When you learn that someone went to law school, your natural inclination might be to ask, “What type of law do you practice?” Don’t be surprised if the answer is, “I do not practice law.” Not everyone who goes to law school wants to join a law practice. This is certainly true for Monica Shirley, one of this year’s Diverse Faculty Fellows. Monica had a vision for fusing her two passions – higher education and the law.
“My master’s degree is in adult education,” noted Monica, “but I was also very interested in educational policy and the laws that affect students, so I decided to study law.” While pursuing her J.D., Monica worked for Northeastern Illinois University as a college access facilitator. Her position was embedded in Chicago high schools where she served as a counselor to help students see college as a real and attainable goal. This was not a leap for Monica, she too had college as goal – she longed to be a postsecondary educator. Her passion for teaching had been instilled early on. Her mother and several of her aunts were teachers and always stressed the importance of education. In fact, Monica’s first job when she was 15 years old was as a teacher’s assistant. Despite having the desire to teach and the requisite education, Monica found it difficult to break into higher ed. “It seemed like a vicious circle. People wanted you to have experience, but how do you get experience if no one will give it to you?” Then came the job alert for Harper’s Diverse Faculty Fellow program – no teaching experience required.