Students get to know a field of impressive mentors - quickly



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

On the evening of June 27, Thomas M. Cooley Law School students had six minutes to ask questions of a prestigious group of potential mentors; but they also had nine opportunities to keep asking.

The National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) has adopted a program called MentorJet, loosely analogous to speed dating, where mentees move from mentor to mentor, helping them to explore questions they have about careers and career success.

The program started in Alaska, during the tenure of Alaska Supreme Court Justice Dana Fabe as NAWJ president (2009-2010). In March 2010, NAWJ put its weight behind MentorJet as a national program, and it has been given around the country since 2011.

It has often been held in conjunction with NAWJ’s Color of Justice program, intended to “encourag(e) students to consider legal and judicial careers.”

In March of this year, Cooley’s Lansing Campus gave MentorJet a try.

Judge Katherine L. Hansen, a Detroit 36th District Court jurist who is NAWJ District Director for Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia, served as liaison and helped organize both events. She served as a mentor June 27.

As Cooley Grand Rapids main event organizer, Career and Professional Development Coordinator Kaleena Kowalkowski, explained, there was a 35-student limit, but the response was so great they allowed a few others to alternate, provided they were willing to sit out some of the six-minute sessions.

One of the student alternates, Elliot Gruska, said that, with a science background, he was fairly certain about pursuing a career in Intellectual Property law, but, “I want to get a feel for what they like and don’t like about their jobs.”

The variety of jobs the mentors represented was broad, everything from judges to judicial clerks to regulatory authorities to non-profit attorneys.

And the mentor list was truly impressive: State Bar presidents, judges both male and female, U.S. attorneys, people from all geographic areas of the state — all garnered by putting out a request through Cooley avenues.

Among the mentor participants in Grand Rapids (in addition to those pictured) were: Margaret Allen, The Law Offices of Margaret E. Allen in Rockford; Linsey A. Aten of Varnum, also Chair, Western Region, Women Lawyers Association of Michigan; Liz Balck, of the immigration non-profit Justice For Our Neighbors; Danielle Brown, Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs; Jessica M. Desnoyers, Scholten Fant, Grand Haven; Suzanne Lockwood Hayes of Seniors helping Seniors; Tamsen Horton, Vuja De Law; Hon. Jeffrey R. Hughes, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, Western District; Liesel Cervin and William E. Rohn, also of Varnum; Neal Young, Michigan Compensation Appellate Commissioner; and Vicki S. Young, Law Clerk to Jeffrey Hughes.

There was genuine engagement between the pairs, despite the short time frame. Students reflected that they were very pleased.

Kowalkowski said that Cooley GR intends to repeat the event, and next time she hope to involve the Grand Rapids Bar more closely. “It was our first event, and we weren’t sure how many students to expect, but we can see there’s a lot of demand. We’re really excited about the turnout.”