KOKOMO, Ind. — Danika Smith has dreamed of being an attorney since early in her high school career.
Her dream is one step closer to reality, as she is one of the first students selected for the Indiana University Regional Law Scholars program, which provides half tuition to the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.
Smith, B.S. ’14, also gained admission to the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity (ICLEO), and will attend its six-week summer institute in Bloomington to prepare her for success in law school.
“It is an honor to be one of the first three recipients of this scholarship,” said Smith, from Cicero. “The McKinney School of Law was my first choice, so I was thrilled to be accepted, and then even more thrilled to receive this scholarship. It means a lot to know that people saw potential in me, and the school was willing to invest in me as a student. It makes everything I did in my undergraduate career worth the work.”
Earning her degree in public administration, as well as the student activities she participated in while at IU Kokomo, prepared her for the rigors of law school. Sarah Sarber, dean of students and a law school graduate, served as her mentor, advising her on preparing her resume and application, and giving her pep talks before Smith took the LSAT.
“The professors and staff here are very close with students, and take a personal interest in helping us reach for our goals,” Smith said. “Even after I graduated and moved for my job, they helped me prepare for the next step.”
Sarber said Smith, who served as student body vice president, is “an ideal candidate” for the program.
“We are so proud to have Danika as part of the first class of IU Regional Law Scholars,” Sarber said. “She was an excellent student, with high levels of involvement on campus and in the community, and internship experiences that were very relevant to her chosen profession. She has prepared herself well for law school. I look forward to seeing where her legal career will take her.”
Sarber noted it was also a great honor for Smith, who is of Hispanic descent, to be selected for the competitive ICLEO program. The statewide initiative helps minority, low income, or educationally disadvantaged college graduates pursue law degrees and legal careers.
Those selected participate in a six-week program the summer before entering law school, with housing and course materials provided, and no tuition. Those who complete the summer institute successfully are certified as ICLEO Fellows, and receive an annual stipend of $9,000 for up to three years after enrolling in an Indiana law school.
Together, the IU Regional Law Scholars Program and ICLEO put a law degree within her reach, and give her more options when she completes it.
“I’m going to graduate with less debt, which provides opportunities after I complete this degree,” she said. “I will be able to wait for a job I love, and not have to grab the first one offered. It alleviates the burden of figuring out how to pay for law school, so I can focus on academics.”
Another IU Kokomo connection helped Smith gain hands-on law experience between earning her undergraduate degree and applying for law school. Fellow alumna Jessica Norfleet recommended Smith for a job at Robert Norfleet Law Office, owned by her uncle. Smith spent 18 months working as Norfleet’s paralegal, helping prepare for criminal defense cases, in Somerset, Kentucky. That experience gave her new perspective on potential careers with a law degree.
“I would never have thought I would be interested in criminal defense, but this was an eye-opening experience,” she said. “It solidified my interest in law, and showed me there are many interests and areas you can work in with a law degree. I am keeping my options open.”
Smith and two other IU regional campus alumni are the first class of IU Regional Law Scholars. It offers a minimum of a renewable half-tuition scholarship, as well as guaranteed experiential learning opportunities, or paid employment as a research assistant after completing 31 law school credit hours.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.