Leadership Transition in Experiential Learning at Miami Law

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Rebecca Sharpless and Kele Stewart

Rebecca Sharpless and Kele Stewart

Miami Law's top-ranked experiential learning programs transition with a change in associate deans as outgoing Professor Kele Stewart looks back at the milestones and Professor Rebecca Sharpless looks forward to the future as the law clinics move into a brand-new, high-tech space over the summer.

“As the inaugural experiential associate dean, I am proud to have helped implement the law school’s vision to develop practice-ready graduates and build the infrastructure to support our first-rate experiential curriculum,” said Stewart. “Our clinics enjoy a strong national reputation and we expanded opportunities for students to gain practical skills such as the recent launch of our intensive transactional skills program.”

Stewart has multiple leadership roles in the national clinical education community including the Executive Committee of the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education, the Planning Committee for the 2022 AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education, and the Board of the Clinical Law Review.

Stewart co-directs the school's Children & Youth Law Clinic, supervising law students handling cases involving abused, abandoned, and neglected children and teaching family and juvenile law. The Fulbright Scholar is the visionary behind the First Star University of Miami Academy, a holistic college-prep program for youth impacted by the child welfare system. Launched in 2017, the program provides foster youth with academic support, life skills, and advocacy needed to successfully transition to higher education and adulthood. Recently, the Spencer Foundation announced a $50,000 grant to Stewart and research partner Wendy Morrison-Cavendish to study the factors that contribute to the development of social capital for First Star Academy students.

"I look forward to building on the remarkable achievements of our experiential program during the six years Professor Stewart led us," said Sharpless. "We now offer our students hands-on learning second to none. And we are only getting better. This summer, our award-winning law clinics will move into newly designed, high-tech space in the library that will facilitate student learning and group our clinical faculty together, next to all of our students. The synergies and cross-learning possibilities will be endless."

Sharpless is the founding director of the Immigration Clinic and teaches immigration law. She researches and writes in the areas of immigration law, progressive lawyering, and the intersection of immigration and criminal law. Her scholarship focuses on how hierarchies within these areas affect the most marginalized, denigrated, and unpopular groups. Sharpless' work addresses the harms and limitations of the conceptual framework for immigration reform that draws its narrative force from a contrast between model immigrants and people convicted of a criminal offense. Sharpless proposes an alternate approach for immigration reform that is informed by and is consistent with racial and class critiques of the U.S. criminal justice system. Her scholarship also analyzes the doctrinal defenses for noncitizens facing deportation due to their criminal history, particularly the methodology of the categorical approach.

Sharpless represents indigent noncitizens in removal proceedings and engages in litigation in U.S. district court and before the U.S. courts of appeals with her clinic students. The clinic's recent work has included defending Somali men and women who were shackled and abused during a botched deportation flight and challenging the enforcement of federal immigration law by state and local officials. She authored a book titled tentatively Shackled: Inside America's Immigration System, slated to be published in 2023 by the University of California Press.

"I am delighted that Professor Sharpless has agreed to lead our experiential learning program," said Nell Jessup Newton, interim dean and visiting professor. "As a national leader in clinical legal education, Becky will help our clinics, externships, and skills programs continue to excel."

Read more about Miami Law's Experiential Learning programs