As this year's resilient degree candidates set sights on their bright futures ahead, members of the Class of 2021 from this year’s J.D., LL.M., M.J. and Ph.D. programs share their stories.

Fabio Ambrosio, Ph.D. '21

A Passion for Tax Law

Fabio Ambrosio

Tax law expert Fabio Ambrosio is used to walking a slightly different path from his peers. In fact, the former Fulbright Grantee and current Central Washington University professor wasn’t always sure exactly what that path was going to be even after he earned his law degree.

It wasn’t until his first job as legal counsel at a Swiss investment firm that he found his real passion at the intersection of law and taxation.

One of Ambrosio’s first assignments was to review past investments to see if they made sense from a tax perspective. He realized how central and absolutely key taxation is to business.

“We take marketing classes and learn about product placement and price; we take management classes and learn about Lean Six Sigma. And then you come to an investment and you're like, ‘Wait, the driving force here is tax!’ It impacts so much of business,” Ambrosio says. “In fact, it’s often all about taxes. And I wondered why we don't talk more about this.”

Ambrosio ran with his newfound passion and greatly expanded his knowledge at his next post as a senior tax analyst for the IRS. While working on projects that “were unimaginable in complexity and size,” Ambrosio earned multiple awards, including being named the best technical employee in the United States at the IRS Office of Appeals.

“I just fell in love with taxes. Taxes reach everywhere, everything we do, whatever we buy, wherever we go. You can buy a plane ticket, and sometimes more than half is tax. It just opens up the door to realizing how many things are done just based on tax,” he says.

“I just fell in love with taxes. Taxes reach everywhere, everything we do, whatever we buy, wherever we go.”

The only drawback for Ambrosio at the IRS was that as a government employee, he didn’t have the freedom to necessarily share his professional opinions broadly. This ultimately led him to his current career as a professor and author.

“Teaching opens the door to writing, publishing, sharing what you think with other colleagues and students,” Ambrosio says. “That opens the discourse so you can make an impact with your ideas.”

While he is already widely published as a tax expert — including his 2020 book, “Principles of Taxation in the United States: Theory, Policy, and Practice” — Ambrosio is hopeful the knowledge he has gained while earning his Ph.D. at UW Law will help him share his ideas in even more impactful ways.

“I learned a whole new set of skills here,” Ambrosio says. “I learned to formulate a research question, collect the data and then model it statistically. It allowed me to look at things from a totally different perspective. You're learning to essentially ask questions that have never been asked before and hopefully find answers.”

Ambrosio credits his two UW Law Ph.D. advisors, Profs. Weeks McCormack and Hatfield, for their “phenomenal support” and openness to innovation.

“It’s a world-class education here. It’s backed by years of quality research that has come out of the UW. The people here know what they’re teaching. They lay out every card you possibly need to be successful.”

Byron Greene, LL.M. '21

A Long-Held Dream Takes Flight

Byron Greene

Byron Greene already had a full career before he joined UW Law’s Intellectual Property LL.M. program. During his 20 years as an Air Force officer, he distinguished himself as both an engineer and attorney, dealing with everything from monitoring aerial threats to the United States, to assisting with natural disasters, to litigating hundreds of administrative and criminal matters.

Many people might be ready to rest on their laurels and enjoy a (very) early retirement at that point. But for UW Academic Excellence Award nominee Greene, it was a launching pad for the career he’s about to embark on as one of the first attorneys at the new Seattle office of Dority & Manning, an intellectual property firm headquartered in Greenville, South Carolina.

Byron’s journey to this milestone started at the UW in the 1990s as a scholarship-supported ROTC undergraduate with a vision of becoming a pilot. At the time, he chose an engineering degree as a means to that end. Unfortunately, color blindness ended his dream of flying in the service, and he found his ensuing career as an Air Force engineer was only a partial fit for his skills and inclinations.

“I just didn't see myself doing that type of work long term,” he says. “I really liked the idea of getting into the law because I tend to be a little bit more analytical, but I still liked the idea of being around engineering.”

“To me, it’s really exciting to be able to help somebody who’s out there innovating and trying to improve the world — to provide some protection for what they’ve accomplished.”

The Air Force supported Byron’s ambition to earn a law degree, which he put to good use serving as an Air Force staff judge advocate dealing with a broad range of civil and criminal legal matters. Once he retired from that role, the UW’s IP LL.M. program was the final piece he needed to merge his long-held interests in law and engineering.

“I view my highest and best use as a lawyer as helping people accomplish things through an understanding of the law,” Greene says. “To me, it’s really exciting to be able to help somebody who’s out there innovating and trying to improve the world — to provide some protection for what they’ve accomplished.”

Byron says his time at UW Law helped him meet the goals he had set for himself and offered much more real-world experience than he’d expected. That experience included working as a research participant in the law school’s Entrepreneurial Law Clinic and as a CoMotion extern.

“There are so many experienced attorneys here who are willing to contribute their time to help develop students,” Greene says. “The faculty here is excellent, but what’s really unique about the UW is the ability to work with people who are so close to the practice, and the opportunities to engage in actual client work that's meaningful and directly related to what I'm studying.

