Lynn Stopher hadn’t planned on a career in law. “My dad is an attorney, my uncle’s an attorney—I never planned to be a lawyer,” she admitted. Intent on a career as a teacher and education policymaker, Stopher moved to Colombia to teach English after earning her undergraduate degree in history and bioethics at the University of Virginia.
After two rewarding years during which she taught English to grade school students, Stopher returned to the U.S. to earn a Master’s degree in international education policy at Harvard.
There, a single lecture by Deborah Anker, a clinical professor at Harvard Law School who directs the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, changed Stopher’s career path. “She told a story about a young girl who came to the U.S. seeking asylum after fleeing years of gender-based violence in her native Honduras,” she recalled. “Professor Anker’s talk awoke in me an eagerness to secure safety and protection for children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America and around the world.”
Stopher spent two more years working with education nonprofits in Colombia and Boston, but she knew her next move would be law school. “I wanted to become an immigration lawyer,” she said. “So many of the families I worked with in Colombia had survived inconceivable trauma and terror. When I left the education field, I knew I wanted to do something to ensure that refugee children and their parents never had to feel unsafe again, and instead could take advantage of every available opportunity to live the lives they dreamed of.”
She chose Vanderbilt because of its support for students seeking public interest careers and because of Assistant Dean for Public Interest Spring Miller’s Immigration Advocacy Practicum and years of experience as an immigration lawyer. “I wanted to be able to work closely with someone with experience advocating for immigrants and refugees, and Dean Miller had worked at Southern Migrant Legal Services,” she said. “Vanderbilt also allows a full-semester externship, and I’m planning to take advantage of that.”
In summer 2016, Stopher worked at the National Immigrant Justice Center’s Chicago office as a legal intern, supporting several Central American families seeking asylum. “I heard the refugees’ stories and really connected with the families,” she said. “I worked closely with two single mothers who had fled abuse and persecution with their children. In one case, the young daughter was initially separated from her mother and brother and detained for nearly three weeks. I was struck by the courage and hope this family had that they would find safety here in the U.S. despite these hardships.” Stopher will spend summer 2017 as a legal intern with the Immigration Program at Human Rights Watch in Los Angeles.
Scholarship assistance is particularly important to Stopher, who plans to work for a nonprofit immigrant advocacy organization after earning her J.D. She became the first recipient of a public interest scholarship endowed in honor of Judge Martha Craig (Cissy) Daughtrey ’68 (BA’64) of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which goes to students who will pursue public interest careers, and a separate Dean’s Scholarship. “The availability of scholarship funding has been essential to my ability to work with asylum seekers,” she said. “I’m grateful scholarships were specifically earmarked for students planning to do public interest work.”