McPherson (’10) selected as N.C. Albert Schweitzer Fellow

Thomas (Rich) McPherson (’10) has been selected as the first Wake Forest University School of Law student to be a North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellow.

“The heart of my work as an Albert Schweitzer Fellow will be to provide direct advocacy to children that are in need of a voice in the courtroom,” said the Potomac, Md., native. “The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship exists to meet health needs in underserved populations. There is growing social science and medical research showing the negative effects that domestic violence has on children. My project seeks to improve the health of children by allowing their voice to be heard in court.

As a Guardian ad Litem, I will advocate for the best interests of each child I serve, whether that be in terms of expanding access a child has to counseling services, tailoring an individualized education plan to the needs of a child, or asking the court for a change in a custody or visitation plan.”

In his role as a 2009-2010 fellow, McPherson will provide direct advocacy for children in high-conflict custody and domestic violence cases as well as provide training for Guardian ad Litems to serve these children at the Children’s Law Center in Winston-Salem, according to Barbara Heffner, program director.

“We look forward to working with such an inspiring student,” Heffner said.

One of the reasons McPherson says he decided to apply to the fellowship was the emphasis the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship places on direct service. “Spending a year as an Albert Schweitzer Fellow will be a great capstone experience that will allow me to put my Wake Forest legal education into practice,” he said.

In addition to the advocacy component of his project, McPherson will also be working with the Children’s Law Center to design training programs for Guardians ad Litem that are unique to high-conflict custody cases and cases where there is domestic violence between the parents. “I am excited to work with the Children’s Law Center to expand the training offerings that the Center provides,” he said

Several Wake Forest professors were instrumental in McPherson’s decision to pursue the fellowship. “Professor Jennifer Collins is my faculty mentor for the fellowship and the work I have done as her research assistant on the overlap between family law and criminal law will certainly shape my perspective as a fellow. Additionally, the fellowship will give me the opportunity to apply many lessons I learned from a class on Children and Domestic Violence taught by Professor Suzanne Reynolds. I am especially grateful to Professor Reynolds because it was her class that introduced me to the Children’s Law Center and the unique work that they do.”

McPherson is among 26 graduate students from North Carolina’s health and human services schools that have been selected as 2009-2010 North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows. He will join five WFU School of Medicine fellows in honoring the legacy of Dr. Albert Schweitzer by committing a year of service with a community agency. Schweitzer Fellows devote more than 3,400 hours of service to local communities lacking in access to adequate health services.

“Rich embodies the Pro Humanitate spirit of Wake Forest,” said Wake Forest School of Law Dean Blake Morant. “It pleases me that this program has recognized his very special talent.”