Ozarks grad scores Vanderbilt law scholarship

Release Date: 5/14/2012

U of O grad Sean Atkins ('11) knocked one out of the ball park when he was recently accepted into Vanderbilt Law School and made recipient of Vanderbilt's Chancellor's Scholarship, $110,000 spread across three years.

Vanderbilt Law has consistently ranked among the top 20 law schools in the nation, and is currently ranked 16th in the 2012 edition of U.S. News & World Report. Needless to say, competition is fierce. So what's the secret?

For one thing, Atkins came to the application process well prepared. President's or Dean's honor lists in each of his eight semesters at Ozarks, Student Government Association president, Outstanding Student in International Relations as well as Public Policy, Atkins graduated from Ozarks with Summa Cum Laude honors and received the Hurie Award on graduating. It is the highest honor an Ozarks student can receive.

Sean Atkins with Dr. Niece

Sean Atkins, shown here with University President Dr. Niece on the day he received the Hurie Award, has been awarded the Chancellor's Scholarship from Vanderbilt Law School.

"One of the main things that made my application stand out was having a great résumé," Atkins said. "And the reason mine was so strong was that I worked closely with my professors at Ozarks to get it that way. Dr. Stewart Dippel, Dr. Gilbert Parks, Dr. David Strain, and Dr. Jesse Weiss, among others, contributed to my knowledge in the classroom, but they also helped me get the real experience that you need to build a strong résumé."

Atkins' "real experience" included three challenging summer internships during his undergraduate years at U of O.

"One of them I got through Career Services, working for a political public relations firm in Little Rock, Impact Management Group" Atkins said. "Impact Management was a conservative firm, and that was the summer that the Tea Party first got big, so there were a half dozen massive rallies all through Little Rock and the surrounding area. In my internship for the PR firm I spent the majority of my time putting together polling data throughout the state of Arkansas from the last 20 or so years, but I also had the opportunity to help arrange several of their rallies and fundraisers. It was a blast to put together and organize a couple of thousand extremely enthusiastic politicos into an organized rally."

Atkins also participated in the Georgetown summer program. Ozarks has been represented in the summer internship programs in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown University every year for the past ten years. The program combines coursework and practical experience through a number of Washington's top-tier academic and internship programs. Many U of O students have gone on to distinguished careers because of the opportunities afforded by their time at Georgetown.

"At Georgetown I enrolled in the Engalitcheff Institute of Comparative Political Economics," Atkins said. "That program is generally believed to be the toughest offered, due to the intensive class on comparative economic systems. As for my internship, I worked with Capital Research Center, a watchdog organization whose primary purpose is to ensure that non-profit organizations spend their donations and Federal grants in a responsible manner. During that internship I spent the majority of my time documenting the various uses to which 501c-3 organizationsput their funding, and looking for discrepancies. I was also able to attend several invitation only meetings with high profile organizations in Washington, such as the Heritage Project."

Atkins' funding came from a combination of the maximum scholarship available from the Fund for American Studies, the organization that arranges the Georgetown internships, as well as U of O's Clayton Scholarship.

"The final internship I got through the help of Dr. Dippel," Atkins said, "working for the prosecuting attorney's office in Russellville. During that summer, I worked with their victim coordinator, helping victims of a variety of crimes during the trial period. While there was a lot of paperwork involved, the best moments were those in which I was able to see the impact of our help on the lives of the victims. After that summer, they actually hired me back the next year and put me in charge of two separate projects. In one we compiled the information for a sensitive case that's still under wraps, and in another, I put together data for a study of the Russellville drug court system."

Atkins said he is interested in criminal litigation and ultimately would like to be a criminal litigation judge. "But I don't want to be just some businessman who's appointed to the position and has to depend on his clerks," Atkins said. "I want to know what I'm doing, and the best way I can imagine that is working my way up through the ranks."

Atkins offered three pieces of advice to any potential pre-law students reading this: "First," he said, "take as many opportunities as you can to do internships during your summers, and even during the year. Aside from building your résumé, which it does, it also gives you a lot of great experiences that help prepare you for a future in law.

"Secondly, don't be discouraged by 'grunt work.' I have done far more database entry and filing of paperwork than I would have preferred, but a willingness to do that work, and do it well, opens up a surprising number of opportunities to be involved in something more exciting.

"Finally, start looking at and applying to law schools early. While many law schools have a fairly late application deadline - anywhere from late January to April - the scholarships go to students who apply early."