IMPACT of GIVING
Fellowship Offers Students Opportunity to Dig into Public Interest Work, Set Stage for Career
For many years, Michelle Miller ’86 felt that two Minnesota Law alumni deserved greater recognition for their accomplishments: Judge Pamela G. Alexander ’77, the first Black female judge in the state of Minnesota, and Judge Michael B. Davis ’72, the first Black federal district court judge for the District of Minnesota. Hailed as champions of the Minnesota legal community, both worked to make the justice system fairer for all and to lift up future generations of law students.
“We often talk about whose shoulders we stood on, who were the pathfinders and the leaders,” Miller says. “They were supportive, trail blazers, mentors to so many of us.”
During her time as vice president and chief counsel of employment law at Medtronic, Miller led the effort to endow a scholarship in their names, seeing the need for more people dedicated to social justice in the legal profession. For the past two years, the scholarship has supported students who demonstrate a commitment to social justice and a passion for making a difference through civil rights or public interest work.
Recently, Miller doubled down on her commitment to helping students. She and her husband, Al, established a fellowship in Judge Alexander and Judge Davis’ names that provides financial support to students participating in summer internships in public-interest organizations, especially those who show a commitment to social justice.
Recognizing Judge Alexander and Judge Davis with the fellowship was a natural fit; they were two of the people who helped instill in Miller her appreciation for mentorship and on-the-job experience. When Miller had early doubts about continuing her legal education, Alexander encouraged her to stay the course and recognized the fit between law school and Miller’s skills and interests. Judge Davis supported and mentored Miller through an externship, listening closely to her life experiences. Both Alexander and Davis understood that Miller wanted to leave the world better than she found it.
One of three students to receive the fellowship this summer, Lucy Chin ’24, worked at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, an organization that addresses issues such as mass incarceration and the criminalization of poverty. Chin had the opportunity to help build cases to support individuals who are currently incarcerated. The experience furthered her excitement to pursue a public interest role related to the criminal justice system and to address racial injustice within the legal system.
“It was very meaningful to receive funding to support this work,” Chin says. “We should be working to make the criminal justice system as equitable and mitigate as many disparities as we can, whether that’s within the current system we have or rethinking how our system is structured.”
Olufunsho Delé Nwabuzor ’25 is halfway to obtaining his dual degree in law and social work. The fellowship supported his work as a law clerk for the Minnesota Disability Law Center and as a litigation clerk for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.
“I was able to apply a lot of what I learned in law school, but also I was able to learn to lot and get some real practical experience,” Nwabuzor says. “It was a really good opportunity to liaise and work with individuals who had been practicing for longer, but also to receive feedback about each of the different aspects of the trial as I practiced them in real time.”
Going forward, he plans to work in the child protection system and then to explore opportunities in legal aid or public service work, focusing on issues that combine his legal and social work backgrounds to bring about change.
Miriam Miller ’25 had known when coming to Minnesota Law that she wanted to focus on an area of public interest work. Her fellowship with Federal Defenders of Alabama inspired her to choose criminal justice as her concentration. The role gave her a chance to research cases, sit in on hearings, and even visit clients on death row.
“You learn all of these theories and principles in the classroom, and they seem very theoretical — and then you go into an environment like that, and you see it at play,” Miriam Miller says. “You see it come to life.” She credits the fellowship for allowing her to focus on legal work and not worry about getting a second job to make ends meet.”
For Michelle Miller’s part, she hopes the students who benefited from the fellowship will harness what they learned from their experiences and dedicate themselves to making a difference in their future careers.
“I don’t believe that one person can necessarily change the world,” she says. “But I do believe that if we each work on our little corner of the world and come together, we can effectuate real change.”