Fox becomes inaugural First Start coordinator
First Start Coordinator Amanda J. Fox (J.D.’14) knows just how daunting law school can be when you are the first person in your family to pursue a professional degree, much less be a first-generation college graduate.
“When I heard that the law school was going to be creating this position I immediately applied because it resonated with something deep down inside of me, and that was my own first-generation identity,” she said.
The First-Start Scholars Program at the law school was created thanks to a $3 million gift – the largest outright donation in school history – from 1982 alumna Kathelen V. Amos and the Daniel P. Amos Family Foundation. The program offers first-generation college students partial tuition scholarships and professional development stipends as well as funds the first start coordinator position.
In her role, Fox develops programming and resources to support first-generation college graduates at the School of Law. In addition, she advises all first-generation law students and the First-Generation Student Association.
“As a first-generation college graduate myself, this position is deeply meaningful to me,” Fox said. “I remember how overwhelmed I felt in law school, constantly striving to bridge a gap I couldn’t quite identify. It is hard to get answers when you don’t even know the questions you should be asking. This is why having a dedicated point person for first-generation students is so important, and I am committed to assisting our students in being successful as they pursue their legal education at the School of Law.”
Not only did the position appeal to Fox due to her personal status, considering her background in education and cross-cultural competency, she saw this post as a fortuitous combination of her passions and experiences.
Before entering law school, she spent five years working as a high school English teacher in Japan, where she developed curricula emphasizing cross-cultural exchange and ran training programs designed to help non-native Japanese teachers adapt to living and teaching in the island nation.
While she always planned on going to law school, Fox found teaching “incredibly rewarding.” Reflecting on her professional life after law school, she noted, “I don’t think I prepared myself for how much I would miss working with students and being in education. I tried to think of a way to converge my law degree and how to work with young people as they figure out what they want to do with their lives.”
Now, Fox works with the first-generation students in groups as well as one-on-one to understand their needs and determine how best she can help them.
“I think it’s important to note that they’re not a monolith. They’re all so different,” she said. “It’s an incredibly diverse group and while you can look at statistical data and studies that have been done of first-generation college students, the challenge is that programming has to be just as diverse and as nimble as the population itself. I can only know what they need by getting to know them as human beings.”
Getting to know the students means she learns what their individual concerns are.
“The bulk of my job is getting to know these students and figuring out what individual attention I can give. It is anywhere from personal issues – maybe it’s food insecurity, maybe it’s going through a rough time financially. Some of it is professional development. For other students, it’s all about their academic goals,” she said.
Fox uses these conversations to help drive programming: from hosting events that focus on etiquette and professionalism to bringing in successful first-generation grads to discuss their experience. Each event hosted is tailored toward a specific need she has seen among students.
This upcoming academic year will see additional programming that will help first-generation law students thrive. Fox is involved in rolling out a new financial education program for law students as well as helping the First-Generation Student Association to implement a mentoring program that will offer students a chance to work with young adults as they consider the legal field.
Fox said the most rewarding aspect of her position has been getting to know the students and their dreams and aspirations.
“I know and see them as the complex human beings that they are,” she said. “Getting to know them has been incredibly enriching because I find them to be, frankly, the most impressive group of people I’ve had the privilege to meet. I learn a lot from them and their experiences.”
Fox has been with the university for several years, most recently working as the Dean Rusk International Law Center’s associate director for global practice preparation. In that role, her portfolio included the administration of Global Externships Overseas and At-Home, the Global Governance Summer School, and other academic and research initiatives.
First-Generation Student Association initiates valuable programming for students
In the spring of 2019, law students and first-generation college graduates Tyler C. Mathis and Sharod J. McClendon established the School of Law’s First-Generation Student Association, which supports students who are the first in their families to attend college. Throughout the 2019-20 academic year, the organization has grown – holding events and hosting visitors on campus.
These visitors included Stacey Godfrey Evans (J.D.’03) and R. Dale Hughes (J.D.’86), who spoke as part of the organization’s Practitioner Perspective Series. The aim of this series is to provide students with the opportunity to meet and engage with a variety of legal practitioners. Listening to the experiences of esteemed professionals helps students determine the type of lawyer they want to be and broadens what they conceive as possible for themselves, according to the organization’s leaders.
Unfortunately, some speakers scheduled for the spring semester – G. Sanders Griffith III (J.D.’77) and Monica Bell were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but FGSA adviser and First Start Program Coordinator Amanda J. Fox (J.D.’14) said she is hopeful they will be rescheduled in the coming school year.
The FGSA aims to enhance the academic success, professional growth and personal development of first-generation students who are enrolled at the law school. The organization serves as an organizing force around the social, academic, emotional and financial issues relevant to first-generation students both within and outside of the law school environment.
The organization’s main goals are to assist this cohort as they learn how to navigate law school as well as foster positive relationships between fellow students, legal professionals and the wider community. To that end, the group is open to all students regardless of first-generation status who share the organization’s vision of support.
If you are interested in speaking with the FGSA, please contact Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.