PUBLISHED:November 21, 2008

Kat Shea '10

One day on Pluto lasts about as long as six days on Earth, a fact that is of little interest and no practical application to most people. One wonders, however, what Kat Shea ’10 could do with the extra time.

Working within the measly 24-hour timeframe, Shea manages to find time for an abundance of volunteer work in addition to her academic obligations. At the moment, this includes taking leadership roles in Duke’s annual Southern Justice Spring Break Mission Trip, Innocence Project, Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), and Street Law program, taking prospective students on tours for the Admissions Office, and serving as a student member of the Future Forum. A belief in the virtue of institutions and the spirit of service is the impetus for her extracurricular work, she says.

“I feel like I throw myself into whatever institution I am a part of, whether it’s a school or a job,” she says. “This sounds cheesy, but I really like to get the most out of my experiences and give the most of myself that I can. That makes me feel satisfied.”

Shea’s dedication surprises even her family.

“I’ve been in student government since I was 12,” says the Houma, La., native. “I called my Dad and told him I’d be a first-year class rep last year and he said, ‘I really thought that whole student government thing would fade when you got to law school.’”

Shea was just selected to serve on the Future Forum, a board comprised of alumni and upper-year students. Forum members participate in alumni and admissions programs and mentor 1Ls, among other activities.

“I was really active with my alumni association as an undergrad (at the University of Virginia),” she says. “I’m interested in how institutions work and how they keep alumni plugged in and the Future Forum seems like a way to be a part of that.”

Shea has done work for the admissions office as well, charting a new tour for visitors to the Law School and helping to create a student hosting program.

“I visited a lot of law schools because I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, and one of the things I saw at another school was that they had student hosts. Current students would get in touch with prospective students before Admitted Students Weekend and then make an effort to meet the prospective students during that event,” she says. “I helped coordinate that here. I feel like it added a nice touch, just one more point of contact.”

Shea also helps to spearhead non-auction fundraising as a member of the PILF board. She notes that raising money to help subsidize law students’ and graduates’ public interest work dovetails with her post-undergrad experience as a fundraiser for the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. “And I used a PILF grant last summer, so I also feel like it’s a way to give back,” she says.

Shea has channeled her enthusiasm for her institutions of choice into fundraising since she was an undergrad at the University of Virginia.

“I started doing fundraising at UVA. I coordinated our senior class giving campaign, and in doing that I got very familiar with the development office and development strategies, did a lot of cold-calling of classmates for gifts, and I really liked it,” she says. “I feel like it is a skill, and I felt comfortable doing it, which is easy if you believe in the thing you’re asking money for.”

Shea’s PILF grant helped pay for her living expenses while she worked for the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington D.C. last summer. The job increased her interest in the criminal justice system.

“I don’t know if I want to work directly in the system or try to affect it from the policy side of things, but it is definitely something I’m considering,” she said.

That interest has been increased by her work with Street Law, a volunteer program that sends Law School students to a Durham residential facility for minors who have been involved with the criminal justice system.

“We talk about the justice system with them and try to teach legal lessons,” Shea says. “It’s good for [law] students as well, to talk to people who have had real interaction with the system, to see how it actually works.”

The Street Law program also offers Shea a different perspective on the criminal justice system from that she gained in Washington, she observes.

“In criminal law we talk a lot about the role of choice,” she says. “The system is there to punish people for bad choices. And when you think about some of these kids, you start to wonder what choices they really have had? Given their environment, how much weight should their bad decisions carry?”

Shea is also a case manager for the Innocence Project, managing four teams of students investigating inmates’ claims of innocence, and a co-chair for the Southern Justice spring break trip to New Orleans.

“You can do manual labor, but there are also a lot of legal opportunities and some community-organizing work,” she says of the spring break trip, which she took last year. “I’m from southern Louisiana, so it meant a lot to me. I was already out of college and working when Katrina hit, and I’d never had a week off to go and volunteer before.”

The spring break trip and her other volunteer work help her focus on the world outside the Law School, Shea says. “Law school is a very introspective period of your life. You’re thinking about yourself, what you want to do with your career, ‘What choices will be satisfying to me, how can I arrange my life to do all the things I want to do.’ And going to New Orleans, for me at least, was the perfect dose of perspective.”