Scholarship recipients driven by passion to help others

September 12, 2016

The recipients of Seattle University School of Law's most prestigious scholarships have different passions — immigration, at-risk youth, and tribal representation — but all three share the same devotion to helping others and the same belief in the power of a legal education to give them the skills they need to do so.

Lauren Abrams and Stephen Vanderhoef both received the 2016 Scholars for Justice honor, a full-tuition scholarship granted to a top student each year who is committed to working in the public interest. Brandon Kilpatrick was awarded the full-tuition Nash Native American Law Scholarship, which is named for retired Professor Douglas R. Nash and given to an admitted student who is an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe and who demonstrates a commitment to Native issues.

Lauren AbramsLauren Abrams has spent the last year working as the pro bono coordinator at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, helping to connect naturalization clients with volunteer attorneys in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The work cemented her interest in a legal career and helped her focus on immigration issues in particular.

"Working in immigration law can be a roller coaster of emotions," she said. "The losses are frustrating and heartbreaking, but being an advocate for a client is more powerful than words can describe."

Abrams took the position in Minnesota through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps after graduating from Gonzaga University in 2015 with a degree in political science and a commitment to public service. "I found so much value in a Jesuit education because it's so collaborative," she said. "People want to work together to find solutions to problems."

The Bainbridge Island resident spent previous summers working with the Federal Public Defenders in Seattle and a pro bono legal aid center in Spokane.

Stephen VanderhoefStephen Vanderhoef started his career as a high school teacher in his home state of Montana, but when a supervisor noticed his unique ability to connect with troubled kids, he started volunteering at a youth homeless shelter and found a passion for child welfare and advocacy.

After receiving a master's degree in social work from the University of Washington, he worked for several years at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. As an advocate for children, he found himself working closely with attorneys and other legal professionals and he discovered that a court order was the best way to get his clients the services they needed. "That's where the beauty was happening," he said.

A legal education will help him become a more effective advocate, he said. "I look forward to utilizing the framework of law to improve outcomes for marginalized children and families, striving for social justice through the practice of law," he said.

Brandon KilpatrickBrandon Kilpatrick served his nation for five years as an electronics technician and diver in the U.S. Navy. Now he wants to serve his other nation, the Wyandotte Nation, as well as other Native American communities. Kilpatrick, who grew up in Tonasket, Washington, near the Colville Indian Reservation, said he was inspired to seek a legal education after an internship spent working on a trademark protection case for the Navajo Nation, whose cultural designs were being co-opted by an American clothing company.

He's also determined to uphold the legacy of his ancestor, Squire Lewis Grey-eyes, a Wyandotte spiritual leader who resisted  a second forced relocation of his people to Oklahoma. "It is this social responsibility and cultural heritage that was passed to me from my mother and that I hope to pass on to my son," he said.

People with indigenous ancestry are underrepresented in the legal profession, Kilpatrick said. "Native peoples are in need of strong, proactive, and dedicated allies in the legal sector."