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Brothers Share Deep Roots at Illinois and LLS
By Alejandro Ortiz, LLS student outreach and media coordinator
Sam and Daniel Cowin are both graduates from the University of Illinois (class of ’08 and ’14 respectively) and were Political Science majors and Latina/o Studies minors. They have both entered into law and plan on working in the field for their careers. We asked them about their experiences at Illinois and in Latina/o Studies, what they’re doing now and plans for the future.
1. Could you please give us some background on how you ended up choosing to come to Illinois and become a political science major, as well as an LLS minor?
Sam: I initially chose to become a political science major because I had always been interested in government and, at the time, I had hopes of eventually working on Capitol Hill. Furthermore, I planned to attend law school after graduating from U of I and saw my political science classes as an opportunity to develop my writing and critical thinking skills.
My decision to become a LLS minor was much more of a fluke. The thought of doing so never crossed my mind before I took LLS 100 with Prof. Cacho during the spring semester of my freshman year. To this day, I cannot tell you why I decided to take that course—but I am sure glad I did! I was instantly hooked. The subject matter was fascinating and, more importantly, the students in my section were wonderful. Folks like Edgar Patiño and Danny Nuñez—both of whom I sat next to in LLS 100—remain friends of mine today.
Daniel: I chose the U of I because of the deep roots my family has with the University. Members of the past three generations of our family have attended the University. From the first time I came down to Champaign (I believe I was 5), I fell in love with the campus and spirit of Champaign and that is something I will have for the rest of my life.
Since I was young, I always had an avid interest in the American Presidency. As I got older, I became fascinated with the political process and how national leaders negotiate this process. This led me to choose Political Science as my major.
With regards to my minor, I took a class in high school called Ethical Issues in Literature, a class where half of the class was of Latino origin. We had open discussion on the immigration process and how Latinos were perceived vs. how they really lived in this country. I knew about the program from my brother Sam and decided it was a topic and minor I wanted to explore further.
2. What did you find you liked most about taking LLS classes?
Sam: The people—both the professors and students. Although U of I can sometimes be a large and intimidating place, being part of the small LLS community made it seem so much smaller. The professors' passion for the subject matter they taught, whether it was immigration policy or Latino/a literature, was inspiring. And my colleagues embraced me with open arms, and not just in the classroom. We enjoyed each other's company so much that we often met for meals after class to debate the issues we had discussed in class, talk about our future plans, or just hang out.
Daniel: I really enjoyed how open and warm the professors in LLS were. They respected hard workers who did not take themselves or their work too seriously and I found my personality meshed really well with certain professors. Additionally, I really enjoyed how progressive and open discussion was during class time, and that is largely due to the level of maturity and knowledge of the professors.
3. Which specific class(es) or professor(s) did you enjoy taking or working with the most and why?
Sam: Prof. Ricky Rodriguez was, and remains, an inspiration to me. I had never seen a professor so dedicated to his students. I still treasure the meetings we had in his office during office hours during which he gave me some of the most important life advice I ever received. I still consider Prof. Rodriguez a mentor and friend. I credit him with helping me get to where I am today—both professionally and personally.
Daniel: Specifically, I found that Julie Dowling and Sandra Ruiz were the two professors I enjoyed the most. Julie's story and background was something that I was intrigued and enthralled with. Her vast knowledge of subjects, combined with the open, inviting environment, was one that led me to take two or three classes with her. Lastly, Sandra Ruiz was probably the single most relatable professor I ever had at the U of I. We hit it off from our first day of class and have maintained a relationship and friendship ever since. Her knowledge base, personal skills and demanding classroom style was something I definitely gravitated towards. I will always remember her as a professor who changed how I thought and the way that I worked.
4. Was it just coincidence that you both had the same major and minor?
Sam: Danny can probably answer this question better. You could say I was the trailblazer!
Daniel: Sam was a big influence on my decision, but he might not know it. I've always looked up to Sam and respected the way he thinks and the smart individual that he is today. He had a lot to do with who I am and the way I try to present and carry myself both today and during college.
I would tell individuals interested in the minor that now is a great time to be involved in Latina/o Studies. The department has come into its own as a prominent and well-recognized department within the University and its faculty boasts some of the most impressive research in the field. Also, the Latino population is one that is ever growing. We all know the stats that they will be the majority in the next generation. Because of that, it's important we acknowledge both the progress Latinos have made and the work that needs to be done in order to gain the full respect as a people that they deserve. Research done on this subject could change the way Americans relate to Latinos and place them in the light they deserved to be cast in, a respectable, honorable one.
5. What have your experiences been like since graduation?
Sam: Immediately after graduation, I worked for a government relations firm in Washington, D.C. (U of I was actually a client of the firm). I then attended law school at George Washington University, graduating in 2012. One of my crowning achievements during law school was arguing a fictional case before Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (video here, if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t91DNC2Ht8E, Sam first appears at 46:23; his team won the moot court competition). After graduating from law school, I completed two judicial clerkships, most recently with the Chief Judge of Maryland's Supreme Court. And since September, I am an associate at the law firm of Hughes Hubbard and Reed in D.C.
Other, more important, achievements since graduating from U of I in 2008 include marrying my wife Lauren, being the dog dad of Zimm (the craziest beagle in the world), and just this past weekend, completing the Chicago Marathon with our other brother Josh (who also attended U of I).
Daniel: I currently work as a Project Assistant at a law firm in Chicago—Katten Muchin Rosenman. My job mostly consists of assisting with day-to-day organizational and administrative tasks occurring around the firm. It has been an enjoyable experience and an eye-opener for sure. At this point, I am still deciding on what's next. Law school is definitely on my radar, but I also have a lot of other interests I am thinking about pursuing.
6. How do you think your LLS education has or will help you post graduation?
Sam: My experience in the LLS program taught me to always have an open mind. I was (and am) a tall, lanky, white guy from the suburbs. I think it is fair to say that I was not a prime candidate to become a LLS minor. Yet had I not taken a different path than many of my colleagues from similar backgrounds, and had the wonderful folks in the LLS program not embraced me with open arms (as every single one of them did), I would have missed out on one of the most formative experiences of my college career. Because of the LLS program, I have a unique perspective on the issues affecting the Latino/a community in the United States today, which not only makes me a more well-rounded member of my community, but informs the way I approach certain issues as an attorney. I am forever grateful for the professors, staff, and students who made my time in the LLS department so special.
Daniel: My LLS education has definitely already helped me in my post-graduate career. Through the program, I ultimately gained an appreciation and respect for the plights and struggles Latinos have endured, and the bravery to overcome these obstacles has truly inspired me. I have been able to aid in this process largely through our firm's Pro Bono program. Through this program, I meet with at-risk Latino youth. And using my great understanding for the issues and circumstances these individuals live through on a daily basis, I am able to assist our attorneys in providing fair and efficient representation.