When Arkansas native Stephen Coger was considering which law school to attend, a note he got from former Dean Kellye Testy sealed the deal — and changed the former Fulbright Scholar’s life before he ever came to Washington.

The hand-written letter from Testy, the school’s first openly gay dean, assured Coger that UW Law would be a supportive, welcoming place that would be excited to have him as a student.

Coger was so moved by the note that he decided to take the big step of coming out as gay to his parents.

“I just felt really cared for as a person,” Coger said, “And that continued after I came to UW Law. That human connection pervaded everything I experienced at the UW.”

Being a Gates Scholar was also “a huge gift,” according to Coger.

“I grew both in self-love and in my skills as an advocate,” he said.

After graduation, Coger first worked as an American India Foundation Clinton Fellow for People’s Watch, advocating for human rights in Tamil Nadu, India. Then he returned to his home state of Arkansas, where his eclectic, service-oriented career includes working as an immigration lawyer, teaching yoga to incarcerated juveniles and “organizing with people of color, trans and queer people and people living in poverty to help increase life chances.”

Coger said he chose to serve his home state of Arkansas in part because the state is so small — a place where personal connections mean a lot in terms of getting things done, and where he can usually find a personal connection to just about anyone. He said another key is to always maintain a sense of humor.

It’s that combination that has, among other things, helped him maintain a cordial ongoing relationship with a local sheriff, despite the fact that Coger intends to file a lawsuit against his department.

He plans to continue getting things done for immigrants, the poor, the LGBTQ community and other underrepresented communities in the future by eventually venturing into politics.

“I’m so grateful to so many at UW Law, like professor William Covington and Michele Storms, who were always available to help me through difficult stuff, whether it was school related or not,” he said.