Senior education major heading to law school eyes career outside classroom
Erin Rein came to Rider University intent on becoming an educator, but the faraway actions of policymakers in Washington, D.C., altered her course.
The Rider senior, set to graduate this month with a double major in elementary education and psychology, will not head a classroom next year. Instead, she has accepted a full-tuition scholarship to the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, with the intention of putting a law degree to work toward shaping public policy around education.
Her career goals are driven by a fundamental faith in the power of education. “Education is the basis for everything — it’s what makes our society function,” Rein says. “If we suddenly stopped it, everything would fall apart.”
Rein worked inside of a classroom before she even enrolled at Rider. As part of a program for seniors at Ewing High School in New Jersey, she worked as an aide in a special education classroom in nearby Lore Elementary School, where she was able to witness the effect she could have on children with special needs.
“I was the aid for a little boy with autism who was nonverbal,” Rein says. “I was able to see his progress, and to be able to play a part in that solidified an idea I had about becoming an educator.”
At the same time, Rein, while still a high school student, was taking night classes at Rider, which made the decision to enroll in Rider's College of Education and Human Services as an undergraduate an easy one. It also enabled her to continue, and deepen, her experience at Lore, where she was an aide for four years.
“Throughout my time at Rider, I had the chance to be in schools,” she says.
During a student-teaching experience in Hamilton, N.J., Rein had more experiences with special-needs students who were nonverbal. A special education minor, she recalls participating in an annual Halloween parade for the students that brought scores of community and family members out to support the students. “To see the impact that a community can have on the children was amazing to me,” she says.
Despite such positive personal experiences, she felt the world changing around her. Rein says she closely followed the policy changes implemented under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and, at times, questioned their wisdom.
“Public policy, especially for education, is always changing, but part of the problem with policymakers who work on education is that they have never been in the classroom,” Rein says. “I feel that many of the mandates aren't helping teachers.”
Looking at education through that lens, a new potential career path began to reveal itself. “I still felt that I had a passion for making change in children’s lives, but I saw that law school could impact more people,” she says.
Knowing this was not a typical trajectory among education majors, Rein began testing out the idea with her peers and faculty mentors, such as Lauren Delisio, an assistant professor, and Dr. Sharon McKool, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education. McKool wound up writing a letter of recommendation that helped yield scholarship offers from several law schools.
“Dr. McKool is so great and she has been very supportive of the whole process,” Rein says. “She’s has been a voice of reason and provided a lot of guidance to make sure I’m on the right path.”
If followed to the end, Rein hopes that path will eventually lead to a career she could not have predicted when she started at Rider. Still, she would bring to the job a foundation of beliefs that were only strengthened through her experience at the University.
“We have an obligation to educate all kids no matter what their individual circumstances or socioeconomic status,” she says.