Miami Scholars Program Unites Diverse Public Interest Student Leaders


The Miami Scholars program, a staple of Miami Law's public interest community, recently welcomed 18 exceptionally dedicated students to its expansive professional network, which includes public interest and pro bono attorneys, upper-class mentors, and successful alumni.

Hailing everywhere from Italy to New Orleans, the Class of 2014 Miami Scholars received a partial-tuition scholarship, and will also receive support in either securing or funding a summer internship with a public interest agency or academic program.

After new Miami Scholar and former Mississippi high school teacher Abraham Rupert-Schewel created a student organization devoted to increasing social justice dialogue among high school athletes, he found that he had a knack for organizing. With this new-found confidence, Rupert-Schewel wanted to attend a law school that was just as dedicated to public interest as he is, and found the perfect match in Miami Law.

"I always felt that Miami Law had a strong dedication to public interest work," he says. "After meeting Myles Cochran and Dean Marni Lennon [of the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center] this belief was truly validated. I knew that I had found a place where I could pursue public interest with the support of a program unmatched around the country in terms of resources and dedication."

Like Rupert-Schewel, his fellow Class of 2014 scholar Brittany Cooper committed herself to public service through child advocacy. A Teach for America alum, Cooper used both her personal and professional experience to express her dedication.

"Educational inequity was a topic that hit close to home for me, as I grew up in a low-income community similar to the one I taught in," Cooper says. "In so many ways, the odds were stacked against the students at my high school: guidance counselors encouraged the bare minimum, teachers expected little more and drugs and gang violence were far more pervasive than extracurricular activities or college preparation."

Cooper never forgot her past learning environment, and now, with the support and guidance of the Miami Scholars program, is working her way towards advocating for educational reform while focusing on immigration issues.

"The Miami Scholars Program provides me with an amazing opportunity to interact with other students who share my passion for mending various problems within our surrounding community and beyond, on a much larger policy-scale," Cooper says.

Cooper can gain access to public interest attorneys and law students working on those very same issues through the Miami Scholars program's monthly meetings, where students get the opportunity to network with other public interest scholarship recipients, faculty, and alumni. Scholars also receive individualized course advising and career planning.

Selected students must have outstanding academic credentials, which they are required to maintain throughout the duration of the program. Since the Miami Scholars are chosen based on dedicated and ongoing commitment to service and advocacy, all of them have an extensive public service background or can demonstrate their commitment through other means.

Take new Scholar Matthew Fowler, who left his hometown of Miami to be an architect in Italy. "I have had my own practice for the last twenty years," he says.

So how did an architect in Italy develop an interest in public service? "As an architect, I enjoy design work and resolving the needs of my clients," Fowler says. "But over time, as I became more involved in public interest work, I began to feel that in order to have a more significant impact on these issues concerning our natural and built environments, I needed to acquire advocacy skills and legal knowledge."

Fowler will now use the Miami Scholars program to support his legal advocacy efforts concerning protection of the natural environment, preservation of historic structures, and related land-use and planning issues.

Miami Scholars are encouraged to contribute to new public interest initiatives on campus, and they usually do so through the Public Interest Leadership Board (PILB), a student organization that develops and implements outstanding programs and projects on campus. In addition to the Scholars, PILB consists of HOPE Fellows and other summer public interest students.

When asked why he wants to do public interest law, Rupert-Schewel expressed a sentiment that many Scholars before and after him have stated. "I was raised with the belief that those who are privileged and empowered have the responsibility to empower those who are disenfranchised."