Courtney Lynch graduated from UK earlier this year with a B.A. in sociology.
The oldest of three children, she says she has been accustomed to setting an example for others to follow. She says that’s also spurred her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way – at UK that meant travelling to over 15 countries in one calendar year, and after graduation participating in AmeriCorps Public Allies Program at the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati.
She was accepted to Harvard Law, where she is in the midst of her first semester. A&S recently caught up with the Newport, Ky., native to talk about what drew her to sociology, her time studying abroad, and some of her goals for the future.
A&S: Where are you from and how did you decide on UK?
CL: I am from Newport, Ky., and a 2008 graduate of Newport High School (and valedictorian).
I choose UK because I wanted to stay in state. As a first generation college student I wasn’t sure if I could handle living more than a few hours away from my family, and I wanted all of the advantages of living in a large city and attending a large university. I attended a DECA competition on UK’s campus during my junior year of high school and fell in love with the campus.
A&S: How did you decide on sociology as a major?
CL: I entered UK as sociology major. I was enrolled in an introductory sociology course during my senior year of high school through Northern Kentucky University and fell in love with the subject. That course was the first time I had heard practical conversations regarding much of what angered me about society (racism, sexism, class discrimination). It explained all of the things that I had experienced or felt – why as a low-income black student, I responded to certain situations differently than others from a different back-ground. Everything was so practical and there were suggestions as to how we should address these things. I knew that I wanted to take more courses in this subject, as I wanted to delve deeper into my own biases. I also wanted to delve deeper into community issues as I felt powerless to address many issues facing our communities (violence, poverty, mass incarceration, etc).
A&S: What do you see as some of the great benefits of a sociology degree and solid preparation for law school?
CL: A sociology degree prepares me to see things from a variety of perspectives and to understand that there are often multiple, valid answers to one question. It’s opened my mind in ways that increase my ability to learn and interact in a meaningful manner, as I understand that there is so much that is subjective and unknown in our world. It was also a great major for studying abroad in that sociology can be employed worldwide in a variety of ways. Other courses that prepared me for law school include my Honors curriculum courses, which stressed writing and reading through unique topics.
A&S: Can you talk more about your experiences abroad?
My first study abroad program was a Summer Fulbright exchange to Berlin through UK's Destination Germany program, my second was to Granada, Spain for a semester with the School for International Training program and my third was through Semester at Sea. All three programs were amazing and opened my mind to where I could go in life and what my options were. Coming from a small town and staying in state for college, my perspective was narrow in terms of my future and studying abroad forced myself to look outside of my immediate vicinity. There was no way that I could return home from studying abroad and still behave as someone who was scared to branch out.
My time in Berlin was amazing. It was my first time abroad and we focused on various definitions of diversity in different countries. This was the first time I was able to see a sociological term – race – from an international perspective.
During my time with the Semester at Sea program, I was able to hike along the Great Wall of China, explore the Taj Mahal and visit the prison cell of Nelson Mandela. It was a life changing experience that reinforced my belief in how connected we are in the world and what my options are.
A&S: What courses/professors inside of sociology had a great impact on you?
CL: Professor Mooney during my sophomore year was the first to put the idea into my head that I was a very strong student and had the ability and capacity to attend graduate school. I had considered law school or master’s program beforehand but it was reassuring to hear that someone considered this as a possibility for me.
Professor Huggins encouraged me to apply for the A. Lee Coleman Award for the Outstanding Sociology Senior when I was a student in one of his courses my senior year.
Professors Morris and Stamatel both acted as references during my law school application process and have been great sources of advice and support. As a first generation college student, it was very important to tie myself into a community that could help foster my development and encourage me to continue to strive.
A&S: What are your career hopes/goals?
CL: I am interested in the criminal justice sector. I have long been interested in public defender work for juveniles and adults due to the discrimination inherent in our system and the need for more public defenders. Law school has introduced the possibility of litigation into my mind as I’d assist the same population but focus on enacting large-scale changes.
Regardless of what field I focus on, I see myself lending a voice to the voiceless in our society and reminding our criminal justice system that these are people, not only docket numbers.
A&S: What are some of your reflections on your first semester at Harvard Law?
CL: I'm settling into Harvard Law and I love it here. I love Cambridge. I've met some great friends who all have interesting life experiences and goals for after Law School. I love that the school provides use with numerous opportunities to meet professionals in different fields. There have been so many great speakers – I’ve listened to talks by Supreme Court Justices and attended talks regarding voting rights, feminism and mass incarceration.
I hope that next semester or next year I will be able to get more involved in student practice organizations so that I can stay connected to the reason that I went to law school – to help the underprivileged.