Matt McKenzie, a senior political science and international studies major from Niagara Falls, N.Y., recently completed the prestigious Donald J. Weidner Summer for Undergraduates Program, hosted by the Florida State University College of Law. McKenzie is the first Niagara University student selected for the highly competitive, acclaimed national program, which is a pipeline for aspiring law students from groups historically underrepresented in the legal profession.
For four weeks in June, McKenzie joined undergraduate students from across the country in a virtual, immersive experience designed to enable prospective law students to experience and develop the skills to succeed in a demanding law school environment through daily classes taught by law school professors; familiarize them with important aspects of the law school application process; and expose them to the variety of career opportunities afforded by the juris doctor degree.
In addition, McKenzie, who also is pursuing minors in law and jurisprudence, Africana/Black studies, and environmental sciences, was selected as “The student most likely to join Justice Lawson on the Florida Supreme Court.” Recipients of this award are selected by their peers and the program faculty based on their aptitude for serving on a state Supreme Court.
Another highlight of the program for McKenzie was the opportunity to meet and discuss Black Lives Matter with Florida State University Law alumnus Benjamin Crump, the attorney who represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Jacob Blake. The question McKenzie asked “ignited an important discussion with my peers,” he said.
“It was an absolute pleasure to have been able to be the first person to represent Niagara at the Donald J. Weidner Summer for Undergraduates,” McKenzie said. “I was the only student from a small school, and knew that my professors and program prepared me to be able to not only compete at this large program, but to also thrive and win awards. I met a lot of amazing fellow students and really pushed myself in the law school classes, and I feel proud of the oral argument I gave at the conclusion of the program.”
“Matt's selection for one of the nation's leading law school pipeline programs is a truly extraordinary achievement,” said Kevin Hinkley, assistant professor of political science and director of Niagara's pre-law advisement program. “And the award Matt earned bespeaks his exceptional qualities as a scholar, advocate, and leader. We celebrate all that Matt has accomplished as a Niagara pre-law student and his bright future in the law!”
The Weidner Summer for Undergraduates Program has been twice honored by the American Bar Association’s Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Award for Excellence in Pipeline Diversity. The award is given to organizations or individuals who have shown innovation and leadership in diversifying the educational pipeline to the legal profession.
For more information on Niagara’s pre-law program, contact Hinkley at firstname.lastname@example.org.