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Catching Up with Skadden Fellow Sean Arthurs

Sean Arthurs ‘05 was the inaugural recipient of the prestigious Skadden Fellowship. After graduating from the college, he used the scholarship to work with domestic violence victims in the Spanish-speaking community through the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. He is now engaged in educational reform.

What have you been up to since graduating from Cincinnati?

After graduating from UC, I spent two years working with Spanish-speaking immigrants and domestic violence victims as a Staff Attorney and Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  I then moved to Washington, D.C., and clerked for Judge Kennedy on the D.C. District Court followed by three years in the litigation department of Shearman & Sterling LLP. 

I was fortunate to be able to return to the education sector as a Clinical Teaching Fellow in the Street Law Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center.  In the Street Law Clinic, we train and supervise law students as they teach Street Law courses to more than 300 D.C. public high school students.  My two-year Fellowship convinced me that my future was in improving the education system in the United States.

I am also the proud father of Keegan and Catherine (six and five, respectively) and continue to be surprised by their ability to render me speechless—in good ways and bad!

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments in the field of education?

I have experience working with challenging students and succeeding in difficult classrooms.  I have been awestruck by student projects and deeply insightful perspectives, humbled by students who said I played a role in helping them become better people, and positively shocked by how well even the most troubled students have responded to a teacher who cares. I have partnered with some brilliant and compassionate teachers and helped design innovative programs at the district and school level.  I have designed legal fairs and taught people how to teach.  I hope that I have helped some students become lifelong learners and analytical thinkers while remaining as curious and compassionate as they ever were.  Yet when I reflect on all these experiences, I refuse to consider any of them my greatest accomplishment in the field of education.  That accomplishment, I hope, is yet to come. 

What drives you to do the work you do?

Anger and promise.  I am angry at the dismal educational realities faced by so many of our students on a daily basis.  I believe that education should be, in the words of Horace Mann, “the great equalizer, the balance wheel of the social machinery,” yet in far too many of our underserved and ignored communities, education only perpetuates the cycles of poverty and disillusionment.   On the other hand, as a first generation immigrant and former inner-city school teacher, I am aware, on both personal and professional levels, of the importance of education in unlocking a lifetime of opportunities.  I hope to be part of a team that works to make sure that access to a good education is a fundamental American experience across all zip codes, racial and ethnic lines, and economic strata.

Why does the Ed.L.D. program make sense for you at this time?

I left my career as a corporate lawyer and returned to education because I am passionate about education and education reform.  My work over the last two years has exposed me to some of the best schools in America and some of the most challenged schools in America.  I have seen cutting edge innovation and I have seen abysmal practices that do nothing but set students up to fail.  

I am absolutely convinced that I want to work to rectify these problems and to help make our education system better.  In order to do this, to be in a position where I can make a meaningful difference in education reform, I know that I need to develop a better understanding of the global and local issues, the competing interests, the root causes, and the possible solutions.  The Ed.L.D. program will enable me to accomplish this goal by learning from, and beside, the brightest and most dedicated minds working in education reform today. 

What will success look like for the American PreK-12 education system?

If we have a curriculum that prepares students to be critical thinkers, engaged community members, and lifelong learners across all disciplines, then we will be moving toward a successful education system.  If teacher unions and administrators have a shared global objective that looks at student outcomes first and foremost, we will be pointed the right way.  If we reject the notion that failing schools are inevitable and that high truancy and dropout rates are inevitable, then we will be headed in the right direction.  If foreigners are coming to our schools to ask how we became so student-centered and competent at raising high school graduation rates and college retention rates, we will know we are making positive strides.  If we are asking different questions in 10 years, questions that recognize how far we have come but still probe for ways to make our system even better, then we might be able to call these 10 years a successful first step.     

Meet Sean Arthurs:

After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a finance degree, Arthurs spent seven years teaching in economically challenged schools in Louisiana, Maryland, and London, England.  He then spent one year working as a human rights volunteer in Bogotá, Colombia and then graduated summa cum laude from the College of Law. In his third year at UC, he became the inaugural recipient of the prestigious Skadden Fellowship to work with domestic violence victims in the Spanish-speaking community through Cincinnati’s Legal Aid upon graduation.

At the College of Law,  Arthurs was an Arthur Russell Morgan Fellow in Human Rights at the Urban Morgan Institute, senior articles editor for the Human Rights Quarterly, managing editor of the Law Review, and co-founder of the Immigrant Community Legal Advocacy Clinic.

This August, Arthurs became one of 25 students to enroll in the Doctorate of Educational Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, an  innovative, practice-based, multidimensional doctoral program that integrates the fields of education, business, and public policy, offering access to the intellectual and professional resources of HGSE, the Harvard Business School, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the other schools at Harvard.