For Immediate Release

Contact:
Elizabeth Coplan
University of Washington School of Law
206.369.9412
ecoplan@uw.edu

2012-05-10

UW School of Law Announces 2012 Gates Scholars

The UW School of Law is proud to announce the most recent recipients of the Gates PSL Scholarship: Victoria Clark, Lauren Conner, Megan Crenshaw, Jessica Knowles, and Nikkita Oliver.

The Gates PSL Scholarship, founded in 2005 by a gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in honor of law school alumnus and public service advocate William H. Gates '50, provides a full-ride scholarship each year to five students in exchange for five years of public service law practice.

Meet our 2012 Gates Scholars:

Victoria ClarkVictoria Clark - 2012 Scholar

For Victoria Clark, public service is not a choice. It’s a responsibility. At a young age, Clark was faced with adversities that would easily crush the spirit of some. With a family history of incarceration and drug-addiction, Clark has had personal experience with injustices within the U.S. legal system. She said she believes the prison-industrial complex has led to mass incarceration and injustices throughout the legal system, such as police brutality and barriers to ex-prisoners after incarceration. Clark plans to devote her life to fighting for these marginalized individuals within society as a public defender.

“I see the law as a vehicle to change the criminal justice system in countless ways,” she said.

Clark said her experience working at the Public Defender Service in Washington D.C. has given her a deep understanding of criminal justice that she hopes to share with her law school classmates. Clark interned at the organization while she attended Temple University in Pennsylvania and majored in History. After her summer internship, she was hired as an investigator under the staff attorney in the Trial Division. As an investigator she gained experience in the world of law by interviewing witnesses, serving subpoenas, photographing crime scenes and testifying in court. This opportunity, in addition to her childhood, inspired Clark to pursue law. As a lawyer, she hopes to challenge and change unjust laws, such as the Three Strikes law, which may give people sentences that do not reflect their crimes and the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that are unfair because they eliminate the possibility for individualized justice.

“Social change with regard to this issue is desperately needed, and I will spend my career trying to propel that change in whatever way I can,” she said

Lauren ConnorLauren Conner - 2012 Scholar

“Nothing in the disadvantaged communities of this country will change unless someone is willing to be the voice for those who don’t have a voice, willing to put everything on the line to serve the public and make a positive change,” said Lauren Conner. She is willing and motivated to be that voice.

Conner majored in History with a minor in Spanish at the University of Texas, Austin. During college, Conner worked at the Texas Civil Rights Project, where she screened mail from inmates across the country who sent the organization letters about abuse within the prison system. From prisoners not receiving adequate healthcare to guards assisting with inmate suicides, Conner was touched by the stories of inmates who faced injustices. This experience helped Conner recognize the great need for public interest attorneys.

“For prisoners, there needs to be someone who will protect their basic human rights and safety as well as work towards large scale reform of correctional systems across the nation that better rehabilitates prisoners to return to society,” she said. “I want to be that advocate.”

After receiving her undergraduate degree, Conner furthered her interest in public service by teaching in low-income communities for the Teach for America program in Dallas, Texas. Conner taught 7th grade English and was heavily involved with tutoring her students and supporting them by going to their sporting events. Conner said being a teacher was hard work, but she learned a lot about herself.

“Being a teacher [also] solidified my commitment to help others as it taught me to be selfless,” she said.

While Conner wants to continue to advocate on behalf of prisoners and protect their rights, she also hopes to pursue her interests in juvenile justice. After working as a teacher, she witnessed how easily students found themselves in trouble with the law. With her J.D., she hopes to help guide youth through the law process and encourage them to make changes in their lives.

“Whether it be helping protect and rehabilitate prisoners or helping juveniles get back on the right path to success, I am sure I will find my niche helping those who are in desperate need of someone to be in their corner,” she said. “I see this as the only way to help change our nation, one community at a time.”

Megan CrenshawMegan Crenshaw - 2012 Scholar

"Public service law may not be as flashy or profitable as other areas of law. As far as I'm concerned, however, using the opportunities and education I've been blessed with to make a way for others--enabling them to reach heights they never thought possible--offers more fulfillment than monetary rewards ever will," said Megan Crenshaw.

After graduating from Washington State University, with degrees in both communication and political science, Crenshaw moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs.

