UMassD senior & UMass Law 1L fast-tracks his way to a career in public service
While being recruited to play football had a role in his decision to attend UMass Dartmouth, Nathan Upchurch was always motivated by more, committing to strong academics and a sense of purpose through civil justice upon entering college.
Three years removed, he's made the Chancellor's List (minimum 3.8 GPA) in 5 of 6 semesters at UMassD, spent an alternative spring break doing environmental work in Plenitud, Puerto Rico, and entered law school a year early through UMassD and UMass Law's joint 3+3 accelerated degree program.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself," said Upchurch. "Getting to UMass Law has made me so proud. I'm proving that I'm so much more than an athlete."
When Upchurch arrived at UMassD mid-pandemic in the fall of 2020, there was no football season, and all his classes took place online, forcing him to adapt—as any well-prepared attorney would. His success at doing so led him on a fast-track towards his dream; a legal degree from a law school renowned for public service, and a career in helping others.
Crime & justice studies
Why did you choose crime and justice studies?
"I always knew that I wanted to help people. Towards the end of my high school experience I began to develop a passion for civil rights activism. I read a book called, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, which is about exonerating a death row inmate. That really sparked my interest in crime and justice."
What's exciting about the major?
"Crime and justice studies (CJS) provides the historical context to how crime is viewed by and applied to different groups of people. I learned so many important facts about our legal system that I don't think I would have known if I didn't choose this major."
Do you think a CJS degree is a good precursor to law school?
"I think so. Of all the majors I could have picked, I think CJS made the most sense. The context I learned in CJS about why laws were made in the first place is helping me learn how to apply them in law school."
Did you have a favorite CJS class or professor?
"My independent study was my favorite class. I spent the first half of the semester doing research, then got to take an alternative spring break trip to Plenitud, Puerto Rico to do environmental work and provide food for elderly people and children.
"I also loved my CJS 450 class, which set us up with a for-credit internship in public service for attorney Daniel Calabro for 10-15 hours a week. I got to sit in on client meetings, visit courtrooms, read through case documents and determine that this is indeed the career path I want to pursue."
3+3 at UMass Law
After one semester in the crime and justice studies program, Upchurch decided to dive deeper into legal studies and become the first member of his family to attend law school. Upon learning about the university's 3+3 program with UMass Law, he saw his pathway, and chose to pursue justice.
What's the transition been like?
"The transition's been very smooth. I like my schedule a lot more—it's more consistent than undergrad, and more indicative of a real-world day-to-day as an attorney. I typically have 2-3 classes a day, each running 1 hour and 25 minutes. The curriculum is all law courses; the first 10 count for my remaining 30 undergraduate credits. Law courses are challenging but I'm not too overwhelmed."
Have you had any particular advisors/mentors helping you through this?
"College of Arts & Sciences Assistant Dean and Pre-Law Advisor Kaisa Holloway-Cripps really helped me with the law school admissions process. Professor Turcotte also went out of her way to help me get my ducks in a row and prepare for this year."
How beneficial is the 3+3 program?
"The 3+3 program is super valuable. Cutting out a year of undergrad gets you where you want to be a year faster, and saves a year's worth of tuition. Staying at a public university for law school was also something I really valued."
What are your favorite things about UMass Dartmouth and UMass Law?
"At UMass Dartmouth—the connections I made, especially during my independent study in my last semester, which I'm so thankful for. At UMass Law—the diversity and intimacy. I have small classes filled with international students and students from all over the country. 1Ls are split into two groups that each have the same course schedule, so you see the same people every day, making it easy to make friends with people from all over the world."
How do you know this was the right choice for you?
"The 3+3 program put me exactly where I wanted to be. I always liked small class sizes, never wanted to move too far away from home, and I got to start law school a year early. If I can graduate law school at 24 years old, I can't ask for anything better."
A public interest law fellowship (PILF) recipient, Upchurch receives a 50% scholarship on both tuition and fees in exchange for a commitment to practice public interest law for four years upon graduation. UMass Law is ranked #1 in New England and #7 in the U.S. for the highest percentage of graduates working in government and public interest jobs (Reuters).
What are your goals in the legal field?
"I want to stay in the public sector my entire career. My inspiration to get into law was Bryan Stevenson creating the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which exonerated over 200 death row inmates. I'd love to become a part of or create my own organization like that in the New England area."
What are you most excited for during law school?
"I'm excited to learn the law. In my first two months as a law student I've already learned so much that I don't think the average person has any idea about unless they've studied the law. It's really exciting learning the specifics of the legal system."