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Investing in Students

Scholarships have a lasting and positive impact on Vanderbilt's ability to attract top students.
by Grace Renshaw Palmer Harston

Palmer Harston chose the career track she hopes to pursue—adoption law— because of her longstanding commitment to helping children with special needs. After Harston earns her J.D. in 2012, she plans to help parents who want to adopt children from other countries. "International adoption is a really difficult process because adoption laws in various countries don't match up," Harston said. "There aren't enough people in the field to help all of the parents who want to pursue an international adoption through the process."

Harston, who earned her undergraduate degree as a Vanderbilt Ingram Scholar, understands exactly how important access to the right resources can be to children facing serious health issues. Her first visit to Vanderbilt came at age eight, via a Lifeflight helicopter, after she was seriously injured in a car collision while en route to Nashville from her home in Lexington, Kentucky. Emergency surgery saved Harston's life, but she suffered a complete spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed and wheelchair bound. Thanks to physical and occupational therapy from Easter Seals, she learned to perform everyday tasks and even continued gymnastics. Her activism on behalf of the disabled community in middle and high school helped her garner a prestigious Ingram Scholarship at Vanderbilt. She graduated in 2008 with a double major in political science and human and organizational development, which she pursued as a preparation for studying law.

Before starting law school, Harston spent a year working with AIDS orphans in Kwa Zulu Natal near Durban, South Africa, an area with the second highest AIDS population in the world and one of the world's highest child abandonment rates. She will return there this summer to help her mother, Julie Harston, bring home two young boys her parents are adopting. "Because of their health problems, their prospects aren't good if they remain in Africa," Harston says. Her parents now live near Nashville, in Whites Creek, Tennessee, and Harston opted to work in the juvenile division of the Metro Nashville Public Defender's Office this summer so she can help her new younger brothers adapt to their new life in the U.S.

Hugh Morgan

Harston's long-term professional plans make graduating without a heavy debt load especially important. But she is also grateful that her award of a Hugh Jackson Morgan Scholarship enabled her to meet Hugh Morgan. "Hugh actually came to the law school at the very beginning of the year to meet me," she said. "He's just wonderful, and he's been keeping track of me. That's encouraging and inspiring."

Morgan, Class of 1956, who endowed the scholarship between 2004 and 2008, felt an immediate affinity for Harston; two of his three daughters had served stints in Africa with the Peace Corps, during which he and his wife had visited them. Morgan spent much of his career as an executive at Southern Natural Gas Company and its parent company, Sonat, Inc. After retiring from Sonat in 1987, he became a private investor, joining the boards of Atrion Corporation, a medical equipment manufacturer, in 1998, and the National Bank of Commerce of Birmingham, which he chaired from 1990-2003. At 81, he remains an active member of both boards and an active supporter of the law school. "I believe a scholarship is one of the best investments you can make," Morgan said. "And I'm particularly glad its first recipient is an outstanding student like Palmer."

Jody Shaw

2010 graduate Jody Shaw was pleasantly surprised to discover that a fellow Georgia resident, Stephanie Parker, Class of 1984, had endowed the scholarship he received. Shaw grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and earned his undergraduate degree at Georgia Tech. He spent a year as an Americorps volunteer working for Accion USA, a non-profit microfinance lender, before entering law school. "Our purpose was to help people start small businesses, and our average loan was $7,000," Shaw says. That experience piqued his interest in corporate law and financial regulation. Shaw earned Vanderbilt's Law and Business Certificate along with his J.D. this spring. He will clerk for Judge Samuel Mays on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee before joining Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C., as an associate in 2011.

Stephanie Parker

Stephanie Parker, a trial litigator and partner in Jones Day who also clerked for a U.S. District Court judge after earning her degree, had two reasons for endowing the Ethel and Cecil Roberts Scholarship. "I wanted to honor my grandparents, and I wanted to give back to the law school, which has given so much to me," Parker said. Her interest in litigation was sparked by Professor Jonathan Charney's Civil Procedure class during her 1L year and an upper-level litigation practice court, which led her to decide to pursue a clerkship after graduation. "I received a wonderful education at Vanderbilt and was very prepared for my career," she said. "I hope the scholarship will enable other students to have the same experience I did."

According to Shaw, it has. He came to Vanderbilt with his wife Katie, who will graduate from Vanderbilt Medical School in 2011. "Both of us are in school, so we definitely needed financial aid!" he said.

