Michaela Bland (left) and Jess Hunter-Bowman (Courtesy photos)

 

Valparaiso University School of Law and Roger Williams University School of Law have landed their first ever Skadden fellows—a notable achievement considering the bulk of fellows hail from a handful of elite schools.

The highly prized fellowship sends 28 recent graduates into public interest positions for two years and serves as a springboard into those careers. Despite the domination of top law schools, the Skadden Foundation typically selects a handful of students and graduates of schools outside the top tier.

Landing its first Skadden fellow is somewhat bittersweet for Valparaiso Law, which announced last month that it will close by 2020 due to enrollment and fiscal challenges. Newly named fellow Jess Hunter-Bowman graduated from the Indiana law school in 2017. He currently has a federal clerkship in Indiana and will begin working at the National Immigrant Justice Center next year.

From the center’s Goshen, Indiana office, Hunter-Bowman plans to represent victims of crime and human trafficking secure immigration relief. He also will work to improve the process for handling immigration applications for that population. Hunter-Bowman is no stranger to the center, having worked there the summer after his second year in law school.

Hunter-Bowman credits Valparaiso with helping him secure the spot on the Skadden fellowship’s 2019 class, despite the school’s current challenges.

“It has been a tumultuous time for Valparaiso Law School, for the alumni, certainly for the students and especially for the faculty and staff,” he said. “I have appreciated my experience there. I got faculty support when I was applying for the Skadden fellowship. My law school immigration law clinic professor had worked at a large nonprofit organization that got Skadden fellows in the past. He wrote a letter of recommendation for me. It’s certainly sad to see that the school is closing.”

Still, Hunter-Bowman said he was surprised to learn he had been selected for the fellowship, which he called the “crème de la crème” for public interest law.

Michaela Bland, a third-year student at Rogers Williams, said she too was shocked by the call that she would be in the next class of Skadden fellows. She thought her interview had gone well, but even then she considered it a long shot.

“I never imagined that out of all the interviews they were doing, I’d be selected as one of the 28 fellows,” she said. “It has been surreal.”

Bland will work with the Rhode Island Center for Justice to disrupt the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. She plans to advocate for children from three East Providence elementary schools during suspension proceedings and raise awareness of the elevated suspension rates among black and Hispanic students as compared to white students. She also will work to improve enforcement of a Rhode Island law prohibiting suspension for behavior than does not pose a serious risk of harm or disruption—a law she said is routinely ignored with minority students.

“You see that a lot of times predominantly black and Hispanic students are suspended for minor infractions such as insubordination or talking back to teachers—nothing that meets the criteria of serious risk of harm or disruption,” she said.

She also hopes to educate Rhode Island parents on how to advocate for their children within the education system. Bland acknowledged that Roger Williams doesn’t enjoy the name recognition of a Harvard or Yale law school, but she said the school is an under-the-radar gem.

“A lot of times when people say, ‘Where do you go to law school?’ and you tell them Roger Williams, they aren’t familiar with it,” Bland said. “This law school should be known. It has the most amazing professors. There’s a wide range of classes to take, so no matter what you want to pursue, you have options. For me, I selected Roger Williams because of their public interest program.”