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Gates Public Service Law Scholars

Gates PSL Scholars have the opportunity to attend the UW School of Law and then pursue public interest law without the crushing burden of educational debt. The scholarship program covers all cost of tuition, books, room and board and incidental expenses during law school. In exchange, students dedicate five years to public service. Each of the Gates PSL Scholarship recipients say the chance to earn a law degree from one of the finest schools in the nation free of any debt is a dream come true. The financial assistance provided by the scholarship allows them to move directly into jobs doing what they love – providing public service to those in need.

Emily AlvaradoEmily Alvarado - 2006 Scholar

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Emily said it was her experience as a student in the public school system and her mother's influence, which instilled in her a sense of social awareness. She attended Scripps College in Claremont, California, and after graduation, began her social justice career working for California Peace Action, a grassroots peace and justice organization. Emily then interned in the campaign office of U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (9th District, California).

For the last year and a half, Emily has worked for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon as a Public Affairs field organizer. It was there she solidified her passion for reproductive health and women's rights advocacy.

"I firmly believe that women are unable to fully participate in society if they cannot control their own fertility," she said. "I want to ensure that all women have the right and ability to access reproductive health care services regardless of their race, socioeconomic status or citizenship." Emily would like to continue to work with the reproductive rights movement as an advocate.

"I am committed to use my personal opportunities to create a more just and equitable society."

Vanessa Torres Hernandez Vanessa Torres Hernandez - 2006 Scholar

Vanessa received her undergraduate degree from Amherst College and her M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University. She currently teaches at Soundview School in Lynnwood, Washington.

A native of Guam, Vanessa said her family has always been involved in public service. Her grandfather was the first elected governor of Guam and was instrumental in pushing the U.S. to give the Guam people the right to self-govern and her father is a justice on the Guam Supreme Court. After graduating from Harvard, Vanessa taught at Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston, a charter school serving low-income students of color. She was inspired to see how kids who faced steep academic and socioeconomic challenges excelled in an environment focused on student achievement. After hearing about the creation of the Gates PSL Scholarship, she took the LSAT and applied to the UW law school within two weeks.

“I knew I eventually wanted to go to law school,” said Vanessa. “My fear was that some law schools say they are interested in public service law but when you look closer, it’s just not a priority.” The Gates PSL Scholarship, a focus on public service in externships, the variety of service-oriented clinics, the Street Law program, and a 60-hour service requirement for graduation all pointed to the UW law school’s true commitment to public interest.

Vanessa hopes the experience and education she gains at the law school will lead to work advocating for K-12 education reform either in the non-profit or public policy sector. “I love teaching, but what drives me to work outside of the classroom is when I see an excellent classroom. I think, ‘There should be more great classrooms…and there can be!’”

Colleen MelodyColleen Melody - 2006 Scholar

A 2004 graduate of the University of Washington, she received degrees in Spanish and Law, Society and Justice. Since graduation, she has completed a volunteer internship with The Defender Association and currently works for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington.

Colleen has always been interested in the law and public service – her senior project for UW was a policy analysis. The connection to public service law, she said, is clear because “it provides justice in the public forum. There is something very satisfying about working with people and providing them access to justice, public justice.”

To be able to walk out of law school with no debt, said Colleen, means you can go directly to work in public service. “It’s difficult to accept a lower paying job when you have a large student loan debt. The Gates PSL Scholarship gives you a lot more freedom in choosing a job that speaks to your passion.”

Colleen is “excited about getting to know the other scholars,” and immersing herself into the existing public interest offerings at the law school, such as the Public Interest Law Association. “I can’t think of a better way to spend three years!”

Michael PetersMichael Peters - 2006 Scholar

An Acting Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Washington for the past five years, Michael was raised in Grants Pass, Oregon, and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Portland. After graduating from University of Arizona with a Ph.D. in communication, he has focused his scholarly work on health communication, persuasion, quantitative research methods, and interpersonal communication.

Michael's commitment to community and public service is a result of his upbringing as the son of an educator and a nurse, and his own experiences growing up with cerebral palsy. He has extended that commitment in a variety of ways, including serving as Vice Chair of the United States Olympic Committee's Athletes’ Advisory Council. As a Paralympic soccer athlete, he feels strongly that, "Olympians and Paralympians have a lot to give back to the community. It is important for us to look for opportunities throughout the year to get involved and touch people's lives more than just once every four years."

An increasing interest in health and human rights law and advocacy led Michael to apply to the UW School of Law and, later, the Gates PSL Scholarship. "The opportunity to contribute to the legacy of the scholarship’s namesake [William H. Gates] and his great work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a tremendous honor. The Foundation addresses the kind of issues I'm interested in, particularly global health." Michael was also attracted to the UW's strong faculty and connections with other institutions in the broader Seattle community that address global health and justice issues.

"I feel that the UW law school will give me the skills to advocate for those who don't have a voice, particularly disadvantaged women and children. For me, it’s vitally important to serve others in a way that respects their rights and promotes equal opportunities."

Last updated 6/13/2013