Natural progression: Former school teacher eyes a career in law of education

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Mel Souraya and her husband believe in these words to live by—“make it happen.”   

And so, knowing how much Souraya longed to go to law school, her husband finally encouraged her to take that leap.

“I’m not one to take risks, often overthinking and getting in my own way,” says Souraya, a rising 3L at Wayne State University Law School. “He helped me believe that if I wanted something badly enough, I would find a way to make it work with my other goals, such as having a family and travelling, which we have now done extensively.”   

Entering the law has been the Canadian native’s dream since childhood.

“I grew up watching my father litigate and wanted to be exactly like him,” she says. “I was in awe of how he helped families immigrate to and remain in Canada, changing their lives for the better. It seemed like such a rewarding career, and he loved and continues to embrace the challenges and tremendous fulfillment it brings.”

Although there are several attorneys in Souraya’s extended family, none of them are women.

“Because of the invisible but very present cultural parameters surrounding the community I grew up in, pursuing a law degree would have been challenging as it was perceived to be an intimidating and cutthroat industry, traditionally viewed as not as family-friendly as being a teacher,” she says.

“I’m excited to become the first female attorney in my family and hope to set a positive example to young women in my community, breaking down social norms while still being family-oriented. While compromise is sometimes required, I don’t think a person must sacrifice all their ambitions and potential in order to obtain something else.”

Souraya was accepted to several Canadian law schools but since her husband was attending dental school in Detroit, decided on Wayne Law. She is a member of the Women’s Law Caucus, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) WSU Law School Chapter, Wayne Intellectual Property Students’ Association, Entrepreneurship and Business Law Society, and was a participant in the Jaffe Transactional Law Competition. 

“I heard about the strong experiential learning and clinical programs at Wayne Law, so I knew pursuing an American juris doctorate would not only afford me a powerful degree, but also relevant and meaningful hands-on training that is highly regarded in the Detroit legal community,” she says.

Prior to law school, the University of Calgary alumna spent two years teaching middle school students at a girls’ academy in Calgary.

“When I was hoping to apply for college, culturally, it was not very common in my family or community for females—even third-generation Canadians like myself— to pursue post-secondary studies,” she says. “My mother, however, wanted to make sure all her daughters became educated—she always told us that a college degree was invaluable. At first blush, taking the education route seemed like a good balance for a path toward being able to have a career while balancing having a family in the future. I also pursued a fine arts degree with hopes of teaching curriculum with an integration of the arts.   

“The most rewarding aspect of teaching was being able to facilitate meaningful dialogue surrounding issues that were important at that time, while posing as a positive role model,” she adds. “I have a precious younger brother with special needs, and the interaction his teachers fostered with him inspired me to strive to build strong rapport with and influence on young students.

“The most fulfilling experience was scaffolding some of my students’ writing skills and essays for a national writing competition, rendering some of them winners and nationally published authors in a Canadian anthology for young adults two years in a row.” 

Her teaching experience has given her a particular interest in education law.

“I became privy to some of the realities of the education system, including funding, access to services, social justice, and the policies around special education and students with disabilities,” she says. “The diverse issues surrounding education law now fuel my goals as an attorney. I hope having a law degree mobilizes me beyond the four walls of the classroom, where as an educator, oftentimes, my hands were tied.”

Souraya’s career goal is to advocate for those with special needs in the educational context; and also, to work in education policy within the government as she did last summer at the federal level with the National Labor Relations Board.

Her current work at the Office of General Counsel for Detroit Public Schools, gives her the perspective of Michigan’s largest school board pertaining to all legal matters, including education policy.

A highlight of her 2L year was serving as an article editor for the Journal of Law in Society; and her Note on the Congressional cultural ignorance in the current state and future of education policy will be published in next year’s edition. 

“I’m very honored to be published amongst some of the leading legal minds and scholars in the country,” she says. “This experience was simultaneously challenging and rewarding. I enjoy scholarship and academia and believe participation in this co-curricular only sharpened and enhanced my abilities both as a student and legal professional. The mentorship I received from Professor Long, my faculty adviser, helped scaffold, shape, and sharpen my next steps in the field of education law.”

In the coming school year, she will spearhead the Journal as Editor-in-Chief.

“I enjoy the challenges of leadership responsibilities, and I’m excited to have the chance to be able to restructure and streamline the goals of past editorial boards for the Journal,” she says. “I’m looking forward to making offers to our incoming 2L article editors in June, and to have the opportunity to create a strong team of students as passionate about editing and publishing nationwide legal scholarship as myself and the rest of the editorial board.”

In her 2L year, Souraya had a judicial internship with the Honorable Judge Bernard Friedman at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

“The opportunities were nothing short of exceptional, complex, and tremendously challenging,” she says. “I was fortunate to work under strong mentorship, while broadening and refining my research, writing, and legal analytical skills in various assignments.

“Having the chance to work behind the scenes in chambers only gave me deeper insight into the American justice system, further validating my decision to finally pursue law. It’s been a long time coming, and I am just so grateful to have finally made it happen.”

A globally certified yoga instructor, Souraya also enjoys art, playing piano, traveling abroad, and cooking—recently launching a cooking page on Instagram and working on releasing a cookbook. She also has worked with her sister, who founded a female advocacy group for Canadian girls looking for strong mentorship and guidance and seeking to reconcile cultural identities between their country of heritage and Canada.

Born in Toronto, Souraya moved to Calgary at the age of 10. She and her husband currently live in Windsor but spend plenty of time in the Motor City.

“I cross the border every day and the energy that attaches to Detroit’s powerful revival is instantly contagious,” she says. “I love everything about this city and am proud both my husband and I have had the chance to be educated and start our lives and careers here.”
 

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