“Grade wise, I fell flat on my face my first semester of law school, “said Joel Chanvisanuruk ‘06, the law school’s new Director of Academic Success. “ I was in surprised and pretty confused. But I was eventually able to find my bearings, particularly when I had the opportunity to apply my classroom knowledge to real world settings. That’s really where everything started to make sense for me.”
This experience in law school was a foundational one that he reaches back to when working with students today. As a person who had always done very well academically, not excelling initially was a challenge and a shock. But through the advice of some excellent professors “I learned tools to help me be successful, he said. “And the courses I received my two lowest grades in first semester became the subjects I received perfect scores on for the bar exam essay section.” “I have a strong interest in working with students who are weathering a similar law school experience,” said Chanvisanuruk. “After first semester grades come out, there are many students who feel that they must not be prepared for law school, or that they don’t belong in law school. Particularly when their initial grades are so different than what they expected or have historically achieved.”
As Director of the Academic Success Program Chanvisanruruk meets with students, particularly first years, helping them to assess their skills and teaching them strategies to help them improve their approach to legal study. “I offer individual and group sessions on note taking and outlining, which helps students develop a “big picture” semester-long approach to learning the law this process helps students to reframe the process by which they read cases and construct their course outlines.” He also leads individual and group session on topics such as drafting compelling, sound and “gradable” legal analysis, time management, study habits, life-school balance, among other things. Not a one time thing, he checks in with students throughout the semester. “The academic success program at the College of Law is not reserved a specific subset of the student population, “said Chanvisanuruk. “Ours is a program for anyone whose law school performance does not match their personal expectations.”
Building An Academic Foundation
A native of Fresno, California, Chanvisanuruk obtained his bachelor’s degree in philosophy. After living and working in California for several years, he then served as a Peace Corp volunteer in Sosnowiec, Poland, where he taught high school English. His secondary project work was with a local orphanage as well as with an HIV-AIDS organization in a neighboring city..
Upon returning to the United States, Chanvisanuruk went on to obtain his master’s degree in public affairs, in public management and comparative international affairs, from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). After completing his MPA, Chanvisanuruk had decided to attend law school. When his partner was offered a tenure-track position at Xavier University, he moved to Cincinnati and began his studies at the College of Law. “When I first arrived in Cincinnati I didn’t like it at all- many of my classmates at the time can attest to this,” he laughed. “Now, having lived in both large and small cities in the meantime, I’ve loved returning to Cincinnati.”
After law school he was appointed a United States Presidential Management Fellow, and obtained a placement litigating employment matters for the United States Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture. After his time with the federal government, he worked for a short period with a Washington D.C. law firm, handling similar litigation, but from the plaintiff side. But when thinking about what he really wanted to do, he realized he had a strong interest in student affairs at the law school level.
Chanvisanuruk left the law firm to become Associate Director of Career Planning and Professional Development at Washington & Lee School of Law. There, he had a high level of student contact and was able to advise students, with expertise, in federal sector opportunities as well as internships in Washington D.C. and the region. He also came to advise students who hailed from Ohio and the Midwest. “It was a great experience. W&L is an excellent law school and has a similar size student population to the College of Law. I learned a lot there and it really confirmed for me my interest in working with law students. Once he learned that the College of Law was developing a formal academic success program, he knew he wanted to pursue the job. “I really enjoyed student services and knew I wanted to come back to Cincinnati,” he said. “This was the perfect opportunity.”
Building UC Law’s Academic Success Program
Since arriving at the law school several months ago, Chanvisanuruk has put into place several programs for students. He launched the P3 (Pre-Prep Program), a bar exam preparation program designed to help students “ramp up” for the bar exam. He works with students on how to write successful essays for the bar exam and dives into the core concepts of law they will be expected to have mastered. “The major subjects that are tested on the bar exam students get in their 1L year,” he commented. “Chances are, they won’t review them after they take the class.” P3, which students can attend either Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings, is an excellent way to begin preparing—now—for the exam. He is also excited about the fall semester seminar “I Know What You’ll Do Next Summer,” for 3Ls to talk about planning for the logistics of the bar exam, including budgeting, hotel accommodations, etc.
Chanvisanuruk has also presented a host of workshops on subjects including forming and managing productive study groups, managing time, and handling non-successes. Most importantly, he said, students are realizing that they are not alone. They are glad to have someone in the building to talk to about the issues that may impede their academic success.
Opportunity Meets Preparation
What best prepares one for this type of position? According to Chanvisanuruk, his previous volunteer and legal clinic work (he participated in the first year of UC’s Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic) trained him well in active listening and working with clients who are experiencing emotional distress. Additionally, his previous studies in public management have equipped him to launch a new program that must fit within the College of Law’s mission and character.
Finally, Chanvisanuruk noted that he is grateful for the excellent work done by his predecessors: Professors Rachel Smith and Michelle Bradley, and Associate Dean Nancy Oliver. All directed the Academic Success Program for the past several years. “I am working off of their very successful programs,” he said. “They laid a foundation and I’m grateful to be able to build off their successes. I look forward to the program continuing to grow as we expand our services to students.”