Public Interest Entrepreneur Award

To encourage an entrepreneurial public service spirit among WCL students, the Public Interest Entrepreneur Award is given to a current WCL student or to a group of students who have developed an independent project that demonstrates a creative approach to a pressing social justice issue, addresses the identified issue, and fills a gap in the need for legal services. To qualify, the project must demonstrate potential for continued work in the target area, and although it can be housed in an existing legal organization, it must have been created and maintained by the WCL student or group.

This award is not necessarily given every year. It is given under the discretion of the awards committee whose decision is based on the quality of nominations received.  Past student initiatives that represent the kind of project envisioned by the Public Interest Entrepreneur Award include organizations such as Mentoring Today and Weave, both of which were founded by WCL students while they were still students.

2012-2013 Public Interest Entrepreneur Award Award Recipient

Talila A. Lewis, WCL Class of 2014

Talila A. Lewis is the founder and director of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf ("HEARD"), an all-volunteer nonprofit civil rights organization that promotes equal access to the legal system for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.  HEARD's mission is to identify and remove barriers that prevent the deaf from participating in and having equal access to the justice system. HEARD’s volunteers investigate possible deaf wrongful conviction cases, educate justice professionals about Deaf Culture, conduct deaf prisoner and defendant research, and assist deaf and deaf-blind prisoners with access and civil rights issues.  HEARD created and maintains a comprehensive deaf and deaf-blind prisoner database that includes information on more than four hundred deaf prisoners across the nation.  This database informs HEARD's advocacy and helps ensure that deaf prisoners have contact with community members (through a unique pen pal project), and that they receive equal access to programs and services at jails and prisons across the nation.  HEARD works steadfastly to build coalitions; educate and activate the masses; and to encourage and facilitate collective leadership within the community. 

At WCL, Talila organizes events in her capacity as Co-Director or the WCL chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and Co-Founder of the WCL Disability Law Society to engage the WCL community in meaningful dialogue and action focused on criminal justice reform and disability rights advocacy, being certain always to include the voices of survivors and marginalized community members.  She has organized events about surviving death row, wrongful conviction, solitary confinement, barriers to successful reentry, forced institutionalization, prisoner abuse, and the collateral consequences of mass incarceration. She also teaches students and faculty American Sign Language.

This semester, Talila designed a pilot program that extends the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Program to high school students who are deaf and hard of hearing.  Next year, she will lead the implementation of this pilot program at Model Secondary School for the Deaf, the high school for deaf and hard of hearing students on Gallaudet University's campus.

Past Award Recipients

Alexandra Sternberg, WCL Class of 2012

Alexandra  “Ali” Sternburg  was at the forefront of law student involvement in the open access movement, which aims to make the scholarly journal literature freely available on the Internet.  Her dedication to the open access movement and her work to extend this advocacy into the law school community led to the creation of a WCL chapter of the Right to Research Coalition, the first law school member of the Right to Research Coalition. The Right to Research Coalition is an organization formed by students to “promote an open scholarly publishing system based on the belief that no students should be denied access to the articles they need because the high cost of access.”   The coalition’s work bolsters efforts to create equality in education resources for diverse groups of students from US community college students, to those studying at universities in the developing world, all of whom face the threat of being excluded from the cutting edge of scholarly resources due to the prohibitive cost of access to scholarly journals and other research tools.

In addition to founding the WCL chapter of the Right to Research Coalition, Ali served as the head of the Intellectual Property Law Society where she revived the student group creating a new inclusiveness that brought together diverse groups of students and framed public interest intellectual property work as an enhancement to, rather than in conflict with, traditional firm-based intellectual property practice. During her time at WCL, she built networks across student groups at WCL and built ties between WCL and the larger DC community.   In this effort, Ali created opportunities for WCL students to engage in the DC community and the intellectual property practice world in a way that previously did not exist.   

Bradford P. Voegeli, WCL Class of 2011

Bradford P. Voegeli founded Take Back Your Home (“TBYH”), a foreclosure outreach initiative that is driven by student volunteers who engage in door-to-door canvassing to renters and homeowners to inform them of their rights in the foreclosure process and refer them to housing counselors and pro bono attorneys for assistance. TBYH targets residents in Prince George’s County and is conceptualized to provide similar services to residents in the District of Columbia as soon as revisions to the law make such outreach practicable. Bradford’s project represents the extension of his work that he completed during the Summer of 2010 at Bread for the City where he was instrumental in implementing a pilot project that established the first foreclosure outreach program in the District to focus on homeowners. As an Equal Justice Foundation Fellow at Bread for the City he designed materials for and implemented a door-to-door outreach campaign in the Deanwood community of Ward 7. As a part of his efforts, Bradford visited over a hundred homes, met with all the housing counseling agencies, worked with the Urban Institute to adapt its lists of foreclosed properties for easier outreach, and met with the Office of Planning and neighborhood groups formed to influence the District’s allocation of funds for foreclosed homes. While at WCL, Bradford also participated in the Community and Economic Development Clinic as a 2L where he received the highest grade award for his extraordinary dedication and commitment to serving his clients.