Graduates of UHLC's Pre-Law Pipeline Program bid adieu during emotional sendoff

University of Houston Law Center Pre-Law Pipeline Program students celebrate the completion of the program's second year with Norton Rose Fulbright partner Alaina Benford (front center left), and program manager Kristen Guiseppi (front center right).

Aug. 19, 2016 – Members of the University of Houston Law Center's Pre-Law Pipeline Program commemorated their introduction to the world of legal education, and celebrated newfound bonds with fellow students at a recent closing ceremony at Norton Rose Fulbright's Houston Office.

Marisa Contreras, a Pipeline Program participant and student at Texas A&M University, gave an inspiring and emotional speech about the significance of the program and how it has led her to focus on pursuing a legal education.

"My undergraduate career has been a jigsaw puzzle," Contreras said. "This program has been the piece that is now starting to put the jigsaw puzzle together."

Additional Pipeline Program student speakers included Natalie Diala of the University of Miami, Khyra Kolidakis of Spelman College, and Gabrielle Lee, a University of Houston undergrad.

The program, which completed its second year, was established by Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes and Program Manager Kristen Guiseppi. The eight-week summer course is designed to increase diversity among law school applicants and to provide students from underrepresented backgrounds an opportunity to consider law school seriously.

"Education has so much power to change lives, and you see that every day with students," Baynes said. "There are so many young people who are hard-working and very smart, but don't have educational opportunities. It's just a matter of giving them the opportunities, skills, and knowledge in order to succeed."

Alaina King Benford, a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, complimented the students for overcoming obstacles and completing the program. She also encouraged them to continue their pursuit of a legal education, citing a need for more diversity in the legal field.

"These graduates represent the diversity that our legal profession should be reflecting, but is not," Benford said.

This year's program included 19 undergraduate students from schools around the country. Students were divided into two groups -- Scholar I and Scholar II tracks.

Eight students participated in the Scholar I track, which is designed for students in their first two years of college. The curriculum consisted of three weeks of introductory law school classes taught by Law Center faculty, two weeks of LSAT preparation, and three weeks of internships.

Eleven students took part in the Scholar II track, designed for students who are in their third or fourth year of college and are preparing to apply to law school. It focused on building a strong law school application, eight weeks of LSAT preparation, resume and personal statement workshops. The average LSAT diagnostic score for the Scholar II students increased nine points,  with one student increasing her practice score by 26 points.

"We built a strong foundation of LSAT basics during the first few weeks, and we built upon them during the remainder of the program," Kolidakis said.

"We all received mentors – current law school students and attorneys – who were able to advise us and provide important information about law school experiences. This is one of the many support systems that will remain in place for us when we return to our homes and colleges."

During the course of the program, students heard from Paula Mendoza, a member of the University of Houston System Board of Regents and president and CEO of Possible Missions, Inc.; Dr. Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Houston; and Dr. Elwyn Lee, vice president for community relations and institutional access at the University of Houston, among other notable speakers.

"Your vision, passion, and dedication to the pursuit of your law degree is an inspiration," Short said. "Through your dedication to social justice and improving the lives of others, you will effect real change in your communities."

Students received teaching instruction from Baynes, Associate Dean Marcilynn Burke, and Professors Emily Berman, Zack Bray, Kate Brem, Johnny Buckles, Darren Bush, David Dow, Meredith J. Duncan, Barbara Evans, Amy Hawk, Jim Hawkins, Jim Lawrence, Ellen Marrus, Douglas Moll, Laura Oren, Bob Ragazzo, Lauren Simpson, Tobi Tabor, Sandy Guerra Thompson, Ronald Turner, Greg Vetter and Bret Wells, as well as adjunct Professor Belinda Hill, a former state district judge and current first assistant in the District Attorney's Office, and Robert Johnson, director of the Law Center's CLE program.

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