Carson Cross chosen as one of 16 participants in new UVA law school readiness program

Rising junior Carson Cross has been accepted into the inaugural class of the University of Virginia School of Law (UVA Law) Roadmap Scholars Initiative 

UVA Law announced the new initiative in February 2022. The goal of the program is to support students who are interested in a law career but “lack access to opportunities to learn about law school, the admissions process, and the legal profession.” 

Cross, a Criminal Justice and Psychology double major, joins 15 other students from around the country who demonstrated high academic achievement, a strong record of community service, and an interest in applying the law to address social issues. The initiative will provide mentorship and direction to the students, essentially providing a “roadmap” to help them navigate the complicated process of applying to law school.  

Chief Diversity Officer Charles Gibson III informed students of the initiative in March. According to Gibson, the Roadmap Scholars Initiative aligns closely with the goal of Lees-McRae to make high-quality educational experiences accessible to more students.  

“Students from the Appalachian region are often low income,” Gibson said. “It’s part of our institutional identity to serve these populations; from Edgar Tufts to now, these are the students we serve.” 

For Cross, being chosen for the program is in some ways confirmation that he is on the right path with his life. As a high school student, he was inspired to tackle issues of social and economic inequality after witnessing the disparity in circumstances right in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.  

The pivotal moment came after he participated in a ride-along with local police officers in what was considered the most dangerous part of town. Cross talked to the area’s residents to find out what their lives were like and was told that the children were too scared to sleep at night because they were afraid someone would break into their homes. The next day, Cross competed in a swim meet at a nearby private school and was struck by the differences in circumstances between the two locations.  

“It was a really wealthy private school for girls, and they had speakers underwater,” Cross said. “To me, it was crazy. One girl can listen to music underwater because she has so much wealth, and the other girl can’t even go to sleep at night because she’s afraid of dying.”  

Another profound experience further cemented Cross’s desire to make a difference. He was touring colleges with his grandfather, and while the two were on a tour, Cross’s grandfather passed away.  

“In the last conversation before he died, he said, ‘You need to use your brain. You need to make the world better for people like us,’” Cross recalled. “Then my goal was to try to change the systems. I feel like he died for me to be here, so it meant that his death wasn’t in vain.”  

The day following his grandfather’s tragic passing, Cross visited Lees-McRae. He immediately felt welcomed and at home. Coming into his freshman year, Cross was awarded the Shelton Scholarship at Scholars Day, which is awarded to an outstanding student every four years and covers full tuition, room, and board.  

Cross credits the atmosphere of care at the college with not only influencing his decision to attend, but with making it possible for him to be chosen for the Roadmap Scholars Initiative.  

“Everyone came together, it felt like,” Cross said. “Professors were encouraging me before the interview and telling my friends about it. Kids I didn’t even know were wishing me good luck. It was like the whole school was behind me.”  

Several of Cross’s friends brought the opportunity to his attention after an email went out to students from the Office of Inclusive Excellence. The application process required Cross to submit an academic transcript, three essays, and at least one letter of recommendation. He also had to participate in a formal interview.  

Members of the campus community rallied behind Cross to help him complete a strong application. He received letters of recommendation from his professors and Director of the Burton Center for Student Success Beth Beggs and connected with Executive Director of Compliance and Title IX Coordinator Tim Koch to prepare for his interview.  

“I feel like everyone has really gone out of their way to make sure that I’ve been successful here,” Cross said.  

According to Koch, Cross was an ideal candidate for the Roadmap Scholars Initiative because of his passion for improving lives and his recognition of the obstacles facing him. In Cross’s interview with the initiative board, he asked if they felt that legal professionals could really fix some of the problems he had seen firsthand.  

“He was worried that it was a bad question or that they wouldn’t appreciate it, but I told him that it was the kind of question that showed he was precisely the student they were interested in,” Koch said.  

The Roadmap Scholars Initiative will kick off this summer with a four-week program held on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville. Students will sample the law school curriculum through mini courses covering a range of topics and learn about the realities of practicing law from alumni and other professionals. Travel expenses and room and board will be covered, and participants will receive a $3,000 stipend for living expenses.  

After the summer program, participants will receive a stipend to cover the cost of an LSAT prep course and will be matched with UVA Law student and alumni mentors. The initiative will also help the scholars find internships, prepare their law school applications, and build a professional network that will continue beyond the undergraduate years.  

Cross’s own achievements more than qualified him to be one of the first UVA Law Roadmap Scholars, but he credits the Lees-McRae community for preparing him for the opportunity. From always being available to offer assistance and provide deeper insights on class materials, to connecting him with alumni, Cross said his professors have been a constant source of support.  

“When I was looking at Lees-McRae, I didn’t think it would be like this. I thought it would be like any other school,” Cross said. “I’ve just been amazed at the number of people who go out of their way to help.” 

By Emily WebbMay 12, 2022