“In a society that is increasingly disconnected from the natural world, The White Mountain School integrates the outdoors into every aspect of student life. I feel so lucky to have been educated in a place where the environment is valued for more than its ability to teach us about chemistry or biology, but for its essential role in our existence on this planet. It wasn’t until I left WMS and moved to an urban area with a history of industrial development and resource extraction that I realized what a privilege it was to have unlimited access to clean air and swimmable water.
From Maine to WMS, from environmental lawyer to her current position as the Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, the outdoors has always played a pivotal role in Joanne Kilgour’s life. Joanne ‘03 grew up in Maine, where she enjoyed an active outdoor life with her family. Her older brother, David ‘01, found The White Mountain School for himself and it was an easy decision for Joanne to follow him to a high school that offered familiar and new wilderness experiences, excellent academic preparation and the unique opportunity to blend her love of learning with her love of the outdoors – both in and out of the classroom.
Following her White Mountain School graduation, Joanne matriculated to Carnegie Mellon University, where she earned a B.A. in Philosophy with Honors. After serving as the Development Manager for the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and as a nonprofit management consultant for organizations throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, Joanne attended the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She graduated in 2012 with her J.D.and a Certificate in Environmental Law, Science and Policy. Upon graduating, she also received the Thornburgh Prize for Legal Service to recognize her public interest work with frontline communities in the coal and gas fields.
After law school, Joanne had the opportunity to combine her legal background and passion for community-based advocacy into a position as the first Legal Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) in southwestern PA. While at CCJ, Joanne worked to infuse legal tools into grassroots organizing efforts, helping families on the frontlines address impacts from longwall mining and natural gas development (“fracking”).
During her time with CCJ, Joanne was able to directly partner with the Sierra Club on shared projects involving the environmental devastation of local PA communities by the coal and natural gas industries. This work inspired Joanne to volunteer for the Allegheny Group of the Sierra Club as their Mining Issues Chair. After serving as a volunteer for the Allegheny Group, Joanne was hired in her current position as the Director of the Sierra Club PA Chapter, following the 30-year career of Jeff Schmidt, who was also a Sierra Club volunteer before becoming the Chapter’s first Director.
Joanne’s work in the environmental field reflects a passionate commitment to justice, nature and sustainability. We asked Joanne to reflect on how her time at The White Mountain School impacted her career decisions and lifelong embracement of environmental activism. This is what she said:
I am often asked why I work to protect the environment when so many human beings are suffering and want for an advocate. My response is that by advocating for the environment, I am also advocating for the health and wellbeing of each person on the earth – the environment affects us all indiscriminately, and we cannot prosper or persevere without access to clean air and water. My understanding of the role the natural world plays in our quality of life began at WMS, and I have carried that with me ever since.”