Empowering students for a career in public service law

posted Jan 18, 2019

The Gates Public Service Law Scholarship program at the UW School of Law enables and empowers JD students to pursue a career in public service law, supporting the law school’s vision of making public service a reality.

The Gates Public Service Law Scholarship was founded in 2005 by a gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in honor of UW Law alumnus and public service advocate William H. Gates, '50. The program awards five scholarships on an annual basis to first year J.D. students, and covers tuition, books and living expenses. Gates scholars commit to work in public service for five years following graduation.

“This gift has allowed students with a passion for public service law to dream bigger and realize a future where they can serve in the fight for equity and justice unfettered by educational debt,” said Huy Nguyen, the director of the Gates Public Service Law Program. “Gates Scholars have gone on to make a profound impact at the local, national and international levels at a variety of organizations.”

Meet the 2018-19 scholars: Nicci Arete, Claire Clayton, Danielle Coony, Dawn Escarcega and Willa Osborn.


Portrait photo of Nicci Arete.

Nicci Areté

At the root of Nicci Areté’s commitment to public service is the ability to see the underlying humanity in everyone, a perspective she learned from volunteering with the Utah AIDS Foundation as a teen. After graduating magna cum laude from Portland State University, Areté served in the Peace Corps in Vanuatu and then joined the International Rescue Committee.

Areté is committed to gaining well-rounded legal experience and expertise to improve access to justice, and is particularly interested in immigration and refugee law, as well as international human rights law as it pertains to migrants, refugees, displaced populations and asylum seekers.

“A legal education is a critical next step in expanding my abilities so I can better serve and help realize the potential I see in my country and in this world,” Areté said. “I look forward to utilizing the strengths cultivated by my background and embracing my commitment to our judicial system to help shape our country’s contribution to strengthening humanity.”


Portrait photo of Claire Clayton.

Claire Clayton

For the past five years, Claire Clayton has worked with survivors of trauma in the context of immigration law, first at the New York Legal Assistance Group and then at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies in California.

Through these experiences, Clayton witnessed the increasing barriers that prevent many individuals from gaining legal protection, as well as the disproportionate impact these barriers have on trauma survivors. She applied to the Gates PSL Scholarship to learn how to better support this population.

“I am looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the Gates Scholarship — and within the UW community — to continue learning how best to support and serve survivors of trauma in the legal system,” Clayton said.


Portrait photo of Danielle Coony.

Danielle Coony

Growing up in San Diego County, Danielle Coony saw how concern with safety was often politically and baselessly conflated with immigration. As a Princeton in Latin America Fellow in the Dominican Republic and an intern at the Diego Portales University in Chile, Coony observed that this thinking is not unique to the U.S.

Coony plans to further develop her view of the law as a powerful tool to advocate for human rights and a way to improve the outcomes of vulnerable families at home and across borders.

"At UW Law, I hope to build on this experience by mobilizing my legal education toward continuing to increase access to services that navigate prohibitive political-legal systems," Coony said. “I am excited to find my place in that effort both as a law student and beyond.”


Portrait photo of Dawn Escarcega.

Dawn Escarcega

As a recipient of public service as both a child and parent, Dawn Escarcega’s strong commitment to public service stems from her sense of gratitude, which she expresses by serving those in need.

After receiving her master of social work at the UW, she worked for eight years as a child welfare caseworker serving a high-risk population for a local tribe before working in behavioral health at a community health clinic.

“As a member of the Quinault Indian Nation and a part of the LGBTQ community, I bring a diverse perspective and highly value the opportunity to continue my public service through the field of law,” Escarcega said.


Portrait photo of Willa Osborn.

Willa Osborn

When Willa Osborn experienced health issues, she navigated her treatment with the support of strong advocates. She also observed the outcomes for her peers without such protection. Motivated to address systemic barriers to effective and accessible care for people with mental illness, Osborn has taken full advantage of her return to health. 

Osborn graduated at the top of her Seattle University class with a degree in cultural anthropology. She then served as the Pro Bono Fellow at Foster Pepper. She has been particularly inspired by her work with the Seattle Clemency Project and is committed to advancing efforts to end the targeted criminalization of communities of color, the poor and those who experience mental illness. 

“I’ve had the privilege to learn from the wisdom and resilience of many long serving prisoners who refuse to give up on themselves, or others, despite lengthy sentences,” Osborn said. “I look forward to returning the gift of my education to undervalued populations like these, which have much to offer our society when given a fair chance.”