Award-winner: Trip to Haiti sparked interest in environmental law


Graduating this month, Jackie Olson is interested in environmental, business, and construction law.

Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Olson

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Jacqueline Olson earned her undergrad degree in general psychology, with minors in addiction studies and biological sciences, from Western Michigan University, before heading to Detroit Mercy Law,  graduating May 13.

“I’ve always wanted to help people and have an impact on our community and our environment. I enjoy being involved in more than one thing at a time,” she says. 

“I also want to help with my family’s businesses as much as I can. I felt like a career in law would enable me to combine all three in a unique way.”

In the early 1900s, Olson’s great-grandfather emigrated from Sweden  and started a cement company. Olson’s father eventually took over the company and transformed it into a successful construction business. In the early 2000s, he purchased a building supply company; in 2017, Olson and her brother opened a location in Ann Arbor, and last fall, opened a location in Carleton. Her younger brother helps run the construction company, and her older brother manages a supply yard. 

Olson knew she wanted to pursuebusiness law, and  served as vice president of the school’s Business Law Society. 

“Being the vice president has been a great experience because I’ve gotten to network with other students and local attorneys practicing in the field. I’ve also gained leadership experience, which has been an obvious plus.”  

In her 1L year, Olson was paired with an upperclassman as mentor, who was president of the Environmental Law Society. Olson succeeded him as president in her 2L year, and was awarded the Community Service Award by Detroit Mercy Law for her work.

“It’s been—hands down—one of my best educational experiaences,” she says. “I’ve seen the organization grow so much in the past two years. And this past fall, I organized a park clean up at Cass Park with over 20 people. I’ve enjoyed spreading environmental awareness to my classmates and also giving environmental law the spotlight it deserves.

“Ever since I took a trip to Haiti to install water filters in 2014, I’ve been increasingly aware of our environmental footprints,” she adds. “The environment is so precious, yet we take it for granted. Water, for instance, is so easily accessible to us in the U.S. With a twist of our wrists, the faucet turns on and water is flowing. However, this accessibility is not the case everywhere. People, mostly women and children, have to walk miles to fetch a 3-gallon pail of water for their family every day. During my trips to Haiti, I have done that walk with the kids. I’ve fetched water on the side of the mountain from a well. I walked the pails in the hot Haiti heat. All of this for the same resource we, in America, can all get in a twist of a wrist. This disparity has stayed with me since 2014 and it has continued to grow. I care deeply about the environment and knew a career in environmental law was a necessity for me.” 

Olson spent the fall and spring semesters of her 3L year in the Environmental Law Clinic. 

“The clinic has been an amazing experience for me to work on both my legal research and writing skills, as well as my professionalism with my supervising attorney and client,” she says. “With the project I’ve been working on all year, I’ve been able to determine legal theories, which venue we should file in, and more. This has been one of the best practical experiences I’ve had thus far.” 

In the summer of 2020 she externed at the Sugar Law Center in Detroit, that supports low-income workers, their families and communities through advocacy, education, and research. 

“This was my first legal experience and it was excellent,” she says. “I got the chance to interview clients, perform legal research and writing pertaining to employment law, and even conduct an administrative hearing. 

“My two supervising attorneys, John Philo and Tony Paris, were both phenomenal mentors. I learned so much from the two of them and I’m glad I had my first legal experience under their supervision.” 

Her current legal interests are in environmental, business, and construction law. 

“As of now, my goal is to eventually open my own firm, help run my family’s businesses, and pursue other business ventures,” she says. 

Also serving as president of the school’s Mental Health Association, Olson and her classmate, Sabrina Srivastava, distributed resources to students on campus and on social media to bring awareness to mental health; and this past fall, the duo raised more than $200 for a local nonprofit, Six Feet Over, that dedicates time and money to helping those in Detroit affected by suicide. 

“Mental health awareness is important to me and I hope to continue these efforts to spread awareness when I enter the field,” she says.

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