05.16.12 — Northeastern University School of Law has awarded full-tuition Public Interest Law Scholarships to four incoming members of the class of 2015 who aspire to careers as legal champions for the underdog. The students plan careers in a wide range of human rights fields, including immigration, social work and advocacy for the poor.

Launched in 1999 by generous donors who believed a Public Interest Law Scholarship was needed to encourage prospective students to fulfill their desire to practice public interest law, the scholarship has been awarded to 57 students, including these recipients. Three New England natives, and a fourth from Pennsylvania, will be welcomed into the ranks of the school’s most prestigious scholarship program.

"Each of these students has already demonstrated a deep commitment to justice and a passion for making the world a better place," said Dean Emily Spieler. "We are thrilled to welcome them to our community.”

Recipients are: Caitlin Gillies, of Yarmouth, Maine; Hannah Adams, of Wellesley, Massachusetts; Seth Purcell, of Hingham, Massachusetts; and Michelle Newman, of Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

Caitlin Gillies graduated cum laude from Columbia University’s Barnard in 2010 with a degree in history and art history.

While still in school, she traveled to Rome and worked as a researcher and translator for a nongovernmental organization, Progetto Sud. There, she delved into programs aiding workers in developing nations and conducting research on the economic impact on developing nations entering the European Union. She also translated Italian to English for the organization’s website and international correspondence.

In 2009, she went to work with the Resilience Advocacy Project in New York City as an advocate for low-income children and youth. As policy coordinator, she conducted policy research, and made recommendations on poverty issues related to access to cash assistance, subsidized childcare, youth education and employment.

“I attribute my initial interest in advocacy work to my parents. My father is British and he was involved with Labour politics and my mother is an arts advocate and artist-in-residence in schools, hospitals and community organizations. They’ve always encouraged my brother and I to think about the injustices in the world,” she says. 

Gillies dreamed of doing something to help.

“After graduating, I want to work directly with clients, helping them to move out of poverty through access to vital resources and supports,” she says.

Hannah Adams graduated from Vassar College in 2007 with a bachelor’s in drama and a minor in art history.

She is passionate about using theater to explore issues of social justice and racism. While working for Junebug Productions as an intern and teaching artist, Adams helped plan community-based theater classes and original productions that explored racism and other forms of oppression.

Her creative endeavors to inspire dialogue around social issues sparked a passion, which inspired her to travel to New Orleans after graduation to support organizing for a just reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina.

Over the past four years, he has worked as an outreach specialist and education coordinator for the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC). She coordinates trainings and events to educate stakeholders about their fair housing rights and responsibilities, assists with outreach around GNOFHAC’s fair housing litigation, and developed a children’s book and fair housing curriculum for youth.

“As soon as I got here, I knew I wanted to get involved in political and social justice work,” she says. “I’ve worked with people who have been through a variety of terrible experiences, connected to their inability to access safe, affordable housing.”

As a future attorney, it will be her mission to support organizing for fair and affordable housing and use the law to combat systemic inequity.

“Housing is about more than just a roof over your head. It relates to access to education, health care, economic opportunity, and it often dictates a family’s relationship with the criminal justice system,” she says. “For all of those reasons, I’m a big believer that housing is central to conversations about justice and equity.”

Seth Purcell holds a master’s degree from Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tufts University.

He has traveled the world as a volunteer for Peace Corps, and has worked for five international and grassroots development organizations, including Oxfam America, and most recently, Catholic Relief Services.

While working in South Sudan, Pakistan, Uganda and other countries, Purcell’s projects often centered on distributing food and clean water to needy citizens.

“I always knew I wanted to work in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s one of those inexplicable things, which has always had a pull on me,” Purcell says. “In those places, the warmth and sense of community is so strong. People are really looking out for one another. It’s about a collective there, rather than the individual.”

Purcell’s varied overseas experiences inspired him to search for ways to do even more.

At Northeastern, he plans to pursue immigration or asylum law.

“It would be amazing to help facilitate someone trying to escape oppression and persecution, and take those initial steps toward greater opportunities,” he says.

Michelle Amelia Newman received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania, where she concentrated on choice and behavior. She minored in music and Hispanic studies.

Upon graduation in 2010, she went to work for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, DC. As a legal assistant, she concentrated her efforts on issues of fair housing and lending, community development and environmental justice.

“Working there opened my eyes to the breadth of problems facing us today. I officially worked on three projects, but found that my favorite role involved engaging directly with communities,” she says.

Seeking an even greater hands-on experience helping the needy, Newman traveled to Chile to volunteer with VE Global, a nonprofit serving at-risk youth.

She currently assigned to a home for 26 girls, who, for varied reasons, have been separated from their families of origin.

In this position, she implements a variety of programs to help the girls learn to read and speak English, and to open up opportunities for them.

When she comes to Northeastern this September, Newman plans to focus her studies on environmental justice, and aim toward her long-term goal of running her own nonprofit.