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Turning Law School Dreams into Reality

By Jessica Sinn

Discover Law students

image of students Like many of her fellow undergraduates, Victoria Adesanya came to The University of Texas at Austin without a linear career path in mind. She learned early on that nursing wasn’t the right fit, so she switched her major to social work with the goal of finding a career that would allow her to help others.

It wasn’t until a mentor in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program tipped her off to a new summer program when everything started to fall into place.

“I knew I wanted to help people who felt as though they couldn’t speak up for themselves,” says Adesanya. “Gender-based violence is something I’ve always wanted to combat, so that’s why I’m exploring criminal defense law and international law.”

Though she is only in her junior year, Adesanya has already delved into law school classes last summer in DiscoverLaw.org PLUS, a program administered by the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence that aims to help students—particularly underrepresented students of color—prepare for a successful future in law.

Throughout the five-week program, 14 undergraduates from UT Austin and Huston Tillotson learned how to prep for the LSAT, read, write and analyze legal documents, and even take on challenging case assignments. When they weren’t studying the Socratic Method or learning how to interpret legalize, they were out in the city visiting law offices and courtrooms, where they could see for themselves what the daily life of a lawyer really entails.

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A student presents her oral argument at the UT School of Law.

Through panel discussions and guest speaker presentations, students learned about the many different ways they could put their law degree to work. After meeting with so many successful lawyers and learning about the versatility of the field, Angel Vasquez, a UT Austin history sophomore is more confident than ever about his decision to pursue a Juris Doctor Degree.

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A student earns his certificate of completion at the 2016 Discover Law reception.

“Discover Law solidified my decision to become a lawyer,” Vasquez says. “It was fun meeting with lawyers and learning about their line of thinking. I like the idea of looking at different perspectives to solve problems.”

One important lesson that David Payne, a recent Huston Tillotson graduate, learned is not to rush into law school before you are ready to take on the full commitment. Currently he is a teaching assistant at John B. Connally High School in Austin.

“Working in special education really makes me feel blessed to have a bachelor’s degree and the option to go back to school,” says Payne, who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science last fall. “These kids don’t realize their potential and what’s best for them. That’s why I want to go to law school. I want to help people understand their rights and get the resources they need.”

After completing the program, Dr. Stella Smith, a program coordinator and postdoctoral fellow in the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence, hopes that students like Adesanya, Payne and Vasquez can start seeing themselves in law school and know that they are capable of becoming successful legal professionals.

“I want them to see a path to law school, understand the process of how to get there, and know that they can succeed once they are admitted to a law school program,” says Smith. “I also hope that they will understand how having a strong foundation in critical and logical thinking will help them be successful in any profession they choose.”

To help students build on the lessons they learned, DiscoverLaw.org PLUS partnered with UT Austin’s Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program, which pairs graduate student mentors with undergrads to help them learn more about graduate school and their chosen professions. Throughout the fall semester, the students meet with advisers and peer mentors who can help guide them along their journey to law school.

DiscoverLaw.org PLUS is free for students and is funded by a grant from the Law School Admission Council. Go to this website to learn more.