National organization honors UH Law Center and associate dean for commitment to diversity

Dean Leonard M. Baynes and Associate Dean for Student Affairs Sondra Tennessee chat with students between classes. Dean Leonard M. Baynes and Associate Dean for Student Affairs Sondra Tennessee chat with students between classes.

Oct. 4, 2018 — The University of Houston Law Center and Associate Dean for Student Affairs Sondra Tennessee are being recognized by a national organization for their efforts to increase diversity in the legal profession.

The Council on Legal Education Opportunity, Inc., selected the honorees as inaugural recipients of the CLEO EDGE award, which acknowledged their commitment to Education, Diversity, and Greater Equality in legal education and the profession. The Law Center was honored in the "Greater Equality" category and Tennessee in "Diversity."

"It is an honor for the Law Center to receive this prestigious award," said Dean Leonard M. Baynes. "We are delighted to be recognized. It is a team effort to make sure that we focus on diversity and inclusion in everything we do. Our results in diversifying the legal profession is a testament to our efforts."

Associate Dean for Student Affairs Sondra Tennessee is being honored with the 2018 CLEO Edge Award for her commitment to diversity.

Among initiatives instituted since becoming dean four years ago, Baynes began the Law Center's award-winning Pre-Law Pipeline Program. The intensive, eight-week summer program is designed to introduce low-income, first generation and historically underrepresented groups of undergraduate students to the demands of law school and the opportunities of a law career. Since inception, 27 Pipeline students have been accepted to law schools throughout the country, including seven currently attending the UH Law Center, one of whom made the Dean's List after her first semester.

Since joining the Law Center's administration in 1996, Tennessee has fostered educational outreach efforts to diverse populations at all levels from grade school to pre-law undergraduates. She has established partnerships with various pre-law pipeline programs, including CLEO, the Law School Preparation Institute at University of Texas campuses in El Paso, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley as well as with advisers at historically black colleges and universities.

She also has mentored countless numbers of diverse pre-law students as they work their way through the admissions process and continues to advise J.D. and LL.M. students while in law school and afterwards.  

"I am truly honored and humbled to receive this award from CLEO, an organization that has been a pioneer in providing opportunities to a diverse student population," said Tennessee. "This achievement does not belong to me alone, but to the entire Law Center community. It takes a village to go from barely 20 percent diversity in the mid 1990's to over 40 percent in 2018. The work is not done, by any means. There will always be a need to support diversity in the legal profession."

Founded in 1968, CLEO is the longest-serving national organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for minority and low-income students to attend law school. Since its inception, more than 10,000 students have participated in CLEO's programs and joined the legal profession.

Honorees will receive their awards at the organization's 50th Anniversary Gala on Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C.

In September, INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine honored the Law Center for the third consecutive year with its Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award in recognition of the school's efforts to increase minority representation on campus and in the legal profession.

UHLC is the only U.S. law school to be selected for the 2018 HEED Award, the only national, application-based award honoring institutions of higher education for their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

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