Before becoming an undergraduate student at Morehead State University, Katie Gabbard Quillen (19) considered becoming everything from a veterinarian to an optometrist. In a lot of ways, her pursuit of those fields came partly from her interests in helping animals and others but also from rebelling against what others thought she should be.
“I had always been told that I would make a great lawyer,” she said. “I like to argue, I like to read, and I like to write and those are the main skills of lawyers, so I’ve been told.”
Thanks to her experience at MSU, Quillen found a passion for the field of law that not only led to her earning a bachelor’s degree in legal studies with a minor in Spanish, but it also led to her landing a full scholarship to Baylor University School of Law in Waco, Texas.
Long before becoming a law school student in the heart of the Lone Star State, Quillen grew up in West Liberty where the campus of Morehead State University is a bit of an “extension of home” as both her parents and grandparents attended MSU (her younger brother, Victor Jones III, is a current MSU student). She also visited campus in high school traveling to participate in junior pro basketball games held at MSU.
High school wasn’t a place she stayed at for long because of her aptitude for academics. She read all the “Harry Potter” books until they were falling apart in the second grade and was reading at a 12th-grade reading level as a fifth grader. She learned of an opportunity to graduate from Morgan County High School early, received a scholarship opportunity and couldn’t pass it up.
“I decided to enter the adult world as soon as I could,” she jokes.
For Quillen, MSU was the only school she applied to and attended on scholarship. She liked the size of the campus and the proximity to her hometown. Even though she was initially a chemistry major, she soon liked the field of law thanks to a First-Year Seminar class taught by legal studies professor and associate dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences Dr. Dianna Murphy that focused on the problems with eye-witness testimony in court cases.
“That was the first time I had come in contact with someone who was a lawyer and who was showing me things that are really important. It was something that was more than just on an individual level. You could change society for the better and that was something that was kind of eye-opening to me.”– Katie Quillen
Quillen changed her major to legal studies and excelled in her field of study, whether she was conducting research with Murphy on the probate system or getting a primer on briefing cases through the constitutional law classes of assistant professor of legal studies L. Joe Dunman. She also met her future husband, Henry Quillen (17), at MSU and when he went to Texas to attend graduate school, she knew she didn’t want to spend any additional time away from him when she attended law school. Not only was she accepted into the Baylor University School of Law, but she also received the school’s Dean’s Academic Excellence Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship valued at approximately $180,000.
Even though Quillen is doing well as she completes her first year of law school, she’s already thinking of ways to give back to her Kentucky community when she begins to practice law. She has interests in appellate advocacy, along with trust and estate law and a “soft spot” for criminal law. She is even thinking about the possibility of opening multiple pro bono clinics in the Eastern Kentucky region she calls home. More than anything, inspired by her research at MSU, she wants to help make quality legal representation less of a hurdle for low income individuals.
“I’ve seen a lot of people be impacted by not having the best access to the justice system in particular and I think it’s terribly unfortunate,” she said. “I grew up well below the poverty line and having the opportunities to change my life for the better and make my life better, I’m very appreciative I’ve had that opportunity and I want to extend that opportunity in ways that matter to them.”
To learn more about MSU’s legal studies program, contact the Department of History, Philosophy, Politics, Global Studies and Legal Studies at firstname.lastname@example.org, 606-783-2655 or visit www.moreheadstate.edu/study/legalstudies.