The students in UVA Law's Class of 2018, who begin classes today, are highly credentialed and highly committed to community, said Assistant Dean for Admissions Cordel Faulk '01.
"The students in this class are smart, thoughtful, and interested in service and leadership," Faulk said. "They are among the most accomplished and diverse classes we've recruited."
The 306 members of the Class of 2018 were selected from a pool of 4,568 applicants. They earned a median undergraduate GPA of 3.86, a median LSAT score of 168 and represent 143 undergraduate institutions. The students come from 41 states and the District of Columbia, with the most common states being Virginia, Texas, California, Florida and New York. Forty-six percent are women and 23 percent identify themselves as minorities. ( Full Class Profile)
Fortuño, the former governor of Puerto Rico and now a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, offered students advice for surviving law school, stressed the value of relationships and charged students with relying on integrity to lead their way.
"If you have the opportunity, serve your nation, your state or your community," he said. "If you [do] have the privilege of serving, may I suggest that you do it with passion, with integrity and for the right reasons."
First-year law student Camille Grant, who holds a degree in environmental studies from the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the past few years advocating for environmental justice issues for low-income and minority populations.
She wrote a thesis exploring the history of environmental issues that have affected the health of communities in Chester, Pennsylvania, that, in most cases, the residents were unaware of.
In her thesis, Grant found people located near a hazardous waste site have disproportionately higher rates of asthma, cancer and other health issues. "There is typically a lack of knowledge of the health consequences from polluting facilities in low-income and minority communities," she said.
After college as a fellow with the NAACP, Grant traveled the country, addressed a range of issues by writing educational resources to raise awareness.
In another role with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, she held a bipartisan position as a program assistant, which she credits with expanding her perspective on state and federal energy and environmental policies.
"I know that attaining a law degree will enable me to make effective changes in environmental policies," Grant said.
Solving problems and effecting change is also something first-year student and Texas native Victor Viser has worked toward.
Before attending law school, Viser developed and implemented the Stewart Beach Recycling Pilot Project Galveston Island, Texas, addressing the beach's historical lack of a recycling program.
During his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Viser was involved in political campaigns and voter registration drives for minority and underserved populations.
Providing information to people on the voting process and seeing the difference it made in empowering them to vote inspired him to be more involved in politics.
Viser was a campaign volunteer for judicial, city council, gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and congressional campaigns, and helped with voter registration during the 2012 presidential election. During some of the campaigns, Viser said, he talked with the candidates and worked on strategic initiatives with other campaign personnel.
There's a lesson, he said, in seeing how earnest people working in politics are.
"Especially at the local level, people are [working in those roles] because they have an ideal of a representative democracy where people are elected," he said. "I want to return to Texas and serve the state in some capacity."
A graduate of the College of William & Mary, Shazad Hussain says he wants to use his law degree to help shape policies and the future.
Hussain was an auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers before starting law school and said he hopes to tie in his accounting background and pursue corporate law after graduation.
While at William & Mary, Hussain mentored middle school students, and tutored them on their coursework and for their standardized tests.
"It was a rewarding experience to give back," said Hussain. "So when I started working [at PricewaterhouseCoopers] I wanted to continue that."
He volunteered through the firm to teach financial literacy skills to youths.
Hussain said the experience also helped him learn the importance of rapport and how to build it. The students need to feel comfortable working with you in order to let you help them, he said.
Megan Shoell, who holds a degree in biochemistry from Brigham Young University, found that her enjoyment of problem-solving and applying rules to new questions was pulling her to law school.
Shoell took a missionary trip to Thailand after her junior year of college, which she said was also a journey in self-discovery. During the trip she helped plant rice and taught English, and found an interest in human rights law.
"I realized during my trip [that] working with people one-on-one is what I loved," she said. "I want to help people; being able to interact with people you're helping made a big difference to me."
In the year before law school, Shoell worked as a legal assistant at a law firm. There she researched case law, prepared evidence, wrote court orders, and worked with clients preparing for trial in cases of juvenile dependency and abuse.
"I enjoy doing the actual legal work and it brought that visual element I was looking for — being able to see the changes in people's lives," she said.