Law Graduates Share Public Service Student of the Year Award

2012 Public Service Award Ceremony Honorees

Nicole Cortés and Jessica Mayo, this year’s Public Service Student of the Year Award winners, were guided by one mission throughout their three years of law school: serving St. Louis’s immigrant communities. The two women were honored recently along with more than 50 of their classmates for demonstrating a substantial commitment to public service during their time in law school.

Cortés and Mayo channeled their passion for pro bono work into creating their own nonprofit organization, the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project (MICA).

Working with Senior Lecturer Peter Ruger and the Clinical Education Program, they navigated the maze of paperwork needed to officially register MICA as a 501 (c)(3) tax exempt organization. Their mentors helped them to create a board of directors, and they will receive office space from Suzanne Brown, JD ’96, an experienced St. Louis immigration attorney. Cortés and Mayo also plan to draw upon the expertise of local practitioners to give them a firm foundation in starting their practice. MICA will begin taking on clients this fall after Cortés and Mayo have passed the bar. 

2012 Public Service Student of the Year Awardees
Nicole Cortés, left, and Jessica Mayo with Senior
Lecturer Peter Ruger and Dean Kent Syverud, right

“We are working to promote the voice of the immigrant community in St. Louis,” says Cortés, who is fluent in Spanish and worked with a community-based organization in Chile. St. Louis’s strong Latino community is one of the immigrant groups MICA will serve.

“St. Louis is a good location for MICA because of the diversity of the immigrant groups that have settled here, from Bosnians in south St. Louis City to the more established East Asian community in St. Louis County,” Mayo says.

However, Cortés and Mayo hope to expand the services already offered in St. Louis beyond the metropolitan area. For example, there is a significant population of migrant Latino farm workers in southern Illinois, one of the most underserved areas. MICA also will be working with a network of social service providers to help people obtain the assistance they need.   

Before starting MICA, both women already had impressive credentials in immigrant services.

In addition to her work in Chile, Cortés was president of the Immigrant Law Society, worked extensively with the Law and Social Work Society, and spent a summer internship with the Migrant Legal Assistance Project of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago.

Mayo completed internships at Interfaith Legal Services for Immigrants, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, and the Law Offices of Suzanne Brown, as well as volunteering with a number of local organizations, from the Immigrant and Refugee Women's Program to Project REACH at the St. Patrick Center.

Mayo also started a family of her own while in law school—toddler, Levi, was in her arms at both the Public Service Student of the Year Awards Ceremony and Commencement. With the festivities behind them, the two alumnae look forward to starting their legal careers.

“We hope MICA will make St. Louis a better place for future generations of residents and immigrants,” Mayo says. “We look forward to building MICA’s presence in the immigrant community.”

Click here to view a collection of photos from the event.

By Timothy J. Fox