Although Sheena Shakkur and Rafael Romero Moreno come from opposite sides of the world—India and Nicaragua—they have much in common. Both are law professors at universities in their home countries, and both are Fulbright Scholars studying for an LL.M. degree at Vanderbilt this year. Shakkur is actually the fifth Indian law professor to study at Vanderbilt as a Fulbright Scholar in as many years. Romero is the first Nicaraguan Fulbright Scholar, although Dean Edward Rubin hopes to continue the Nicaraguan program in future years.
Romero, who earned a degree in law and economics at Central American University in Managua, wrote his thesis on CAFTA, the United States-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, and then spent two years as a consultant to the Nicaraguan government on issues related to trade before his university offered him a job teaching customs law. "As it turned out, I really enjoy teaching, and I want to pursue a career as a law professor," Romero says. "I came to Vanderbilt to expand my expertise in international trade law."
Dean Rubin met Romero when he traveled to Nicaragua last fall with Giorleny Altamirano, a 2005 LL.M. graduate who was then working at Vanderbilt's Center for the Americas, to recruit the law school's first Nicaraguan Fulbright Scholar. "As soon as I met Rafael, I knew he would be an asset to our program," Dean Rubin says. Romero, who lived in the United States for several years during his childhood before returning to Nicaragua, where he graduated from high school and earned his law degree, speaks English with an American accent and acknowledges his familiarity with American culture helped him cope with the learning curve of studying a common-law legal system after being steeped in a civil system.
At Vanderbilt, Romero has discovered an unexpected bonus: the Massey Law Library. "Libraries in Nicaragua lack resources," he explains. "It's hard to do a good research project, because most of the books available are old and outdated, and we don't have access to services like Westlaw and LexisNexis. So, for me, one of the best things about Vanderbilt is the outstanding library. I've learned a lot about legal research just from working with the staff; it's a real luxury to be able to ask them to help me find resources when I'm researching a topic, and you can find whatever you want here. I'm downloading everything I can about trade so I'll have the materials to use for my classes when I go home to Nicaragua."
Romero was familiar with the Socratic method of teaching. "We use the same method in Nicaragua," he says. But for his classmate and fellow Fulbright Scholar Sheena Shakkur, a law professor at Kerala University in southern India, such classes were a new experience. One of the reasons Shakkur, who holds a Ph.D. in family law and has published five books, wanted to pursue an LL.M. at Vanderbilt was the opportunity to learn different teaching methods from her professors. "I wanted to learn how law professors in the U.S. prepare themselves and watch different professors teach," she says. "The Socratic method may not work so well when you have a class of 200 students, but when you listen to a good professor teach, you always discover ways to improve your own teaching."
Shakkur is active in pro bono legal work related to women's rights in her home country, and she has been a sought-after speaker on campus. She is working as a research assistant for foreign affairs expert Ingrid Wuerth, who spent the summer and fall of 2007 as a Fulbright Scholar at the Free University in Berlin, and with her faculty advisor, Frank Bloch, on a research project related to family law.