As a continuation of our alumni profile series, we are featuring Tiffany Hendrix Blackmon, ’10, a psychology graduate from Portland, Oregon. We spoke with Hendrix Blackmon about her experiences at WOU, her journey through law school and into her law career, and what advice she has for her fellow Wolves. Check out her answers below.
What is your current position? What other positions have you held since graduating from WOU?
I am currently a remote law clerk with a federal court. I handle research and writing orders for Social Security disability cases.
After graduating WOU, I moved to South Florida where I served a year in AmeriCorps teaching special education students. I stayed in Florida and taught for a nonprofit, where I taught job readiness skills to individuals who were homeless, incarcerated, or aging out of foster care. I then attended law school; in law school, I interned with the Miami Public Defender’s Office, Disability Independence Group, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and Disability Rights Oregon. After law school, I adjudicated Social Security cases for Disability Determination Services, and then practiced law for three years in private practice, primarily representing clients in Social Security disability cases.
Why did you choose WOU?
I visited WOU and loved the small campus, how friendly people were, how much support was available for first-generation college students, and while the school is in a small town, I liked that I could easily travel to other cities and get home to visit my family on weekends. I also came from a family that is not wealthy, and I knew I wanted to continue my education beyond an undergraduate degree, so affordability was very important to me. I knew I would get a quality education from WOU, for a price other four-year universities could not beat.
What advice do you have for future or current Wolves about life after college?
Build relationships now that will get you through college and beyond, and take advantage of all the opportunities available to you. The connections you make and foster now will be the people who get you through things like finals first, but they later are the people who help you with things like finding jobs and housing after graduation or applying to graduate school and writing recommendation letters. I had never even heard of AmeriCorps until a woman I met through an internship raved about her experience, and encouraged me to look into AmeriCorps. When graduation was looming, she inspired me to take the plunge.
Do you have any meaningful anecdotes about professors or experiences you had at WOU?
The Psychology program was the highlight of my years at WOU. I loved all the experiences I got to take part in through the psychology program, including being a research assistant, a teaching assistant for Dr. Roscoe’s abnormal psychology course, traveling to Cancun for a psychology conference, serving as president of the Psychology Student Union (WOUPSA), and mentoring a middle school student. I made a lot of friends through WOUPSA and psychology courses, and enjoyed movie nights, beach cleanups, and more with them.
I also had the opportunity to travel to China with a group of WOU faculty, staff and students… the trip unfortunately fell during the summer of swine flu, and a large portion of our group was quarantined in China. I was one of the lucky few to not be quarantined. That story has been coming up a lot lately given the current state of the world. It was quite an experience, during which I bonded with fellow Wolves, learned a great deal about Chinese culture, and met a lot of amazing people.
What influenced your decision to pursue a law degree?
I took part in the Classroom Law Project in high school, which allowed me to participate in mock trial and the We the People program, and I interned for an attorney. I really enjoyed those experiences, but I was not sure if I wanted to pursue law school or a graduate degree in teaching or psychology. I decided to try teaching first, before committing to a graduate program. After seeing my special education students go through legal issues related to aging out of foster care, custody issues, and facing criminal charges they did not understand, and then teaching individuals who were homeless or incarcerated who had significant disabilities, most commonly mental illnesses, I realized how many people with disabilities were not being well-served by our legal system. From these experiences, I knew I wanted to become an attorney.
What is the most rewarding aspect to working in disability law? What is the most challenging aspect?
In practice, the most rewarding thing was getting to tell my clients they were about to receive disability benefits they had usually spent years fighting for. Most of my clients were in desperate financial situations and those benefits had a huge impact on their lives. The most challenging aspect was the toll the work takes on you, because your clients are often facing very difficult times and there is little you can do about it.
What do you wish you knew before you graduated?
I was determined to have a 10-year plan for my life at graduation, and I planned to set out to try teaching before likely obtaining a Ph.D. in psychology, and I had a long list of other things I thought I should accomplish by a certain time. Spoiler alert: my 10-year plan was a failure. I wish I had known that it is okay to not have everything figured out (because no one really does), and that things will all work out, even if your original plan fails!
You’ve written about your experience working remotely. What advice do you have for newly graduated students entering remote workplaces?
Take time to figure out what works best for you, and make adjustments as needed, whether that be moving/rearranging your office space, giving yourself multiple work stations, or building in extra breaks. Find ways to break up the day and connect with people outside of your home, through getting outside and getting a walk in, virtual happy hours, online classes, phone calls, whatever you like to do to stay connected with the outside world.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? 10 years?
I see myself practicing disability law in five years, I’m particularly interested in working more in disability civil rights. In 10 years, I hope to be an administrative law judge.