Record of achievement Student activist to leave impressive Wayne legacy

By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

Originally, Chelsea Zuzindlak -- who will be graduating in May from Wayne State University Law School -- wanted to pursue a career that some students could consider ghastly.

"When I first entered Wayne State (as an undergrad), I actually wanted to be a mortician," explained Zuzindlak, a 2004 alumna of Warren Cousin High School. "I realized soon thereafter to be a mortician, I had to take a lot of chemistry and biology classes, which I did not have any interest in. After consulting an adviser, it really boiled down that my interest was in the culture of death rather than in performing the science of death... After that discussion, I realized I had a foundation in anthropology -- that was more the route for me, to study the culture of people."

In 2008, Zuzindlak graduated magna cum laude from Wayne State, majoring in anthropology and Asian studies. During her undergraduate days, she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She also participated in summer service and learning program in 2007 at Tsinghua University in Beijing. A point of pride for Zuzindlak and her parents is that she is the first in her family to graduate from college.

"I started most of my projects on Chinese funerary rites. That led me to take Chinese and study abroad in China. It snowballed from there," she said.

In addition to studying abroad, Zuzindlak also participated in a home-stay program -- where she lived with a Chinese family and participated in a cultural exchange between herself and her hosts -- in Hebei Province, China for two weeks in 2008.

Upon graduation in 2008, Zunzindlak was one of the movers and shakers behind the Detroit Chinatown Exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum. It was the first public Asian American exhibit in the state of Michigan.

"When I decided that this was a project I wanted to take on, my faculty mentor in anthropology (Dr. Jacalyn D. Harden) suggested I speak to a man named Frank H. Wu," recalled Zunzindlak.

At the time, Wu was the dean of Wayne State Law School. In fact, he was the first Asian-American dean. In 2010, he became the dean and the chancellor of the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

"I did, in fact, meet with Dean Wu and he hired me right on the spot to be his personal research assistant. It was that relationship with him where I became more empowered as a person and -- because he was dean of the law school -- I wanted to find a meaningful outlet for things that I was interested in, so law became a natural choice," said Zuzindlak. "Even though history is really important... I had certain political and policy-oriented positions that I really wanted to effectuate. The only way I could think of doing that was to be a lawyer."

Zuzindlak has made the most of her time in law school. She is a recipient of the Carl Ziemba Scholarship, named after a 1948 Wayne State Law alumnus who donated more than $3 million to provide scholarships to law school students who attended Wayne State University for undergraduate work as well as law school.

Zuzindlak was the vice president of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association from 2010-11, as well as an upper-class mentor for the Student Bar Association Board of Governors from 2010-11. She also worked two semesters at the Wayne State Law School Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic as a student attorney, where she represented clients before the Detroit Immigration Court under the supervision of a licensed practicing attorney.

"I spent two semesters there. It solidified my career path. It solidified who I want to be. It solidified the attorney I want to be," Zuzindlak fondly recalled.

Additionally, she participated in the Wayne Law Voluntary Pro Bono Program. Founded in 2010, this program encourages students to complete the Warrior Pro Bono Pledge, a pledge agreement where students agree to perform a minimum of 50 hours of supervised, qualifying pro bono work while enrolled in law school. This program allows students to assist underserved populations and gain professional work experience, such as exposure to a variety of practice settings and client bases, hands-on legal experience, and a host of networking and leadership development opportunities.

"I really think Frank Wu carried me through law school. I always think of Frank Wu as my 'dad mentor' and Jacalyn Harden as my 'mom mentor,'" she said with a laugh. "Those are the two people I really aspire to be like -- they're my heroes... If I could accomplish even one-half of what they have in their careers, I will have thought myself to be successful."

In turn, Wu had high praise for Zuzindlak.

"Chelsea is great. She is a star student and will have a wonderful future as a lawyer," complimented Wu. "She understands not only the law but also its social context. She's the best student I've ever worked with."

Currently, Zuzindlak is the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Law in Society. She is slated to graduate in the Top 20 Percent from law school in May. She will begin her first job this September as an attorney adviser for the U.S. Department of Justice in Detroit - where she interned last year.

"I really feel grateful to Wayne State as an institution. It has been a place where I could not only be myself, but their programs helped me grow as a person," she said. "I cannot overstate my gratitude to Wayne State University. Throughout my tenure as a student, I have felt the embrace of the academic and legal and philanthropic communities. As my sponsors have had a distinctive mission to advance my vision, I have a clear purpose to see to it that my vision unfolds. The wisdom of my sponsors will not be forsaken. I hope that after law school, I will be further blessed with the capability of giving back -- to the university, to the law school, and to students who have a passion to practice immigration law."

Published: Wed, Feb 29, 2012

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