1st Year Scholars
Darren O’Connor returns to university after a career as an electrical engineer at University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. He received his Master’s Degree there, and graduated Suma Cum Laude from Oregon Institute of Technology. He is a founding member of both Denver Homeless Out Loud and Boulder Rights Watch: organizations that advocate with and for the rights of unhoused people. He is a Colorado ACLU Speakers Bureau Member and a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild. He has worked on The Right to Rest Act, a homeless bill of rights, in Colorado, and spent time doing cop watch, videoing interactions of police with people in the community to raise awareness of police brutality in Boulder and Denver. His work on homeowners’ rights with regard to foreclosure has led the Supreme Court of Colorado considering changes in the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure around Rule 120 Hearings. He has directly assisted multiple homeowners in achieving home loan modifications, even after being foreclosed on.
Darren recently worked with community members in Boulder, through the advocacy group Boulder Coalition and Alliance on Race, to address racial bias in arrests in the City. This effort led to contractor Hillard Heintze reviewing Boulder Police Department’s policies with regard to African Americans and other minoritized community members, and Darren continues to follow up with City Council, Staff, and Police to seek fair treatment for people of color in Boulder, where less than one percent of the population is African American. Similar efforts through Boulder Rights Watch have in part led to creation of a Homeless Outreach Team within the Boulder Police Department, and to the City considering funding tiny homes as transitional housing for some of its unhoused population.
Darren is very excited for the opportunity to turn his passion for social justice towards attaining a law degree at the University of Denver. He cannot wait to volunteer with a local pro-bono law firm that assists unhoused people in Boulder after he completes his 1L year at DU. He is the proud father of his daughter, Alexandra, now in fifth grade.
Olivia, was born in Mexico, but has made Colorado her home. She has a range of experience in the non-profit, private and government sectors. Most recently, she was the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Latino Leadership Institute (LLI). Prior to her role at LLI, she lead the Minority Business Office in the Office of Economic Development and International Trade through a strategic realignment. There she was responsible for integrating Minority and Women owned businesses into the Economic Development plans for Colorado. As the Executive Director of the Colorado Latino Leadership Advocacy & Research Organization, she was overseeing the merger of two respected, Latino non-profits, in an effort to streamline the mission and their impact. She has been recognized for her leadership and selected as a German Marshal Fund, Marshall Memorial Fellows, a Livingston Fellow, and a National Hispana Leadership Institute Fellow. She currently serves on the Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Commissioner and is Board Member of the Colorado Judicial Institute and Bell Policy Center. Most importantly, she is the mother of two wonderful children and resides with her husband and family in the Denver area
Joel was born and raised in eastern Colorado. He spent four years in the Navy and returned to Colorado, graduating from CU Boulder with a B.A. in economics. After working and traveling elsewhere for several years he returned to Colorado again in 2014. Joel spent two and a half years working as an investigator with the Colorado State Office of the Public Defender in Fort Collins. Joel’s experience at the Public Defender’s office made him want to pursue a legal education. Joel is proud to be a member of the Denver Law community and he looks forward to a career of service.
Sarah graduated from Colorado College in 2010 after receiving the J. Glenn Grey Award for Excellence in Philosophy. After graduation, Sarah moved to Boston where she worked in the education department at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester as an Americorps member, teaching students STEM curriculum. Sarah left Boston to lead service learning trips for high school students North India. Upon moving home to Colorado, Sarah worked first as an employment intern at the African Community Center, where she created and implemented a Job Club program for refugees seeking employment. Sarah then began work in mental health, with the goal of becoming a licensed clinical practitioner. She worked first as a Residential Counselor at Aurora Mental Health and then as a Case Manager with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. It was in this latter position, assisting previously-homeless adults suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders, that Sarah realized she felt called more to the practice of law than to the provision of therapeutic services. Sarah is excited to join the DU Law community!
Lauren grew up in Denver and studied English at Wheaton College in Illinois. During undergrad, she volunteered tutoring and completing citizenship applications with immigrant and refugee families at periodic workshops. She also spent a summer in Guatemala City working with children abandoned by families unable or unwilling to care for them. Additionally, she worked for several months at a residential center on a working farm in New Hampshire with adults suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, trauma, and the entire spectrum of mental health disorders. There, she became passionate about solutions that see individuals and society as complex and interconnected and which move toward a more holistic picture of ourselves and our communities.
