You are hereHome ›
The Mary Leah Braun Fellowship
Mary Leah Braun was a remarkable young woman who worked with the Frontier Group and other organizations in the Public Interest Network before her untimely death in April 2006. The Mary Leah Braun Fellowship was dedicated in her honor in the summer of 2007.
Mary grew up in Colorado and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003. After graduation, Mary took a job as a research analyst with the Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission, where she politely but persistently butted heads with lawyers twice her age as the commission studied recommendations for tax policy in the city. Seeking a more direct role in making social change, she joined the New Voters Project in 2004, working to register young voters in the state of Wisconsin. Once the election was over, Mary was invited to become a research associate with Frontier Group, where she distinguished herself as a smart, shrewd and able writer and researcher.
During her short time with the Public Interest Network, Mary revealed herself to be an extraordinary individual. She was blessed with a laser-sharp intellect and an innate strategic sense, but her greatest gift was that she committed her talents unreservedly to social change. She recognized the value of the Public Interest Network’s work in the world, and she believed deeply (and articulated beautifully) that the problems we work on demand of each of us nothing less than our personal best. She was, simply, an inspiration.
In recognition of Mary’s life and work, the Public Interest Network endowed the Mary Braun Fellowship in the summer of 2007. The Mary Braun Fellowship is an honor awarded to one member of the first-year staff of the fellowship programs of U.S. PIRG and Environment America who over the course of their first year on staff has demonstrated qualities that evoke Mary’s passion, hard work and spirit.
Recipients of the Fellowship
Megan Fitzpatrick is Environment New Jersey’s clean water associate. She grew up in Pennington, NJ and graduated from Brown University in 2011 with a degree in Environmental Studies.
Since her start at Environment New Jersey, Megan has been a passionate force for environmental protection in her home state. With laser focus and heart, Megan has won top-flight media coverage for campaigns, taken on legislators when they had the facts wrong, built support among coalition groups and community members to help move decision makers, and convinced friends and strangers to get involved. Megan is now spearheading the Sustainable Jersey Shore campaign, working to build support for a post-hurricane rebuilding plan that takes into account the fragile local environment and the effects of global warming. A coworker says of Megan, “she is the ultimate team player, she has an incredible work ethic, and she’s not afraid to take charge.” We’re looking forward to her future.
Dan Smith is the tax and budget policy associate with U.S. PIRG. Dan received a degree in history from Cornell University in 2010 before bringing his enthusiasm and leadership to U.S. PIRG as part of The Public Interest Network’s fellowship program.
When Dan arrived in Washington, D.C. in 2010, he stepped into a key role leading U.S. PIRG’s work to expand high-speed rail, and immediately proved himself worthy of the challenge. Dan consistently and articulately advocated for the construction of clean, modern transportation alternatives with lawmakers, federal administration staff and the media, and earned the respect of seasoned advocates by bringing passion and a keen sense of strategy to the campaign for expanded high-speed rail. He has been just as effective in helping to build the public interest movement, excelling as a recruiter, canvasser and canvass director, and has been an all-around positive force for social change.
Alex Wall served as Environment America’s federal Clean Energy Program associate. He grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Northwestern University in 2009, joining Environment America’s staff shortly thereafter.
Alex was a positive force within the Public Interest Network’s Fellowship program. He excelled at writing and research, skills he used in his first year to win media attention from the Los Angeles Times and other major outlets. He was also a talented coalition builder who helped establish Environment America’s position as a core member of the Home Star Coalition, a group of 2,000 organizations and businesses that work for energy efficiency. In addition to his tactical abilities, Alex always had a smile on his face, and his focus and optimism rubbed off on the people around him.
Update (2012): After working as a media associate with Sierra Club, Alex joined the 4-person team that developed and managed social media for the President, Vice President, and First Lady during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Shelley Vinyard worked as the Environmental Associate at Environment Michigan, where she built support for federal climate change legislation. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Psychology and a B.A. in Sociology. While in college, she interned for Texas Interfaith Power & Light and was the Recruitment and Communications Director for Texas 4000 for Cancer, the longest annual charity bike ride in the world (from Austin to Anchorage).
Shelley is driven by her absolute belief that the world should be cleaner and more just. Her dedication shone through in all her work, as much when she asked members of Congress to circulate a Dear Colleague letter as when she recruited a new canvasser.
Shelley is professional, eager to learn, and holds herself to high standards. She works hard to improve her own performance, and her passion for the work is contagious. Her summer 2009 office was among the strongest in the nation, far exceeding its goals in the campaign to Repower America.
In the fall of 2010, Shelley moved to Washington, D.C., where she currently works with Environment America to reduce the use of toxic chemicals.
Janine graduated from New York University in 2005 with a double major in political science and history. She started her nonprofit career as an intern with the Legal Aid Society in Queens, New York. After graduation, she assisted the New York State Capital Defender Office with a research study analyzing the effect of racial bias on capital punishment cases. Janine’s growing interest in environmental conservation led her to U.S. PIRG where she worked as assistant to the national director of organizational and programmatic development. Janine then worked with the Herring Alliance and the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association, where she built coalitions in Massachusetts to end over-fishing and rebuild collapsed fisheries. Janine brings enthusiasm to everything she does, inspiring her coworkers with her commitment and unquenchable spirit.
Update (2011): After two years of work as a paralegal with the National Environmental Law Center, Janine is now attending law school at the University of California, Berkeley. She intends to use her education to bring lawsuits against illegal polluters.