Second Class of California Scholars Hits Its Stride

Five women just completed their first year of law school in part thanks to a unique state-funded scholarship program available only at UC Hastings.

The California Scholars Program provides each student with $65,000 in support per year, covering tuition and a $20,000 stipend for living expenses. The program was created in 2018 for students who graduated from a California high school and went on to graduate from a historically Black college or university (HBCU) or the American University of Armenia. There were four students in the inaugural class of 2019-2020.

We recently caught up with the five students in the second class of California Scholars, who just completed their first year of law school. Let’s meet them.

Lois Winn

Name: Lois Winn

Undergraduate School: Alcorn State University

Why are you at UC Hastings Law?

Although I never wanted to live in a big city like San Francisco, I was instantly drawn to UC Hastings after my campus visit. I felt at home. UC Hastings’ proximity to Silicon Valley’s various startups and Fortune 500 companies was also very enticing because I want to spend my career providing legal counsel to businesses.

What drives you?

My desire to help others with the talents that I have been given.

What are your favorite courses so far?

Contracts! Coming into law school, I knew this would be my favorite class because I enjoy reading the fine print.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your off hours?

I enjoy cycling, couponing, and watching reruns of “The Office.”

What was your HBCU experience?

My hometown is not diverse, so attending an HBCU in southern Mississippi was a huge culture shock. The food, music, extra-curriculars, and accents were completely different than what I was used to. In all, I found it to be a very eye-opening experience that showed me how culturally different I was from people who were racially similar to me.

Advice for prospective students?

My advice would be to have a long-term goal in mind when you enter law school. From there, work backward and plan out what you need to do to make that goal a reality. Every day you go to class, internships, and networking events keep that goal in mind. Focus on the forest not the trees.

What does the scholarship mean to you?

When I found out that I received this scholarship, I was speechless. I have been applying for scholarships since my senior year of high school with the hopes of graduating debt-free. This scholarship made that dream a reality, and, post-graduation, I plan to pay it forward.

 

Amira Bell-Jetton

Name: Amira Bell-Jetton

Undergraduate School: Dillard University

Why are you at UC Hastings Law?

Of all the law schools I applied to, I felt that UC Hastings was the best option to take me on the path I have mentally set for myself. My goal is to practice in California, so I knew I wanted to go to a school that would best prepare me for practice in this state.

What drives you?

As a child, I experienced the court system at a very young age when my parents were back and forth, fighting over custody. I was assigned a court appointed attorney to be my advocate when neither of my parents were able to do so. My attorney became my confidant, friend and safe space outside of my family. At one point, I felt like I couldn’t be 100% truthful with either of my parents and my attorney made me feel safe. My desire to become that person or advocate for others affected by our justice system drives me to continue on when times get tough. I remind myself why I wanted to go to law school in the first place.

What are your favorite courses so far?

My favorite courses so far have been Criminal Law, and Legal, Research & Writing (LRW) 1 & 2. As of today, my career goal is to work for a district attorney’s office so the one class I was looking forward to as an incoming 1L was criminal law. I took a summer quick course at Saint Louis University School of Law in 2017 and I fell in love with the subject of criminal law. I’m excited to take criminal procedure and participate in our school’s criminal law clinic in the coming years. I also enjoyed Professor Diamond and his class setting. He was a joy and his jokes made learning about criminal law entertaining, to say the least. My professors for LRW, Wendy Hill and Teresa Wall-Cyb were both enjoyable as well. The smaller class size allowed me to experience them more closely and build relationships with them despite our online setting. They have both equally made my transition to law school a better experience and I cannot wait until I can meet them in person.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your off hours?

Since becoming a law student, my favorite activity during my off hours is nap-taking. When I was in undergrad as a resident assistant, I created an entire bulletin board on the importance of taking a break and napping. Now as a law student, I have never understood it more. I have seen people crash and burn trying to keep up with the stress and rigorous work of law school and taking the time to nap during the day keeps me from doing the same. It’s my favorite form of self-care. I also enjoy, when I have the time, taking trips to the beach in southern California. I have recently discovered a deep love of water and the ocean; I plan on taking a snorkeling trip in Cabo San Lucas as soon as I finish with finals.

What was your HBCU experience?

Dillard University changed my life. A small university in New Orleans, it felt like a home away from home. Dillard had roughly 1,200 students my freshmen year, which was almost half the size of my high school in Hayward, California. The size of my school allowed me to create and build deep connections with every single professor I had as well as my university’s president. He made my mom feel safe enough to leave me thousands of miles away from home and me comfortable to stay for the next four years. I can’t say I would have had the same experience going to a Predominately White Institution. Attending an HBCU, coming from an exceptionally diverse hometown where I didn’t have Black friends until I got to middle school, I felt a sense of community. My number one desire to attend an HBCU was to be able to live with and engage with different Black people from across the country who share a similar experience as me but who also have incredibly different backgrounds and life stories. Attending an HBCU made me feel like a brand-new person and it was the best decision I could have made. I am forever indebted to Dillard University for bringing me some of the most important people and experiences in my life today.

