Faculty mentoring program eases transition to law school

Professor Carrie Kaas and 1L student Caroline Watson
Professor Carrie Kaas (at right) and first-year law student Caroline Watson meet for a mentoring session. Watson signed up for the School of Law's "Day One Mentoring Program," which pairs incoming students with faculty members who share their area of interest.
Feb. 14, 2014 - No matter what age you are, the first day of school can bring some jitters. When Caroline Watson arrived at Quinnipiac for law school orientation this past August, she was comforted to know that she already had a friend waiting for her.

The Ohio native had signed up for the School of Law's "Day One Mentoring Program," which pairs incoming students with a faculty member and a peer mentor. Mentors reach out months before new law students step foot on campus.

During Orientation, Watson met with Carrie Kaas, an associate professor of law who shares Watson's interest in family law. Watson says the program has been extremely helpful. "Being from so far away, it was nice to know I had a connection with someone right away," she says.

The pair has continued to meet occasionally for coffee, to talk about classes, studying techniques and even some personal issues.

The program underscores the law school's commitment to its students and the accessibility of its faculty. "It's a great program with so many benefits," says Kaas, who is mentoring three students as part of the program.

Right before exams, Kaas made appointments to meet individually with her mentees, to check in about how they were feeling about exams and to give them each an "exam stress reduction kit," which included candy, highlighters, pens and stress ball, lozenges and other items.

The mentoring program allows faculty members to connect with students interested in their specialty areas, right from the beginning.

Watson's classmate Dwight Crooks has also benefitted from faculty mentoring at the law school. After being admitted, Crooks visited campus and made a connection with law professor Alexander Meiklejohn. Crooks wanted to brush up on his writing skills and Meiklejohn offered to help.

"He's very detailed with his feedback," Crooks says of his faculty mentor. "It was very helpful."

The two kept in touch over the next several months and have continued to meet now that Crooks is in his second semester. Crooks says he appreciates the guidance from Meiklejohn and the accessibility of the entire faculty at Quinnipiac.

"As a 1L, everything is new. No matter how prepared you are, you get worried," Crooks says. "Having a professor to talk to was key.  He offered objective advice and support throughout the semester."

Crooks looked at other law schools, mostly closer to his home state of New York. But after visiting Quinnipiac, his mind was made up. "I felt like it would be really hands-on here," he says. "The professors are available. It's a culture here."

Meiklejohn says he has enjoyed working closely with Crooks as part of the program and emphasizes that he's not alone in that regard. "This is a truly accessible law school faculty," he says. "It's helpful for students to be aware of that from the beginning."

At this point in the year, Crooks is starting to think about summer internships. He's interested in litigation, business, sports and helping the underserved. Meiklejohn is helping him to explore his options and offering contacts in the field.

Over the last few months, Crooks says he has noticed improvements in his writing and feels comfortable with what he's learning. He meets with several professors on a regular basis. "I take advantage of resources here to do as well as I can," he says.

"The sense of community here--from the dean all the way down--is the best thing about Quinnipiac. I've seen it first-hand."