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Wednesday, September 13, 2023
Launchpad Scholars Soar as Program Gets Off the Ground
The first cohort of the Launchpad Scholars Program gathered for a welcome summit in August. Chisato Kimura '25 (center) is one of the YLS student mentors who will support Launchpad Scholars over the coming year as they prepare to apply to law school.
Getúlio Gonzalez-Mulattieri may have taken a nontraditional path toward fulfilling his dream of going to law school, but he is closer than ever to realizing his goal.
Growing up, Gonzalez-Mulattieri encountered obstacles that delayed but didn’t derail his pursuit of higher education. He dropped out of high school at 16 to work after his family lost all their possessions in an apartment fire. He later enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was honorably discharged after an injury. Eventually, he became a community organizer in Tampa but kept his sights on completing his college degree.
Friends and mentors in Florida encouraged him to return to school, so he earned his GED and enrolled in Hillsborough Community College’s honors program. After receiving his associate degree, he was admitted to Cornell University’s Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy and will complete his bachelor’s degree in 2025.
Along the way, he saw several of his peers encounter the legal system in ways he didn’t want to experience himself.
“While I didn’t make it out entirely unscathed, I was one of the few that decided I didn’t want to end up on the wrong side of the criminal justice system,” he said.
Now Gonzalez-Mulattieri is one of 25 inaugural participants in the Yale Law School Launchpad Scholars Program, powered by Latham & Watkins, who will receive intensive support over the coming year as they navigate the law school admissions process and prepare to apply to any law school they choose.
The program is specifically designed to help expand access to law school and the legal profession, particularly for students from underrepresented or underserved communities like Gonzalez-Mulattieri.
The Launchpad Scholars Program joins the Access to Law School Program spearheaded by J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law James Forman Jr. ’92 as Yale Law School’s second pipeline program. Where Launchpad is open to anyone nationwide, Access to Law School focuses on people from the New Haven area who come from groups traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession.
“At Yale Law School, we are committed to opening up the doors of this profession to all,” said Dean Heather K. Gerken. “It’s wonderful to see the Launchpad Scholars Program get off the ground. Together with Professor Forman’s pipeline program, we are pulling in and supporting talent from within New Haven and all around the country.”
A welcome in New York
For the initial cohort of Launchpad Scholars, the program kicked off with a Welcome Summit held at the New York City offices of law firm Latham & Watkins. The two-day event held Aug. 17–18 included sessions on shaping a professional identity, developing a strong résumé, and navigating the challenges and opportunities of being a first-generation professional.
Students heard from members of the Yale Law School admissions team including Associate Dean of Admissions Miriam Ingber ’04 as well as Michèle Penzer ’93, Partner at Latham & Watkins.
“We are proud to work with Yale Law School on the Launchpad Scholars program,” said Penzer, who serves as Global Chair of Latham & Watkins’ Recruiting Committee. “At its core, this collaborative effort has an altruistic mission: to provide underrepresented students from across the country unprecedented access to support, resources, and guidance regarding law school admissions.”
The summit also featured a panel discussion that included Jomaire Crawford ’12, Partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; Anna Arons ’15, Acting Assistant Professor of Lawyering at New York University School of Law; Paula Garcia-Salazar ’22, Skadden Fellow at the Legal Aid Society; Shruti Hazra ’13, Associate at Latham & Watkins; and Christian Vasquez, Associate at Latham & Watkins.
“Attending the Welcome Summit and seeing my name printed on the same paper as ‘Yale Law School’ gave my dream a tangibility that I was unprepared for,” Gonzalez-Mulattieri said. “It definitely moved me and motivated me to succeed.”
Desaree Edwards, another member of the inaugural cohort, said her peers at the Welcome Summit helped to inspire her.
“I immediately realized that I was surrounded by people with amazing levels of passion and commitment,” Edwards said. “I feel so excited to grow within such a supportive community. I believe we will hold each other accountable and be there for each other when this process gets tough. The staff was incredibly thoughtful and made it clear that they are deeply invested in the success of this program.”
Watching the Scholars bond at the Welcome Summit was gratifying and is a goal of the program, Ingber said.
