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Field Trip: Students witness reality of criminal justice system

This spring break professor Dan Urman led 20 students in the Law and Public Policy Minor on a two-day experiential learning trip to New York, where they gained new perspectives on public, private and nonprofit career opportunities, and witnessed the reality of the criminal justice system and naturalization process.

The trip kicked off on March 6 with a visit to Central Islip Federal Courthouse in Long Island, New York. Federal District Court Judge Joseph F. Bianco welcomed students, and introduced them at a naturalization ceremony where he administered the oath and granted citizenship to several hundred individuals representing over 40 countries

First year student Richard Liebert described the event as uplifting and interesting. “Scores of people were in tears, and there was an unmistakably human and emotional quality to the entire process,” Liebert said. “I was surprised by the sheer magnitude of emotion present in the room… the new citizens had worked, lived, loved, lost, and bled in this nation for years and now, at last, they were embraced fully as ‘one of us,’ endowed with all of the rights and liberties enumerated in the Constitution.”

Following the ceremony, students met with the head federal prosecutor and chief public defender at the courthouse, who reflected on the criminal justice system and some of the barriers to reform. Students also watched various activities in court, including a criminal sentencing and oral argument.

Apurva Sahay, a fourth-year student, said the opportunity to shadow a federal judge in session and chambers “felt especially unique, and incredibly eye opening. The naturalization ceremony had an emotional impact on me.”

Fourth year student Nicholas Craig agreed, adding: “We got a unique view into how our judicial system can function to improve the lives of everyone around us. While it can be hard to step away from the constant news cycle and apparent problems with all the branches of our government, Judge Bianco showed us some inspiring examples of how well our system can work.”

On March 7, students met multiple lawyers and policymakers in Manhattan. At Dow Jones headquarters, they heard the in-house counsel for the Wall Street Journal and other publications discuss the tension between getting a story first and getting it right, as well as the challenges connected to fake news and the protections offered by the 1st Amendment.

After visiting Dow Jones, the group met with two executive directors of nonprofit organizations and a federal prosecutor, who discussed the joys of public service and the challenges America faces home and abroad. Oliver Vazquez, a first-year engineering student, said the speakers inspired him to pursue a career in public service.

The trip concluded with a visit to Columbia Law School where students talked to professor Bert Huang about paths to law school and strategies for success. Huang reflected on his own training—a JD and PhD in Economics—and students considering the same path said they appreciated the opportunity to hear from someone who had already completed it.

“People have a lot of bad things to say about lawyers, but I think it’s a great field where you can affect a lot of change,” Madeleine Shay, a second-year chemistry major, said a nearby café.

Liebert, who is debating whether to attend law school, said he feels more prepared to plan a law career thanks to this experience. Fourth year student Katie Larkin said the trip was “absolutely incredible,” adding that she would recommend a future trip to anyone considering a career in law.

“It was great to hear from leaders in a wide range of legal fields, from federal prosecutors and defenders to foundation managers and careers I had not even considered as possibilities,” she said. “We also had the chance to see a side of the legal community that you don’t typically see from observations or interviews, and the opportunity to make connections with incredible mentors for the rest of our time in and after Northeastern.”

According to Ashtiani, professor Urman “went above and beyond the call of duty” by introducing students to “some of the most impressive people in the country.”

“I have never met a professor as passionate, brilliant, and well connected as Dan Urman,” Ashtiani said. “He does anything for his students, and this trip is no exception.”

For Sahay, the trip provided him with insight into the legal field and the possibilities and motivations that compose it. And Vazquez said the trip reinforced Northeastern’s mission and unique advantages.

“Only so much can be learned from reading opinions and discussing the legal system,” Vazquez said. “It is often necessary to immerse oneself and experience how concepts we learned in class apply to real life situations. We did just that.”

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Published On: March 22, 2018 |
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