Law school program gives McDaniel student a head start

July 27, 2010

Ashley Day ’12 has two years before she’ll earn her bachelor’s degree at McDaniel College, but already she is delving into law school classes.

Day recently completed a summer stint with the Charles Hamilton Houston Scholars Program at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where she took a Contracts course, honed study skills, observed legal proceedings in Baltimore’s District Court and met influential legal professionals. She also learned how to brief cases, a crucial exercise in outlining legal rulings that usually overwhelms most first-year law students.

“It gave me a glimpse of law school and what to expect,” said Day, a Political Science major with a minor in Sociology. “The most challenging part was learning how to think like a law student.”

For Day, that meant learning to stick with the facts of a case rather than making her own assumptions about them and coming up with her own interpretations of what she was reading.

“I learned it’s important not to try to piece together my understanding of a case based on my own assumptions because that can change the outcome,” she said.

Day – who was among nearly 20 students from other institutions, including Morgan State University, Howard University and George Washington University – will receive Independent Studies credit at McDaniel for the six-week program. At McDaniel, students are encouraged to seek opportunities for independent studies, which provide the opportunity to explore individual study – under the direction of a faculty member – that isn’t otherwise available with the regular college offerings.

The Charles Hamilton Houston Scholars Program provided the students with housing, meals and a weekly stipend. Each day began at 8:30 a.m. and ended about 6:30 p.m. In addition to the law classes, the program provided students with the opportunity to meet with the law school’s admissions counselors to learn more about what to expect from the law school application process.

Day learned about the Charles Hamilton Houston Scholars Program, which is designed to help undergraduate minority students prepare for legal careers, from Debbi Johnson-Ross, associate professor of Political Science and International Studies and associate dean of Academic Affairs.

“The University of Baltimore’s Charles Hamilton Houston Scholars Program was designed with students like Ashley in mind,” Johnson-Ross said. “First- or second-year students with passion and potential who stand poised to contribute to their communities are ideal choices.

“Ashley is a bright light among McDaniel students and she immediately came to mind when I learned of the program,” Johnson-Ross added. “She will bring her experiences back to campus to share new knowledge with colleagues and she will use it to excel in the future.”

Day, who aspires to pursue a career in education policy, said she became interested in a legal career when a 7th grade English teacher planted the seed of education advocacy by taking her and other students to rally at school system headquarters in Baltimore.

“It’s our education,” she said she learned from that experience. “If you can’t change the quality of the education, no one else is going to do it for you.”

When she graduates from McDaniel, Day hopes to work with Teach for America and then attend law school. She is considering programs that would enable her earn a master’s degree in Education Policy and a law degree simultaneously.

She said the Charles Hamilton Houston Scholars Program has prepared her for law school in a way that no other program could. The rigors of the program erased any trepidation about attending law school.

“The first week of briefing cases was very difficult, but after a couple weeks it became pretty simple,” she said. “Now, law school is not as intimidating. This program puts me way ahead of the game.”

Born in Washington, D.C., Charles Hamilton Houston (1895–1950) was an African-American lawyer, dean of the Howard University School of Law and litigation director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Houston played a role in nearly every civil rights case before the Supreme Court between 1930 and 1954, culminating in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.