Alumni Interviews — Shanna Van Wagner (’07)

With each year that passes there are more and more BIC graduates doing great work all over the world. Each year we publish brief Alumni Updates where our alumni can tell us some about their post-BIC lives. In addition to these annual updates, we post interviews with our alumni. Today we are excited to post an interview with Shanna Van Wagner (’07). We hope you enjoy, and if you are interested in being interviewed for a future blog post, email us at BIC@baylor.edu.

What year did you graduate from Baylor? What did you study?

I graduated from Baylor in 2007 with a B.S. in Forensic Science and minors in Biology and Chemistry.

Tell us some about your career and journey since graduating from Baylor.

After graduation, I moved back to California and tried to get a job in the field of forensics. The field was incredibly competitive. I remember testing for one job as a criminalist with Orange County and there were over 100 people testing for one position. At that point, I knew I needed a back-up plan.

I had enjoyed some of the texts we had read in BIC and I thought law might be an interesting area to explore. I signed up for a condensed paralegal certification course through University of San Diego, which I completed in three months. Shortly after completing the program, I was hired by a small firm where I ended up working for nearly ten years. While I enjoyed working as a paralegal, I quickly grew bored and wanted more of a challenge. I had capped out in my current position as a senior paralegal and realized I was doing everything an attorney was doing in terms of preparing the cases, I was just unable to officially appear for the clients.

I ended up going through the part-time program at University of San Diego, School of Law. Because I had to work to support myself financially, I was working a full day while attending school at night and commuting. For four years, my days began at 5:00 a.m., I drove an hour to the office to start work at 6:30 a.m., worked until 3:00 p.m., and then attended classes until 9:00 p.m. and then drove another hour back home. To this day, I do not know how I did it.

After graduating law school and passing the bar, I got a job with an international law firm where I stayed for about a year. The managing partner I was working for asked me to join him and open up the San Diego office of another firm and I gladly accepted. I have been working there since 2019 and was promoted to senior associate last year. I am also now on the partnership track.

How has your BIC education influenced your life and/or work since leaving Baylor?

My BIC education actually led me into my current field of law, an area I was not previously considering. The texts and discussions we had in social world stuck with me more than I thought! Additionally, the emphasis on going to the source documents themselves as opposed to any secondary authorities has been particularly appropriate in my law practice. Why read about something when you can go directly to the source? Similarly, if you are looking for legal support for an argument, go to the cases themselves versus a secondary publication that contains only snippets of information. Having a thorough understanding of the background of a case as well as context for the holding of that case is so much more beneficial.

Do you have any favorite memories from your time in BIC?

I enjoyed the field trips. Sure, you can read about other cultures, but actually immersing yourself into the culture provides a firsthand experience that is unparalleled. I met many lifelong friends in the program and continue to keep in touch today – 15 years after graduating. I loved being able to meet so many different people in different majors that I ordinarily would not have met, simply because we were on different career paths. I believe that further enhanced my education because it exposed me to different perspectives and different ways of thinking that I would not have received had I stayed only in chosen major of science.

Is there something you learned in BIC that still sticks with you today?

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” It sounds very cliché, but it is true. I am in a high conflict field and often deal with incredibly difficult opposing counsel on tough cases and the BIC experience has helped me. I have a greater appreciation for differing opinions, which has been helpful in getting along with other attorneys, finding common ground, and working cooperatively. Being able to understand and respect someone’s position goes a long way, even if you do not agree with it.

Do you have any advice for current BIC students?

Do not limit yourself and be open to the experience. I was very nervous and hesitant coming to Baylor from Southern California, simply because I did not know what to expect. It ended up being such a rewarding experience and in hindsight, I should have embraced wholeheartedly.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Give new things a chance. Take risks. You never know what could end up happening or where something may lead you. Ask questions and enjoy this time. You will meet lifelong friends in the program who will continue to impact your life long after graduation.

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