Major: German Studies and Economics
Profession: Judicial Law Clerk to Hon. Lawrence J. Vilardo, United States District Court for the Western District of New York (Buffalo, NY)
Hometown: Buffalo, NY
What are you doing now? (Graduate programs, titles, companies, duties, projects, etc.)
I am currently a judicial law clerk to Hon. Lawrence J. Vilardo, United States District Court for the Western District of New York (Buffalo, NY). Starting in September 2020, I will be working as a Skadden Foundation Fellow at the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo. My fellowship project will focus on defending elementary-school-aged students with disabilities facing school suspension with the aim of developing a districtwide suspension diversion protocol.
How did you get there?
I spent three years teaching after I graduated from Pomona: one year as a Fulbright Fellow in Cologne, Germany teaching English at a gymnasium (high school), and two years as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member in Harlem teaching high school math. While teaching at a no-excuses charter school through TFA, I developed an interest in work combating the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.” I left teaching to go to law school and spent three years developing a project aimed at fighting discriminatory/unnecessary school discipline practices in my hometown, Buffalo, NY. After law school, I returned home to Western New York to clerk for two federal judges, each for year-long terms. During this time, I’ve developed my legal reasoning skills and also cultivated a network of mentors and support for my project. I recently received funding to launch my project next September.
How did Pomona prepare you?
My current career—which I would not have predicted when I entered or even left Pomona--is in so many ways the product of my German major. It was through the German major that I learned a great deal about my own culture, particularly the American education system. My interest in representing children involved in school discipline proceedings is an outgrowth of a long-term interest in educational access issues that started with a Summer Undergraduate Program (SURP) project I did looking at the education of Turkish-German students in Berlin. It's far easier to take an objective look at (and develop logical criticisms of) another culture, than it is do the same with one's own culture. Through that initial project, as well as an education sociology course I took in Berlin, I became invested in the issue. When I returned to Germany for a Fulbright, I taught at a school comprised largely of first- and second-generation German students. I again had an opportunity to evaluate the ways in which marginalized students are (and aren't) served by certain educational practices. I also had an opportunity to simply see "a different way of doing things"—an opportunity that proved invaluable when I was teaching in the States the following year. In other words, the obvious is true that "we only know what we know," and learning German and living in Germany provided me with an expanded set of "things that I knew." I don't know that I'll ever use the language professionally, but I do expect that the new perspectives and insights I gained will continue to be useful throughout my career.
I also continue to use my economics training. Lawyers aren’t known for their prowess with numbers, yet we frequently engage in important policy debates. I’ve relied a great deal on my training in statistical analysis to bolster my arguments in service of improving outcomes for students.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I plan to still be working toward educational equity in Buffalo and Western New York.
Any advice for prospective or current students?
Set goals and make plans toward achieving them, but don’t be blind to new opportunities as they arise. As a student at Pomona, I never could have predicted my current career path. I sought out opportunities that interested me, and as new opportunities arose logically from those experiences, I took advantage of them. But I also was mindful to not turn down opportunities that felt a bit off the path that I’d started to build. Those unexpected opportunities were frequently frustratingly difficult but spurred invaluable personal and professional growth. Put differently, it’s easy to retrospectively connect the dots, but rarely will that path be obvious from the outset—don’t shy away from exciting opportunities, even if they feel like detours!
Relatedly, take advantage of Pomona’s summer funding opportunities—SURPs, department fellowships, etc. If you want to spend the summer exploring a passion of yours or trying out a new field or doing an unpaid internship, now is the time to do so. I spent every summer at Pomona living abroad in some capacity—first studying Arabic in Alexandria, Egypt; then living/working on organic farms throughout Germany on a German Department Brueckner Grant; and finally studying English as a Third Language Acquisition in Berlin on a SURP. Only the latter opportunity is related to my current career path (albeit rather obliquely), but all three opportunities were formative experiences.