JFEW/SUNY Scholar Spotlight: Pre-Law Scholar Takes Varied Legal Experience to an Internship at the Innocence Project
Tina Szpicek, a Jewish Foundation for Education of Women SUNY International Relations and Global Affairs scholar, is interested in using the law to help people. This summer, she will get to do just that.
One of nine selected participants in the Harpur Pre-Law Public Interest Internship Program, Szpicek will intern at the Innocence Project. There, she will aid in their intake work and conduct research on varying evidentiary rules across different states. As an organization, the Innocence Project uses DNA evidence to exonerate people who have been wrongfully convicted.
A senior majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law, Szpicek has focused on law in the public sector since early on in her college career.
"I have been doing legal internships in addition to my coursework since my sophomore year," Szpicek said. "I really enjoy the experiential learning."
Szpicek has interned at the Law Office of Ronald R. Benjamin in Binghamton, NY, where she helped with work on civil rights and police brutality cases, and at the New York State Division of Human Rights in Broome County.
"Both of those opportunities I found through the Fleishman Center or through people I know at Binghamton," Szpicek said. "I had the opportunity to write legal reports, investigate discrimination complaints and write probable cause briefs. Which, if they go to hearing, what I wrote becomes part of public record."
Currently Szpicek interns at the Broome County Public Defender's Office, where she has worked for over a year.
"I really enjoy the opportunity I have to work with clients one-on-one in addition to doing the legal work," Szpicek said. "But I also haven't ruled out the possibility of doing international law, especially after taking a mass atrocity class."
For her paper "Mass Atrocities: Criminal Accountability and the Non-Recurrence of Sexual and Gender Based Violence," written for a class titled Essentials of Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention taught by Max Pensky, Szpicek won the Jeffrey L. Tanenbaum Essay Prize in Philosophy, Politics, and Law, which recognizes an outstanding paper written by a student majoring in PPL.
But Szpicek has even broader interests than law, especially when it comes to economics. As a JFEW/SUNY scholar, she was placed as an intern at the Institute for Economics and Peace in the summer of 2017. There, she helped organize a forum at the United Nations for the launch of the Institute's 2017 Global Peace Index, a ranking of peaceful countries based on economic measures.
Through the support of the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women, the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development is able to provide a two-year experiential learning program for select undergraduate women with a strong interest in international affairs. The program includes scholarship support, monthly seminars, a summer internship in NYC in an internationally focused organization, funded by a stipend, and more.
"I've gotten opportunities I would have never gotten if not for the JFEW/SUNY program," Szpicek said. "I've definitely appreciated the exposure I've gotten to international issues. I might not have taken that [mass atrocities class] if not for JFEW. The program increased my awareness of global issues through the seminars we have and through talking to my peers."
At the Innocence Project, Szpicek will combine her research and writing abilities with the global perspective she has gained from the JFEW/SUNY program.
"The legal system obviously has a lot of problems and you see those manifested in those who are wrongfully convicted," Szpicek said. "It'll be interesting to see how through doing this work we can address the larger issue."
At the end of the summer, Szpicek plans to pursue full-time employment as a paralegal and apply to law school within the next few years. She says she is grateful to the JFEW/SUNY program for broadening her horizons.
"I absolutely loved my experience with JFEW. I love all the people I've been able to meet. Everyone is so dedicated and passionate about what they do, and for me that's been the most important part of this program," Szpicek said. "I really valued having a community of strong females to be surrounded by."