Tania Valentin
Taína Valentín ’23: Three Internships Lead to Scholarship & Acceptance to Six Law Schools

Major/Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
Minor: Economics
Cohort: Macaulay Honors College, Honors Program, Pre-Law Institute (PLI)
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Career aspiration: Public Interest Attorney/Law School Professor 

“I want to spend some time practicing law—helping underrepresented people and defending voices that often go unheard—but I also love education and teaching.”

What was life like before John Jay?
My parents really made education a priority for me and my brother. I think the reason why is because my dad grew up in a tough neighborhood, East New York, and developed an addiction problem at a really young age. Miraculously, he got sober at 25 and was determined to give his children a better life. He’d often take me back to his old neighborhood so that I could understand the struggles many people face. His story made me see how lucky I was growing up in a safe environment with two parents who cared about me. Gaining that perspective is one of the reasons why I want to become a public interest attorney. I’m determined to help young people like my dad.

Why John Jay?
The social justice mission of the College really appealed to me. I knew that I wanted to attend law school and John Jay’s Pre-Law Institute had an incredible reputation for supporting students with legal aspirations. I was also really attracted to the College because it’s a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). I grew up in South Brooklyn in a predominantly white neighborhood. I attended predominantly white schools throughout my education. As a Latina woman, I didn’t know how much I needed an HSI until I got to John Jay. Becoming friends with so many other Latino students opened up a whole new world for me. John Jay gave me the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of Latino history, culture, concerns, and accomplishments.

Were there any projects that enhanced your college experience?
I’ve been working on a research project with Dr. Raymond Patton and a team of Honors Program students for the past two years. We’ve been investigating how students form a sense of belonging in institutions of higher education. Investigating the different barriers and factors that contribute to fewer people of color earning their degrees was really fascinating, especially as a Puerto Rican woman. The link between students having a sense of belonging and developing a desire to further their education was abundantly clear. Right now, we’re trying to get the research published—which is really exciting.

Were there any internships or experiential learning opportunities that helped prepare you for your career?
My internship with L.O.V.E., Latinas on the Verge of Excellence, helped enhance my passion for teaching. L.O.V.E. works to help first-generation and immigrant Latinas pursue higher education. I was put in charge of teaching classes, creating a syllabus, and setting up online classrooms.

PLI helped me get a judicial internship and a legal immigration internship. The legal immigration internship was with Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, a non-profit organization that provides services to young people, families, and immigrants. While I was working there, I was struck by how unfair it was seeing young children have to translate difficult legal terms and concepts to their parents who were facing deportation. I wanted to do anything I could to make their lives better.

My judicial internship was with Justice Wilma Guzman ’78 at the Bronx Civil Supreme Court. It meant the world to me to work with a Puerto Rican woman who had reached that level of success. When I saw a woman who looked like me and spoke the same languages as me in her position, I started to truly envision myself becoming a lawyer. Justice Guzman showed me that my dreams could become a reality.

What are your plans after graduation?
I got into six law schools—including George Washington, Cardozo, New England, Suffolk, and Brooklyn—but I’ll be attending Washington University School of Law, which is a T20 (top 20) law school, in the fall. I received a generous $125,000 scholarship from Wash U, which even covers my relocation expenses. When I got the call saying I got the scholarship, I burst into tears. I’d been worrying for months how I was going to afford law school and in that one phone call, the problem was solved.