An inspiring mentor can help to shape a student's educational choices and career path. For both recipients of this year's Scholar for Justice award, that mentorship came from professors who instilled in them a passion for serving others, which led them to Seattle University School of Law.
First-year students Tori Sullivan, 22, and Kory Atcuson, 28, each received the prestigious award, a full-tuition scholarship granted to one or two top students in each year's entering class who are committed to working in the public interest.
Sullivan is a full-time student who came to law school directly after earning her bachelor's degree in political science and sociology from Pacific Lutheran University, while Atcuson worked in municipal government for several years and continues to do so as a part-time evening student.
Both scholars credit earlier professors for helping them find their way to law school. For Sullivan, it was Professor Kate Luther at PLU, who teaches the sociology of delinquency and introduced her to the field of juvenile justice.
"I'm fascinated by the idea of learning — what is learning, what does intellectual curiosity look like, and how does that break down as you go into adulthood?" Sullivan said. "Many times it's adverse childhood experiences that have to do with getting in trouble with the law."
With Luther's encouragement, Sullivan sought out opportunities to work with at-risk youth in Washington and her home state of Idaho. She's been a board member of the Pierce County Juvenile Court's Diversion Program in Tacoma, lead case manager for a youth service center in Tacoma, and mentor for struggling students in the Franklin Pierce School District.
"I thought about going to grad school and doing research, but when I started looking at what types of issues really affect kids — the pressure to sign false confessions, unfair sentencing — I realized that fixing these social problems can be very difficult," she said. "For me, being in the field, working directly with clients, is the best way that I can be an advocate for youth."
Atcuson's interest in law school also stems from a mentor's guidance. In his case, it was Professor Brett Sharp at the University of Central Oklahoma, where Atcuson earned both a bachelor's degree in general studies and a Master of Public Administration (MPA).
"He spoke to me with a passion for public service that was really contagious," Atcuson said. In fact, Atcuson established and still funds a $1,200 annual scholarship named in honor of his mentor, for students in the MPA program.
Sharp teaches public administration and worked for many years in state and municipal government. Atcuson followed his mentor's lead and became an intern in the City Manager's Office in Edmond, Oklahoma. He later rose to the position of city clerk, then chief diversity and equity officer. His advocacy and leadership led Edmond to become the third city in the state to protect its municipal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Atcuson came to law school with his sights set on eventually becoming a city attorney. "Working at the municipal level really taught me about external versus internal advocacy," he said. "There are a lot of great people who, as external advocates, push for necessary change. This push is enhanced when internal advocates are in place who can shape policy for better outcomes. I'm in law school because I want to be a more effective internal advocate."
In order to stay connected to his love of municipal government, Atcuson works as the public records officer for the City of Mountlake Terrace, Washington during the day and attends law school in the evening.
Scholars for Justice are selected on the basis of:
• A demonstrated commitment to pursuing a career as a public interest lawyer
• Prior involvement in significant public service and/or social justice activities prior to law school
• Academic achievement