“It’s a whole ecosystem the way all these pieces are brought together here. It’s really helped me sharpen my way of thinking. I think back to where I was at this time last year. It's been a lot of work — but I feel like the experience has really helped me grow.”

Nidhi Kumar, M.J. '21

What’s in a Name?

Nidhi Kumar

Even though she has always known she wanted to be a lawyer and eventually a judge, Nidhi Kumar, like most first-year law students, was nervous on her first day at UW Law. The fact that classes were being held via Zoom due to the pandemic added an extra layer of anxiety to those normal first-day jitters.

But then something amazing — something transformative for her — happened. Even though she felt reluctant, Nidhi raised her hand to ask a question of her professor Theo Myhre.

When he responded, Myhre used her name.

“He pronounced it correctly,” Kumar says. “It was just such an insane feeling because that was actually the first time in my entire life — preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and even undergrad — that a professor or teacher ever actually said my name.” Not only that, Myhre made sure every other student knew and used her name as well.

While it may seem a small thing to many people, in the tiny Michigan town Kumar grew up in, racial stress was an everyday occurrence. As the only person of color in her small school, she was often asked to provide the Black perspective during school lessons about slavery even though her family is Indian. She also endured many other types of racist bullying and had adopted a nickname “Niki” to deal with teachers and students constantly asking, “Can you give me a better name to call you?”

“I hauled that nickname along for so long that I was fully expecting taking it on again,” she says. “I was so overwhelmed that I actually forgot my question for a second. And then, from there I had just a great experience with all of my other professors and colleagues — and I was finally able to drop that false identity.”

“I just made a promise to myself that when I got older, I wanted to be the voice for others the way that I would have wanted someone to have been for the younger me.”

Since that day, Nidhi has distinguished herself as a UW Law Master of Jurisprudence student as an active member of the Student Bar Association, Women’s Law Caucus, Asian Pacific American Law Student Association. She also became a valued collaborator with UW Law Marketing and Communications — a project she pursued out of a passion for sharing stories that provide a voice for her fellow UW Law students.

“I just made a promise to myself that when I got older, I wanted to be the voice for others, the way that I would have wanted someone to have been for the younger me,” Kumar said. “I wanted to spotlight unique experiences from all different realms of the law school, to give equal voice to Ph.D. candidates, LL.M.’s, M.J.'s and J.D.'s.

“I always want to make sure that I am constantly and continually being an advocate for others. Whether that’s as any type of lawyer or just as a volunteer, or even just as a friend — and I do want to eventually be a judge as well. There are just so many great professors here that will truly build on your experience and give you so much confidence in yourself. I think that once you come to Seattle you just can't go back.”

Mackenzie Stewart, J.D. '21

Finding Meaning in Mentorship

Mackenzie Stewart

As vice president of UW Law’s Student Bar Association (SBA), Mackenzie Stewart and her SBA peers faced a unique challenge posed by the pandemic.

“When all this started, people were uncertain about their summer jobs. There was a lot of fear,” Stewart says. “As part of SBA, we had funding that usually goes toward events and programming. We couldn’t do those things during the pandemic, so we decided the best thing to do was to start a mutual aid funding pool for our students.”

The rules were simple: Any student with an unforeseen need — a job or internship cancelled due the pandemic, for instance — could apply for funding from SBA.

“We were just responding to what the needs of the students were. But it was also about how we as students build a community to support ourselves,” Stewart says. “I think the bonds and connections you make with your fellow students during this experience are so important. It just felt like an extension of how we are in my class. I feel like we’ve moved through law school in a supportive way in which we all want each other to succeed.”

Stewart, who was named a Gregoire Fellow in 2018, already had extensive real-world experience supporting a wide range of students in a variety of contexts. Before entering UW Law, she spent more than half a decade working in East Africa, the Middle East and South King County in multiple roles that focused on youth and education.

One thing that stood out to Stewart during those work experiences — and that led her to study law — was how often her role was that of a “connector.”

“I always felt like I was trying to get resources from others. I was like a connector of resources, but I didn't necessarily have the hard skills to be a resource myself,” Stewart says. “I really saw myself more in that space. I wanted to be the resource; I wanted to build the skills in myself.”

As with most beginning law students, Stewart found her first year at UW Law to be a bit overwhelming. But the support and mentorship she experienced as a Gregoire Fellow helped keep her connected to fellow students and the local legal community.

“People here truly want you to succeed — and they're willing to give that mentorship to make sure that it happens.”

Through experiences like participating on UW Law’s Thurgood Marshall National Mock Trial Team and multiple internships, she became more and more comfortable with her abilities as an advocate. She now plans to join Seattle firm Davis Wright Tremaine after graduation.

“I didn't think I would say this, but I really enjoy the hard skills of the law,” Stewart says. “I enjoy legal writing and I enjoy trial advocacy. My main goal is building my skills as an attorney to make sure I’m an excellent advocate for clients. But what I think I'm most passionate about is providing mentorship and making sure others can thrive in this field in whatever role they want to be in. I think it's really important to support the Black community and other diverse communities, and support diversifying the field.”

“I think the wider Pacific Northwest community does feel collegial and very supportive. I've never had an experience where I reached out to an attorney and had them say they were too busy. People here truly want you to succeed — and they're willing to give that mentorship to make sure that it happens.”