Dynamic Cross-Campus Collaboration: Law and Education

Scenic exterior of the College of Law
Exterior shot of College of Law campus
Bridges are being formed between Stetson’s campuses in Gulfport (shown above) and DeLand.
Royal Gardner, JD

Royal Gardner, JD, professor of law and co-director of the Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy, and Rajni Shankar-Brown, PhD, professor and Jessie Ball du Pont chair of Social Justice Education and a Stetson alumnae (MBA, 2023), have developed a dynamic partnership between their respective campuses. Along with the Foreman Biodiversity Fellow Katherine Pratt, their efforts are part of Stetson’s Environmental Law Student Teaching Program and multidisciplinary undergraduate education.

Gardner is an internationally recognized expert in wetland law and policy. His work as a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on Mitigating Wetland Losses contributed to a recent reexamination of federal wetland mitigation policies.

Rajni Shankar-Brown, PhD

Shankar-Brown is an internationally recognized expert in intersectional equity, education and ecojustice, helping to shape public policy and working on environmental justice (EJ) projects. Such work includes partnering with researchers to build EJ interactive mapping tools that help promote ecological restoration, racial equity and housing justice. 

Pratt, who earned her JD from Stetson Law with a concentration in Environmental Law in 2019, works to support the Institute for Biodiversity for Law and Policy. 

Katherine Pratt

Together, the three Stetson colleagues have built an impactful bridge — between Stetson’s Gulfport campus and Stetson’s DeLand campus — to advance biodiversity education, human and civil rights, and environmental sustainability. The faculty members are supporting law students and educators in teaching environmental law and simultaneously supporting undergraduate students interested in exploring and entering the field of environmental justice advocacy, law and/or public policy. (In addition to being professional colleagues, they are also thankful for newfound friendship. For example, Pratt and Shankar-Brown were delighted to learn they both share a love for sunlight, water, and sea turtle conservation.)

Environmental Law Student Teaching Program

In 2021, the Biodiversity Institute launched an “environmental law teaching” program in collaboration with the School of Geosciences at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. The program is patterned after one developed by Professor of Law Zyg Plater at Boston College Law School. As a part of the program, each spring Gardner and Plater advise third-year law students, as well as Pratt, in developing and co-teaching a course on Environmental Regulation as adjunct professors to USF undergraduate students, and now to St. Petersburg College students.

Third-year law student Stefanie Stockwell, a former public school educator, described her selection as an “honor.” Another third-year Stetson Law student is Brooke Cleary. 

In fall 2023, as part of a preparatory teaching course at Stetson College of Law facilitated by Gardner and Pratt, Shankar-Brown also assisted. A dedicated educator, Shankar-Brown has received Stetson’s Hand Award for Distinguished Faculty Achievement and the McEniry Award for Excellence in Teaching. Shankar-Brown served as an additional mentor, sharing her passion for education, discussing inclusive pedagogy, highlighting experiential education strategies, sharing resources, and providing Stockwell and Cleary with concrete teaching guidance. 

From left: Stetson Environmental Law student Brooke Cleary; Professor Rajni Shankar-Brown, PhD; Biodiversity Fellow Katherine Pratt; and Stetson Environmental Law student Stefanie Stockwell

Gardner described one of Shankar-Brown’s educational workshops facilitated for law students as “a wonderful session — full of great advice and insight, delivered in a positive and affirming manner.” 

Shankar-Brown described Stockwell and Cleary as “enthusiastic and thoughtful educators,” and noted that she appreciated their “insightful and wonderful questions.” According to Shankar-Brown, their questions not only reflected strong intellect, but also genuine commitment to education and environmental conservation and sustainability.

Two of many questions asked by law students and addressed by Shankar-Brown included: How do you approach discussing highly sensitive topics with students that come from so many different backgrounds? and What is something you know now that you wish you knew when you first started teaching?  

Shankar-Brown appreciated being able to reflect on her teaching journey and illuminate pedagogical insights, while Gardner and Pratt shared that they, like their law students, felt inspired and were excited to learn new teaching ideas from Shankar-Brown.  

Student Inspiration

As part of the environmental law teaching preparation course in the fall, Stockwell and Cleary also visited the DeLand campus, along with Pratt, to co-teach a model lesson to Shankar-Brown’s first-year seminar class, Advancing Human Rights and Social Justice: Art as Activism. The first-year students enjoyed the interactive lesson, and two students who hope to study law in the future were especially excited. 

Additionally, another first-year student, a Discovery major, was inspired to be a human rights advocate in the world and pursue a career that makes an impact, also citing that environmental law is something never considered but is now being explored. 

Cleary (left) and Stockwell (right) teach a mock class to Shankar-Brown’s FSEM students in DeLand.

Stockwell and Cleary expressed deep appreciation for the support, ideas, resources and personalized feedback shared by Shankar-Brown, and for having the opportunity to engage with undergraduate students as part of preparing to teach environmental law and work with undergraduate students this spring. (Cleary was also thrilled to see the “gorgeous” DeLand campus and check out “charming” Mainstreet while visiting as a part of this educational experience.)

 “It is a joy to collaborate with the College of Law in this meaningful manner, and more specifically partner with professors Gardner and Pratt, and the Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy,” said Shankar-Brown. “Helping prepare future educators, collaborating to help people and planet thrive, and delving into interdisciplinary, intersectional justice with committed colleagues provides welcome hope and is always good for the soul.” 

More Growth to Come

The partnership between Gardner, Pratt and Shankar-Brown has continued to grow with strong roots. Shankar-Brown was recently selected as the Edward and Bonnie Foreman Biodiversity Lecture Scholar and will be presenting at the College of Law on Feb. 20 (at noon). Her talk “Unpacking Environmental Racism and Advancing EcoJustice” will be delivered to law students, faculty, staff and community members. 

This spring, Shankar-Brown will be heading to the Gulfport campus. Additionally, she will be collaborating at the College of Law with Carmen Johnson, Esq., Stetson’s executive officer for the Institutional Inclusive Excellence, and facilitating workshops and guest lectures — including for courses in Stetson Law’s Social Justice Advocacy program. That program was founded and is co-directed by esteemed Professor Judith A.M. Scully, JD.

Further, Shankar-Brown also looks forward to engaging in follow-up conversations and having lunch with a small group of Stetson College of Law students from diverse areas — social justice advocacy, environmental law, international law and the college diversity committee.