Four recent University of Tennessee College of Law graduates have been selected as recipients of $4,000 awards that will assist them in repaying student loan debt.
The Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell, & Berkowitz, PC Loan Repayment Assistance Program at UT Law annually provides up to $10,000 to qualified applicants. Each of the 2018 recipients is working in public interest law either in non-profit organizations or with government entities.
This year’s recipients are Ashley Adams, Juan Gutierrez, Maria Hunter, and Willie Santana.
- Adams, a 2012 alumna, is a staff attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala. She said her long-term career goal is to always have a job where she feels as though she is making a difference. Since graduating, Adams has worked as an assistant public defender with the Tuscaloosa County Office of Public Defender, as a trial attorney at the Jefferson County Public Defender’s Community Law Office in Birmingham, Ala., and as a civil insurance defense attorney. She returned to public interest work earlier this year. “As a staff attorney at the Equal Justice Institute, I know that the work I am doing is having a profound impact on people’s lives and is changing this world for the better,” she said.
- Gutierrez, a 2016 alumnus, is a staff immigration attorney in New York with the Bronx Defenders’ New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. Gutierrez said he was inspired to begin working with immigration law following his family’s own seven-year-long process of becoming lawful permanent residents. “Practicing immigration law … presents a chance to change the conversation where political debates have hit a wall. It is disruptive and cuts through the noise and allows the facts to surface,” he said. “For that reason, and among many more, my long-term career goal is to become immigration law litigator” and ultimately appear before the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Hunter, a 2012 alumna, is a staff attorney with the Municipal Court of Atlanta. Throughout her career she has represented indigent defendants in misdemeanor, juvenile, and felony cases. “My long-term career goal is to return to the courtroom in the capacity of a public defender,” she said. “I have a strong appreciation for the work and committing my time to helping those who cannot afford legal services.”
- Santana, a 2014 alumnus, is a staff attorney in the Knox County District Attorney’s office. Since graduating, he founded the Hispanic Outreach Leadership Association of the Lakeway Area to facilitate the integration of the Hispanic and Latino families in East Tennessee. “Last year I lobbied for a resolution in the Tennessee General Assembly supporting Puerto Rico’s admission as the 51st state and, after much work, was able to work to get it across the finish line in the House of Representatives,” he said. He also mentors “a handful of teens, many immigrants, as they seek to find their place in this country.”
College of Law Dean Melanie Wilson said the generosity of the Baker Donelson Loan Repayment Assistance Program enables the college to recognize graduates who are undertaking life-changing work for the public good.
“These are graduates who respect our unique responsibility and privilege, as lawyers, to serve those people who need assistance in the communities in which we live,” Wilson said. “These young lawyers are truly deserving.”