Amanda Fox was a first-generation student herself when she earned her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Georgia in 2014. So, when she interviewed for her current position as the School of Law’s First Start coordinator, she brought four pages of notes and ideas of ways to support these students.
“Higher education in general, and particularly our law school, is changing and responding to students’ needs and concerns,” she said. “If we truly want to diversify and attract diverse candidates, then we have to recognize that they’re going to come from different backgrounds and bring different skill sets.”
The First Start program
The First Start program began with a donation from the Amos family to provide scholarships to first-generation law school students. The law school decided to hire someone to act as a steward of the funds while also helping these students through their educational experience.
“First-generation students come from all different backgrounds,” Fox said. “I have to really get to know the students to know what their needs and concerns are and what gaps need to be filled. I want to meet them where they are.”
Fox spends roughly 75% of her time working directly with first-generation law school students. The remaining 25% is spent developing and leading programs and outreach efforts designed to support them. She also offers academic advising and professional development support.
“We need to be prepared to help them succeed,” said Fox, who describes her role as a “bridge between what could be silos.”
She’s an office of one but works with nearly every department and unit at the law school. A big part of her job is connecting students with the resources they need, whether that is sharing financial literacy information or planning a networking event. One of those resources is the First-Generation Student Association, which she advises.
She said that because they’re getting a professional degree, there are certain norms that law school students are expected to understand and navigate. That can be especially tough for first-generation students. As one way to help bridge that gap, Fox put together an etiquette dinner that encouraged students she works with to become more comfortable in those situations. Her goal is to help them work through the “hidden curriculum” of reaching out to practitioners, building their professional legal network and developing their practical skill set.
“It’s been very enriching getting to know many of the students—sitting with them, talking with them, and hearing their stories and what their goals are and why they came to law school,” she said. “One of the key differences I notice in them is a high level of resilience and independence.”
A winding career path
Fox’s own career path has had some interesting stops along the way. Her bachelor’s degree is in art history, focusing on Asian art. After graduating, she taught at a high school in Japan for five years before deciding to go to law school. She then took a job negotiating construction projects for an elevator company. However, she missed Athens and working with students, so she returned to the University of Georgia in 2016.
Prior to her current position, she ran the law school’s global programs as the associate director for global practice preparation in the Dean Rusk International Law Center. The two main programs are Global Externships Overseas, where students have an externship abroad in a legal environment supervised by a lawyer, and the Global Governance Summer School at The Hague in Belgium, which is a 10-day program where students have five days of classes and the remaining time learning at the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.
Fox still sees a lot of room to grow in her position. In particular, she’s seeking out additional training on areas around student affairs.
“I walk into work, and I’m excited about the things I get to do each day and who I can talk to,” she said. “It’s so nice to be a part of such a great community.”
Fox is planting her roots in Athens—she recently got married and bought her first house. Outside of work, she enjoys collecting books and spending time outdoors. She’s also an avid traveler and hopes to take her husband, Robert, to Japan.