The Attorney | 30 Under 30 Class of 2019
"I have always felt called to public service."
Alyssa always knew she wanted to be a legal services attorney and while she was in love with her university, they did not offer a major that would provide her the necessary background for her career path, so she opted to create her own. This process involved presenting a letter of intention and a coursework proposal to the dean of the Liberal Arts college. She received approval and worked with a faculty mentor each semester to graduate on time, while studying political science, communications, sociology and women’s studies.
Now, she is living her dream providing civil legal assistance to poor and vulnerable populations in her community. Her primary cases involve helping victims of intimate partner violence obtain child custody orders against their abusers. Alyssa shares, “Every time a client allows me to fight for custody on their behalf, especially when the child’s safety is threatened, I thank them for the privilege because I understand what they have entrusted me with and how important the outcome is to them and of course, to their children.“
Could you share what you do in your position?
I am a legal services attorney, which means that my employer is a nonprofit public interest law firm that provides civil legal assistance to poor and vulnerable populations in the community. I am funded under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which means that I assist crime victims with any legal matters they may have resulting from their victimization. In general, my practice is focused on helping victims of intimate partner violence obtain child custody orders against their abusers when safety is a concern.
Why do you love what you do?
I love what I do because my work allows me to make a difference in the lives of people who really need help. My clients are often fighting for the safety and well-being of the most precious and important aspect of their lives - their children. Every time a client allows me to fight for custody on their behalf, especially when the child’s safety is threatened, I thank them for the privilege because I understand what they have entrusted me with and how important the outcome is to them and of course, to their children.
How did you discover your passion for your job?
Throughout my life, any time I have taken volunteering or service out of my schedule to “focus” on school or work, I have felt a distinct void and loss of purpose. Helping others fulfills me and using my education and unique skills to serve others has always been my primary pursuit. I have always felt called to public service.
How do you define success?
I have had a successful day when I have helped someone! I love my job because it provides me the opportunity to help others every day.
Tell me more about designing an undergraduate course at Duquesne. What did that process look like?
I always knew I wanted to be a public interest attorney, and I wanted to spend my undergraduate years learning as much as I possibly could about poverty, from societal structures to barriers to justice. And although I fell in love with Duquesne from the moment I set foot on campus, they did not offer a major that would comprehensively provide me that background. After two years of bouncing around different majors, I learned that about a program in the Liberal Arts college that allowed you create your own major. Literally called “Self-designed Major,” the process involved presenting a letter of intention and a coursework proposal to the dean of the Liberal Arts college. After obtaining approval, I worked with a faculty mentor each semester to ensure I was on track to graduate. My coursework largely pulled from political science, communications, sociology and women’s studies. This was the perfect groundwork for me to pursue the career path I wanted and am lucky enough to work in now!
Where did you grow up?
In New Jersey in a suburb of New York City.
Where do you live now?
Who is your role model?
What are four things you can't live without?
My husband, kitty, cycling and hot pink water bottle.
Is it difficult to hear the stories when you are representing victims of intimate partner violence?
It is always difficult to hear detailed stories of others’ tragedies, but because I believe that my work is so worthwhile, I focus on my ability to provide assistance, support and hope.
You served as a Title IX coordinator before, for those who may not be familiar, could you explain Title IX, and how it relates to what you did at Bethany College with sexual harassment and discrimination?
“Title IX” (of the Education Amendments of 1972) is actually only 37 words, but the effect of the law is so far reaching and substantial. Title IX prohibits discrimination and harassment by educational institutions on the basis of sex or gender. The definition of harassment has been expanded to include sexual assault under this umbrella. So, as a Title IX coordinator, I had a few different roles: 1) To ensure organizational compliance with the federal requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as all aspects of the Bethany College sexual harassment, discrimination and misconduct policy; 2) to accept and investigate all Title IX complaints and referrals from students, staff and faculty and provide prompt remedial measures, such as training, counseling and discipline, as appropriate and requested; and 3) to provide Title IX training to all responsible employees and oversee sexual assault training for student body.
For many students reporting a sexual assault, I was the first person in a professional role that they would speak to after the incident, and I understood that my response would frame the rest of the process. I always worked from an empowerment model by explaining the potential options and ensuring that I would support and effectuate the decision he/she felt was best.
How do you cope with the really difficult days at work?
Taking a spin class after!
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
This is just a random fun fact, but I am a chapter advisor at the chapter where I was initiated, and the chapter president is actually my little, little, little, little, little, little, little sister! We got to go to the REAL Leadership Academy together which was a very cool experience.
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