LAWRENCE – The University of Kansas School of Law welcomed the Class of 2023 to Green Hall in August. This year’s incoming class includes 100 J.D. students who come to KU Law from 20 states and 51 colleges and universities.
The Class of 2023 is the most diverse in KU Law's history, with 28% of the class self-identifying as students of color. Fifty-seven percent of the students are Kansas residents, with the remaining 43% coming from out of state. View a full class profile.
This year’s students bring a range of experiences and talents to their legal studies. The class includes former collegiate athletes and several students who have served in the military. Many of the students bring prior work experience to law school, including a doctor and a former NBA nutritionist.
Here, meet four first-year students who shared their reasons for choosing KU Law, their backgrounds and what they hope to accomplish with a legal education.
Catherine Stephens, of Camp Lejune, North Carolina, graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She was co-captain of the Navy Women’s Rugby Team and competed for two rugby national championships.
After graduating from the Naval Academy, Stephens served as a Surface Warfare Officer in the Navy for six years. While on active duty, she was stationed on two ships – USS CARNEY and USS IWO JIMA – focused on anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia and amphibious operations with the Marine Corps. Stephens said she got out of the military in 2016 and “worked for two years with a large consulting firm (Deloitte) trying to improve the Navy's recruiting and retention policies.”
In 2018, she moved with her family to Spain, where her spouse was stationed on a forward deployed ship. Stephens has two young children – 3-year-old Tyler and 1-year-old James – and a Bernese mountain dog, Ryder. Her husband is enrolled in the MBA-Petroleum Management Program at the KU School of Business.
“I chose KU Law because of our extensive network of alumni spread throughout the country, the emphasis on practical knowledge and skills, and the other graduate level opportunities that KU offered so that my spouse could advance his career as well,” Stephens said.
Stephens said she is excited to combine the skills she has learned so far with a legal education.
“I hope to get back into the government after graduation, either as a prosecutor or working in health care law policy,” Stephens said.
Jessica Steffen, of Hutchinson, graduated from Yale University, where she studied ethics, politics and economics.
As a student at Yale, she played on the women’s basketball team, competing in NCAA Division I. Her senior thesis, “Voting With Your Faith: The Role of Christianity in Modern American Politics and Economics” was nominated for the William H. Orrick Jr. Prize at Yale. She also was an American Enterprise Institute Values & Capitalism Summer Scholar; participated in Women's Campaign School at Yale Law; and was president of the school’s OX Secret Society. Steffen is also a former intelligence officer.
Steffen said she chose KU Law for the chance to return to her home state.
“While I so enjoyed my time on the East Coast, there really is no place like home. KU Law allows me to be closer to friends and family. And I get to reclaim the best state in the U.S. as home,” Steffen said. “From quality of education to KU basketball, KU Law was an easy choice.”
After completing her J.D., Steffen said she is interested in pursuing litigation and corporate law in the Kansas City area.
“While I have some long-term political aspirations, I am focused on the present. I couldn't be more excited to become a KU lawyer and to help clients navigate the law and accomplish their goals,” Steffen said.
Dominick Decker, of Wichita, earned his undergraduate degree in economics from KU. As an undergraduate he enrolled in the Legal Education Accelerated Degree (LEAD) program, which allows qualified students to earn a bachelor’s degree and a J.D. in six years after meeting program requirements. Decker is one of 15 LEAD students in the Class of 2023, the largest cohort since the program launched in 2013.
“Once I completed these requirements and was accepted into KU Law, I did not apply anywhere else,” Decker said. “I am very happy to remain in Kansas, where I know I will receive a great education while staying close to friends and family.”
As a senior in high school, Decker obtained a private pilot’s license and started a video production company that specialized in drone photography and videography. He operated the company until selling it before his last year of undergraduate studies.
“The experience I gained from running my own business was invaluable and served as a stepping-stone to many other opportunities. These opportunities included working for the U.S. State Department in Melbourne, Australia and interning with the Kansas House of Representatives,” Decker said.
Decker said he plans to explore several subject areas before choosing a career path.
Paula Lopez, of Andover, studied history and Spanish as an undergraduate at KU. Lopez was named a University Scholar by the University Honors Program during her sophomore year. As a coordinator for the Concerned Active & Aware Students (CAAS) with KU’s Center for Community Outreach, Lopez created programs that made care packages for refugees and victims of domestic violence.
Lopez is also a member of the LEAD program. She said her experiences with the LEAD program as an undergraduate led her to KU Law.
“The LEAD program granted me the opportunity to gain a sense of what KU Law would be like before coming to Green Hall. It allowed me to build relationships with other students in the 1L class, gain mentorship from current 2Ls and 3Ls, and even allowed me to connect with staff,” Lopez said. “I felt welcomed and supported by Green Hall before I was even admitted, so I knew KU Law was the right decision for me.”
Lopez said she hopes to pursue work in the public interest sector with her law degree.
“As of now, I am not entirely sure what that looks like, but there are many civil rights and social justice causes that I feel deserve more attention and resources. In that regard, I would love to use my degree to advocate for the communities, people, and stories that are often overlooked,” Lopez said.