The day after graduating, she started as a Bilingual Domestic Violence Court Advocate at a local crisis center in Elgin, Illinois, writing civil protective orders and working with the criminal prosecution team. She also rallied other resources to address related challenges of poverty, homelessness, and lack of documentation: no struggle arises in a vacuum. It quickly became apparent attorneys can open doors to real change, far beyond what an advocate is able to do. After one particularly brutal winter in the Midwest, she picked up and returned to her roots in Denver.
In Denver, she spent several months volunteering with the Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Clinic, completing VAWA and U-VISA paperwork and filling in as a contract paralegal as needed. She ultimately landed at the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) as a legal assistant, helping to enforce the ADA with and for people with disability in CCDC’s civil rights litigation arm. Lauren came to law school to find solutions that are creative, holistic, and cross various parts of ourselves and our communities, particularly related to criminal justice, immigration, and human rights.
Rachel Kennedy was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado. As an undergraduate at Colorado State University she majored in Ethnic Studies and graduated with honors in 2010. Before deciding to attend law school, Rachel served as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA), working to reduce cyclic poverty in Far Northeast Denver by providing wraparound support services to Denver Public School students and families.
After serving as a VISTA, Rachel continued to work in Far Northeast Denver through the University of Colorado’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV). As the Communications and Outreach Manager for CSPV’s youth violence prevention project in Far Northeast Denver, Rachel engaged community members to identify and address community-specific needs through evidence-based programs and approaches, managed a community-wide “positive recognition campaign” aimed at reinforcing prosocial behavior through public recognition, and developed and facilitated a Youth Philanthropy and Advisory Board at the local Boys & Girls Club.
Rachel is interested in pursuing a career in civil rights law, loves to travel and is thrilled to be a part of the DU community.
Stephanie is a Texas native who has called Colorado home since 2009. She received her B.S. in Public Health from the University of Colorado Denver in May 2015. A member of the prestigious University Honors and Leadership (UHL) Program, she was awarded their Outstanding Graduate Award, and she was a finalist for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Outstanding Undergraduate Award. She was also a Trueblood Scholar, an Academic Athlete, and she spent 8 consecutive semesters on the Dean’s List, graduating with a 4.0 GPA.
During her tenure at the University of Colorado Denver, she participated in many public service activities through her participation in the UHL program. She was also a team member on two significant research projects her senior year: S.T.E.P. Towards Health and Prions – A Modern Pandemic. The S.T.E.P. (Science-based Teaching to Empower People) Towards Health project worked to empower neighborhoods to improve their community health via science-based health education programs for elementary students and other community members. Prions – A Modern Pandemic explored how the five dimensions of public health – epidemiology, environmental health, global health, social determinants, and health policy – contribute to a comprehensive understanding of prions as a pertinent public health issue.
Passion and compassion are the key ingredients in the contributions that Stephanie has made and will continue to make to the greater Denver community. She volunteered with The Wildlife Experience museum in Parker, Colorado for five and a half years. As a volunteer, she was able to combine her passion for nature and animals with her love of working with children. She enjoyed connecting with young museum patrons and sharing her knowledge, while also fostering their innate enthusiasm for the natural world.
The way in which Stephanie values helping others has been greatly shaped by growing up with a younger brother who was diagnosed with Autism at the age of four. Being a supplemental caregiver for someone who is cognitively impaired enriched her life and inspired her in many different ways. It also shaped her sense of compassion and inspired the context in which she aspires to apply it. Two years ago, she underwent the legal process of becoming her brother’s successor guardian. While she previously planned to pursue a Masters of Public Health and an eventual career in environmental health, witnessing the guardianship process firsthand sparked an intense interest in disability law. As this growing interest was continuously fueled by her underlying passions, she decided to apply to law school and pursue a career in disability law. Her personal knowledge of what families and caregivers of the disabled go through on a daily basis will allow her to bring an extraordinary level of empathy and compassion to those she represents.
