SPAA Alumna Finishes First Year at Howard University School of Law


In 2011, Gabriela Sevilla (BA ’15) enrolled at the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) because she wanted to help her community.

As a Newark, New Jersey, resident, Sevilla was drawn to SPAA as a local school that emphasized community engagement, nonprofit management, and service internships where students could tackle social issues. 

“I remember coming into Dean [Sharon] Stroye’s office and I felt like I wasn’t just someone lost in the school, like I wasn’t a number – I was a person at SPAA,” she said.

It was at SPAA where Sevilla was inspired by professors like Dr. Madinah Hamidullah who taught several of her classes.

“I just loved her as a role model because I hadn’t really had many female role models,” Sevilla said. “She had a doctorate, she dressed so well, and really commanded the classroom and taught me so much.”

“I had the pleasure of having Gabriela in several classes when she was an undergraduate student,” said Hamidullah, associate research professor at SPAA. “She was always active in class discussions and is the type of student that I know will be successful in anything that she puts her mind toward achieving.”

At Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N), Sevilla busied herself with several organizations, including the Latinas United Networking America, the Lambda Theta Alpha Latin sorority, and the Health Promotion Division. She also worked for the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School in Newark and the America Reads/Counts Program – a program administered by the RU-N Office of University-Community Partnerships that provides tutoring for children in local Newark public schools.

Two years after her graduation, the 23-year-old is a resident in Washington, D.C., where she sees many of the problems that she saw in Newark, such as frequent foreclosures and educational barriers for low-income children.

In many ways, she works to provide opportunities to individuals whose circumstances remind her of her own struggles as a young woman, including financial hardships and familial instability.

“I graduated from Rutgers despite a lot of adversity,” she said. “I graduated and I was homeless, I really didn’t have anywhere to live, but I had my degree from Rutgers.”

During Sevilla’s last year at RU-N, her family lost their home to foreclosure and she had to move in with her brother after graduation. She eventually found employment with AmeriCorps at a Newark charter school, which afforded her the opportunity to have free housing in Newark’s Teacher’s Village.

With financial aid, loans, and an education award from AmeriCorps, Sevilla was able to enroll at Howard University School of Law, where she is completing her first year. She chose Howard for its reputation as a leading law school that produces successful civil rights lawyers of color and its smaller class sizes which reminded her of the family environment she had at SPAA.

Recently, Sevilla was elected secretary of La Alianzia, the Latino Law Student Organization, and will serve on the Fair Housing Clinic Team. She is also on track to receive a certificate in family law.

This summer, she will begin an internship with Advocates for Justice and Education where she will educate parents about their rights and promote accountability for schools that have neglected to provide the appropriate services and resources to families.

“We’re trying to close the minority achievement gap in education and make sure that children get the education they deserve,” Sevilla stated.

“My goal of becoming a public interest lawyer, a lawyer for the people, has been enhanced by my degree from SPAA,” she said.

“Many social service law firms that I meet at career fairs are impressed because I have researched topics on the minority student achievement gap, income disparities, gentrification, workplace discrimination, and the need for transparency from police and the importance of community policing,” Sevilla said. “This gave me a substantial advantage over my peers because it showed my passion for public interest as well.”

Sevilla advises future SPAA students to cultivate relationships with their professors like Dr. Hamidullah who wrote her recommendation for law school and provided her with career guidance. She also hopes students will take advantage of the opportunities to invest their time and energy into the city of Newark, particularly through internships which she credits with giving her the knowledge and experience to succeed in law school.

“[People] appreciate it, and it shows integrity through public service,” Sevilla said. “You can’t be at SPAA and not serve Newark, and there’s so many places that need interns in Newark.”




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