Advice for prospective students?

I would advise prospective students to always remember your “why.” These past two semesters during a pandemic have been some of the hardest months in my life. There were multiple times where I felt like giving up or things were too hard. I had to remind myself why I decided to go to law school, and why I spent all those hours studying for the LSAT and preparing myself for this journey. I’d also advise students to make friends and build your community. Please know you don’t have to go through this journey alone. I feel such relief when I can talk to friends or professors about how I’m feeling. I promise there will be students, no matter how tough they seem to act, who feel and experience law school the same as you. There will also be plenty of upperclassmen who want to see you win.

What does the scholarship mean to you?

This scholarship was the main reason I chose UC Hastings. Hastings was on my radar as a junior in undergrad specifically because of this scholarship. I graduated from Dillard University with about $60,000 in debt, despite the scholarships I received. When I spoke to Mario Lopez and he told me I was admitted as a CA Scholar, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face the entire day. Though I still have my undergrad loans, graduating from law school with little to no debt already places me several steps further than I had anticipated. So, in one sentence, the CA Scholars Program scholarship means everything to me.

What kind of internships or work experiences have you had?

During my junior year at Dillard University, I worked as an investigative intern for the Orleans Parish Public Defenders Office. I gained experience within the courthouse and worked in the field on behalf of my assigned attorney. I also gained experience working with clients and interviewing witnesses to help build cases.

Do you have a secret skill?

I don’t know if I’d call it a secret skill, but I learned how to crochet when I was taking a standardized test in middle school. Every once and a while, I pick up the needle and make scarves and blankets.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

Many of my friends and family tell me they don’t believe me when I say I am very, very shy. They believe because I am outspoken and usually tend to speak with a calm composure, that I exude confidence, but I honestly am so shy.

What are your career goals?

As of right now, I want to work as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. I hope to change the narrative and negative connotation surrounding the prosecutor title, especially within the Black community. So many of my peers have judged me and asked why/how I could want to join a field that works to place Black people in jail. It is my desire to change their minds through my journey.

 

Dominique Armstrong

Name: Dominique Armstrong

Undergraduate School: Spelman College

Why are you at UC Hastings Law?

When I was drafting a list of potential law schools, I wanted to go to schools that had a great number of clinics and externship options. Hastings fit all of my criteria in that department. When I was younger, I often visited San Francisco and Oakland and fell in love with how down-to-earth the people were in comparison to people from the Los Angeles area.

What drives you?

My parents’ ambition drives me because they both came from impoverished backgrounds but worked so hard to be successful and provide for their entire families. I have six siblings and nine nieces and nephews, so I have a big support system and pressure to set the bar for the younger people in my family.

What are your favorite courses so far?

So far, my favorite course was contracts with Professor Jon Sylvester. He taught the course so well and provided great examples to help the students have a better understanding of tough concepts. A great professor can make life so much easier! I also enjoyed my LRW I course because Professor Quinn gave me the foundation of how to write like an attorney.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your off hours?

I am currently watching “The Wire” for the third or fourth time in my life because it is one of my favorite shows. When I have time to leave my house, I will go to the gym and try to burn off my stress from the day. Also, I enjoy taking time to go the beach or sit by the pool with my friends.

What was your HBCU experience?

Because I transferred to Spelman College from Drexel University, there were times when I felt out of place on campus. Everyone had established friend groups and I was the new kid on the block, so I got involved in clubs on campus and in community service in the surrounding community. Also, being a California native in the conservative South was a culture shock. Dr. Fatameh Shafiei helped me get the CA Scholars scholarship, so I am forever indebted to her. Overall, it was a great learning experience, and I gained lifelong connections.

Advice for prospective students?

Go to office hours and take notes of everything the professor says! Being attentive will assist you in knowing how your professor wants you to write on your exams and help you pass. Also, do not be afraid to ask for help or outlines. Take practice exams regularly towards the end of the semester, so you can have an idea of what to expect on your exams. Most importantly, do not feel bad if you are not at the top of your class; you are in competition with yourself not your peers!

What does the scholarship mean to you?

The scholarship is so important to me because I have never received a full scholarship for my academic achievements. I will be forever grateful for this scholarship because it saved my family and me from being in debt. I cried tears of joy when Mario Lopez called me to tell me I got the scholarship because I just could not believe it. I have been wanting to be an attorney since I was 11 years old, so being able to achieve my dream debt free will always be something to be proud about.

What are your career goals?

I am interested in entertainment law, especially working with music artists in their disputes against their record companies. I have seen many talented people signing away their rights to these companies and not realizing until it is too late. I also would love to have my own nonprofit that helps former incarcerated persons get jobs and legal assistance with cleaning their records.

