On May 10, 281 students of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University will receive their hard-earned law degrees.
Many from the Class of 2017 came to study at ASU Law with the hopes of making a difference after they graduated. This exceptional class donated over 80,000 hours of public service and exemplify what ASU Law looks for in its student body — that extra special something.
Denae Suchy: W. P. Carey Armstrong Prize for Achievement in Public Service Recipient
“Doing good while doing well”
Denae Suchy has climbed Mount Kenya, survived two years of daily encounters with scorpions and poisonous snakes, and rafted the Nile — twice. Though not the typical prerequisites for law school, these experiences certainly helped prepare her to survive three years at ASU Law.
After graduating from Weber State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in political science and a minor in legal studies, Suchy served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya for two years as a public health educator. She specialized in HIV/AIDS education and developed community-based programs for at-risk youth, including life skills education programs and a health-focused youth center.
Not only was she helping the Kenyan people, she also learned a lot about herself and personally grew in the process. The experience further shaped her desire to help those in situations that may be out of their control or those who were not financially capable.
Suchy is one of those special people who believes her mission in life is helping people. It’s not just an aspirational thought, it’s something she has already put into practice.
After her time with the Peace Corps, she came back to the US to start her legal education. At ASU Law, Suchy immersed herself in public service and has given over 550 hours, achieving the highest pro bono distinction at the law school. She has donated her time serving the Maricopa County Public Defender’s office and the Homeless Legal Assistance program.
“Everything I have done in school has led me in this direction,” Suchy said. Suchy secured a job as an attorney in the public defender’s office after passing the bar.
A lot of people have altruistic intentions, but Suchy truly feels she’s found her calling and couldn’t have picked a better profession to help those in need.
“I think it’s the idea of fighting for people who can’t necessarily fight for themselves and making sure they have the same protections,” Suchy shared.
While attending law school, she completed an externship with the Arizona Center for Disability Law and went on to co-found the Disability Law Project. She also served as the president of the Liberty Project for a year-and-a-half and was an articles editor for the Arizona State Law Journal.
Being awarded the Gideon Fellowship for Criminal Defense, a year-long fellowship dedicated to indigent defense, was the highlight of Suchy’s law school career. As a Gideon fellow, she participated in the Public Defender Clinic and worked with the Maricopa County Public Defender’s office and the Federal Public Defender’s office.
At graduation she will be presented with the W. P. Carey Armstrong Prize for Achievement in Public Service. The award recognizes the student with the greatest contribution to public service. The motto of the award, which comes from W. P. Carey himself, is “doing good while doing well.”
“I struggled with whether I was going in the right path because there is a lot of pressure to go into big law and make a lot of money to pay off your loans really fast. But I knew my passion was to help the little guy,” Duchy explained. “Receiving the Armstrong Prize was the school supporting me and the validation that I made the right decision. That’s why I love the award’s motto. It’s really nice to know that the school is supporting that notion.”
While Suchy rightly deserves much of the credit for her achievements, she tributes much of her successes to the faculty.
“I think the faculty here are incredible. Many of the professors have an open door policy. I can go to them with any issue or need. I feel I can come back and talk to them and get their advice even after I graduate. It’s nice to know people have your back and that I will always have the support of the staff and faculty at the law school.”
Chris Heo: Matheson Service Award Recipient
Championing diversity through support
After receiving his undergraduate degree, Chris Heo, got a job like many graduates. Heo worked for a corporate shipping company doing exports, but eventually felt he could be doing more with his life.
“I never thought I would go back to school,” Heo said. “I thought I would just work for a company and work my way up.”
The Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin cases were also playing out in the media at this time. The culmination of these events propelled Heo to consider a more fulfilling career path.
Heo, a first generation Korean-American from Las Vegas, was practical in his higher education choices. A “double-devil,” Heo attended ASU for undergrad and then returned for law school.
“I came to ASU for undergrad because I had a scholarship. The location was great, finances worked and I was only a five hour drive from home. And it wasn’t cold. Growing up in a desert area I couldn’t do cold,” Heo professed.
When it came time to look for a law school, the same practical checklist went through his head. He was still living in the Phoenix area, thus familiar, ASU Law ranked well and the city, was highly desirable and not saturated or as expensive as places in California.
Though practicality brought Heo to ASU Law, it’s the people that made him stay and enjoy his experience.
“I met with the people and I liked the culture. It wasn’t what I heard from friends who went to UCLA and other schools. The staff and faculty were very friendly and open,” Heo said.
Heo immersed himself in many student organizations, led the Student Bar Association and the Diversity Working Group, and was an ASU Law student ambassador.
Heo will be presented with the Matheson Service Award for outstanding service to the law school.
“I don’t think I would have been part of these organizations if I hadn’t become a student ambassador,” Heo said. “As a student ambassador, I helped admissions with student tours and did a fair amount of recruiting which laid the ground work for meeting more faculty and staff. I really enjoyed getting involved in the school and feeling more invested in my time here.”
Heo was asked by Dean Douglas Sylvester to lead the Diversity Working Group to further promote diversity at the law school.
“For me it was more about making sure students of different backgrounds aren’t uncomfortable for being a minority group or having a minority opinion,” Heo shared.
One of the problems Heo faced was that students who were interested in diversity participated in the meetings but those weren’t, didn’t. This created an echo chamber rather than true dialogue.
“Ironically our first meeting was the day after the presidential election,” Heo remembers. “We invited students to attend and voice concerns about conflict issues. My hope was to create a space where they would be comfortable talking about what was important to them.”
The group has been instrumental in promoting dialogue on complex subjects like teaching methods and the hiring process of professors to create even more diversity.
After graduation and passing the bar, Heo will be working at a local big law firm as an associate.
But true to his time at ASU Law, “I’m planning to do as much pro bono work as I can,” Heo said.
Tracy Olson: National Association Women Lawyers Outstanding Graduate Award Recipient
Empowering women in the legal profession
Tracy Olson knew she wanted to be a lawyer ever since she was a freshman in high school.
“We had a joint English and history class and we reenacted the Nuremburg trials. I was assigned to be a prosecutor. I enjoyed it so much I asked my mom to buy me a suit so I could play the part. The judicial process, the idea of finding justice and truth was really intriguing to me,” Olson said.
Olson studied accounting as an undergrad at Southern Methodist University, but the bug to become a lawyer never weaned.
“It was a no-brainer to come to ASU Law,” Olson exclaimed. “I’m from Scottsdale and the opportunity to be near my family was important to me. The funny thing is my dad used to be the Wildcat mascot at the University of Arizona and they actually gave me a generous scholarship, but ultimately I knew ASU Law was where I wanted to go.”
Olson will be honored with the National Association Women Lawyers Outstanding Graduate Award. Recipients are chosen because of their contribution to the advancement of women in society and in the legal profession. They further exhibit motivation, tenacity and enthusiasm, and demonstrate academic achievement.
“There are so many fantastic women at the school and for them to choose me to represent them is really meaningful. The women here really inspire me – from the moms who attend school while raising children or having full-time jobs. I am really honored to receive this award.”
Having been surrounded by strong women all her life, Olson wanted to pay it forward and reached out to be a part of the Women Law Students Association. The organization works with women in need, pairs students with attorney mentors, and brings mentors and mentees together in fellowship. Olson fondly remembers tea with two former female Arizona State Supreme Court Justices, Rebecca White Berch and Ruth V. McGregor.
“It was so amazing to see such successful women be so humble and down to earth,” Olson said.
Olson believed in the group so much by the end of her first year, that she applied to be the president of the association.
Olson will be clerking for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick and will then join a local big firm as an associate.