Before Rebecca Ann Simon began her undergraduate career at U.C. Berkeley in 2001, she participated in a summer exchange program at Oxford University in England. After studying with the Poet Laureate, Simon considered becoming a Shakespearean scholar. But as with the Bard's plays, sometimes the direction one takes in life is all in the timing.
Originally from Irvine, Simon was excited to move to the Bay Area, where she expected a high level of civil discourse with the country's brightest minds. Just weeks after she started classes, however, the Sept. 11 terror attacks occurred and the campus devolved into guerilla-theater and hate-speeches. This had a tremendous impact on the campus community. Simon, who had always been involved in student council and government, decided that she belonged in the political realm and decided to get involved to change the campus climate.
"I had that activist spirit," she said. "After everything that happened on 9/11 and the response I witnessed on campus, I realized that if I wanted to see change happen, I would have to move outside the classroom."
Passionate about public service, Simon was involved in government both on and off campus. Within months of earning her bachelor's degree in Political Science and English, she began her legal education at U.C. Davis School of Law. "The first year, it felt like a brick wall had come down on me," she said. "Law school was the hardest thing I had faced intellectually, and I felt the stress was a sign that I wasn't supposed to be there."
On top of the academic challenges, Simon had to miss classes and travel back to Irvine for a family member's surgery. Nine months into her first year, she decided to take an academic leave. She moved to Los Angeles to be close to her family. Simon soon became Program Director at the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation, a position she was elevated to just four months after she began working at the nonprofit.
While serving as a board member on the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), Los Angeles Westside, Simon connected with a woman who was running for LA City Council. That led to Simon's next job as a Campaign Manager. Through her work on the campaign, she became acquainted with Robin Sax, a former prosecutor and well-known legal analyst and media personality. Simon then spent almost three years working for Sax as a strategist.
Before she knew it, six years had passed since she left Northern California, and Simon realized her passion for law was still burning. Simon selected Southwestern's PLEAS program, as the program allowed Simon to still be there for her family while pursing her dream to finish her law degree. It turned out to be an excellent decision.
"Law school felt like the right decision this time because I had the discipline and mental orientation, and the flexibility of Southwestern's part-time program fit my needs much better," she said. "Plus, the Southwestern community offers a tremendous amount of support to students."
Simon has great respect and appreciation for Professor Gabriela Ryan, Director of Southwestern's Academic Support Program. As a 1L, she attended all of her workshops. Simon became a Dean's Fellow as a 2L and will serve a third term next year, as the program's first Supervising Executive Dean's Fellow. Simon has also worked as a research assistant for Professor Robert Pugsley and as a TA to Professor John Heilman. She declared Professor Arthur McEvoy's History of Legal Culture course as "the best class I've taken at any institution anywhere in the world—including Oxford, Berkeley, and King Hall [U.C. Davis]."
During her first semester at Southwestern, Simon had attended a lunch presentation given by Associate Dean Molly Selvin to learn about the joint JD/MBA programs. When Dean Selvin mentioned that Southwestern had established a new partnership with the Pardee RAND Graduate School to offer law students the opportunity to earn a Certificate in Public Policy, Simon took it as a sign.
"The public policy piece was the one component of my education that all my mentors told me would be missing if I went to law school," Simon said. "The caliber of the professors at RAND is world class. This Certificate Program offers the perfect curriculum for someone like me who wants to gain a deeper understanding of the important connection between law and public policy. This program is truly cutting edge."
While Simon dreams of opening her own political consulting firm in Los Angeles, she knows that she will need to consider the opportunities that become available to her after she graduates in 2014. But these programs have made her confident. "Southwestern and RAND have both been exactly where I needed to be so I feel like I will ultimately wind up in right place."