Starr Pupil

Published: May 4, 2007
Story by Robin Roger
Web writer

While some students change their career plans between middle school and college graduation, Starr Brookins has held on to her lifelong dream.

After participating in law magnet programs since the age of 13, her prodigious preparation will be put into action next fall when she starts law school at George Washington University with a $30,000 merit scholarship.

Brookins will graduate magna cum laude—the honor for a GPA higher than 3.75 but less than 4.0—from The University of Tampa on May 5. She will leave Tampa, her home for eight years, for Washington, DC, where she plans to study constitutional law, civil rights or race relations.

When one-on-one, the shy, soft-spoken senior speaks quietly about her legal passion, but when she stands before a class discussing whether Chinese Americans should receive reparations for their treatment in the United States, her voice grows noticeably firmer.

“She is very enthusiastic and has very strong leadership abilities,” says Dr. Richard Piper, Dana professor of government and world affairs and adviser to the Pre-Law Society. “She’s very committed to law and public service.”

As soon as she could talk, Brookins says, she played “court.” At one point, Brookins wanted to be an FBI profiler and would worry her mom by spending hours looking up information about serial killers. Her favorite TV show is Law & Order Special Victims Unit, which is about sex crimes.

She attended Tampa’s Franklin Middle Magnet School, which integrates law studies and public service into the curriculum. As a student at Jefferson High School, Brookins participated in the international law and criminal justice magnet programs.

Brookins majored in criminology and minored in law and justice and was honored by the faculty as one of three outstanding criminology seniors at UT. As president of the Pre-Law Society, she brought speakers to campus and arranged a mock trial with professors from Stetson University College of Law.

When her classmates traveled to Harvard to represent Greece in the National Model United Nations last year, Brookins represented a non-governmental organization. Students must apply to travel to the event, and only 12 out of 25 were chosen that year, Piper says. But Brookins had to apply directly to Harvard to lobby the UN as an independent organization.

James Beckman, associate professor of government, law and justice, said Brookins was within the top 5 percent of all the students he’s seen at UT.
“I wish all the students were as intelligent and motivated as Starr has been in class,” Beckman said.

He also served as her academic adviser.

“Starr had everything done from the outset,” he said. “I’ve never had to worry about her. She’s always known where she wants to go and what the requirements are.”

Brookins took the Law School Admission Test last winter and received her scores over the winter break.

“I thought it was a horrible Christmas present,” she says.

Unhappy with her scores, she contemplated withdrawing her applications. After Beckman and her other professors told her schools cared about more than just test scores, she felt more confident. She received admission to GWU just a few weeks after she applied.

“I thought someone was playing a joke on me,” she says.

A week later, the school offered her a scholarship. While the scholarship will cover most of the cost of tuition, Brookins says she would like to get a position in residence life to help defer the cost of living in D.C. As head resident of McKay-Boathouse, Brookins supervised 200 residents this year.

Brookins has considered taking law school prep courses during the summer, but her mom encouraged her to take some time off from school. Brookins’ mom says her daughter is used to being intense. She’ll fit right in at law school.

Brookins says she feels well prepared for law school coming out of UT. On a tour of American University’s law school, she impressed people when they learned she had written a 30-page brief for an undergraduate class.

Already, she is preparing for the differences between George Washington University and UT. The bigger city may take some getting used to, she says.

GWU enrolls nearly 16,000 students, compared to the 5,300 at UT. The law school alone had 1,919 degree candidates enrolled last fall.

But the law school is centralized, so Brookins says she doesn’t think she’ll get lost in the crowd. Once there, she says she hopes to join a few groups, such as the black law student association, or one of the public service or civil rights organizations.

She says that someday, she might want to work for the American Civil Liberties Union or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

She has already worked as a runner and a legal secretary for a Tampa law firm.

“She’s been very clear,” said Stephanie Russell Holz, assistant dean of students and director of the Vaughn Center. “She wanted to go to law school, and she knew how she was going to make it happen. She chose her co-curriculars to help her in that aim.”

Holz worked with Brookins when the senior chaired the Diversity Fellowship, a peer education group. As chair, she organized programs such as a discussion on a common racial epithet that got people talking, and invited speakers to campus to talk about topics such as the genocide in Rwanda.

Brookins really cares about people, Holz says, and believes she can create social change in the world. It’s easy for students to get into a rut and feel as though they can’t make a difference, Holz says, but Brookins tries to get other people to feel they can make a positive change in their community.

“She’s been a role model for younger students about how important it is to have drive and to have a plan,” Holz says. “She has been so diligent and focused about finalizing her plans for after graduation.”

While many students are still waiting to hear from schools or companies, Brookins already has her path planned out. Now all she has to do is pack … and get rid of her eight LSAT prep books.

“I’m glad I know what I’m doing after graduation,” she says. “I would be so nervous if I didn’t.”