justice’s several trips to campus.
Steinwurtzel later took part in summer internships with various government agencies in Washington, D.C. Law school seemed a natural fit after that, and he eventually received his J.D. from George Washington University. He began his career at the EPA but moved to private practice, where he is today, concentrating on environmental law. His children grew up spending their summers on the Chesapeake Bay, and his son, Matthew ‘16, now majors in environmental studies at F&M.
Steinwurtzel became active several years ago with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. When he began thinking about honoring the professor who’d had such a positive influence on him, it all flowed naturally into the idea of setting up a fellowship program at the foundation for F&M students. “I wanted to do something related to environmental issues and reflect my gratitude toward [Stephenson] and the College,” Steinwurtzel says.
“Robert has always been a very caring and generous person,” Stephenson says, downplaying his own role in helping set up the fellowship and his activity as a member of a faculty committee reviewing applicants. “He has a longstanding interest in the environment, so it was only natural he’d come up with this idea.”
The idea was to underwrite a summer internship working for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation at the state legislature in Harrisburg. About half of Pennsylvania falls within the bay’s watershed, and it accounts for more territory in the watershed than any other state (the Susquehanna River is the bay’s largest feeder). Environmental regulations in Pennsylvania have a major impact on the bay. Through the Steinwurtzel Fellowship, one F&M student per year gains experience in policymaking that affects the world’s largest coastal watershed.
Policymaking and the Environment
The fellows are part of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Environmental Protection and Restoration (EPR) program, which includes lawyers, scientists, planners and grassroots staff who work on a wide range of issues: water and air quality, source pollution, land use and conservation, growth management, wetlands protection and fisheries management. The fellows support EPR’s advocacy to enforce existing laws and to develop more effective regulatory programs through participation in local, state, and federal regulatory initiatives, legislative work before the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and public policy efforts to protect and enhance water quality in the Bay and its tidal tributaries.
“It’s not just reading about something, it’s actually doing it,” explains Stephenson. “[The fellows] function at a very high level, not something that many undergraduates have the opportunity to do. I talk to some of my former students now in Washington, who’ve been in the workplace for years, and these fellowship students are getting to operate at the same level.”
The fellowship provides students with a stipend that allows them to forgo having to find a summer job just to earn money, Stephenson says. “It’s just a wonderful thing that Robert has done, and the very nature of the fellowship is that it will evolve over time.”
Two students have benefited from the fellowship to date. The 2014 recipient is Julia Zielinski ‘16, an environmental studies major from York, Pa., who when not joining legislative committee meetings is researching the records and stances of various legislators on watershed issues. In the future, she’d like to investigate environmental issues in China—a country where she knows environmental policy is not a priority.
“I did some research on smog pollution in China and discovered that to meet their deadlines for pollution limits, they just moved their monitoring cameras and devices to where it’s less polluted,” she says.
The first fellowship participant, Patrick Stehn ‘14, saw his future plans crystallized by his experience at the foundation. An environmental studies major and economics minor, Stehn thought he wanted to go to law school until the internship made him realize how many opportunities to affect policy were available to non-lawyers. A native of New Jersey, Stehn says the internship “elucidated” policymaking for him.
One of his first assignments was to read the Pennsylvania code and search for “legislative intent”—what a law or regulation implies. He also got to work on grassroots efforts as well as public relations, and he wrote a fact sheet as legislators tackled an amendment to a bill.
“I was surprised at how happy everyone at the foundation was,” Stehn says. “They had both a serious and playful attitude about their jobs. People were excited to be there, working for a cause.”
It’s a cause Steinwurtzel hopes will give future students valuable experience in policymaking—as he honors the enduring bond with his professor, friend and mentor.