Kevin Claybren initially planned to be a pre-med major at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His desire to connect with clients, not cadavers, led him to pursue Women and Gender Studies and consider a legal career instead. 

"I aspire to change hearts, minds, and laws," he says, citing his interest in social justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people of color.

Karla Cruz arrived in America just three years ago, following her mother from the Dominican Republic to Methuen, Mass. Having taught herself English, Karla now studies business at Northern Essex Community College and sees law school in her future. 

"I want to represent the hard-working Hispanic people, like myself, who come to this country looking for a better future," she says.

Cruz and Claybren are two of the 20 college students who participated in the inaugural Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program at Suffolk University in June 2012. This program—one of nine in the nation and the only one of its kind in New England—introduces traditionally underrepresented students to the rigors of legal studies and nurtures their plans to join the profession.

As part of the month-long, fully funded program, the undergraduates undertook a curriculum rich in coursework and meaningful encounters with Boston's legal leaders. The college freshmen and sophomores took intensive classes designed by Suffolk Law's nationally ranked legal writing, clinical and trial advocacy faculty. They also attended special events, including receptions with members of local affinity bar associations, a personal address by Chief Justice Roderick Ireland at the Supreme Judicial Court, meetings with Suffolk Law alumni now practicing in the field, and a trip to hear U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder deliver the keynote speech at a civil rights symposium. 

Their summer studies culminated in a moot court competition, at which they argued the merits of a case before Suffolk Law faculty members and judges.

Inspiring a New Generation in Legal Studies

The immersive month at Suffolk Law won raves from participants. 

"It is obvious that all of the people who helped put this summer program together care about diversity in the legal profession," Claybren says.

Noting the full schedule of classes and networking opportunities, Cruz says, "I never thought I was going to learn so much about the different areas of the law in such a small period of time. I have so many business cards! And having such diverse and experienced law professors made me feel like I belonged."

Law School Dean Camille Nelson, who tasked the committee with finding ways to attract more students from diverse communities to Suffolk, is delighted with the program's successful first summer. 

"This is a manifestation of our mission, which combines excellence, opportunity, and access," Nelson said. "Through the SU PLUS program, college students have the opportunity to learn not only legal concepts, but also about themselves and their future roles as leaders in the law."

Students from as far away as the University of California-Berkeley and San Francisco State University and from as close by as Boston College and Tufts University were selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants. The elite group included two Suffolk University students, Carols Florian and Haley Ford.

"The students are smart, inquisitive, engaged in learning, and a lot of fun to teach and get to know," said Assistant Clinical Professor of Law and Diversity Committee member Sarah Boonin, who helped write the gran proposal that won funding from LSAC for three years. "It has been wonderful to witness many of the students 'see themselves' in this profession—and in the accomplished attorneys, jurists, and leaders they've met over the course of their month with us."

Keren Zuniga McDowell, who also helped write the grant and whose Office of Academic Access and Opportunity helped design and administer the program, says, "This group of students has renewed my faith in the future. I'm looking forward to them being leaders—in their schools and communities, nationally, and globally."

The first crop of SU PLUS students relishes the challenge. 

"There are always problems that need to be addressed," Cruz says. "Being a lawyer gives you the opportunity to advocate for yourself and others in need."

"I have never been so sure of anything," Claybren says, when asked if he'll apply to law school. "I am a little nervous about the first year of law school, but now I have a positive curiosity."