New Law Students Serve Across Chicago

Gillian Seaman, ’15, gave college advice like a pro, counseling high school seniors at a charter school for girls who tend to be the first person in their families to pursue a higher education. Fifteen miles north, Alexa Tate, ’15, helped a Pakistani woman who is new to America prepare for job interviews. Nearby, Evan Feinauer, ’15, and a group of other students renovated a wheelchair ramp at a nonprofit organization.

Law is, after all, a service profession. That’s why, as part of Orientation every year, the incoming 1Ls volunteer to do a range of service projects across the city. This year, the Class of 2015 split into 13 groups on September 20 and got to work. Each group was accompanied by a 2L or 3L.

“The Service Day is a great way to both reinforce the value of service in our students – many of whom already have a long history of volunteer work – and to introduce them to the broader Chicago community,” Dean of Students Amy Gardner said. “Our students often tell us this is one of their favorite parts of Orientation. Plus, they get to know one another in a setting far different than the classroom.”

Seaman’s group was at the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School in Bronzeville. The law students split into small discussion groups with the high school girls, who asked them questions about applying for colleges, writing essays, and the difficulty of transitioning from high school to college.

“If they offer an optional essay, you’ve got to write it,” Seaman told three young women. She offered advice on what kinds of things to include, too, and encouraged the girls that they’ve got good stories to tell.

Osmaya Hall, the girls’ teacher, said this kind of “short-term mentoring” with the law students would mean a lot to her students.

“It’s great for them because most of them are first-generation college students, so they don’t have as much access to what the college experience entails,” she said, but meeting the law students helps them gain some much-needed perspective and practical tips.

Tate volunteered at the Indo-American Center in West Ridge on the far north side of the city, meeting one-on-one with people such as Shehnaz, a Pakistani woman who moved to the U.S. eight months ago and needs a job. Tate worked on boning up Shehnaz’s interview skills and also boosting her confidence.

“You have a lot of good people skills,” Tate told her. “You could emphasize that you’re able to connect with people.”

After the one-on-one meetings, the law students met in a group with Tanvi Shah, the center’s workforce development coordinator. They gave her feedback that will help her prepare the jobseekers for future interviews. Her clients come from very different cultures than the U.S., Shah explained, so they need a lot of help getting up to speed on the dos-and-don’ts of finding a job. For example, some aren’t aware that being positive and upbeat in a job interview is good, while seeming desperate for work is bad. The law students’ third-person observations were immensely helpful, she said.

Not too far away, about a dozen law students completed a different type of service project, applying wood stain to the wheelchair ramp leading to the information technology office of UCAN, a large nonprofit that works to improve the lives of children who have suffered trauma, abuse, and neglect. The office the students worked at is in the Irving Park neighborhood.

Evan Feinauer, ’15, and other students chatted with Soo Park, ‘14, about law school and interviewing for jobs as they worked.

Feinauer, a Wisconsin native with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s degree in ethics and public policy from Suffolk University, didn’t expect a service day to be part of Orientation, but he was happy it was, he said.

“This is a career where you have a responsibility at times to do things because they help other people,” he said. “This comes with the rest of it. You get the prestige, and the degree, and you can do a lot of things career-wise, but this responsibility comes along with that.”

The other service projects were:

  • Helping the Friends of Holstein Park in Bucktown prepare for an upcoming circus by chalking sidewalks and hanging fliers (with a stop for milkshakes along the way)
  • Working with the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation on the South Side on a community health fair where they participated in a Zumba demonstration
  • Packaging food at the Greater Chicago Food Depository to be delivered to shelters
  • Moving collections in the Harold Washington Library Downtown
  • Meeting with residents and case managers at the Interfaith House in Garfield Park, where ill and injured homeless adults can get medical care, shelter, and housing assistance
  • Assisting with the adoption of dogs and cats at PAWS Chicago
  • Helping with paperwork, preparing a mass mailing about a fundraiser, and organizing equipment at the headquarters of the South Shore Drill Team, which uses performing arts to engage urban youth
  • Packaging educational materials and working with youth at the South Side Help Center in Washington Heights
  • Cleaning up trash along the 16th Street viaducts in Pilsen
  • Talking to women in a YWCA economic empowerment program about their experiences applying to law school

Student service doesn’t come to an abrupt stop after this day, of course, but will go on all year. The annual Student Organization Fair, this afternoon in the Green Lounge, provides many opportunities to get involved in service, and Chicago Law students have always found ways to serve the community while pursuing their legal education.