For pre-law student Savannah, graduating from UIUC is only the beginning. We sat down with her to learn more about how her dedication to justice, her strong Latina identity, and how she plans to bring both to a governmental scale in her career.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
“So, I’m a junior. I’m from the suburbs of Chicago. … I’m studying political science, and now psychology, as of last semester. Minor in Spanish. I’m pre-law, so I’m currently preparing to take the LSATs this summer, which is very intimidating, but I’m going to do it. I want to be a lawyer and eventually a judge; those are my aspirations career-wise. I participate in band on campus, have played the flute for probably like a decade now, and right now, I’m the president of the gymnastics club on campus, which has been awesome. And that’s my life currently. ”
Why the interest in law?
“Well, growing up, all my family members told me to be a lawyer because I was bit argumentative. … I mean, I feel very strongly about justice and just that every person deserves an equal opportunity to do what they want with their lives. And so, as I learned more and more about the issues in the United States specifically, I just knew that I want to be a part of it so I can help change it for the better. … I want to end up in Washington, D.C. where I can become a federal judge or district attorney. … I think that I would be able to contribute to the types of policies that I want to see being implemented in the government.”
Tell us about your internship with the public defender’s office.
“Yeah, it’s awesome. …I just really appreciate the professional opportunity and the ability to network with some of them and get their perspectives as lawyers. … I’ve learned a lot because they really allow me to see all aspects of a case. So like, when I go into the office on a given day, I could be sitting in court, observing, taking notes. I could be watching surveillance footage or body cam footage of an arrest, looking for certain things, creating transcripts of interviews. Or literally going downtown to the Satellite Jail in Urbana and speaking with defendants directly and helping them communicate with their attorneys. I’ve just learned a lot about the judicial process.”
Has your internship informed your thinking in any way?
“Yes, I think my internship definitely even contributed to me adding psychology as a second major last semester. … As I was speaking with a lot of the defendants in jails, I’m not a psychologist or a mental health expert, but I just I kind of noticed that some of them seem to exhibit signs of maybe a mental illness or just something that hasn’t been addressed properly, and that has probably contributed to their incarceration and where they were in their life. And I just didn’t think that was right or just, and so I wanted to learn more about the field of psychology.”
You mentioned wanting to inspire others in the way you represent Latina culture. Can you talk a bit more about that?
“Yeah. So my mom is Panamanian and French, and my dad is Mexican and Irish. So I’m mixed and identify very closely with my Latina culture from both countries. I’m fluent in Spanish, and I have family still in Panama and Mexico, and it’s been a part of my life growing up. And so I knew that I was going to take it with me everywhere that I went. … There’s a lack of diversity, I think, in the establishments that have authority over government. … I believe that all people should be represented equally, and that’s why I want to represent my culture within that. …
“A lot of times, there’s a disparity in the resources and the opportunities given to minorities and people of color, like Latinos. I feel so grateful that I received opportunities that allowed me to get to this point, have a college education, have the opportunity to attend law school, potentially, and I don’t want to waste that; I want to use it and represent my people in the way that I know that we are capable of being.”
How do you see your psychology background and your ability to speak Spanish playing a role in your career?
“Well, I mean, I plan to probably end up representing people with mental health needs at some point, so that’s directly relevant. Also … there are not that many mental health providers who speak Spanish. And there are so many people that have needs that don’t speak English. And so I’d like to be able to be helpful like that. … Sometimes I translate at the public defender’s office, too. They don’t have a translator that’s present all the time. I mean, it’s hard to afford one, but I just see the need for that in all aspects of everything, but also I’m interested in immigration law, and that’s a direct intersection also.”
How do you balance everything?
“I definitely have to balance my time well. … So, our gymnastics practices are Monday through Thursday, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. I have to be in the gym to open it and lock it up at the end of the night though, for that entire three-hour period. … On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have class from 9:30 to 5:00 kind of back to back, so those days are pretty packed. But my Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays, I go in to intern at the public defender’s office. … Mondays and Wednesdays, I try to really use the time I have during the day to get ahead on work. I do homework for the following week. … So yeah, I try really hard to stay on task, and I’ve gotten better at it over time.”
And when do you start studying for the LSATs?
“I’m starting. They recommend 4 to 6 months of studying. I’m very nervous, but … I’m trying to study as consistently as possible because it’d be ideal to take the exam, get a really good score, and never take it again. … My plan currently is to take the June LSAT, and then if I need to take it again, probably October.”
How do you feel you’ve grown at UIUC?
“Before coming to college, I was a little more timid and definitely needed a push to do different things. … But I’ve become so much more independent and willing to take initiative. … Illinois is a great school, but it’s so big. So when you want something, you have to go after it yourself. You have to email people, you have to get in people’s faces, ask questions. … So I’d say probably in that aspect, I just I feel more like an adult, just independent and capable and not needing to depend so much on others. I still depend on them, but in a different way.”
What advice do you have to others who are timid and feel like they need a bit of a push, too?
“I would say it’s okay to be timid, but it’s important to realize when you need to be a little bit more assertive, which you’ll learn with time. … Just establish connections with people, because then it makes it easier from there to get the information you need, get the questions you have answered, or discover opportunities. I think a lot of the opportunities I’ve come across were just because I was curious. … I see an application and fill it out because I’d rather have the opportunity than not. So I just say, try to create as many opportunities for yourself as you can.”