Law Alumna Credits Peace Corp for Positive Professional Life


When Kate Reilly graduated from Rutgers Law–Camden in 2011, she made a decision that was perplexing for some, and life-changing for her: she joined the Peace Corps.

“Many people thought it was a strange move after law school, but it was definitely the right one for me. In addition to being transformative in itself, it is helping me to move in a professional direction that I’m very excited about,” she says.

This past fall, Reilly returned from two years in the Peace Corps as an HIV/AIDS educator in Swaziland. An experience that she says provided her with strong cross-cultural communication skills, and a broader world view that informs her current position as an asylum officer under the Department of Homeland Security.

Each day in Swaziland varied, but each day began from her one-room hut, bathing from a boiling bucket of water, using a pit latrine, doing laundry by hand, and living like and with her host family on their small farm.

In the community, Reilly put her law degree into action by designing and facilitating workshops; formulating grant applications; coordinating with local agencies and offices on World AIDS Day events; and visiting the capital frequently to work with a women’s rights attorney and to assist a non-profit mental health organization.

Reilly’s legal education prepared her for the Peace Corps in more ways than one. “In terms of preparation, overall, just being able to break things down and think through them critically were skills that were strengthened in law school and that helped in day-to-day situations and projects,” she says. “Specifically, I wouldn’t have been able to do the work I did with the women’s rights attorney, which was a very fulfilling part of my service, without my legal education.”

While at Rutgers Law–Camden, Reilly served as vice president of the Women’s Law Project. Women’s rights, she says, are a driving motivation in her personal and professional life. The Rutgers Law–Camden alumna also credits her studies in international law and her involvement in pro bono projects as integral in propelling her toward the Peace Corps.

According to Rutgers Law–Camden Professor Beth Stephens, an international human rights scholar, Reilly’s experience showcases how the Peace Corps could be a viable path after law school.

“While in law school, Kate was involved in a long list of varied public interest projects,” says Stephens. “We’re thrilled to see that she used that background for such interesting and important work in Swaziland, and has moved on to equally important work now that she is back.”

In the New York Asylum Office, Reilly adjudicates asylum applications on behalf of the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services’ Asylum Division. A typical day in her job, which she started in November, involves receiving and reviewing applications for asylum; interviewing the applicants; deciding whether to grant or refer the cased to an immigration judge; and writing up and submitting the decision.

“It is incredibly interesting and fulfilling work,” notes Reilly. “I hope to stay and grow in the division, and plan to explore professional opportunities overseas as I advance.”

To current law students considering careers in international law or working in foreign services or in a non-governmental organization, the Rutgers Law–Camden alumna recommends considering the Peace Corps.

“Peace Corps and law school were a pretty perfect combination for my job. There are several Peace Corps/lawyers in my office alone, and I’ve met several Peace Corps/lawyer diplomats,” says Reilly. “From a practical perspective, it helps in the job search, because Peace Corps gives you non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs after service. Also, you’re eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness for Peace Corps service as well as federal employment.”

Also she notes the Peace Corps is a great way to test out if non-governmental international work is right for you. “Two years is long enough to get a good feel for living abroad, particularly in developing countries, and what that would entail, but still has personal and professional value if you decide you want to pursue a career stateside,” she articulates. “It’s a fulfilling and transformative experience, and I highly recommend it.”

Posted in: Scarlet Pride

Comments are closed.