Opportunities Day Helps First Year Students Navigate Their Law School Experience

Opportunities Day, the first of a series of events as part of the law school’s 2012 Founders’ Celebration, is a day-long event for first year J.D. students (1Ls) entering their second semester. The event, which has been ongoing at the law school for nearly ten years, helps students to make the most of their academic and experiential development. 

According to David Jaffe, associate dean in the Office of student affairs, the law school recognized nearly a decade ago that students are often limited in what they are able to take and participate in during their first year. 

“Opportunities Day is a way to suggest to first year students that their law school experience will soon be changing in a dramatic way,” said Jaffe.  “It allows students to think ahead about taking responsibility for pursuing their interests and opportunities.” 

The day was split into three different events.  The first, “How are You Going to Get Where You’re Looking to Go,” was a lunch-time panel comprised of recent alumni and one third year student.

“There are so many opportunities during your time here, and it’s difficult to navigate which would be most meaningful to you,” Matthew Pascocello, the director of career development and alumni counseling, told the crowd of 1Ls at the opening panel.

Each panelist discussed how they were able to leverage their time at American University Washington College of Law as an asset.

(Photo Right: Panelists Nabila Isa-Odidi, Ben Funk, Adam Cohen, Chenelle Blackwell, and Director of Career Development and Alumni Counseling, Matthew Pascocello speak to students)

“Make contacts with people,” advised Ben Funk, legal counsel for the Volunteers of America. “I was terrible at going to office hours, but maybe even think about reaching out to your peers.”

Chenelle Blackwell, a 3L, also served as a panelist. 

“Yes, I’m still in the trenches with you,” she assured the 1Ls.  “Please hold on—you will survive!”

Blackwell currently serves as the director of public relations and marketing for FlexSports, a sports and entertainment management and marketing agency.  After several internships she realized that her role in managing endorsements, public appearances, and various projects for an agency like FlexSports was her true calling.

Panelist Adam Cohen is assistant general counsel within a unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). As president of the Student Bar Association during his time as a law student, he said he was able to see the wide range of opportunities that the law school and D.C. location provide.

“There is something here for you,” he told students. “You’re in Washington D.C., we have more attorneys here than anywhere else.  Take advantage of being here year-round.  Get in front of people and build your networks.”

Nabila Isa-Odidi, now a practitioner-in-residence at the Gluskho-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic on campus, suggested taking advantage of the experiential learning opportunities.

“There is a strong emphasis on the classroom here, so take it and do something with it,” said Isa-Odidi.  “You’re not going to know what you like until you do it. But, make sure that whatever you take on you’re still balanced.”

Students also took part in “Table Talk,” an informal gathering of the various offices and organizations on campus meant to showcase the many programs and activities in which 1Ls may become engaged during their first summer and beyond.  Faculty involved in everything from the Innocence Project to the Collaboration on Government Secrecy were also available to discuss the various opportunities in working on such projects. 

(Photo Left: Students take part in "Table Talk")

“I guess I had a pretty clear idea about what I wanted to get out of the day,” said 1L Kathryn Wilson, about her Opportunities Day experience. “I wanted to figure out more about the summer, specifically with study abroad and internship opportunities.  Now I have a pretty good idea of what I’d like to apply to for next fall as well. I’m starting to narrow down what types of law I’m more interested in and what I’m not.” 

“We’re looking for students to recognize that they’re an integral part in seeing their career prospects develop, and that they need to look for as many opportunities as possible,” concluded Jaffe.