When a lawyer from Delaware County came to her Corrections class as a guest speaker and stated that approximately 2.3 to 5% of U.S. prisoners are innocent, it was a pivotal moment for Rachel Sweeney ’20. A dual major in criminology and sociology, her interest was piqued further when the lawyer mentioned the Innocence Project. The organization’s goal is to exonerate the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and to reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. In that moment, she found her calling: to become a lawyer.
Rachel was one of the three IU students from the class of 2020 accepted into law school. This fall, she is attending Villanova Law School on a full scholarship.
“I have always been interested in criminal justice and decided to focus on criminal law,” she says noting that she is considering juvenile defense as a career specialty.
Rachel has already gained valuable experience contributing to her career goals. For over two years working at the Delaware County Court House she walked the same steps as former U.S. secretary of state and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and President Ronald Reagan, both of whom visited the court house on Front Street in Media, Pa. During the summer before her junior year at Immaculata, Rachel secured a paid internship at and then accepted a part-time position as a court clerk in the records department during her senior year.
With a job in her field and a scholarship to Villanova, Rachel’s passion is evident in all aspects of her education. Upon hearing that she earned the prestigious Annie E. Gorman Medal for Sociology from Immaculata, she says, “I was surprised when I found out that I received it. It made me proud of the hard work I put in—just to be recognized for that.” Rachel was also inducted into Alpha Kappa Delta, an international honor society for sociology, and she served as president of the Criminology Honor Society. Rachel also contributed to IU’s Campus Ministry by volunteering at the Chester County Food Bank.
Thriving in a small academic environment at Immaculata, Rachel acknowledges that her education, including the liberal arts core, gave her a perspective on a broader range of academic disciplines that have guided her on her career journey. A philosophy class on Logic and Knowledge helped her feel more confident taking the LSAT exam because the questions were mostly knowledge-based.
Rachel credits Lisa Brown, M.S.W., associate faculty in the Civic Engagement Department, for support and guidance throughout her four years at IU. Brown encouraged Rachel to complete a double major in hopes that it would help her land her dream job of working for an organization such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Recognizing this advantage, Rachel encourages students interested in a law career to consider adding sociology as a second major and to complete an internship.
“Law is such a wide-ranging field, so my sociology classes taught me more about the world and not just the criminal justice system,” Rachel adds.
With her passion for helping wrongly convicted prisoners and her strong work ethic, Rachel has a bright future ahead helping others to realize a future for themselves.