Alumna Aims to Boost Diversity While Honoring a UI Pioneer

By Josh O'Leary
Winnie Uluocha, a Chicago attorney, hopes to inspire others to follow in her footsteps by establishing a new Iowa Law endowment and mentoring students.
Winnie Uluocha Photo: UI College of Law Law school graduate Winnie Uluocha (19MHA, 19JD) recently began work as a health care associate at McDermott, Will, and Emery in Chicago.

Prospective law student Winnie Uluocha was visiting the University of Iowa a few years ago when a faculty member struck up a conversation. The professor, she learned, was a health care attorney who had earned a master's degree in public health alongside a Juris Doctor degree—the same academic path Uluocha hoped to follow.

It wasn't until the end of their long conversation that Uluocha realized she was talking with Gail Agrawal, the then-dean of Iowa Law.

"The fact that she was able to speak in such a humbling and kind way, with a student who had not yet decided if she wanted to attend Iowa, was incredible to me," Uluocha says. "I remember feeling very welcomed and a sense of community when I left that weekend. I knew then that was where I needed and wanted to be, and it was one of the best decisions of my life."

Today, thanks in part to the mentorship of Agrawal and other UI faculty and alumni, Uluocha (19MHA, 19JD) is a newly sworn member of the Illinois bar and a Chicago health care attorney. At the same time, she remains deeply connected to Iowa City, where she's helping others forge a successful career path via the UI College of Law.

While many wait until they're well-established professionally to give back to their alma mater, Uluocha has already begun paving the way for future students. Uluocha has established a new endowment benefiting students from underserved populations interested in studying law at Iowa. The Alexander Clark Jr. Award Fund provides a stipend for lodging for law applicants who might not otherwise be able to afford to visit Iowa City.

Uluocha established the fund in her final year of law school and named it after a pioneering Iowan. Alexander Clark Jr. (1879LLB) was Iowa Law's first African American graduate and the first black student to receive a law degree west of the Mississippi River. His father, Alexander Clark Sr. (1894LLB), an early civil rights leader in Iowa, later earned his law degree at the university, as well.

The endowment was born out of Uluocha's work on the law school's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee—one of the many volunteer positions she held at Iowa. While talking with Collins Byrd, assistant dean of enrollment management, Uluocha learned that if prospective students visit Iowa City, they are much more likely to select the UI. The hope is that by bringing more law school recruits from disadvantaged populations to visit with stipends for lodging, it will ultimately enhance diversity at Iowa.

"Flights and hotels are expensive, especially for students," Uluocha says. "I thought, 'What can I do to help mitigate that being a barrier for people coming to visit our campus?'"

Uluocha, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Chicago, studied public relations and advertising as an undergraduate at DePaul University. The daughter of an international physician and structural civil engineer and architect, Uluocha shifted her focus in graduate school to health care law. Iowa's unique combination of a top-notch law school and highly ranked health administration program was the perfect fit.

Uluocha served in several leadership roles both in the College of Law, where she guided the Black Law Students Association, and in the College of Public Health, where she researched implicit bias in the criminal justice system. In 2018, Uluocha received one of the UI's top student honors—the Philip G. Hubbard Human Rights Award—for her efforts to promote diversity.

Winnie Uluocha Photo: UI College of Law College of Law Dean Emerita Gail Agrawal is pictured with Winnie Uluocha and Uluocha's niece, Jaedyn Ayangbile.

Following graduation, Uluocha passed the bar and this fall began work at McDermott, Will, and Emery in downtown Chicago, where she's a health care associate. Uluocha had spent 10 weeks as a summer associate at the firm in 2018 after Agrawal connected her with UI alumna Monica Wallace (06JD, 06MHA), a partner there. That internship led to a job offer from the company, which is the nation's leading health care firm.

Uluocha is well on her way to her goal of raising $50,000 for the Alexander Clark Jr. Award Fund thanks to contributions from fellow law school alumni and a $5,000 donation from her new employer. She also plans to personally donate $3,000 annually to the endowment, which will begin assisting students in 2020.

 "My belief of being of service to our communities aligns with McDermott's values of having a professional responsibility to our communities around the world," Uluocha says. "One of the many reasons that I was so excited to begin my career at McDermott was because of our shared values."

Beyond her philanthropic efforts, Uluocha also serves as a mentor for several current Iowa Law and College of Public Health students—just as Agrawal and Wallace did for her. Says Uluocha: "My hope is to also inspire other students and alums to give back to Iowa, because Iowa gave so much to me. This is the least I can do."

Support the Alexander Clark Jr. Award Fund or give back to other areas of the UI, including the Forevermore Scholarship Fund.

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