From student-athlete to OIP advocate

How scholarships, determination paved the way to UC law school and the Ohio Innocence Project

In a tale of resilience and ambition, Alexandria Anderson's journey to the hallowed halls of the University of Cincinnati College of Law exemplifies the transformative power of scholarships in shaping futures.

Hailing from Beavercreek, Ohio, Anderson's academic trajectory was far from conventional, marked by pivotal moments, challenges and unwavering determination.

As a new cum laude graduate of Wright State University with a degree in political science, Anderson’s academic journey was shaped by her passion for college soccer and a deep commitment to her studies.

Despite the curveballs life threw her way, including a new marriage and baby during her undergraduate years, Anderson persevered, adding courses and activities to her schedule, often with her baby and stroller in tow.

Anderson's transition to UC marked the beginning of a new chapter in her journey. Despite initial aspirations to attend law school in the South, the onset of the pandemic redirected her focus closer to home. Turning down an offer to Ohio State University, Anderson instead accepted the offer from UC’s College of Law as a pre-admit to the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), where her passion for justice and advocacy found the perfect fit.

From soccer fields to scholarships

Pregnant law school student stands in front of UC's Law School with her arms folded.

Alexandria Anderson in front of UC's Law School. Photo/Melanie Schefft

While many students experience pervasive funding inequities across the nation, Anderson said it was quite the opposite for her at UC.

Prior to starting her first-year classes, and under the advice of UC Dean of Admissions Cassandra Jeter-Bailey, Anderson applied for, and received, the Vernon E. Jordan Jr. Scholarship from the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, based on her plans to work in civil rights while in law school.

Soon after revealing her leadership chops as a representative for the Black Law Student Association, Anderson received the prestigious Florence Straus Fabe Scholarship for her legal aptitude and bringing her diverse talents to the university. Following that, Anderson successfully garnered the Robert P. Goldman Endowed Scholarship awarded to second-year students.

Not stopping there, Anderson quickly added the Student Bar Association and Student Ambassadors program to her list of activities before attracting more funding. This time, from the William A McClain Scholarship through the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati and finally the Brendamour Scholarship for a young parent with high scholastic achievement — all totaling more than $15,000 — helping her hone her legal skills and to further advocate for meaningful change in the legal system.

“I am so incredibly grateful for the financial support I received as I pursued my legal education,” Anderson said. “Because of my scholarships, I have been able to stay involved on campus and take trips associated with my leadership roles while still taking care of my family’s needs.”

Armed with resolve and financial support, Anderson went on to enter the Midwest Black Student Mock Trial competition, where she and her team qualified for the nationals.

“My coach at the time was Samantha Silverstein, who later became a judge in Cincinnati,” Anderson recounted with pride. “She helped guide us through the whole competition process and encouraged me to get involved in a local case competition sponsored by Keating, Muething and Klekamp,” where Anderson and her partner won first place, closing out an exciting first year.

Advocacy beyond the courtroom

UC law student Alexandria Anderson on right looks up at a plaque on the wall saying "Ohio Innocence Project."

Alexandria Anderson. Photo/Melanie Schefft

Driven by a desire to address wrongful convictions and systemic injustices, Anderson immersed herself in the OIP in her second year, where she worked tirelessly on behalf of those wrongfully accused. That strong dedication eventually bore fruit when one of her clients was released in December 2022.

“While studying for an exam, I got the call that he was exonerated, and the lead attorney invited me to go to Cleveland with him to see our client get released,” Anderson said.

Woman sitting at a table on left works on a computer while her 4-yer-old son sits next to her on the right playing on an ipad.

Alexandria Anderson's son, Eli, often accompanied her while working in UC's OIP office. Photo/provided

Not able to secure anyone to care for her then 3-year-old son at the last minute, Anderson quickly came up with an alternate plan.

“So, I took my son with me, and he quietly played with his Hot Wheel cars while the process was going on,” she said.

“A lot of the reasons for wrongful convictions is simply human error,” argued Anderson. “So many people have faith in our justice system and for how these processes work, so when there is human error, it is devastating when someone ends up losing decades of time with their loved ones when they are being accused of something they did not do.”

“It helps to know how important this work is for folks who struggle to defend themselves,” she added. “It is so rewarding to work with people here, as well as people across the country in different fields who are aware of this problem and are committed to getting justice for wrongfully convicted incarcerees.”

Beyond her academic pursuits, Anderson's advocacy extended to empowering other women to pursue education alongside parenthood, a cause close to her heart. Her own journey, characterized by resilience and unwavering support from her family, serves as a beacon of hope for those navigating similar paths.

“My husband’s daily assistance with the baby and household management definitely helped carry us over this finish line, but these scholarships helped to offset the necessary funds,” Anderson said gratefully. “This allowed me to devote a large part of my work toward pro bono service as a way to give back to my community.”

As a result of more than 50 hours of pro bono experiences throughout law school, Anderson received UC’s William S. Richardson Champions for Public Service and Pro Bono Recognition Award as she graced her law school graduation stage last week in Nippert Stadium.

Balancing career and family

Man on left with his arms around his wife in center and young son on right holding his mother's hand.

Alexandria with her husband, Dillin, and son, Elijah. Photo/provided

Despite her professional endeavors, Anderson remains grounded by her family, particularly her supportive husband, whose unwavering encouragement has been a cornerstone of her success.

Embarking on the next phase of her journey, Anderson looks forward to a career in immigration law, guided by a commitment to social justice and equity. With a post-graduate position awaiting her at WilmerHale, a prominent international law firm in Dayton, Ohio, Anderson will begin as a discovery attorney for large civil litigation cases.

“I learned this experience while working in the OIP and found it very rewarding,” she said. “A large part of the work will go toward pro bono service as another way to give back.”

While her Saturdays will be filled with balancing youth soccer activities and new diaper duties, her weekdays are dedicated to her mission to making a difference in the legal profession.

As she prepares to welcome her second child, Anderson's journey serves as a testament to the invaluable support of scholarships and the transformative power of perseverance and resilience in shaping futures and breaking barriers.

Featured image at top: Alexandria Anderson is hooded at UC Law School's Spring 2024 Commencement in Nippert Stadium. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II

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