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Jewel M. Watson ’10 – Preparing to be a Force for Change

“A college degree and a dollar will get you four quarters,” reads the sign on William Coplin’s office door. A faculty mentor of Jewel Watson at Syracuse University, Coplin always stressed that a student needs more than a stellar academic career to make an education worthwhile. That saying has stuck with Watson and shaped the way she pursued her undergraduate education and then her law degree.

Watson entered college aware of the doors that intellectual promise can open and determined to do something for those whose path to success was not as smooth. “Students like me,” she explains, “part of the specialized program with college advisors and teachers who actually expected us to succeed, went on to college because of our access to resources. My peers that attended the same high school but were not in the specialized program were not so fortunate. Since my days as a high school student in Brooklyn, I have been interested in making sure that all Americans have the opportunity to determine their own destiny.”

Watson w Justice Ginsburg   
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a member of the Rutgers School of Law–Newark faculty from 1963 to 1972, with Jewel Watson.
 
At Syracuse, Watson co-directed a prestigious local mentoring program, served as a research analyst in Madrid for the Office of the High Commissioner of Refugees in Spain, taught public policy to New York City high school seniors, and collected numerous honors for scholarship, citizenship, and service to the community. After graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. in political science and policy studies, she participated as a New York City Urban Fellow in a nine-month program that involved working with mayoral offices and City agencies and taking a seminar on urban public policy. She then worked as a special assistant and senior analyst for the New York City Administration for Children’s Services.

Watson, concerned since high school about the influence of societal expectations on opportunity, recognized that a legal education would provide her with the skills to be a force for change in her community. Her desire to attend a law school with a strong connection to its home community made Rutgers School of Law–Newark an obvious choice. “Rutgers Law School has not only produced exceptional attorneys,” she says, “it has produced citizens who have dedicated themselves to being a force for change in New Jersey.” Once admitted, she learned about the Minority Student Program and its legacy and was determined to participate in the program. “Rutgers stood out from all of my other options because I knew that I would get an education that was second to none and, more importantly, I would learn with a diverse group of people who are second to none.”

Watson has taken advantage of every opportunity to explore the different facets of being an attorney in a variety of sectors. She spent her first summer at Lowenstein Sandler PC, “surrounded by some of the best in their respective practice areas and could not help leaving a better attorney.” Fall semester of her second year, she interned at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which she describes as a “think-and-do tank where I learned the importance of not just thinking deeply about issues but actually doing something about them.” The following spring she interned for the Honorable Patty Shwartz, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of New Jersey, “observing Judge Shwartz’s tremendous work ethic firsthand and learning from her vast knowledge of the law.”

Applying for an Eagleton Fellowship was a must for Watson because she knew it would help her develop a new skill set and learn from inside the political process. “I firmly believe,” she says, “that the sociopolitical power structure in our society has begun to position itself to take a hard look at the underclass and why so many have fallen through the cracks of society. As a result, I have long been interested in the political arena.” Serving this year as an Eagleton Raimondo Fellow, Watson sees how the skills acquired in law school can be effective in government. The fellowship combines work with the New Jersey State Assembly Majority Office and an intensive legislative policy seminar. “I get to be behind the scenes of lawmaking and learn the process behind the Legislature’s effect on the larger New Jersey community.”

 

Jewel Watson on her recent meeting with Justice Ginsburg:
“I asked her what advice she would give to a law student or a young attorney. Her answer was simple but resonated deeply with me. She said that you have to be of service to your community in some way. She also said that she was sure from her time at Rutgers–Newark Law that I had already learned that lesson. She could not have spoken truer words.” 

A highlight of the year-long fellowship was a trip, titled “Women Who Dared,” led by Ruth B. Mandel, Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics. The Eagleton Fellows met four women from various sectors of “political” life who not only dared to participate in public life but who also have left their mark – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Barbara Boxer, ABC/NPR News Correspondent Cokie Roberts, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“Notwithstanding the achievements of all the women I met that day, I would have to say that getting the chance to meet with Justice Ginsburg was the highlight of my trip,” Watson reports. “I asked her what advice she would give to a law student or a young attorney. Her answer was simple but resonated deeply with me. She said that you have to be of service to your community in some way. She also said that she was sure from her time at Rutgers–Newark Law that I had already learned that lesson. She could not have spoken truer words.”

At Rutgers, Watson’s honors include Dean’s Merit Scholar, Moot Court Board member, Whitman Family Scholar, New Jersey Bar Association Scholar, Garden State Bar Scholar, and Eagleton Institute Henry J. Raimondo Legislative Fellow. Among other activities she has served as president of the Association of Black Law Students and a competitor in the David Cohn Appellate Advocacy Competition.

After graduation Watson will clerk for Justice Helen E. Hoens of the New Jersey Supreme Court then return to Lowenstein Sandler. Looking farther out, “I am open to all of the possibilities,” she says, “and will continue to be of service wherever I land.” What she does know with certainty is that “whatever my future brings, it will be shaped by my experience as daughter of hard working immigrants who always stressed the importance of education as a tool of agency, by my desire to be a role model for a younger sister who I expect great things from, and by a husband who, notwithstanding being an accomplished attorney himself, has made my goals his goals.”