Graduating Senior Spotlight: Q&A with Sam Sipprell

Headshot of Sam Sipprell with trees in the background

Hometown: Minneapolis, MN 

Major: Political Science

Minor: Business Law 

Activities you are involved in: Undergraduate Political Science Association (UPSA), Transfer Student Leadership, Pre-Law Society, Research

Did you participate in any student organizations, Learning Abroad programs, research or internship opportunities, or other related experiences? How have you learned from them?

In my third year, I conducted research at the Law School under the incredible Professor Francis Shen. His work is centered around how innovations in the brain sciences and technology can be used to improve the criminal justice system. The material was highly complex, and I felt way in over my head at the beginning. I had to improve my research and writing skills quickly in order to make meaningful contributions to the team, which consisted mostly of law students and graduate students in STEM fields. 

The experience gave me the tools and confidence to conduct independent legal and social science research in the future. It was also very rewarding. Although my long-term career goals do not involve criminal law, I firmly believe that Prof. Shen's research will lead to more humane treatment of justice-involved individuals experiencing mental illness and improved public safety. I am so happy I stuck with this project, despite feeling underqualified and overwhelmed at first. It serves as a strong reminder that powering through challenging moments can unlock opportunities that would not otherwise reveal themselves. 

What is your favorite class that you took in CLA? Is there a professor that you particularly enjoyed working with? How did they prepare you for the next phase of your life?

Although I could write a long list of favorites and be sincere in my appreciation for all of them, Professor Tim Johnson's constitutional law courses, POL 4501 and 4502, are at the top of the pyramid. They furthered my already strong interest in the material, made me a much better writer, and helped me improve my legal analysis skills. I believe they are great classes for anyone who is interested in law school, because the process of reading and briefing cases, answering a string of questions about them in front of the class, and writing issue spotter-style exams is a sort of "law school lite." 

The classes are especially memorable because Prof. Johnson is an outstanding human and professor alike. He's knowledgeable, a skillful and passionate lecturer, genuinely really funny, and someone who is always willing to help with class material, grad school applications, or seemingly anything else. 

What have you learned about yourself during your time in CLA?

In short, a lot. I definitely learned how to manage my time better and study, work, and write more efficiently. I learned how to be an adult, which of course meant living on my own and taking care of myself, but also meant seeking out opportunities for advancement or enjoyment for myself. 

I learned how to learn from others, which is easy at a place like the U where I am surrounded by so many smart students and instructors alike. It’s pretty safe to say the only time I was ever the smartest person in a room at the U was when I was in my freshman dorm—which was a single. Being around such smart people was an enormous blessing. Good rule of thumb I always kept in mind: you can't listen and talk at the same time. 

If you could go back and give your first-year self one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would shake him by the shoulders and tell him to trust that everything will work out okay! I was so stressed about the typical things first-years stress over—from picking a major and getting a job someday to finding friends I would make fun memories with—that I definitely did not enjoy my early college days as much as I could have. 

I wish I would have known I would find a major and minor that would improve my abilities and be super enjoyable, that I would have the opportunity to attend one of the finest law schools in the world after graduating, and that I would find friends in my first week on campus who will be friends for life. All I had to do was treat people well and continuously strive to improve my study habits and everything was going to be just fine.

I would also tell my first-year self to call his mom. She misses him.

What's next for you? What are your post-graduation plans?

Next fall, I will be starting at Harvard Law School. I hope to either work in a federal regulatory agency (my original plan) or practice civil and commercial litigation. I currently work in Dorsey & Whitney's litigation department and have discovered that it is challenging, exciting, and just plain fun. I also like the idea of transitioning to teaching mid-career, but entry into legal academia is incredibly competitive, so it's not something to bank on. I know law school will be challenging, but I feel strongly that my experience at the U has prepared me to succeed. 

No matter where I end up, I have already made it a goal and practice to be an involved Gopher alumnus. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and do not hesitate to reach out if there is anything I can do for you or if you would just like to meet!

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