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Despite Pandemic, Law Fraternity Racks Up Successes in 2020

By Jenna Gushwa
Alumna and Bachelor of Science Legal Studies Student, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University

The university offers a unique virtual experience for students and professors to pursue an academic degree online. But what many prospective and active students do not realize is that this educational experience extends beyond the classroom to university organizations and clubs.

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Among these organizations is Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity (PAD), a professional organization open to any student with an interest in the law. The university’s chapter was chartered in 2013 by Professor James Barney as the only virtual chapter for legal studies students and remains so today. Professor Barney has been with the chapter ever since and is now assisted by his co-advisor, Professor Cecilia Selbrede.

The year 2020 was one of change for everyone. While it has revived our kindergarten manners by reminding us to wash our hands often and to cover our mouth when we cough, 2020 also brought traditional life to a halt for many of us.

2020 Brought about Many Positive Changes for Phi Alpha Delta

However, for members of Phi Alpha Delta, the year brought about many positive changes. In January, the chapter welcomed 36 wonderful new members. In May, graduating members were disappointed by the cancellation of a live Commencement and the switch to a virtual Commencement. Phi Alpha Delta immediately stepped up and hosted a virtual ceremony to honor those graduates and their accomplishments.

In April, PAD members enjoyed joining with Sigma Iota Rho Gamma Omega (SIRGO), the Honor Society for International Relations, in a virtual debate. The resolution topic was “The UN Should Establish Policy to Significantly Increase Remote Work and Education” with PAD debating for the resolution.

Two members from each fraternity utilized the Zoom platform to debate with an audience comprised of faculty, students and alumni. Both organizations brought to the table well-researched justifications. The process of deciding who presented their points best fell to the audience as the judges. The result was a narrow 1 vote win by SIRGO.

Unfortunately, on September 18, Phi Alpha Delta member and legal pioneer Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, leaving a large hole in our community. As a tribute to her legacy, PAD hosted a virtual movie watch party. The film, “On the Basis of Sex,” depicting some of her early accomplishments, was shown via Zoom and was open to all members. That gave all of us a chance to connect with one another and to learn more about Justice Ginsburg’s life.

PAD Members Collaborated with Model UN Members for a Lunch and Learn Activity

In October, Phi Alpha Delta collaborated with Model UN Club members to host a Lunch and Learn activity. The two organizations offered insight into the effects the pandemic virus was having on them and provided some tips for maintaining a balance among school, work, family, and university organization life.

The pandemic also provided a rare opportunity for all chapter members to witness Phi Alpha Delta International’s annual conference of all pre-law chapters, an event that was previously not open to all members. As part of the annual conference, PAD members also participate in a mock trial competition. However, due to the time, cost, and travel logistics involved, only four members from our chapter usually attend.

For obvious safety reasons, this year’s conference was held virtually with an individual opening statement competition for all attendees. Each member was given a legal fact pattern, which was a fictional criminal case. They wrote an opening statement as if they were either the prosecuting attorney or the defense attorney and they recorded themselves on video, reading the statement the way they would in an actual courtroom.

Although our members did not win the competition, their experience was unique. Because of this venue change, 10 PAD members from the university attended. The conference not only furthered the members’ legal knowledge, but also gave them tools to prepare for the LSAT, the law school admission exam, as well as information about alternative careers in the legal field.

From the start, Phi Alpha Delta has achieved great success including an ever-growing number of high- achieving members, countless awards and a permanent spot in Phi Alpha Delta history. While many aspects of life are changing, members are continuing to adopt these changes to enhance the chapter.

To do so, we not only must have great members and committed officers, but also superior advisors. Co-Advisor Selbrede has proven to be one of those advisors and her dedication to the chapter was acknowledged as the 2020 recipient of the Phi Alpha Delta Dr. Charles J. Fleener Outstanding Pre-Law Chapter Advisor Award.

With all that the Phi Alpha Delta chapter accomplished last year, it’s hard to believe that there was a good deal of skepticism that a virtual chapter could succeed in the world of brick-and-mortar education. Not only has the university chapter of PAD proven to be a success, but it also has become a model for traditional chapters in this new virtual world, and signaling much more to come.

Jenna Gushwa is the current President and former treasurer of the university's chapter of Phi Alpha Delta and a member of the Phi Alpha Delta Society of Scholars. She is an alumna of American Military University, where she earned her certificate in paralegal studies, and is a current student pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Upon completion of her bachelor’s, Jenna would like to continue her education by obtaining a Juris Doctorate Degree.

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