Scholar, Dancer Prepares for Yale Law After Winning College’s Highest Honor
Paige Underwood BA ’22, a political science and mathematics double major, received this spring’s Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’s highest honor. Named for an esteemed professor, the award recognizes a senior whose abilities and commitment have combined to produce work of the highest distinction.
Paige Underwood BA ’22, this year’s Rena J. Ratte Award winner, exemplifies many of the college’s highest ideals, including exceptional scholarship, an outstanding work ethic, and an remarkable range of pursuits, including performing with Oregon Ballet Theatre’s pre-professional company, OBT2. “For the past four years, I have danced at least 20 to 25 hours per week while performing in professional productions with OBT,” she says.
Underwood, a political science and mathematics double major, hails from Portland. She chose to attend Lewis & Clark because of its small class sizes, emphasis on interdisciplinary education, and generous scholarship opportunities.
“I think that the faculty at Lewis & Clark are truly exceptional,” says Underwood. “Professors at L&C care deeply about their students’ learning, and small class sizes enable the development of student-professor relationships that aren’t so easily built at larger universities.”
She also acknowledges the breadth of Lewis & Clark’s curriculum and its interdisciplinary approach to learning. “Even while pursuing a double major, I was able to take elective courses in a variety of departments. This flexibility enabled me to follow my intellectual curiosities and taught me to think critically about social problems from different disciplinary angles.”
Underwood’s experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, have shaped her decision to pursue a law career. Todd Lochner, Pamplin Professor of Government and her senior thesis advisor, was particularly influential. “Professor Lochner’s courses convinced me that I would enjoy the law school environment,” she says. “A particular highlight for me was his Election Law class, which is taught jointly with Lewis & Clark Law School. His classes taught me to think deeply about why I think what I think and to support my arguments with evidence.”
In addition, Underwood worked with Lochner and Ben Gaskins, associate professor of political science, to coauthor research on religion and the American legal system. According to Bruce Suttmeier, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and presenter of the Ratte Award, Underwood’s work in assignment after assignment was “meticulously prepared and insightful, deeply conversant with the relevant research, and, in some cases, unprecedented in creating original data and analysis.”
Off campus, Underwood pursued several experiences that solidified her commitment to pursuing a legal career, including an internship with the office of U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer BA ’70, JD ’76 and an internship with the ACLU’s National Prison Project.
“During my work with the National Prison Project, I witnessed firsthand examples of lawyers who are systematically tackling grim social injustices and pursuing impact litigation across the country to improve alarming conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers,” says Underwood. “NPP’s staff attorneys demonstrated to me that lawyers can, in fact, effect real social change.”
In the fall, Underwood will move to New Haven, Connecticut, to begin studying at Yale Law School. She hopes to eventually pursue a legal career in public interest or government. “After completing the admissions process this year, I was very fortunate to have an array of fantastic law schools to choose from. I applied and was admitted to nine of the top law schools in the country, including Stanford, Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Columbia. I chose to attend Yale because of its outstanding faculty and unparalleled reputation for public interest law.”
Those who have worked closely with Underwood look forward to the next steps in her journey. Said one faculty member who recommended her for the Ratte Award, “Paige is quite possibly the hardest-working student I have encountered, and the one most determined to use her time for the greatest good.”