“Mind-blowing” : A Welcome Aboard Experience
Most people are in law school before they ever sit in on a murder trial, but thanks to her Welcome Aboard mentorship, Hanna Theile ‘22 is ahead of the curve. A first-year student studying political science, Hanna was matched with Allegheny County District Attorney, Jan Necessary ‘75, a Chatham alumna who prosecutes sexual assault cases for Allegheny County. The Welcome Aboard program, organized by Alumni Relations and Career Development, pairs a first-year student with alumni in their field of interest to provide professional guidance and offer support during the first year of college.
After seeing a sign on campus, Hanna signed up and met Jan, who she describes as a “phenomenal woman” and mentor. Throughout Hanna’s first year, the two have exchanged Chatham stories and shared dinner together, and perhaps most notably, Jan took Hanna to work with her. Hoping to one day attend law school, Hanna’s shadowing experience was, “something [she] never could’ve imagined.” Hanna sat in on the murder trial of a University of Pittsburgh student, while Jan prosecuted the perpetrator for multiple counts of sexual assault, working in conjunction with another lawyer who prosecuted the murder.
“You feel like you’re going to cry the entire day and your heart is being ripped apart.”
“I think a lot of people watch Law & Order without understanding how the courtroom works. [This experience] taught me that there are so many pieces of the puzzle that can’t be missed,” Hanna said. She sat in on the trial for hours, listened to the statements of family and friends of the victim, and watched Jan advocate for justice. The experience was emotionally taxing for Hanna but it also gave her direct insight into what a career as a lawyer could be like. Jan is one of the few women lawyers in her work environment, a fact that Hanna found motivational. But Jan’s work to empower women goes beyond glass ceilings; as a prosecutor against sexual violence, she predominantly works on behalf of women, and in cases like these, women who are no longer here to fight for their own justice.
“You have to be the voice for those who have had their voice taken away. It really pushed me to think, okay, this is what I want to do with my life.”
Jan also helped counter a common narrative forced onto young women early in their careers: “She said, ‘Hanna, if you want to be married you can still do this. If you want to have children, you can still do this.’ She said that a lot of the time younger women are told that they have to choose, but you can do both.”
Now, Hanna holds a stronger grasp on the type of lawyer she wants to be: “I definitely think immigration [law]. What’s happening at the border right now is inhumane. I don’t even have the words to describe it.” She aims to work as a prosecuting attorney, like Jan. Hanna hopes that a career in law will help prepare her for a career in politics. She currently serves as vice president of the Class of 2022 in Chatham Student Government and a member of Chatham’s democratic club.