Each semester, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs calls for nominations of outstanding graduating students who have maintained high academic achievements while contributing exceptional leadership and service to the University and our community. This year, an extraordinary student, Alison Stephens, was nominated by the Professional and Career Development Center Director, Molly Wilensky, for the award. On May 11, Stephens and the other honorees were recognized at a breakfast celebration.
Alison Stephens excelled while at UMKC School of Law. She was in the top 20 of her class, despite being in practice for Trial Advocacy, taking a full load of courses and working. Professors S. Rafe Foreman and Michaelle Tobin consider Alison a “champion.”
In her first year on the Trial Advocacy program, Alison made a remarkable impression at every competition. She won the AAJ regional (only her second tournament), advanced to the national tournament and was a finalist. She was a member of the first Tournament of Champions team in school history and was the second chair to the Top Gun competition (another first in the school history). She also conducted and ran, according to Tobin and Foreman, the “biggest, best 1L Mock Trial Tournament in school history.”
“Alison’s work in running the trial clinics and tournament was no small feat,” Molly Wilensky, director of the Professional and Career Development Center, said. “It requires a lot of professionalism, organization and commitment.”
Wilensky worked with Stephens on her resume and in her post-graduate job search and also engaged with her through the Pro Bono/Public Service Honors Program. Students who choose to participate in the Program must complete 200 services hours during the course of law school. The program helps to instill a sense of civic responsibility in students and demonstrate a commitment to public service and meeting the needs of those of limited means in the community. Stephens enrolled during her first summer of law school and completed 247 uncompensated pro bono service for a judge at the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County and a judge at the Missouri Court of Appeals – Western District. Of the eligible law students, Stephens completed the most hours in the voluntary program.
As an urban, public law school, UMKC School of Law has a unique responsibility and capacity for supporting the Kansas City legal community. Wilensky notes that it is admirable that Stephens committed her first summer to our community; typically, the summer between 1L and 2L year of law school is the first opportunity for students to pursue legal-related internships. With excellent grades and a strong class rank, it would have been very tempting to pursue a paid position with a private firm, but instead directed her service elsewhere.
She acted as the Associate Justice of Development and Competitions for the Board of Barristers, the President of the Phi Delta Phi Honors Legal Society, and as an Emissary for the Admissions’ staff. Stephens balanced all of this while engaging in the Trial Advocacy program.
Tobin and Foreman emphasized that Stephens is a unique, competitive and determined student.
“Alison is not the ordinary thread in the tune,” they said in their letter of recommendation, “but the purple, that which gives honor and distinction to all the rest.”
In her own written statement, Stephens said, “Pro bono and public service work has played a key role in shaping my professional values. Although there might be irony in volunteer work, work that benefits all those involved is work that I am proud to be a part of.”
Check out the other honorees here.