In addition to her time at Evans, Crenshaw will start at UW Law this fall. While completing two graduate programs at once will be a challenge, Crenshaw said learning about law and public affairs will help her look at cases in different ways and bring a diverse angle to class discussions. Having been at the Evans School for a year, Crenshaw is accustomed to analyzing issues through a political and economic lens.

Crenshaw said she wants to change the face of education by becoming an advocate for reform. While she believes the U.S. education system is the root of a number of society's problems, she also believes it is the only solution capable of truly eradicating those problems.

Crenshaw said foundational issues like underfunding of schools, inadequate resources, and lack of opportunities for students plague the system; resulting in achievement gaps and inequitable access to higher education that eventually impact all aspects of society.

After graduating from UW Law, Crenshaw aspires to pursue a career as the U.S. Secretary of Education. She believes the position will enable her to empower students from all backgrounds with the tools for success and diminish the influence of racial and socioeconomic factors on achievement.

"By addressing educational issues early on, we can provide every student with the beneficial education they deserve and the opportunity to truly make their dreams a reality," Crenshaw said. "In doing so, we can finally take steps toward breaking the poverty cycle, increasing equity and diversity in the work force, and changing our nation forever."

Jessica KnowlesJessica Knowles - 2012 Scholar

Jessica Knowles is conversational in Spanish, Italian, and Tetun with beginner’s skills in Khmer, but her multilingual background has come at a price. Knowles has encountered unforgettable situations that have motivated her to pursue a career in law. She has witnessed shocking human rights abuses as a journalist and aid worker in the post-conflict countries of South Africa, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, and Cambodia.

“These experiences have also exposed me to the powerful ability of communities to collectively heal, raise awareness, and assert their rights,” she said. “Recognizing and supporting the individual agency of the communities that I serve will certainly be a defining characteristic of my future career.”

While living and working internationally has challenged her and taught her to adapt to different environments, it has also trained her to keep an open mind toward the world.

Knowles first dipped her toes into the law world while attending Northwestern University, where she majored in journalism with a minor in political science. As an undergraduate she pursued her passion for prison reform, investigating the wrongful conviction of an Illinois State prisoner through an investigative journalism course. She also participated in the South Africa Journalism Residency Program, reporting on the fallout of the 2008 Zimbabwean election.

Following graduation, Knowles moved to the Philippines to document the treatment of child prisoners on a Fulbright grant. After the culmination of the grant she continued living in Southeast Asia for several years working for human rights organizations in Timor-Leste and Cambodia. Knowles said that through her work, she witnessed human rights abuses and gross miscarriages of justice that will influence how she approaches and applies the concept of law.

Knowles is most interested in human rights law, international law, and issues of prison reform. She said she believes that every nation in the world has an obligation to improve its legal systems. Because of globalization, Knowles said society has an opportunity to improve the protection of human rights on an international scale.

“The possibilities for effective and long-term change are vast, and I look forward to actively contributing to that process through my future legal work,” she said.

To further her knowledge of human rights law, Knowles will be simultaneously completing a Master of Studies in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. She aims to complete both the J.D. and Masters programs in four years.

Nikkita OliverNikkita Oliver - 2012 Scholar

“I believe in the power of community to heal, correct and find solutions for the broken systems and pain we see around us,” said Nikkita Oliver, who refuses to sit back and watch individuals go without health services, live in poor conditions and suffer in unjust systems.

For Oliver public service goes beyond working for the common good. Since working on her undergraduate degree at Seattle Pacific University, Oliver has immersed herself in her pursuit of helping others. Starting as a youth outreach intern in Leadership Development and Community Development department within SPU’s John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Oliver has worked to empower urban youth, a group that she said goes unheard.

“I will grow with them, suffer with them, listen with them and together we will move towards solutions,” she said.

Oliver believes that youth and their opinions are crucial to society’s well being and it is important to ensure that government systems and institutions benefit all ages, including those under the age of 18. The younger generations are the future and Oliver hopes that by encouraging them to participate in the processes of change and government this sidelined group can feel empowered and capable to be responsible citizens.

Yet to accomplish her goals, Oliver believes her work needs to be rooted in the community and with the young people she serves. By providing services like education, she believes that youth and their families “can change the tides of neighborhoods that have been marginalized, disenfranchised and inequitably served.”

“I don’t care to make money or be well known for great legal work…I care that the people around me understand their rights, their role and their power,” she said.