NWACC and Notre Dame Alumnus Protects Water Resources: NorthWest Arkansas Community College

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NWACC and Notre Dame Alumnus Protects Water Resources


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NWACC alum Rob Lee just wrapped up studies at Notre Dame Law School and was awarded a prestigious fellowship. After passing the bar exam, he will serve two years protecting water resources in Wisconsin.

Lee credits NWACC with providing him a great start to his academic journey.

“As a non-traditional student who had already entered the workforce, I needed to be able to work a part-time job and transition back into academics on a budget,” he recalls. “NWACC provided a low-cost, local option with smaller classrooms and more access to my teachers, giving me the foundation I needed to succeed at other institutions of higher learning.”

He completed his studies toward an Associate of Arts at NWACC in December 2012 and transferred to the University of Arkansas, where he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. On May 19, he graduated cum laude with a Juris Doctor from the University of Notre Dame Law School.

He credits NWACC faculty in helping him reach his potential — and in spurring his interest in his area of specialization: environmental law.

Dr. April Brown, Professor of History and a former Honors Program coordinator, provided encouragement at just the right time.

“Dr. April Brown was the first professor to take an interest in me and encouraged me to join the Honors Program at NWACC,” he recalls. “Without her encouragement, I probably never would have realized my full potential.”

When he’s talking about NWACC’s Honors Program, Lee says two professors come to mind quickly — Ellen Turner and Sabrina Chesne. “In Professor Turner’s Honors Biology course, I discovered how much I love science policy while completing an EMPACTS project on stem cell research and government regulation. That project was probably the first real step in my journey to becoming an environmental attorney. Professor Chesne’s World Lit courses were a blast, and they really kicked my reading comprehension, communication, and critical thinking skills into to high gear — all essentials in the legal profession. I still have annotated copies of every book we read.”

His favorite NWACC professor outside of the Honors Program was Dianne Phillips. “Her knack for engendering curiosity in her students, myself included, is unparalleled,” he says. “The Higgs Boson still blows my mind.”

Lee, whose hometown is West Fork, was one of two Thomas L. Shaffer Fellows named in May. According to a news release from Notre Dame, the fellowship covers the cost of salary and benefits for two Notre Dame Law graduates to work for two years at a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization that provides legal services to low-income or other underrepresented populations. Through the Thomas L. Shaffer Fellowship, fellows are able to create their dream jobs, the release states.

Lee and the other Notre Dame Class of 2018 fellow, Ka’sha Bernard, were able to select the organizations where they would work and design the projects they will complete at those organizations. Both chose environmental law. Lee will be a Shaffer Fellow at Midwest Environmental Advocates in Madison, Wisconsin. He’ll work there for the next two years to protect the state’s water resources. Lee and Bernard are the eighth class of Thomas L. Shaffer Fellows. Since the Shaffer Fellowship launched in 2011, the Notre Dame Law School has selected 17 fellows to complete projects at 14 organizations across the United States.

His route to a law degree was different from that of some of his peers, he notes. Yet, Lee sees value in different experiences and perspectives, and he thinks his own experiences are a testament to what studying at his local community college offered.

“Having started out at a community college, my path has differed considerably from many of my peers,” he says. “That just goes to show all the doors NWACC can open for its students if they are simply willing to put in the work. I apply that work ethic to everything I do while taking time to appreciate where others are coming from, as long as they are giving their best, too.”

Exceed @NWACC is a blog affiliated with NorthWest Arkansas Community College. For more information about your community college, visit nwacc.edu.