The board of the UNC School of Law Pro Bono Program announced the 2020 recipients of the Pro Bono Publico Awards at their annual celebration, held for the first time digitally on Tuesday, April 7, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s award recipients included:
Sylvia K. Novinsky Award – Miranda Goot 3L and Grace Lempp 3L
In this exceptional year, the board honors two exceptional law students with the Novinsky Award. Both students contributed a truly unfathomable amount to the law school and the community through their pro bono service, with both logging over 500 hours of pro bono work. Behind those thousand-plus hours are projects, special trips and internships with too many organizations to list, but it’s clear that each of these students has immersed themselves in every facet of the work we do. Although the volume of their collective pro bono service is staggering by itself, they have each had an even greater impact by promoting the importance of pro bono service. Serving in coordinator roles on the Pro Bono Program, the Innocence project, and the Environmental Law Project, each of them engaged their classmates to deepen their involvement in pro bono work. Simply put, each of them is a beacon of goodness and inspiration, and their contributions at the law school and in the state are profound and long-lasting.
3L Student of the Year – Mara Howard-Williams 3L
Mara Howard-Williams has worked with private attorneys, government agencies, UNC faculty, and even went on a special trip to Wilmington to assist with FEMA appeals last year. With her diverse pro bono portfolio, she has altogether logged over 350 hours of legal assistance. And maybe most remarkable of all, Williams has devoted nearly 170 hours of pro bono work to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention over the past school year, with much of that time spent responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.
2L Student of the Year – Sarah Ammons 2L
Despite the numerous demands of 2L year, Sarah Ammons has logged over 75.5 pro bono hours during the school year, and has completed over 211.5 hours of pro bono service during her time at Carolina Law. Ammons has worked on a diverse array of projects such as the Juvenile Parole Project, naturalization clinics, and the driver’s license restoration project.
1L Student of the Year – Sasha Telyukov 1L
Sasha Telyukov has made a significant personal contribution to pro bono work and has also worked to engage his fellow students in public service. He has personally logged over 150 pro bono hours this year, including one project – originally meant to last for part of the first semester before he turned it into a full-year project – where he worked to help women and children fleeing abuse in their home countries. Telyukov signed up for every immigration-related pro bono project this year.
Group Pro Bono Project of the Year – Broun National Trial Team
The student organization Broun National Trial Team started a pro bono project partnering with UNC School of Nursing to help train sexual assault nurse examiners in rural North Carolina. This training was essential as rural North Carolina has a shortage of nurses properly trained on collection and preservation of evidence in sexual assault examinations. Members of the Broun National Trial Team worked to create, write and present a mock trial that complies with the Federal Rules of Evidence and can assist in obtaining future convictions. Despite the trial team’s other demanding obligations throughout the year, the group prioritized pro bono work and used the skills of its members acquired in order to fulfill unmet legal needs. So far this year, they have completed 172.5 hours of pro bono service with plans to continue in the future.
Alumnus of the Year – Andrew Cogdell ’85
Andrew Cogdell has been an incredible partner to the Pro Bono Program’s spring break trips to Boone, Morganton, Lenoir and Hickory for more than ten years. Through his work with Legal Aid of North Carolina-Foothills, he embodies pro bono on a daily basis. He has devoted his life to serving low-income people throughout western North Carolina and has gone above and beyond his work at Legal Aid to help coordinate spring break trips for Carolina Law students. He helps find attorneys to participate, enrolls clients, and takes time to teach students on the trip.
Faculty Member of the Year – Maria Savasta-Kennedy, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Externship Program
Professor Maria Savasta-Kennedy worked with an outside practicing attorney to organize the Well Water Safety Research Project, which gave students the opportunity to research available resources for homeowners and prospective homebuyers to evaluate the safety of drinking water wells. This research was then compiled and used to provide answers to the public and stakeholder groups to enable them to make safe decisions. In the spring, Professor Savasta-Kennedy energized her students by encouraging and supporting the students in her Environmental Justice class to submit comments on the Trump Administrations proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act regulations, focusing on the environmental justice implications of the proposed regulations.
Special Recognition – Alyssa Leader 3L
The program extended special recognition to Alyssa Leader 3L in consideration of her work mobilizing thousands of law school students, paralegals, and attorneys around the country to respond to COVID-19-related legal needs. Within days, she harnessed the power of social media to assemble a roster of over 3,000 law school student volunteers to sign up for remote projects that attorneys submit through an online form. Law students are so eager to sign up for projects that most volunteer slots are filled within 5 minutes of Leader’s email notifications. She committed herself to serving the needs of the most vulnerable in society throughout her time in law school and continues to make a meaningful impact during a time of such uncertainty.
Graduating students with more than 75 pro bono hours were recognized by John Kasprzak ’05, assistant dean for student development, and Allison Constance ’09, director of pro bono initiatives, thanked the student board members and alumni board chair for their efforts this year:
- Student Director: Alex Rutgers
- 3L Class Coordinator: Wilson Greene
- 2L Class Coordinator: Cayla Rodney
- 1L Class Coordinator: Jaaz Catterall
- Alumni Outreach Coordinator: Laura Medlin
- Attorney Projects Coordinator: Andrew Benton
- Public Relations Coordinator: Chloe Altieri
- Special Projects Coordinators: Jacob Brannon and Liliya Oliferuk
- Special Trips Coordinators: Maria Carisetti and Sam Spalding
- Student Group Projects Coordinator: Chennell Coleman
- Winter and Spring Breaks Project Coordinator: Cameron Ervin
- Alumni Board Chair: Lauren Cranford Katzeff ’12; Sidley Austin
As part of the celebration video, Dean Martin H. Brinkley ’92 addressed students and congratulated the Class of 2020 for reaching 100% participation in pro bono projects.