By Judith Katz
Erin Ziegler is more than an alumna of Berkeley Law’s Class of ’08; she’s a force for change in environmental law and policy. Since earning her law degree and a certificate in environmental law, Erin has been deeply committed to addressing climate change and shaping environmental policy. But her engagement doesn’t stop there. She joined the Advisory Board of the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) at Berkeley Law in 2020 and, soon after that, took her engagement to the next level by establishing the Ziegler Fund for CLEE. This $100,000 endowment will continuously support the Center’s vital work for years to come.
“Erin’s gift is an example of philanthropy at its very best.” says Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, “The alignment between Erin’s interest in the environment, students, and policymaking is perfectly correlated with CLEE’s impact-oriented mission. It’s already made a huge difference and, as an endowment, it will continue to have an impact year after year.”
Erin set up the Ziegler Fund to fill critical student or policy research needs that would otherwise go unmet. Most recently, the endowment played a pivotal role in allowing a temporarily disabled student to participate in a crucial internship with the California Coastal Commission. Ami Shirriff, a rising 3L, broke her leg just weeks before her fall field placement with the California Coastal Commission was to begin. The Fund paid for Ami’s transportation back and forth to San Francisco in a ride-hail vehicle. Ami expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to do the internship in person, stating, “I know it will help me become better integrated into the office and lead to a better experience for myself and the team at the Coastal Commission.” Similarly, Erin’s Fund covered another student’s Amtrak transportation back and forth between Berkeley and their internship in Sacramento in 2019.
The Ziegler Fund has also been used for CLEE’s research on environmental law and policy solutions. As the incoming co-chair of CLEE’s Advisory Board and prior member of CLEE’s Strategic Planning Subcommittee, Erin well understands how CLEE’s status as a non-partisan convenor of government, business and non-governmental stakeholders is so key to moving the needle on climate-related challenges. “I really wanted to make a difference with this fund,” Erin said. “The thing is, we already know how we can solve a lot of our environmental challenges. At this point, we need to really focus on policy implementation and preparing our future leaders. That’s where CLEE comes in. Its work is game-changing. I am so proud to be able to support CLEE’s work in this way”
One of the programs the Ziegler Fund has backed is CLEE’s GrizzlyCorps program, which focuses on both training and policy implementation. GrizzlyCorps, UC Berkeley’s first AmeriCorps Program, connects recent college grads with rural organizations that focus on wildfire resilience and regenerative agriculture. In a way, it’s a smaller-scale version of President Biden’s recently launched American ClimateCorps, which aims to employ over 20,000 people.
“Erin’s gift from the Ziegler Fund was a big deal for us—it not only helped with our expenses but was also one of our first donations, which set the stage for more stable funding down the road,” said GrizzlyCorps’ founder Ken Alex. “When you get support like that early on, it’s not just about the money; it shows other potential donors that we’ve got something worth investing in.”
The Ziegler Fund exemplifies the transformative power of individual philanthropy as a vehicle for academia’s real-world impact. The Fund will undoubtedly continue to support Berkeley Law’s ability to infuse the discipline of environmental law with thoughtful leadership both in terms of law school graduates and policymaking for years to come. As the world looks to California for innovative solutions to the climate crisis, the Ziegler Fund shows how philanthropy can be a key lever in the effort to build a more environmentally sustainable future.