How have you been managing the stress of the pandemic?

When I am feeling stressed out, I will go for a walk or go to the gym. I have recently developed a shoe addiction, so I will buy myself a new pair of shoes. The shoes can range from sneakers to heels because I need a shoe for every occasion. When I am not shopping or working out, I am listening to music and dancing in my room.

 

Kaley Preciado

Name: Kaley Preciado

Undergraduate School: Howard University

Why are you at UC Hastings Law?

Honestly, I thought I was going to go to school in DC, but after experiencing the pandemic in Houston without most of my family, I decided it was best to come back home and go to a school that not only provided a great education, but also gave me the opportunity to spend time with the people most important to me.

What drives you?

The sacrifices of my family and all those who came before me are what really drive me. I want to make the most of the opportunities my family has made possible through their hard work and, hopefully, help the Black students that come after me through my own sacrifices, work at UC Hastings, and work within the legal profession as a whole.

What are your favorite courses so far?

My favorite courses have been torts with Professor Naomi Roht-Arriaza and Constitutional law with Professor Betsy Candler. Both women are extremely insightful and are not afraid to point out the biases and issues that are rampant in our legal system. They do a great job of really preparing students, instead of sugarcoating the reality.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your off hours?

I love watching movies and series, hanging out with my cat Bella, and spending time with my family.

What was your HBCU experience?

My HBCU experience was amazing. People are made to believe being Black means you are one thing, but the Black community is so colorful and expansive. There are so many different cultures, types of people, and experiences. Howard University really exposed me to so many different Black people from around the country. As someone of Black and Latin heritage, it was really nice to see people that could relate to my experience, which was not common for me growing up.

Advice for prospective students?

Don’t let the competition get to you. You are enough. Stay in your lane and go after all opportunities that you feel are for you regardless of what anyone else is doing or has to say about what you’re doing.

What does the scholarship mean to you?

Getting the scholarship was amazing. I didn’t realize how much the debt of law school hangs over your head as a law student. However, I have been able to make decisions without having to think of the financial repercussions of law school.

What kind of internships or work experiences have you had?

I really love working with children, so a lot of my meaningful experiences have been focused on educational work with children in Black and Latin communities within the United States and abroad.

Do you have a secret skill?

I have been a dancer all my life. I love all things dance and performing, so don’t challenge me to a dance battle.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

Most people think I am outgoing, but I really flourish from time by myself. I honestly prefer to be by myself. After all social interaction, I have to go recharge my battery.

 

Dominique Conway

Name: Dominique Conway

Undergraduate School: Hampton University; University of California, Riverside

What drives you?

My desire to be a positive example of hard work and academic dedication in my family. Additionally, there are too few Black women in the profession. This is exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to be a part of the increase of Black women in law and to encourage others to pursue a legal career as well. It is not only possible, but also necessary.

What are your favorite courses so far?

My favorite courses have been contracts and intellectual property. I am interested in working with digital media and the business side of the entertainment field, so I have found these courses to be the most interesting and relevant!

What’s your favorite thing to do in your off hours?

I enjoy cooking, trying new local restaurants, video chatting with family, and catching up on any movies I’ve missed. I also enjoy salsa dancing and hope to get back to the dance floor, once COVID restrictions allow.

What was your HBCU experience?

My HBCU experience at Hampton exposed me to the dynamic experience that is East Coast living. I enjoyed frequently traveling to New York and D.C. for both work and leisure, for cultural events and diversity events hosted by my school. I felt centered and connected to my Blackness in a new way that has made me more confident, self-assured, and determined to succeed.

Advice for prospective students?

My advice would be to make sure to be grounded in your beliefs, stress relievers, faith, or family before you begin this journey. Or all of the above. This process challenges each of us in unique ways and it’s difficult to anticipate exactly how that may manifest. Know why you’re pursuing your legal degree. Know why you want to become an attorney. Then hold onto that and use it to motivate yourself to show up to each class in a meaningful way.

What does the scholarship mean to you?

This scholarship for me means I can breathe quite a bit easier as I pursue my dreams. It means my institution believed in me and what I could accomplish before I even took a single law course. It further means that law school for me will be much less of a lasting financial burden and I can begin enjoying and utilizing the full fruits of my labor much sooner than I would have otherwise. I am forever grateful for this opportunity and will continue to do my best to represent this incredible gift in my endeavors.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I have a 3-year-old son! He means the world to me and everything I do reflects my love for and dedication to being the best mom I can be for him. I am laying a foundation for both of us.

What are your career goals?

I have a passion for film and visual entertainment. My dream is to work in-house for a television network or production company. I want to work directly with content and acquisition behind the scenes.

How have you been managing the stress of the pandemic?

In order to manage stress, I’ve started working out and exploring on the weekends. I try to try out a new restaurant every week and have been exploring the city with my sister. Getting out of my apartment and experiencing the joy of good food has been a highlight of this experience.