Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Externship Profile: Caitlin Stanley (’11)

Photo of Caitlin Stanley ('11)

Caitlin Stanley ('11)

After earning her undergraduate degree at Boston University, Caitlin Stanley (’11) was drawn to Wake Forest University School of Law for its tight-knit, supportive community.

For Stanley, who had watched her brother with a learning disability face obstacles in order to receive his education, an externship with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights was the perfect way to help ensure that others enjoy the same supportive educational environment she had known.

“Because education is so important to an individual’s success in life, students need to feel safe going to school every day, and have the opportunity to succeed,” she said.

Her work with OCR’s Program Legal Group division gave Stanley the opportunity to handle a school assignment plan, research bullying laws and help draft documents explaining how OCR interprets and enforces discrimination laws based on race, national origin, sex and disability.

Stanley found the time she spent in Washington, D.C., helpful in linking classroom theory with real-world experience.

“With my coursework at the school, I had the opportunity to learn the basics of the law,” she said. “Here, I’ve had the opportunity to put it into practice. It’s been a great complement to the legal education that I received at Wake Forest Law.”

Helping students who are sometimes marginalized has personal meaning for Stanley, whose younger brother has autism.

“While he had the support and help of my parents, as well as dedicated support staff throughout high school and college, many students with disabilities are not so lucky,” she said.

One of Stanley’s assignments was to help compile a 50-state survey of bullying laws. “That project gave me the opportunity to reflect on the prevalence of bullying in schools today, and gave me the chance to see the different steps each state is taking to try to fix the problem,” she said.

She also worked with attorneys to develop a student assignment plan for a school district with 28,000 students.

“I got to observe firsthand how a plan like this evolves,” she said. “It was really quite heartening to see how dedicated the district officials were in trying to achieve diversity in the schools.”

Working against the backdrop of the world’s most vibrant legal community gave Stanley’s externship additional relevance. The class component of the externship with Professor David Gottlieb helped her deal with such issues as confidentiality and conflicts of interest, which are a regular part of work in Washington.

She was able to meet Wake Forest alumni who are working in the public and private sectors and hear of their experiences.

“There’s always so much going on,” she said. “There’s a new restaurant every week, a new museum. To be here in the center of government, there are just great opportunities here.”

For the next two years, Stanley will be working in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal
Opportunity office as part of the Presidential Management Fellows program. The PMF program is a prestigious two-year paid government fellowship, sponsored by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for recent graduate students who seek a two-year fellowship in a United States government agency.

Stanley’s work in the Office of Civil Rights solidified her commitment to public service as a career.

“It’s been a tremendous opportunity to test out a public interest career,” she said. “So if anyone’s on the fence about it, you can see how the government works. While you think you know, you don’t really know until you’re in it.”