Cory Sagduyu, a third-year University of Virginia School of Law student, has received a Skadden Fellowship to work on behalf of immigrant victims of workplace crimes or labor exploitation. The program is arguably the most prestigious and competitive public interest fellowship in the country.

The program will fund her first two years working as an attorney for Ayuda, a nonprofit organization that helps these types of victims attain visas so they can pursue better lives. “Ayuda” means “help” in Spanish. Sagduyu will provide both immigration and employment legal services to clients at Ayuda.

Sagduyu, a University of Texas at Dallas graduate who hails from Overland Park, Kansas, has had her sights set on the highly competitive national fellowship since her first year at UVA Law. Her wish came true in November, when she learned the Skadden Foundation accepted her proposal.

“The news was extremely exciting — and it ended up being great timing,” Sagduyu said. “I found out a day before my birthday.”

Ever since she attended a presentation on the Skadden Fellowship during her first year, then interned with Ayuda the following summer, Sagduyu knew what her goal was. She supported Ayuda’s attorneys in their efforts to help clients attain U visas, which are set aside for immigrants who have been victims of crime in the United States, and T visas, which are specifically for victims of human trafficking.

In the process, she heard stories that moved her.

“I’ve heard a lot of traumatic stories, and I want to help people who have gone through these situations,” Sagduyu said. “It’s motivating to see how resilient people can be. They’re still trying to improve their lives and move forward even though they’ve suffered conditions most people can’t even imagine. It’s extremely inspiring.”

As she pursued her goal of landing the fellowship, in addition to being a fellow in the Program in Law and Public Service, Sagduyu took part in the school’s Immigration Law Clinic and volunteered her time for the student-run Migrant Farmworker Project, which she now leads as director. (Sagduyu speaks fluent Spanish, which has allowed her to check in with seasonal farm workers to ensure they are receiving pay and fair treatment.)

She has also been a legal intern or extern for The Equal Justice Center, Human Rights First, the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice (a UVA Law externship), and Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She held government and justice-related internships before law school as well, demonstrating a long-term interest in immigrant rights.

She is currently an inaugural research fellow for the Human Trafficking Institute (along with UVA Law classmate C.J. Murphy).

Throughout law school, Sagduyu has maintained her close relationship with Ayuda. Her past and future supervisor in the Falls Church office, Rebecca Walters, is a former Skadden Fellow and gave Sagduyu feedback to make a persuasive proposal.

Sagduyu also received continuous support from the Law School's Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center.

Director of Public Service Amanda Yale worked most closely with Sagduyu and said she was impressed with the student’s drive.

“‘Keep your eye on the prize’ — that’s how I would describe Cory's motto in law school and in life,” Yale said. “Cory seized every opportunity as a law student and then some to become supremely qualified to represent immigrants as soon as she graduated. Cory is one of the most, if not the most, focused and hardworking students I have ever had the pleasure of working with. It has truly been an honor to know Cory and to watch her blossom into an outstanding legal advocate for immigrant workers.”

Sagduyu said she is grateful for all the time Yale and the center invested on her behalf.

“Amanda has provided invaluable help and support as I’ve been shaping a path to put together a strong application,” she said.

Other recent Skadden Fellowship recipients include Robyn Bitner ’14 and Jeree Thomas ’11.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.