Spotlight on Alumni – Ann McCollum ’86
Ann McCollum is an active hiker and cyclist.
Ann McCollum ’86 was a member of the field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams and majored in religion. Since graduating, Ann has spent 18 years working at a residential school before returning to school to become a criminal defense lawyer.
You quit teaching, studied law and started practicing criminal defense. How did you get interested in this job and how did you navigate by changing careers? What do you do as a criminal defense lawyer?
Between teaching and law school, I was a risk management consultant for experiential school programs, so moving to law school was with the intention of applying my risk management principles to law. tort liability in this context. I never thought I would be a litigator, and I swore I would never work in criminal defense. By chance, there were seven of my former students in my law class at the University of New Mexico Law School. They, along with my other young classmates, not only helped me navigate the logistics of law school, but were incredibly helpful in pushing me to think beyond what I thought I knew. After law school I always headed for education and recreation law, but when I got there I was bored. I realized that I wanted to plead. After quitting a job I was unhappy with, I took a deep breath and cycled through Tibet with a group I had previously hiked with. When I got back to New Mexico, I was interviewed and offered a research and writing position for a criminal defense attorney, and I never looked back. I quickly learned that everyone has a story. As a criminal defense lawyer, even though my clients have broken the law, my role is to defend their rights. I am an independent practitioner representing indigent clients in federal court in post-conviction cases such as compassionate release motions (typically older clients with underlying mental health or health issues) and supervised release violations. I also assist other lawyers with their research, writing and litigation support. I love my work!
Tell us a bit about your passions for hiking and biking.
I started hiking and backpacking as a kid on a family summer vacation to Colorado, and fell in love with exploring the backcountry. After Middlebury, I graduated from NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Mountaineering and Instructor Courses in Alaska, then earned my Wilderness EMT certification and later my Wilderness First Responder certification. One of my teaching jobs was as a teacher in an experiential education program where we took students hiking, backpacking, kayaking, rafting and rock climbing in New Brunswick. Mexico, Utah and Colorado. I also started cycling for work at the time, which was the genesis of my cycling adventures. The missing piece at that point was exploring the Himalayas, so I found a way to take the students on a community service and trekking trip to Sikkim in the far north Himalayas. is from India in 2001. I was not disappointed !! Since then, I have traveled many different parts of the Himalayas to Nepal and India, and have even guided a few trips to Everest Base Camp for Kamzang Journeys. The rare trip of a lifetime was to cycle from Lhasa, Tibet to the Nepalese border in 2018. The majority of the trip was on the Tibetan Plateau at over 13,000 feet and climbed many high passes. . One of the highlights was riding a bike and spending a night at Rongbuk Monastery near Everest Base Camp on the Tibet side. The next morning, we went within four kilometers of the base camp (which was as far as the Chinese government would let us go). I was very lucky to have these travel experiences which made me discover remarkable cultures, regions and new friends.
What advice would you give to current Middlebury student-athletes?
Speak up and lean forward when others tell you to back off and shut up. The strength to be able to do this comes from knowing that life is difficult, not only for you, but for everyone, no matter how easy someone makes it look. Ask questions and ask for help – if you’re pushed back, move on to someone else. There are always someone who is ready to help and guide.
What was your MiddMoment?
As a student from the far land of Texas my MiddMoment was experiencing the reach and attention all Middlebury community. When I was in Middlebury there were relatively few students from outside New England. I didn’t get home to Houston until Christmas. My first advisers were Linde Karin from admissions and Dave Rahr from the alumni office. Dave let me pack my things at his house during breaks, and when my mom called Dave’s wife to find out how to get flowers delivered to me on my birthday, she personally delivered them to my dorm. Missy Foote included me in the Easter lunch with her family, and Hugh and Barb Marlow welcomed the 15 Midd Texans to their home for the 150th anniversary of Texas (that’s 150 years of statehood). I went to high school in Houston and started as a freshman in February and a fish out of water in Vermont, but the community has made Middlebury – to this day – my home away from home.