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Mission Moments: Stella Smith

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Dr. Stella Smith found her second home at the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence (LCAE) long before it became her place of employment. A proud Longhorn (B.S. Microbiology ’97/Ph.D. Educational Leadership and Administration, ‘07), she fondly remembers the summer before her freshman year when she learned the ropes of UT in a college-readiness program.

“That program really helped me be successful,” she says. “I understand the power of administrators and advisors who influence a student’s learning—and  it’s a great privilege to now be one of those staff members guiding students along their way.”

We caught up with Smith to learn more about her work as a research fellow in the LCAE, and how she’s helping her students pursue their passions in the legal world in Discover Law. Now in its second year, this new summer program helps UT Austin and Huston-Tillotson University juniors and sophomores turn their law school dreams into reality. Read more about the program here.

Why is the LCAE such a valuable resource for our students?

The LCAE is a learning community for students across the university. Starting in orientation, we talk to them about the benefits of finding a space for themselves on this large campus, and that the LCAE is always a place where they can go. We are very purposeful about showing students that we care—and that they can always come to us if they need answers to questions.  We won’t just refer them to somebody else; we will go with them and make sure they made the right connection.  Students are part of our family, and we are here to help them be successful no matter what.

How are students benefiting from Discover Law?

We have so many students on campus who want to be in the legal profession but have no idea how to get there. They know they have to go to law school, but they don’t understand the full process. I found that the knowledge they get in Discover Law helps them become more successful. The connections they make with various people in the legal profession contribute to their success long after the program ends. These students are bright, intelligent, and they probably have had some sort of family issue that connected them to the legal profession in some sort of way. So they have that passion and social justice perspective that the justice system needs.

Why does Discover Law target sophomores and juniors in college? Why start so early? 

Because our program shows them how to be successful in law school early on, they’re able to take different classes, join different clubs and secure internships. Those experiences dramatically change how well they do in law school because they’re so prepared. In addition to the rigor of coursework, we also teach them how to mentally prepare for a legal career and how to survive in that environment.

Why is it important to motivate students of color to pursue a career in law?

Currently there is an underrepresentation of people of color in the field of law and we need to do something to change that. We need more people of color with different perspectives and different experiences working in legal careers in order to ensure that justice is fairly distributed.

What else is unique about this program?

Discover Law is a partnership between the DDCE, Huston-Tillotson (HT) University and the UT Law School. I’m very proud of that partnership because it give us the opportunity to work with so many extremely bright students. I hope that partnership becomes a template for how we can further partner with HT to help connect our students with various types of scholars. The learning that happens in the classroom is so amazing. Students are learning how to share their voice—and also how to learn from each other. That’s something I feel is very unique about our program.