Kirsten is the daughter of a school teacher and a minister. She attended public elementary schools where she learned first-hand the importance of public education in providing opportunity to all, but also the difficulties such schools face recruiting good teachers, providing school supplies and running after-school programs. One of her most most significant life experiences was singing in the Chicago Children’s Choir, a choir that drew from kids of all different races, ethnicities and social backgrounds. Throughout middle and high school, Kirsten toured with the Choir, performing across the nation in churches, community centers, nursing homes, schools and concert halls.
Growing up in a family that values the environment, Kirsten decided early on she would be an environmental lawyer. After graduating magna cum laude from Brown University, she attended Northwestern University School of Law. Kirsten’s first law job was working as a staff attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, assisting the agency in the clean up of abandoned hazardous waste sites. She left the EPA for the nonprofit environmental organization, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now “Earthjustice”), litigating on behalf of the environment in the organization’s Washington, D.C. office. Kirsten launched her law teaching career in 1992, a path that earned her positions at Tulane, Vanderbilt, Harvard and today, the University of Arizona.
Kirsten’s experience in government is considerable. In addition to clerking for a federal appeals court judge and representing the U.S. EPA, Kirsten was Assistant Attorney General in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Division, first as the chief of the Environmental Protection Division and then as Senior Counsel in the agency’s Public Protection Bureau. Following the aftermath of 9/11, Kirsten served as the AG’s liaison to the Muslim community, working on policies and events to prevent anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Kirsten moved with her husband, Scott, and their 5-week old daughter to Tucson in 2005 so the couple could both take positions with the University of Arizona. At the U of A, Kirsten co-directs the Environmental Law Program, having established the Environmental Law Certificate Program in 2011. To earn a Certificate, students must enroll in an interdisciplinary seminar devoted to current research in environmental law, science or policy and fulfill a minimum number of practice hours at a private, government or nonprofit organization. Kirsten was instrumental in assisting students in establishing the Arizona Journal of Environmental Law and Policy, the Law College's first and only online interdisciplinary law journal and continues to serve as one of the Journal's advisors today. In addition, she advises the Law College's Environmental Law Society and coaches the College's National Environmental Moot Court Team.
During her three-year stint as the law college’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (2012-2015), Kirsten oversaw or assisted in the creation of many of the Law College's educational innovations, including a program allowing third-year students to take the Arizona Bar Exam, the expansion of externship opportunities, the Masters in Legal Studies degree and the undergraduate Law major.
Kirsten is active in collaborations between the Law College and the broader University, serving as a member on numerous advisory boards and as a member of the University's Renewable Energy Network. As a member of that network, Kirsten has written and given speeches on Arizona’s renewable energy policy. Other work by Kirsten is devoted to environmental issues affecting the southwest, specifically her work on prescribed fire policy and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
An involved parent, Kirsten serves on the Site Council of her daughter’s elementary school, Lineweaver Elementary School in Tucson Unified School District. Kirsten has worked to kick-start an after-school tutoring program for elementary school students. Kirsten is active in improving the local parks, serving on the board of Friends of Himmel Park, and is a proud member of Planned Parenthood.