For more than 60 years, the Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship Program has been nurturing a community and enriching a school that sends passionate public interest lawyers into the world.Printer Friendly Version
Fayetteville, North Carolina, native Brandon Buskey ’06 had a lot to adjust to. New to New York, new to public interest law, he was a tad intimidated entering NYU Law as a Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar.
Before law school began, however, Buskey attended RTK orientation, which included overnight camping and hikes. His uncertainty evaporated. “The programmatic support at NYU—in the Root Program and in the Public Interest Law Center—really surprised me,” says Buskey, now an attorney for the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. And that first impression stayed true throughout his three years. “There was always someone willing to discuss issues and problems,” he says, “someone who would help you think through what kind of lawyer you wanted to be.”
Angelica Jongco ’05, a senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization in San Francisco, still remembers the nurturing she received “grabbing falafel with my mentor, Kathleen Guneratne, my first day. She answered all my questions and made me feel completely at home.” Guneratne ’04, now an Alameda County (California) public defender, remains a friend and mentor.
The RTK Program has a rich history. Since 1954 it has produced leaders in all aspects of law and even business, including two of the founders of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Martin Lipton ’55 and Herbert Wachtell ’54; the founder of Southwest Airlines, Herbert Kelleher ’56; and the former general counsel of AIG, Florence Davis ’79, who is now president of the Starr Foundation.
RTK alumni also hold influential public service positions throughout the country (see illustration on the next page). The program has, over time, spurred the growth of the public service community at NYU Law. In fact, the founding of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) in 1992 would begin to make Root’s programming accessible to the entire school population, including making available to all students funding for public interest summer internships and entrance to the Monday night Public Interest Speaker Series.
“The public interest community at NYU is large enough that there is space to assemble your own family,” says Kendal Nystedt ’14. “I’ve built my own family through relationships formed during two years in the Immigrant Rights Clinic, while on the Review of Law & Social Change, and as a member of the Coalition on Law & Representation’s leadership collective.” Nystedt received funding available to any NYU Law student to organize an Alternative Winter Break trip to Arizona, where seven students worked on immigration enforcement issues at the southern border.
This sharing of the wealth, as it were, is to everyone’s advantage, according to Chief Judge Theodore McKee of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He has served on the RTK Selection Committee annually since 2004 and has become one of the program’s biggest cheerleaders. “NYU understands the importance of gathering a critical mass of public interest law students,” McKee says. “That critical mass transforms qualitatively the experience of public interest law students.” RTK Scholars are “not an isolated bunch,” he adds. “They’re an extraordinary group of scholars integrated into a vibrant and vital community of public interest-minded folk.”