Feature Stories 2016: Kayleigh Ellison: Balancing law school and soccer

Kayleigh Ellison, Photo credit: Mike Valeri/The Standard-Times/SCMG
Photo credit: Mike Valeri/The Standard-Times/SCMG
Feature Stories 2016: Kayleigh Ellison: Balancing law school and soccer
Kayleigh Ellison: Balancing law school and soccer

UMass Law student Kayleigh Ellison JD '19 puts the same determination into her education as she did in her fight against brain cancer.

Kayleigh Ellison's undergraduate education at Seton Hall University was interrupted when she was diagnosed with brain cancer the summer after her freshman year. Despite undergoing brain surgery and rehab, she was ready to return to school by the beginning of sophomore year. After graduating with a BS in international relations, Kayleigh completed 18 months of chemotherapy.

When Kayleigh made the decision to continue her education, she chose UMass Law. But she also wanted to play on the UMassD women's soccer team and won an appeal to the NCAA to play as a graduate student.

Investing in UMass Law

Kayleigh decided to pursue a law degree because she wants be an advocate to the voiceless. She chose UMass Law, not only for its affordable education but as an investment in her future.

"As one of the four public law schools in New England, and the sole one in Massachusetts, UMass Law gives opportunities to many who cannot afford the big, private university tuition," Kayleigh said. "It has a lot of potential as a young institution, and I wanted to invest in that."

Kayleigh was impressed with UMass Law's modern curriculum, as well as its professors. "The availability and dedication of professors is nothing short of inspiring," she said.

Getting to know UMass Law faculty

As a first-year law student, Kayleigh's significant experiences have involved getting to know the faculty.

"Prof. Burda is an incredibly animated and engaging professor, and Prof. Cleary’s use of memes and pop culture references are wildly unexpected comedic reliefs," she said.

"Prof. Ho teaches contracts, which wins most interesting subject matter by default in my book. He also brings a certain liveliness to his lectures by applying a bit more of the Socratic method than my other professors."

One of Kayleigh's notable experiences was her first exam with Prof. Clifford. Calling the ungraded exam a "wake-up call," she appreciated how Prof. Clifford sat down with each student to show them how they could improve.

Prof. Richard Peltz-Steele became an avid Corsair Soccer fan and offered to help her "in any way he could," realizing that balancing law school and sports would be daunting.

Kayleigh Ellison with the Women's Soccer Team. Photo credit: Mike Valeri/The Standard-Times/SCMG
Kayleigh, far right, with the women's soccer team. Photo credit: Mike Valeri/The Standard-Times/SCMG

Playing soccer relieves stress

"My involvement in athletics is quite possibly what’s keeping me sane," Kayleigh said. "Law school brings a new level of stress, and an important balance for me is the workout that soccer provides.  

"My love of the game is one of a few things that will get me running and in shape."

She's realized the importance of a mental/physical balance to keep her mind and body at peak performance as both a student and an athlete. Her teams helps her achieve this balance, providing much needed laughter.

Kayleigh considers Coach Kate Thomas part of her "framily," noting how close she became with her and UMassD's compliance officer Jim Mullins during her NCAA appeal.

"Coach Kate Thomas is an insanely dedicated proponent of the program. She invests so much time into making sure her players are taken care of in all respects," she said.

Preparing for a future in contract law

Kayleigh currently plans to work in contract law for an international corporation for a few years, but she's open to the possibility that could change.

"I’m likely to fall in love with the immigration of human rights externship program, and I’d be just as fine with that," she said.

She hopes to balance her work load with the pro bono advocacy that she's passionate about. "I see myself focusing on immigration and domestic advocacy disciplines, which still incorporate contracts."

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