Service minded: Dean's Fellow inspired by outreach experiences

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Michigan State University alumna Kristi Hettenbach moved back to her native Michigan after working in North Carolina, to attend Detroit Mercy Law.
– Photo courtesy of Kristi Hettenbach

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Drawn from early in her education to writing and learning about the U.S. government, Kristi Hettenbach earned her undergrad uate degree in Social Relations and Policy from Michigan State University.

“MSU’s James Madison College was the perfect place to learn more about how our government’s policies and laws are implemented within our society,” she said.

Her studies included a summer in Ireland, as a public policy assistant for One Family, a national organization for one-parent families.

“Ireland is an amazing country with an incredibly friendly and laid back culture,” she said. “My bosses at One Family were intellectual and hilarious individuals. I will forever be grateful for the opportunities they gave me to meet with other non-profit organizations and learn about both the non-profit and governmental systems in place in Dublin.”

After graduation, Hettenbach spent four years working for various schools and nonprofits in Washington and North Carolina.

During her time in North Carolina, she enjoyed assisting those most in need in the community.

“No matter where my career path takes me, I intend to continue helping people within local communities,” she said.

“I really enjoyed the people and culture in Asheville,” she added. “I began volunteering for Pisgah Legal Services, a nonprofit that provides free civil legal aid to vulnerable people. I found it fulfilling to provide help to clients by getting to know their personal stories, situations, and needs.

“While I loved the people I worked with, I didn’t find the security and longevity I wanted for my career. I’d always been intrigued by law and I felt law school would give me an ability to change career paths, move back to the Midwest and settle down with a career I can be excited about.”

Now approaching the end of her 1L year at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Hettenbach says she has enjoyed becoming both a student and Michigander again.

“I absolutely love my law school — the support, communication, and positivity exemplified by staff, professors, and students make UMD Law an absolute joy to attend,” she said.

“I’ve learned so much in the last year. Its location in downtown Detroit has allowed me to appreciate the city more than I ever thought possible.”

Hettenbach is incredibly grateful to be a Dean’s Fellow at the law school.

“The Fellows Program has not only provided me with a feasible means to be in law school, but also provided me with opportunities and friendships that will continue throughout my lifetime,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided unique challenges to both classwork and networking opportunities, including those she enjoys through the Federal Bar Association and Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM).

“Thankfully our administrators and professors have been great at communicating with the student body so the transition has been manageable,” she said.

Unless derailed by the pandemic crisis, Hettenbach’s plans are to intern for Judge David H. Sawyer at the Michigan Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids this coming summer.

“I’m thrilled to be working under such an experienced appellate court judge and I hope to gain insight on both criminal law and civil law issues,” she said.

A native of the small west Michigan village of Spring Lake, near Grand Haven, Hettenbach currently makes her home in Clawson in Oakland County.

She enjoys playing volleyball, hiking, skiing and listening to political and true crime podcasts. She is happy to be back in the Great Lakes State and near her family.

“I’ve been blessed with an amazing family. My long-term boyfriend, parents, and sister have been extremely supportive of my decision to pursue law,” she said.

She also finds time to work with local organizations and schools.

“My grandmother has inspired me through her dedication to various community organizations,” she said. “I hope to continue to follow her example throughout my own life.”

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