Shyteria Dunlap, a second-year student at the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, has received the 2020-21 Jennifer Carson Single Parent Scholarship, endowed by the Bowen alumni and faculty.
Dunlap is from Memphis, Tennessee. Prior to law school, she was an English teacher and has taught at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. Her plan was always to teach for a time and then go to law school.
“I have always wanted to be a lawyer,” she said. “God places in us certain passions, gifts, and purposes. I know that part of my purpose is to fight injustice, to be a voice for the voiceless, and to leave an incredible footprint in the legal arena.”
This scholarship was named to honor alumna Jennifer Carson whose daughter, Emily, was three years old when Carson began law school in Bowen’s part-time division. The scholarship is available to any Bowen student who is a custodial single parent, and only one scholarship is awarded each year.
In addition to the one-time monetary award, the Carson Scholarship provides a mentoring network. Scholarship committee members, several of whom were also single parents while in law school, offer practical and emotional support to the student recipients. They work to encourage the students as they balance the demands of law school and the responsibilities of parenting alone.
“The support system of the committee matters just as much as the monetary assistance,” Dunlap said. “Any parent could benefit from such a support system in law school.”
After researching the school, Dunlap attended a Bowen open house with a friend and said she left feeling inspired and “at home.” She said the size of the campus, availability of the part-time program, and the location were all factors that lead to her choosing Bowen.
“Bowen had an impressive tuition and a high bar pass rate,” she said. “It was a perfect mix for me. I remember thinking: Bowen is far enough from home so I could isolate and focus, but still close enough to allow for a relaxed commute.”
Dunlap began law school as a part-time student in 2017 and was also expecting a child at the time. That October, she went to the doctor for a routine checkup that led to a surprise admission to the hospital. Dunlap said she was still studying in the delivery room.
“My doctors thought I took studying to another level,” she said. “And I guess I did.”
Dunlap’s son, Aydin, was born that November. After only a semester off, she returned to law school without the help of her family support system back in Memphis.
“Being a parent is a beautiful, exciting gift, and it is also emotionally and physically exhausting,” Dunlap said. “I’m also not completely alone. God’s provision has been with me from the beginning.”
Despite the distance between her and her family support, Dunlap said she is hesitant to call herself a ‘single mother.’ She said she has been grateful to have help from friends and fellow law school students or alumni that would offer to watch her son during her class times.
“It has helped to focus on the village we have and how Aydin sees me through his eyes, rather than the title of single mother,” she said.
Like her friends, family members also helped by traveling from Memphis to sit with her son during final exam sessions. Now, however, she said it has been a gift to be able to attend classes from home, as so much time away from her son had begun to take a toll on her.
“The positive encouragement from family, friends, Bowen faculty, and my therapist, whose services are offered through JLAP (Arkansas Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program), as well as my mentor, has been paramount,” Dunlap said. “Having genuine people help in these ways is evidence of God seeing me through.”
Dunlap said the experience has made her hone her skills in organization and productivity. In her application essay, she wrote about the intentional planning required to accommodate the busy and diverse schedules of a toddler and a law student.
“There is always a lot to juggle, and sometimes I feel guilty for even taking a nap,” she said. “But I am learning to be kind and patient with myself and to stay grounded in my faith.”
Throughout law school, Dunlap has also worked as a teacher in Little Rock, and recently, as a legal assistant for The Buchanan Firm, P.A. After working, she would pick her son up from daycare, take him to the sitter, travel to Bowen for classes, pick her son up from the sitter, and then travel home.
Jessie Burchfield, a scholarship committee member and an associate professor at the law school, said it was this dedication to both her family and her studies that caught the committee’s attention.
“The committee was impressed by her determination and persistence in the face of adversity,” Burchfield said.
Dunlap will graduate in 2022. She wants to pair her education background and legal ability to work in juvenile law, criminal defense, constitutional law, and civil rights law. She plans to eventually become a juvenile court judge.
“No matter what changes may arise, though, with God’s grace, I am determined to be a successful law student, graduate, and mother,” she said.