Law student sports language and scientific backgrounds


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Law student Kenneth Nelson earned his undergrad degree in Spanish, and Behavioral Sciences, from Western Michigan University, and worked in that field before law school.

“A big part of my interest came from the fact it applies to everything we do—almost everything in our environment affects our behavior in some way or another,” he says. “That concept was always very interesting to me and learning about all the different factors affecting our behavior allowed me have a better appreciation of social and cultural differences between people.”

During undergrad, as a Behavior Technician at the Kalamazoo Autism Center, he enjoyed seeing the children’s growth and learning, and advising parents on how to approach problem behaviors.

“When working with the same kid for 10-15 hours a week you can see every single improvement they make along the way which motivates you to continue putting in the effort to be the best therapist you can be,” he says.

After graduation, Nelson spent eight months in Spain, as a Language and Cultural Assistant to the Ministry of Education. He gave presentations or led activities about differences in American English versus British English and American culture/holidays.

“When learning any language in a school setting you don’t have many opportunities to learn the manner in which people speak the language on a daily basis. Learning colloquial sayings and idioms are one of the most difficult concepts because they translate poorly most of the time,” he says. “I enjoyed thinking of creative ways to explain useful phrases we use in everyday English they wouldn’t normally have a chance to learn in class.” 

One of his favorite experiences in Spain was visiting La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, a large, unfinished Roman Catholic Church basilica that has been in construction since 1882.

“You can see the contrast between the older and more recent sections of the church on the outside, and on the inside when the sun hits the windows the inside becomes filled with colors,” he says. “It’s a breathtaking experience seeing this beautiful piece of architecture.” 

He also relished the Spanish nightlife, when he and his friends would typically go out around 1 a.m., get churros (a type of fried dough) with chocolate for breakfast around 8 a.m., and return home mid-morning.

“Their culture places a lot of emphasis on going out at night and it’s even common to see toddlers out and about with their parents at 3 to 4 in the morning,” he says.

Nelson has used his Spanish language skills as a volunteer translator at the Southwest Detroit Immigration and Refugee Center.

“Every week they have a free legal clinic where some amazing lawyers devote their time to help people needing legal services but can’t afford it,” he says. “It was a great experience and although I’m not sure exactly what area of law I want to pursue I’ve gained an interest in immigration law from volunteering there.”

His time in Spain has also interested him in working abroad after his law school graduation. After returning from Spain, Nelson spent close to two years as a Behavioral Technician for HealthCall in Royal Oak, where he enjoyed the freedom of the work.

“My supervisor would create interventions and train me on them but after that I was more or less free to run my sessions as I pleased,” he says. “Having this freedom was helpful because I was working with the same client for about 15 hours on average compared to my supervisor who may have only sat in on a session for an hour or so. You generally have better knowledge of your client than your supervisor so having that much freedom allows you to focus on the main issues your client is having and prioritize everything else after that.”

Nelson left the job when he started at Detroit Mercy Law last fall; and with his background in helping others, felt the law was a natural fit.

“From a young age I always loved reading and writing so I think that’s where my interest began,” he says. “I also always enjoyed being able to help and work with others. For example in elementary school I would go work with students in special education classes once a week on certain projects.

“Through the years, as I gained a better understanding of what lawyers do, I realized I could use the things I love and do well to help others.”

Now a full time 1L student at Detroit Mercy Law School, Nelson appreciates how the faculty has managed to create a sense of community in this challenging remote environment.

“Although I’ve only met a small amount of the law program in person, I feel I can reach out to anyone,” he says. “I’ve also loved being a BLSA member. From the first week of classes they helped me feel comfortable as a 1L.”

This summer Nelson will first intern at Jaffe Raitt, followed by an internship with Judge Laurie J. Michelson of the U.S. District Court in Detroit.

While remote studying has been somewhat difficult, Nelson notes his professors have done a great job of adapting their teaching styles to the virtual environment.

“It’s been rough being home so often but I cope by watching a lot of television in my free time. I enjoy TV series and even have a goal to write my own one day so I get a lot of time to watch and study television shows,” he says.

He also enjoys Zoom parties, playing or watching basketball and football, video games, spending time with friends, and working on his Spanish language skills.

A Canton native, Nelson now lives in Detroit; his mother and siblings live in El Paso, Texas, where Nelson lived as a child; and his father and several family members live in southeastern Michigan.

“What I love most about Detroit is there is always something to do—I love trying out different restaurants, bars and breweries with friends and there are so many different places to try in the city,” he says. “You can never be bored living in Detroit especially during summer when all the various festivals and events are going on.”

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