WCSU alumni, brothers and attorneys George and Tony Fernandes.
The Justice and Law Administration program, the largest major offered by the Ancell School of Business, has proudly graduated many students who go on to become judges, lawyers, paralegals, police officers, correction and probation officers, criminologists, homeland security officials and others who work in public administration, fraud or arson investigation, rehabilitative services, emergency services, corrections and legal instruction at the federal, state and local levels.
The program, which began in 1976 with just 14 students and a $14,000 grant from the Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, now averages around 400 students, 24 faculty and approximately 50 courses each semester.
Undergraduates can earn a Bachelor of Science in one of five JLA tracks: corrections, legal studies, law enforcement, criminology and homeland security. All tracks provide students with a broad base of knowledge for careers as future justice professionals as well as a solid foundation to pursue further studies at law and graduate schools.
The Ancell School of Business prepares students to attend law school whether it be through the JLA division or other degree programs offered. Case in point are the Fernandes brothers, who both graduated from WCSU and earned Juris Doctor degrees to become attorneys even though they had different majors at Ancell.
Antonio “Tony” Fernandes, who graduated cum laude a semester early in 2009, was a Business Administration major. His brother George graduated from the JLA legal studies program in 2012 and also went on to law school. Both brothers chose Western Connecticut State University for undergraduate school because it was affordable (“no student loans”) and local to their home, family businesses, loved ones and community.
In fact, WCSU is important to the entire Fernandes family from Bethel. Tony and George’s parents both attended the university, the first of their families to do so. While they did not complete their studies so that they could build businesses locally to support their children and family, they always encouraged their sons to get a college education.
“I remember driving by WCSU as a child many times and wondering what people were learning in the buildings and where they would go after they received that education. I wanted to be a part of that, and I have never once regretted my decision to attend WCSU,” Tony said. “My grandfather tried to force my father to quit high school and get a job, but he chose to finish high school and attend WCSU because of the proximity to work while he learned. My father was an advocate for us to continue our education and learn as much as we could; he was such an inspiration to me that I carry his WCSU student ID in my wallet. Now, my brother and I are the first in our family to earn college degrees,” he said. Tony’s wife Ashley Casimiro also graduated from WCSU, with a degree in Community Health, in 2011.
Both Tony and George now work for Ventura Law in Danbury, where Tony is a Partner specializing in personal injury, real estate, small business startup and estate planning law. After graduating WCSU and during law school summers, Tony interned and then worked for Ventura Law during his time at New York Law School (graduated 2013), a selective law school founded in 1891 with successful alumni including prominent politicians, businessmen, athletes, authors and Judge Judy.
So, if Tony wasn’t a JLA major, what business courses did he take at Ancell that helped him get into and succeed at law school and work? “I recommend Marketing and Statistics – one gives you a perspective on the deeper aspects of business, and the other helps you wrap your mind around numbers in a way that is helpful for a lawyer,” he said.
The reason he chose WCSU also played into his later successes. “WCSU provides a more intimate educational environment – you can always get in touch with someone, get more attention and help,” Tony noted. He particularly found his Adjunct Instructor Robert Watson and JLA Professor Terrence Dwyer as instrumental to his success. “Professor Watson was always willing to take time after class to speak with students. He was very approachable and encouraged me to continue climbing and make myself more ‘marketable.’ He shared life experiences and was extremely encouraging. Professor Dwyer gave invaluable insight on what law school is like and what it is like to practice law. Before I met Professor Dwyer, being a lawyer was about making money and prestige to me. He helped me see that you can use your mind to help people and find enjoyment in that. He was always clear that it wouldn’t be an easy path, but told me I had what it took to make it although I needed to work on my spelling,” he recalled.
George graduated after two years at Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2015 and now focuses on personal injury claims. He credits his professors who shared their law school experiences with helping him to direct his studies to attend law school. He particularly “benefitted most” from criminology classes taught by Dr. Casey Jordan. “Her passion for the legal field truly inspired me,” he said.
“The advantages of the JLA program at WCSU include meeting teachers who have already taken the steps you want to take toward your career, and can share that knowledge and wisdom,” George said. To interested JLA students, he said, “Listen to your professors’ advice and always do the reading so that you can be among the best of the best. Get an internship at a local law firm and join the Moot Court Club at WCSU for practice and experience.”
Moot Court at WCSU is a mock supreme court, which tackles a hypothetical legal problem that lacks a clearly defined answer so that it can be argued from both sides. According to Assistant Professor Thomas Miller, founder of WCSU’s Moot Court program, students write out a formal legal argument as if they were in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. “Students learn to orally argue, and they compete against each other in a tournament during the spring semester. As part of this tournament, students twice appear in front of a panel of local attorneys that act as judges; many of these lawyers participated in the Moot Court program as WCSU students,” he said. In the fall semester, students participate in an American Moot Court Association tournament.
Miller is also an alumnus of WCSU, graduating in 2009. “I chose WCSU because it was the most affordable school that had a quality legal studies program. JLA here teaches students how to think, which is the ultimate asset in every profession,” he said. Miller teaches because he believes in “a quality, public education that is accessible to everyone.” While he enjoyed practicing law, he finds teaching more rewarding. “My colleagues are brilliant and wonderful people who care about our students. I think what makes the JLA program so outstanding is that we are student-oriented. We do great research too, but, at the end of the day, we are all about the students.”
The WCSU Office of Alumni Relations manages a Facebook group for graduates who are practicing law students. If you are qualified and would like to be on that list, please contact Tom Crucitti, Director of Alumni, at firstname.lastname@example.org.