Miami Law Academic Achievement Program

History of the Dean's Fellows Program

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By Joanna Doerfel, Res Ipsa Staff

The United Nations designated 1994 as the "International Year of the Family." Aldrich Ames was charged with spying for the Soviet Union by the United States Department of Justice. Major League Baseball went on strike, cancelling the World Series. O.J. Simpson was arraigned for the murder of his wife and Ron Goldman. FSU beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the national championship.

But something else happened in 1994 – something only slightly less wellknown and certainly noteworthy – Joanne Harvest Koren, Esq., inaugurated the Academic Achievement Program (AAP) at the University of Miami School of Law. The AAP involves students, faculty, and the law school administration in a collaborative effort to promote and enhance the academic environment for the law school. But at that early stage, the benefits and far-reaching effects of the AAP were greatly underestimated.

Benefits to 1Ls

Beginning first-year law students (1Ls) are given the opportunity to study under other exemplary upper-level students, known as substantive Dean's Fellows, in each of the areas of study required during 1L year – Torts, Property, Elements, Criminal Procedure, Civil Procedure, Contracts, and Constitutional Law. These additional study sessions provide 1Ls with a comfortable, informal, yet invaluable opportunity to ask questions and further delve into foundational subject matter. A current 1L, Cassandra Spring, acclaimed, "I started the program with high expectations, and luckily I've had great Dean's Fellows that have exceeded them all!" Carolina Pelleya, a third-year Dean's Fellow, observed that "the Program is extremely useful in that it breaks down a lot of the barriers implicit in 1L year, it makes teachers more approachable and the language of the law more easily understood because it is interpreted by fellow students. I feel that I not only benefitted tremendously my 1L year from the DF Program, but I was also able to give back to that Program and hopefully help others in the process."

Additionally, the AAP provides first year study-groups and exam-workshop lectures to assist 1Ls in adjusting to the rigors and requirements of law school exams, and law school life generally. Not only do these groups and workshop lectures prepare students for exams, but they also encourage 1Ls by providing additional support, revealing other students with the same concerns, worries, and frustrations; in short, supplying a sense of community in the whirlwind of law school. Another Dean's Fellow, Veena Gursahani, asserted that "the program is a valuable asset to the first year students because not only do you automatically have someone willing to help you with the class, but you have someone who you know wants to relate to you. We're all doing this because we wanted to make the 1L experience better for someone else, because we wanted to help."

Benefits to 2Ls and 3Ls – the Writing Center

But the benefits do not stop with 1Ls. In addition to substantive Dean's Fellows, the Writing Center is available to all law students, providing assistance in paper-editing, Bluebook citing, resume writing, and general knowledge and assistance in law school life. "The AAP Writing Center is an extremely valuable asset for 1Ls and upper-level students alike. The Writing Center is staffed by Dean's Fellows who have demonstrated strong command of essential legal research and writing skills," Josh Feinberg notes. "Every day, Writing Dean's Fellows assist their fellow students with grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and organization of written compositions. The Writing Center gives students the opportunity to refine their legal writing skills in a friendly, non-adversarial, and stress-free environment." Every student can all benefit from this resource, if only to get a fresh eye or a new perspective in a paper or resume. The Writing Center and the exam-workshop lectures should not be undervalued as a crucial and integral resource for all UM students.

Benefits to Dean's Fellows

However, the benefits of the program are not limited to the students who attend the Dean's Fellow sessions, the writing center, or the workshops. Those students who participate as Dean's Fellows profit as well. Another third year Dean's Fellow, Megyn Greider comments, "Having to articulate torts black-letter law to a classroom of first semester 1Ls is the best preparation for jury trials I could ever imagine!" Rising 3L, Jennifer Hochstadt states, "I am grateful for the opportunity to remain involved with first and second year students. Also, the writing center gives me a chance to go back to the basics on a weekly basis. Teaching Blue-booking, correcting grammar and assisting in stylistic formatting forces me to practice those skills as well." Not only does the AAP assist 1Ls, but the Dean's Fellows participating in the program learn interpersonal skills, teaching skills, and book and practical knowledge for realworld trials and negotiations. Also, Dean's Fellows create a bond among each other as several Dean's Fellows noted, "working in the writing center as a Dean's Fellow you become close with your colleagues and we all come to depend on each other."

Benefits to Miami Law

Finally, by benefiting students and fostering interpersonal relationships among and between students and professors, the AAP ultimately benefits the entire university. One student found the most rewarding moments of participating in the program as "seeing someone come in scared, depressed and confused and watch that person grow confident and successful in legal writing as the semester went on" and "[being] told that I was instrumental in assisting someone whose practice exam was passed out by their professor to the entire class." The confidence and academic progress derived from the AAP reflects positively on the University of Miami. When those students go out into the legal community, the skills learned through the AAP can assist young attorneys in making an impression and rising quickly in their firm to senior associate or partner. While this clearly benefits the individual, the achievements of the alumni of UM positively reinforce the quality and superiority of the law school.

Conclusion

The AAP is underutilized and under-valued for the wealth of benefits and significant contributions it adds to every individual associated with the program. Without question, 1994 was an influential and significant year. That significance, at least for Miami and the Florida legal community, was supplemented by the establishment of the AAP and its far-reaching effects. The AAP became the foundational backdrop – the intellectual catalyst – that silently enhances and increases the value of the UM's academia.