Student Brings Military Education to Law School

Quinn Conrad ’22 Discusses Award-Winning Thesis, Managing VMI Basketball Team
Quinn Conrad

“I remember the exact day in sophomore year of high school when I knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” Quinn Conrad said. Photo by Julia Davis

November 1, 2019

Even as a teenager, Quinn Conrad, a first-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, knew she wanted to be a lawyer — but she also wanted to pursue a military career. So she sought the rigors of a military education and training so she’d be ready to serve.

The Baltimore native graduated from the Virginia Military Institute with a double major in international relations and foreign languages, and she was commissioned into the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. Conrad’s senior thesis was “The Power of a Post: Social Media’s Role in Expanding the Space for Political Contention in China,” which garnered a college award for outstanding research. (She studied Chinese for eight years and speaks it proficiently.)

She is concurrently serving in the Virginia Army National Guard while in law school.

In our occasional series “Star Witness,” Conrad talked to UVA Law about her longtime interest in law, her love of basketball and what she learned researching her thesis in China.

Tell us something about your life before law school.

My four years at VMI provided me with some of the most difficult yet most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I am incredibly grateful for all my classmates who were by my side, but I am especially thankful to have known one in particular: Sean Hoang. Sean was my barracks next-door neighbor at school and sadly passed away while training during our freshman year. Though leaving us physically, Sean has remained an integral part of the Class of 2019. We honor him often and remember him always — in whatever we do, we do one for Sean Hoang.

Why law school?

I remember the exact day in sophomore year of high school when I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. My high school, St. Paul’s School for Girls, invited a lawyer to speak to us about the legal profession. And while many of my classmates spaced out, I was completely enamored with the intricacy of the lawyer’s case presentation. As I left the assembly and walked back through the hallway still trying to figure out which side had a stronger claim, I remember casually but very assertively texting my dad, “Hey, I’m gonna be a lawyer now.”

Since then, my passion for law has only grown. Although I enjoy the challenge of researching, formulating and presenting legal arguments, I am most drawn to the opportunity to help individuals and fighting for the preservation of legal rights. To me, it is as if each case, and each trial, is a chance to fight a small battle on someone else’s behalf.

We read you were a twice honored as VMI’s most outstanding team manager across all sports. Tell us more about that.

As soon as I could walk, I was playing basketball. The same was the case with my two younger siblings. So when you add in a father that coaches and a mother who is our No. 1 fan, you have a full basketball family, through and through! I played on several teams growing up and all throughout high school, but unfortunately, my playing career ended when I attended VMI. Being only 10% women, VMI did not have enough women to build our own team, so instead of playing, I turned to managing.

I started managing in my sophomore year. Despite being the first and only female manager, the coaches were nothing but welcoming. Very quickly, the team became my family, and I would go on to spend my junior and senior years with them as well. There was no other way I would have wanted to spend my winters than down at the gym for practices or on the road for games. It was an honor to be recognized as manager of the year, but I always wish I could have done more. Working with the men’s basketball program was one of the best parts of my cadetship, and I will always support the team. Go Keydets!

What did you learn researching your senior thesis?

My senior honors thesis was a three-year project I started while studying abroad in Shanghai. Fascinated with the theories of social media politics and wanting to combine it with my interest in China, I asked whether social media platforms could still facilitate the democratic processes of political deliberation and participation in closed, authoritarian regimes.

In the beginning stages of my research, I found that much of what I was looking for had yet to be written; the theory was there, but there was not much specific analysis of Chinese social media and politics. I was not deterred, but rather motivated to fill this gap in the existing literature. My research used domestic nongovernmental organizations as the unit of analysis and looked specifically at those operating in the environmental sector. After an intense amount of research in both English and Chinese, I found that Chinese environmental NGOs do in fact have social media accounts that are flourishing spaces for political contestation and that their discussions on these platforms yield real-world policy results. Thus, just as social media in the democratic U.S. holds political power, so too does the censored social media of authoritarian regimes.

I was honored to receive VMI’s Wilbur S. Hinman, Jr. ’26 Research Award for my thesis, and I am eternally grateful for the support of VMI’s international studies department. They pushed me to look deeper at casual relations, explore trends and hypotheses further, and have confidence in my research as I presented, as an undergraduate, on doctorate-level panels. 

What’s next for you?

I am currently serving as a field artillery officer in the Virginia National Guard, but after earning my law degree, I plan to transfer and serve as an active-duty officer in the JAG Corps. I am incredibly excited to have a long career as an Army lawyer, and I look forward to seeing where it takes me.

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.

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