Parker is married to fellow Vanderbilt Law graduate James Nobles, Class of 1983, but she emphasizes that endowing a scholarship was an individual act of personal philanthropy. "Women need to engage in—and be recognized for—their own philanthropy," she said. "If you look at giving, women are not represented in the top tiers, and there are plenty of women now who can write a check! Women need to learn that they should give back themselves, and those of us who can should set an example."

Keith Randall

Keith Randall was attending Penn-in-Washington meeting with fellow University of Pennsylvania undergraduates when he overheard media consultant Frank Luntz, a prominent Penn alumnus, complaining that his alma mater hadn't referred any interns to him. Randall walked up and volunteered to intern for Luntz on the spot; that internship turned into a three-year stint as a market researcher. After deciding he did not want to devote his career to market research, Randall started law school in fall 2008.

Randall became the first recipient of the James G. Lewis Scholarship, endowed by 1990 graduate Jamie Lewis through the Lewis Warburg Foundation, which Lewis heads. Now an associate editor on the Law Review's staff, Randall says the availability of a new scholarship sent a positive message about Vanderbilt alumni's support of the school and its students, and he has also appreciated the strength of the school's alumni network. He worked for U.S. Attorney Ed Yarbrough, Class of 1972, during summer 2009 and will spend summer 2010 as an associate with Bass Berry & Sims in Nashville.

Katherine Van Deusen

Katherine Van Deusen was studying molecular medicine at the University of Virginia, aiming for a career in scientific research, when she realized she wanted "to get out of the lab and do something more people-oriented." Van Deusen, who will graduate in 2011, plans to practice international intellectual property and trademark law with a small firm owned by a relative who has become her mentor. "I talked with him when I was making the decision to move from my Ph.D. program to law school," she said. "He took me under his wing and encouraged me to focus on intellectual property law."

Van Deusen is the first recipient of the Schlesinger Family Scholarship, endowed by Leonard and Phyllis Fineman Schlesinger in honor of their daughter, Emily Schlesinger, Class of 2005. Leonard Schlesinger's career has included corporate and academic leadership positions: After starting his career at Procter & Gamble, he spent 20 years on the faculty of Harvard Business School; taught sociology and public policy at Brown University, where he also served as Senior Counselor to the President; and was vice chairman and chief operating officer of Limited Brands for eight years before joining Babson College as its president in 2008. Phyllis Schlesinger also serves on Babson's faculty, and both understand the importance of scholarship funding based on financial need. "We know as educators ourselves that having diversity in the community only makes it stronger, and there are so many people who would be qualified for a Vanderbilt legal education and can't afford it, so our scholarship is designated for need," Phyllis Schlesinger said. "Emily got a great education at Vanderbilt and had a great experience with the faculty and students, and we want to help other students have the same opportunity." After clerking for U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, and for Judge R. Guy Cole on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Emily Schlesinger works for the Ohio Attorney General's Office as a Deputy Solicitor.

"I came to Vanderbilt from another graduate program," Van Deusen said, "and I am really grateful to donors who specify financial need as a criterion for scholarship money." She is president-elect of a new student Intellectual Property Association she helped form during this academic year and sits on the Moot Court Board.

John Gorman, Class of 1979, and his wife Susan recently began funding their scholarship over a five-year period, a common arrangement for endowment pledges. "I love the law school, and when I asked [Dean] Chris Guthrie what the law school needed, scholarship funding was at the top of the list," Gorman said. "I had a great experience at Vanderbilt, and I want to help other students do the same." As a partner in a D.C.-based niche firm that represents financial institutions and their holding companies, Gorman's practice now "extends from Maine to Florida to California to Alaska." Early in his career, he served as Special Counsel to the Chief Counsel of the SEC's Corporation Finance Division, and he appreciates the Law and Business Program's aim of producing lawyers who understand corporate accounting and finance. He is also on the faculty of the National Association of Corporate Directors, and a director of a public company traded on NASDAQ.

Dean Guthrie has a personal reason for emphasizing scholarship funding. "Scholarships made my education possible," he said. Intently aware of the increasing debt load for law graduates, Guthrie said, "We are doing everything we can to hold tuition costs down without compromising the quality of a Vanderbilt legal education. Our tuition increase this year, percentagewise, is the lowest since 1966. But a good legal education is expensive to deliver, and scholarships help us attract top students, and enable them to graduate with less debt and more options. All of the scholarships featured in this article became available in 2008 and 2009. I hope alumni will read these stories and be inspired to endow a scholarship based on their own experiences at Vanderbilt."