Journalism students often find they have a “true calling.” Whether that be a spot in the anchor’s chair or a place on the paper’s investigative team, most aspiring journalists seem to find one particular thing that drives their passion for the field.
For Sydney Normil '12, that one particular thing was law—a passion she discovered while interning at an independent news outlet. Through the Park Center for Independent Media—a center out of Ithaca College devoted to the study of non-corporate media outlets—Normil spent a summer in Oakland, California, working for the National Radio Project’s “Making Contact.” This is a program that reports on major news stories with a social justice lens, and that summer, they were covering the Oscar Grant trial. It was Normil’s job to research the themes of race and police brutality in the case, which led this journalism major to take a different career path.
“Following the trial so closely and engaging with members of the community regarding police brutality piqued my interest in the law,” Normil said. “After the verdict, I realized that my true calling was in law.”
The following semester, Normil followed that passion and picked up a minor in legal studies. As she continued with her journalism major, she realized many similarities between the two fields—a dedication to seeking the truth, helping others, and making the world a better place for all people. However, Normil noted one major difference in how each field reached those goals.
“There is great power in words, but there is more power in action,” Normil said. “Journalism to me was words, but the law was action.”
Today, Normil works with the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney as an associate. In addition to this, she serves on the board of the Christian Legal Aid of Pittsburgh, an organization that assists low-income residents with legal issues. After graduating from IC, Normil held various internships that allowed to combine her journalism and law experience—including a reporter position with JURIST, a publication that examines law policy around the world. For Normil, those post-grad opportunities were essential in helping her develop her law career.
“Every internship experience built upon the next,” Normil said. “It was a continual exposure to the law and strengthening of skills.”
Normil held many of these positions while she pursued a research fellowship with the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Law. Additionally, she was beginning her studies for the Pennsylvania Bar exam—not an easy feat by any means. This is the exam that determines whether a person may practice law in any given state. The summer of the bar, Normil attended hours of preparation courses, lectures, and study sessions to prepare.
“It was an overwhelming process because of the breadth of knowledge needed to pass, but once you get over that hurdle it is very rewarding,” Normil said.
Normil’s hard work definitely paid off. After passing the exam, she was sworn into the Pennsylvania Bar this December, granting her the official right to work in that state. As a current practicing law associate, Normil said she finds that much of what she learned in the Roy H. Park School contributes well to her everyday life in law.
“Most advantageous is the research, writing, editing, and communication skills that are needed and developed as a journalist, that are vital to the practice of law,” Normil said.
While at IC, Normil also had the opportunity to see the world when she spent a month in the Dominican Republic. Through the Department of Sociology, Normil traveled with a group of students to learn more about the social change organizations in that country.
“We were immersed in the culture, engaged with different social organizations on the issues that were most pressing to them, and learned from people from all different walks of life,” Normil said.
This study abroad experience, coupled with her internships and volunteer commitments in law school, gave Normil the opportunity to establish herself as an individual devoted to social change. As she continues with her law career, this former journalism student stresses the importance of creativity among students, regardless of where they may end up post-graduation.
“You weren't here to fit into the status quo,” Normil said. “What sets you apart, the way you think and express yourself—there's a need for that in the world, in journalism, and in law.”