Joe Barnello: Washington Center Experience

 

When I first applied to The Washington Center, I was simply excited to be in Washington D.C. for the summer. I could not wait to see Arlington and the National Mall, visit the various Smithsonians, and see the Supreme Court in action. I soon learned that my D.C. experience would encompass so much more. This experience, which an ELF grant from the Schedler Honors College made possible, gave me many other opportunities that will benefit me immensely in my academic career. The two main areas I gained experience in were knowledge on law schools and work experience at the National Archives.

The most beneficial opportunities I had for the short run pertained to furthering my knowledge of law school, which occurred in three ways: taking my first legal-minded class (Philosophy of Law), attending Law School Admission Council’s (LSAC) law school forum, and making connections with people within the legal field. A part of The Washington Center experience is taking a night class once a week. My class was titled Philosophy of Law: The Supreme Court and the Constitutional Tradition. The class covered the different legal mindsets of Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Stephen Breyer by reading both of their books and analyzing their philosophies by reading different Supreme Court cases. Even though this class was three hours at night at the end of a full day of work, it always kept my interest and attention because I was constantly intrigued with this material. I think this class cemented the belief that I want to go to law school.

Once I knew that law school was the next step in my academic path, I needed to know how to evaluate law schools and what type of law would be interesting to me. I utilized The Washington Center’s informational interview assignment and my supervisor’s connections to make connections of my own and learn about the legal field. The first person I talked to was Mrs. Rashee Raj, the General counsel for the Department of Forensic Sciences. She advised me that I would enjoy appellate law because it involves research and constitutional aspects. I then talked to Mr. Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. His advice for me was to not look at overall ranks as much as clinical programs, graduate work locations, and clerkship opportunities. These were just two people of many who gave me great advice while in D.C.

The last opportunity I had in D.C. to help me with my law school decision was the LSAC law forum. Over one hundred eighty law schools attended this event. Loaded with the knowledge I had from my own research, Mrs. Raj, and Mr. Vladeck, I was able to narrow down my decision to the handful of schools I am pursuing today.

The most beneficial opportunity I took advantage for myself in the long run was interning at the National Archives with Mrs. Karen Needles and the Lincoln Digital Archives Project. Mrs. Needles started this project fifteen years ago with the mission, “The first and only project digitizing the federal records of the Lincoln Administration. All executive, legislative, judicial and military records! If you want to truly understand Lincoln as President, you have to see the BIG picture!”

My small job within this large project was digitizing legislative records. To narrow the lens even further, I worked with documents from the Committees on Indian Affairs, Invalid Pensions, the Judiciary, and Military Affairs from the first session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress. The digitizing process has eight steps: locating the documents in the finding aid, ordering the documents, scanning, transcribing, cataloging, coding web pages, “cleaning” images, and uploading everything to the website. My job comprised the first seven steps, and Mrs. Needles would upload all my work at her house since the Internet in the Central Research Room and the National Archives was not fast enough to efficiently upload the data.

While in D.C., my experiences went beyond the simple tourist attractions. None of these experiences (not even the typical tourist places) would have been possible without the generous ELF grant from the Schedler Honors College. The grant allowed me to research my thesis in the Library of Congress, visit the Supreme Court, connect with people in the law field, and even intern at the National Archives for an entire summer.

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