By Charles Anzalone
Johnniel Morales has a clear, powerful statement about how UB’s Discover Law Undergraduate Scholars Program, an immersive summer program for promising underrepresented students, changed his life. It’s about “admiring the value of my potential and the diversity that surrounds me as an opportunity to reflect and rebuild over the things that were seen as walls,” he wrote to his program director.
“This world, this society and the legal system need every aspect of our essence having the humility, courage and empathy to face it,” wrote Morales, a rising senior at the University of Puerto Rico. Morales finished this summer’s virtual program with a trip to Buffalo from Puerto Rico — his first ever, paid for through a fund-raising campaign by his classmates.
“That is what the incredible friends I made in this program — professors, mentors and professionals — showed me,” he wrote. “In just one month, I can call them friends; young people full of humility, charisma, character and above all, big hearts.”
That’s just the beginning. Suhana Monsalve, a rising junior and member of UB’s Honors College, credits the Discover Law program’s staff for helping her find her “path and passion.”
“Their passion truly encouraged me to push through any self-doubt surrounding the difficulty of law school and embrace what makes me unique in doing so,” she says. “Discover Law has made me better prepared for the LSAT, applying to law school, as well as law school itself. This was the best possible way to spend the start of my summer, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
A few more notes: This was all accomplished, thanks to COVID, remotely and virtually. Everything occurred within a brief, four-week curriculum.
For those needing concrete evidence that UB’s School of Law goes beyond its good intentions to increase diversity and make a real difference to underrepresented students, meet the Discover Law Undergraduate Scholars Program.
“The Discover Law program offers a realistic preview of what law school demands and the preparation required to succeed, but more than that, it offers the scholars a network of peers and mentors who look like them and have similar aspirations,” says Amber J. Melvin, program coordinator in the law school’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“It was amazing to watch how the scholars immediately clicked with each other via Zoom from Day One, and how passionately they related and supported each other through the very rigorous program.”
This semester’s program brought in scholars from Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, New York City and Puerto Rico. Academic instruction included legal writing and doctrinal classes, LSAT preparation, career preparation, law school admission prep and ethnography.
All 18 undergraduates were assigned both attorney and law student mentors. They also could take part in panel discussions with speakers that included Teresa Miller, SUNY senior vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and chief diversity officer, and Jonathan Beane, chief diversity officer at the NFL.
The program is made possible through collaborations with the Minority Bar Foundation, Minority Bar Association and Hodgson Russ LLP, as well as partnerships with alumni and others in the legal community.
There is no cost to participants, who receive a $1,000 stipend to offset the costs of not working during the program. The intended audience is undergraduate underrepresented minority students, or first-generation college students
Program participant Morales matches his emotional endorsement of the program with specifics, such as expanding legal research skills, polishing tools for oral arguments, reading and analyzing cases, and understanding legal bases on different branches of law.
“My professional and academic perspective will never be the same,” Morales wrote. “And also my heart and soul, thanks to what the Discover Law program was capable of bringing out of me.”
The virtual component allowed students from other universities to take advantage of the School of Law’s expertise. Shania Roseborough, a rising senior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, says the Discover Law program helped her through “such a difficult time in my life.”
“It was such an amazing and insightful experience,” says Roseborough, one of three 2021 Hodgson Russ Discover Law Scholars. “I had the honor to make friendships I will cherish as long as I live. Being around scholars of color who are intelligent and as passionate about the law as I am is what I appreciate the most. It did not feel like I was in a program, but just going through college with my friends.
“I have learned so much more about my capabilities, weaknesses and how I can work on them,” she says. “The professors and mentors were passionate, amazing and supportive of me while providing essential materials I will keep in mind. The program was it for me, and I know it will be for others as well.”
Melvin says the School of Law is planning its next Discover Law section for summer 2022, the ninth year the School of Law has offered the program. More information is available on the Discover Law Undergraduate Scholars Program website.
“This cohort in particular has demonstrated dedication and heart toward serving their communities, and offer me assurance that our future is in great hands,” she says.