A lawyer and a pastor: Dual degree graduate sees benefits of interdisciplinary study

Andrew Black’s new position as the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands field director is a perfect blend of his training in law and theology.  

Black, a 2008 alumnus of the Brandeis School of Law, graduated with both a Juris Doctor and a Master of Divinity. The dual degree program is a partnership between Brandeis Law and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

“A lot of people were asking me, ‘What are you going to do with a degree from seminary and law school?’” Black says.

For him, the answer was to find work that fulfilled his calling to protect the environment and serve communities in need.  A native of New Mexico and an ordained Presbyterian minister, Black grew up with a deep appreciation of the region’s public lands after seeing the peace they brought his grandfather, a World War II veteran. 

“Public lands are a place of transformation for individuals and whole communities,” he says. “All people, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status or background, can access these lands. These public lands are all of our lands — whether you live in Eastern Kentucky, Maine or New Mexico.”

As the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands field director, Black is responsible for organizing and overseeing national campaigns to protect public lands.

 This summer, for example, he is working with state affiliates across the country to lobby congress and educate local communities about the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which helps conserve public lands, protects wildlife habitat and provides outdoor recreation opportunities. The fund will expire Sept. 30, 2018, unless Congress reauthorizes it.

Black says that his interdisciplinary education has helped him in this new role — he is able to use his pastoral experience to collaborate well with diverse communities, and he uses his legal knowledge to analyze policy, devise political strategies and prepare organizational comments.

“I can work on all of those different levels to try to make positive change,” he says.

Black credits environmental law expert and interdisciplinary scholar Professor Tony Arnold with nourishing his interests. In addition to teaching the law itself, Arnold also emphasized the importance of collaboration and community organizing, he says.

“A lot of those ethics that he taught in the classroom have come to bear in my work,” Black says.

And Black says that his dual degree opened up career opportunities he might not have otherwise had.

“Interdisciplinary study helps you grow different gifts and skills that help you have a diverse array of employment opportunities,” he says. “It’s tremendous to have that skillset and that expertise to make yourself uniquely qualified. Having professors that actually embody and foster that in their students was huge.”