“One of the pillars of the Launchpad Scholars Program is the cohort model, where the students support each other through the application process, and it was wonderful to see them come together as a community so quickly,” she said. “A number of our speakers commented that this was one of the most engaged and participative groups they had ever worked with.”
Preparation for a legal education
Following the Welcome Summit, each step of the Launchpad Scholars Program is designed to set students up for success as law students who will further diversify the legal profession.
The Scholars will attend virtual Saturday Academies in the fall which will include interactive sessions on developing key skills in preparation for the law school application process, law school itself, and postgraduation careers.
In 2024, the Scholars will be immersed in comprehensive LSAT preparation from January to June through a program that includes practice tests and individual review sessions.
The final component of the Launchpad Program will take place in June 2024, when the students attend a weeklong residential institute at Yale Law School. The cohort will apply to law schools in the fall of 2024 with the goal of enrolling in the fall of 2025.
For the duration of the program, each Launchpad Scholar will have a student mentor from Yale Law School and a professional mentor from Latham & Watkins to provide individual support and guidance. Chisato Kimura ’25 is serving as a mentor following her own experiences as a low-income, first-generation law student.
“I was part of a pre-law pipeline program before applying to law school, and I wouldn’t be here today without the resources and guidance the program equipped me with,” she said. “I particularly appreciate Launchpad’s mission to make law school more accessible, and I’m excited that I get to play a small part in the Launchpad Scholars’ journeys to law school.”
The program covers all costs for students, including travel, LSAT preparation, and application fees for up to six law schools. While participation in the Launchpad Scholars program does not provide a preference in admission to Yale Law School, the program is designed to make students competitive applicants at top-tier law schools.
“This year’s cohort of scholars is truly impressive, showcasing remarkable talent and potential,” Penzer said. “We believe in the power of investing in the next generation of legal leaders, and we are excited to witness the impact these scholars will undoubtedly make on the legal profession and beyond.”
An overwhelming response
After being announced in October 2022, applications for the program opened in March 2023 to immense interest — for its first cohort, the program received hundreds of applications, more than initially expected.
“This was ‘proof of concept’ and shows the need for pipeline programs in general, and especially programs like this which provide robust support for all aspects of the application process,” Ingber said. “It also shows the enthusiasm for law school and the legal profession, and the lengths students will go to ensure they maximize opportunities for themselves and their communities.”
But Ingber also noted that demand for pipeline programs far exceeds the availability. “It wasn’t just the volume of applications — so many were excellent and we had to make really difficult decisions,” she said. “Accessing programs that lower the barriers to law school shouldn’t itself become a process fraught with barriers. We hope that going forward there will continue to be more programs available that expand access to the legal profession.”
The 25 Launchpad Scholars come from nine states and Washington, D.C. and bring a variety of backgrounds and experiences to the program. Eighty percent of the class are students without a parent who graduated from a four-year, U.S. higher education institution. Forty percent grew up in families where English was not the primary language spoken at home.
The cohort includes three veterans and several students with STEM backgrounds, including one student pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science. Some students attended community college before transferring to four-year institutions, and two are former foster youth.
Like Gonzalez-Mulattieri, Edwards’s interest in a law career was also shaped by her personal experiences.
Originally from Carthage, Mississippi, she joined the U.S. Navy right after high school. She trained as a nuclear machinist’s mate and was selected to be among the first women to serve on submarines after a ban preventing them was lifted in 2010. After qualifying in 2018, she became the first nuclear-trained enlisted female submariner in the Atlantic Fleet.
“During my time on the submarine, the women on board were victimized by a large-scale sexual harassment event,” she said. “Our leadership failed to support us, and that lack of advocacy negatively impacted so many women. I realized I didn’t have the skills or training to provide the type of advocacy we needed. That experience led me to leave the military and pursue a career in law.”
Edwards is currently a student at Wesleyan University and applied to the Launchpad Scholars Program as an opportunity to pursue her law school goals in a like-minded community.
“Coming from a first-generation/low-income background, I’ve faced a great number of barriers while pursuing my goals,” she said. “I’ve found that a strong, supportive community can be the difference between success and failure.”
Applications for the 2024–2025 Launchpad Scholars cycle will open in spring 2024, and information sessions will be scheduled during the upcoming academic year. Interested students should visit law.yale.edu/launchpad to check for information sessions and other details as they become available.