Undergraduate Institution: University of Iowa Tippie College of Business
Undergraduate Degree: Business
After a year-long term of service with Americorps in North Liberty, Sylvia Smith, a University of Iowa second year law student, knew she wanted to attend law school for one reason: to make a difference in the criminal justice system.
Smith worked with at-risk K-12 youth and occasionally with adults in corrections as the Restorative Justice Youth Program Coordinator for the Community Corrections Improvement Association, which sparked her passion to fight for individuals in our criminal law system.
“It is frustrating to witness the way our current system disadvantages certain people, specifically minorities and the poor,” she said. “The system the way it is has a huge impact on families and youth. I would like to work with others to curtail the cycle of incarceration.”
The 28 year old graduated with a degree in finance and marketing from the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business. She then chose to continue her education by attending the University of Iowa College of Law. As a longtime Iowa resident, Smith was lucky to have a good law school in the state, close to her friends and family.
Last summer she worked for the Iowa City Human Rights Commission investigating complaints of discrimination, employment public accommodation, education, and housing.
While attending the UI Law School, resurrecting the American Constitution Society has been a highlight of her experience thus far. The progressive organization, she said, focuses on building a network to shape legal policy and foster debates on key issues such as the Voting Rights Act, DOMA, and judicial nominees. In addition, she is the social chair of the Black Law Student Association and a member of the University of Iowa College of Law Outlaws.
Smith said a law school education is beneficial because it improves communication skills and teaches you to look at the world with a critical eye.
“Your vocabulary expands greatly and so do your reading skills,” she said. “You learn to analyze and think like a lawyer; the way you look at the world and what you read, you look at these things critically. You engage in meaningful debates to not only learn how to express yourself effectively, but to be accepting, yet critical, of other people’s viewpoints.”
However, law school can often be stressful and consume a lot of time, she said. Smith uses several techniques to ensure she is balancing her life. She plays the guitar in a band, spends time outdoors, cooks, leisure reads and hangs out with friends.
“I try and connect with people that are not in law school,” the Smith said. “It’s really easy to forget about the rest of the world, family and friends, and it’s hard to reconnect. I do yoga and I exercise, but it’s hard to find time. Sometimes it’s hard to not feel guilty about taking time from studying to do the essential things like eat or drink. I always have to remember that I am a person and that it is necessary to do these things.”
But overall she enjoys the hard work and the law school experience, especially the interaction with faculty the UI provides.
“I like that faculty lounge and the student lounge both exist on the same floor,” she said. “We have some amazing professors that do incredible things outside of the walls of the law building. That we have an opportunity to interact with them on a very human level is, I think, a big privilege.”
Smith said she intends to soak up as much as she can while obtaining her education, with the primary goal of getting a job in the public sector.
“Ultimately I want to help others, and I’m learning that there are many different ways to do that,” she said. “I would be very happy to graduate and go on to be a public defender, but any way that I can feel like I’m making a positive difference in people’s lives is a career that interests me.”