In June of 2011, Stephanie adopted an off-the-track Thoroughbred and began training her to function as a trail and therapeutic riding mount. Once she is established in her legal career, Stephanie would like to use this horse as part of a non-profit farm she plans to establish: a farm that will provide opportunities for both developmentally and physically disabled children and adults to experience the wonders of animals and nature. The farm will also provide employment and job training for developmentally disabled adults. Stephanie hopes that by putting her own sense of compassion into action, she will inspire others to develop a stronger sense of compassion for those who are different from them.
Ali, a proud Wisconsinite, graduated from Marquette University. At Marquette, she was a Burke Scholar and co-coordinator of Midnight Run, a student organization focused on direct service and advocacy surrounding hunger and homelessness in Milwaukee. She was fortunate to spend six months living in Chile where she attended Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Universidad Alberto Hurtado. While in Santiago, Chile, she also volunteered at an after school program for at-risk youth.
After graduation, Ali worked as an Americorps volunteer at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) through the Amate House program in Chicago. As a paralegal on NIJC’s Children’s Protection Project, she conducted “Know Your Rights” presentations and individual intakes with detained immigrant youth.
She then spent three years as the Legal Intake Specialist at the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). Ali worked with a team of attorneys to assist individuals, youth, and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness with legal issues concerning education, public benefits, and other civil rights.
While a big fan of the Green Bay Packers and the Great Lakes, Ali is excited to be living in Colorado so she can explore the immense beauty of this state.
Eileen Webster is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her focus on public service is rooted in the example set by her parents and the clan-mentality she developed being one of five children. From 2001-2005, she attended the University of Scranton, where she played NCAA basketball and participated in community service projects that allowed her to learn from individuals who were outside the campus bubble.
Since earning her bachelors in 2005, Eileen has spent the last eleven years serving the public in a variety of roles: volunteered with a casa hogar for homeless youth in Mexico City (2005-2006); supported the Disability Law Program for Wilmington, Delaware as a paralegal (2006-2008); directed the fundraising efforts and programmatic goals of Serviam Girls Academy, an independent, all-girls middle school located in one of Wilmington’s lowest achieving neighborhoods (2008-2010); participated in Teach for America Denver Corps (2010-2012); served as a teacher and school for STRIVE Preparatory Schools (2010-2015); and, most recently, assisted the Legal Director of Lutheran Family Services as an immigration specialist (2015-2016). She also obtained a certificate of General Management from Stanford University’s Summer Institute for General Management in 2008.
Over the next three years, Eileen hopes to explore the areas of health, public benefits and immigration law. She is specifically interested in issues and barriers that impact individuals who struggle with addiction and individuals who speak English as a second language.
When not studying law, Eileen loves walking her dog, Diva, and spending time with her partner, Tyson.
Lucia Ornelas graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Radio-TV-Film and a B.A. in Mexican-American Studies. After graduation, Lucia completed a year of service with the AmeriCorps program ACE: A Community for Education. She worked as a literacy bilingual tutor in Title I schools. Lucia also worked as a production editor at KAKW Univision 62 where she was responsible for filming and editing content for the Despierta Austin morning show and public interest segments for the live news. Due to Lucia’s interest in immigrants’ rights and social justice, she decided to complete another year of service with the AmeriCorps program Keep Austin Housed. Lucia was placed at an agency called SafePlace where she served as a bilingual caseworker. In case management, Lucia worked with undocumented women that were fleeing domestic violence situations and were starting from scratch. She assisted these clients access affordable housing, public benefits, healthcare and legal resources. She worked together with the staff attorneys and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid to help clients prepare U-Visa and VAWA petitions.
Lucia was hired on as staff after her AmeriCorps term and spent another year at SafePlace before deciding to pursue a legal education. The immigration and family law work she assisted with at SafePlace inspired her to become an attorney and she plans to continue to serve this population in her practice.
Zack Tennant was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He is an alumnus of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and Chapman University in Orange, California. Passionate about zealous advocacy of under-represented populations, he worked for a number of years prior to applying to law school. Upon graduation from Sturm College of Law, Zack intends to become a Public Defender for the Colorado Office of the State Public Defender, where he will represent indigent individuals charged with all types of crimes.