Alyssa Gross ’14 won first place for Best Oral Argument after facing five judges during a constitutional argument panel.
Global Legal Studies majorAlyssa Gross ’14 set out to distinguish herself from other law school candidates during her undergraduate years. But she never dreamed she would study political thought at the world’s oldest English-speaking university or become the sole staffer representing a member of Irish Parliament. Picking her courses and international experiences carefully, she’s started to fill the “Experience” section of her résumé with unique accomplishments.
“It’s a unique major,” says Gross, who matriculated in 2010 as a Political Science major. “Most law students have a background in law or Poli Sci, and it’s for that reason that I think the Global Legal Studies major will help me stand out amongst other law school applicants.”
She was attracted to Arcadia for the opportunities to study abroad, and now that she’s in a Majors Abroad Program (MAP), study abroad is no longer just an option: She’s required to complete at least two semesters of study abroad. Determined to get as much practical experience in politics as possible, she selected a Parliamentary Internship in Dublin, Ireland. To prepare for the challenge, she pursued an internship opportunity near home.
During summer 2012, Gross completed the 4th (formerly the 19th) Congressional District Internship working with then-U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 19th congressional district Todd Russell Platts. As one of four interns assisting six full-time staffers, Gross says she learned a lot, from the mundane to the profound. She gained practical office equipment skills un-jamming printers to the profound professional asset of separating her personal policies from her representation of her employer.
It was valuable experience in preparation for her role as the single staff member in Dublin assisting Independent party member Michael Healy-Rae, Teachta Dála (TD) for Kerry South. She filled every role in the office, including taking calls and writing letters to concerned constituents. She also helped write press releases and assisted individuals with immigration procedures.
Gross explains it was much more than a desk job. Over the course of the semester, Irish policy was consistently headlined in world news. In October, she witnessed an estimated 20,000 farmers takeover of the city in protest of the Cap reform, lining the ancient cobblestone streets with their tractors. In November, Gross saw the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, Dail (Irish Parliament) at Leinster House. She also represented a pro-life TD during the investigation into the death of Savita Halppanavar and the resulting public crescendo of abortion law protests.
Her experiences in Glenside may be less dramatic, but they’re equally profound. In spring 2012, she took Constitutional Law with the Honorable Christopher Cerski (simply “Judge” to his students). The coursework, like the professor, is notoriously difficult. But the hard work is rewarding.
Gross recalls feeling overwhelmed by the course material ahead of a constitutional argument panel, during which she would be questioned and assessed by five practicing judges. Gross explains that while Judge Cerski expects a lot of his students, he also does everything in his power to help students succeed.
“I had notes all over that packet and so many questions,” she says, referring to a heavy manila envelope full of material she was expected to master. “And the week leading up to the panel, Judge stayed until midnight or 1 a.m. at least three evenings to give his students extra help.”
Preparing for the panel required far more than rote memorization. Gross was developing key skills. “It taught me a lot—not just about constitutional law. The experience taught me how to think on my feet, which is crucial to any developing lawyer.” In addition, she learned how to handle curve-ball questions and craft an argument on the spot, finding new twists or rearranging her approach while maintaining her composure. Gross also discovered a niche in constitutional law and interpretation, winning first place for Best Oral Argument.
Gross says that Judge Cerski’s support isn’t limited to assisting his students through the course material he assigns. When she decided to apply to Oxford University for a semester abroad, Judge Cerski was happy to help edit her writing samples as well as provide a letter of recommendation, which ultimately led to her acceptance.
“It wasn’t something I had thought about,” says Gross, considering a semester of Oxbridge education. “Having grown up in such an agrarian setting, I guess I had always assumed it was out of my reach. But Arcadia gave me the opportunity, and Judge [Cerski] gave me the guidance and encouragement through the intense application process.”
She is currently studying Comparative Government and the Political Thought: Plato to Rousseau in the hallowed halls of Lady Margaret College, Oxford University.