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May 14, 2021 at 3:41 pm

Ellen Gill-Franks Gets Distinguished Engagement Award for Sociology, Her Next Stop is Supreme Court of Ohio

Ellen Gill-Franks at Supreme Court

Ellen Gill-Franks at Supreme Court, on a recent visit to D.C.

Ellen Gill-Franks ’22 has been adding a lot of adventures and accolades to her resume at Ohio University. Her next stop is an externship with the Public Information Office of the Supreme Court of Ohio this summer.

“I always joke that my greatest strength and weakness is that I say yes to new opportunities. This mindset has allowed me to be open to new experiences and has resulted in me falling in love with topics, people, and places that I never would have identified as consistent with my interests. By being bold enough to allow myself to fail, be rejected, or potentially honored with a new responsibility, I have opened myself up to unexpected growth and immense joy,” says Gill-Franks, of Fleming, Ohio.

She was recently honored with the Distinguished Engagement Award for Sociology by the Sociology & Anthropology Department, even as she keeps adding to her list of activities.

Gill-Franks is double majoring in English Pre-Law and Sociology-Criminology, with Certificate in Law, Justice & Culture. Her recent accomplishments include:

“It is not just Ellen’s resume which demonstrates her leadership and engagement here at OU. It is how she takes what she has learned in the classroom and applies it to those positions, and how she tirelessly works to embody Ohio University values of community, character, civility, citizenship, and commitment in each position to make this university a better place,” said Dr. Holly Ningard.

Q: How did working on the OIP change you?

A: Working with the Ohio Innocence Project changed my perception of the criminal justice system and those that become entangled within it. Prior to my internship, I would have accepted the idea that all those convicted had committed an act that warranted their imprisonment. However, this notion was challenged as I watched the attorneys at O.I.P. represent innocent people who were forced through an intentionally exclusive and guarded court system.

I watched how these attorneys used their privilege and knowledge of the legal system for good, and I realized I want to do the same. I watched as the law became a weapon that hurt people, scientific testimony failed, and justice was misguided. I also watched as great attorneys used the law to rectify harm and restore justice. The Ohio Innocence Project taught me to be empathetic toward incarcerated folks and critical of the criminal justice system.

Q: What are your next plans with the externship at the OHIO Supreme Court?

A: Throughout the course of the externship, I will collaborate with the Ohio Supreme Court Public Information team to bridge the gap between the public and legal proceedings. We will create articles, informational videos, and guides to ensure that the law and the decisions of the Supreme Court of Ohio are understood and assessable to all folks.

Following this externship, it is my hope to continue engaging with access to legal education through the Ohio University Summer Law and Trial Institute and potentially pursuing the restorative ability of practicing appellate law.

Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life?

A: My professors define my education at Ohio University, and I take pieces of each of them with me semester after semester. For example, I still love the juxtaposition of science and literature because of a freshman year class I had with Dr. Eric Stinaff and Dr. David Wanczyk, as well as the plight of U.S. judges because of Dr. Jennifer Fredette’s Politics of Law course.

Further, Dr. Elizabeth Koonce captured my fascination with connectedness of monstrosity and feminism, Dr. Haley Duschinski inspired me to research Kashmiri people (which is now the topic of my honors thesis), and Dr. Holly Ningard taught me about the institution of police. Along the way, these three women became my academic mentors, too. Each of these professors shared their passions with me through coursework, and I can’t help but hold them in my heart as I continue to explore the topics that they first inspired me to care about.

I am a collection of all of the professors that took the time to engage my intellectual curiosity, and even when I leave Ohio University, they will remain as examples of intellectualism and love for research.

Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?

A: In all honesty, while I’d love to say I could identify this distinct moment, I recognize that just as quickly as I think “I’ve got this!” I find myself thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” However, in both of these moments, I am reminded of what OHIO really did bring me and it is the constant reassurance of “I have mentors that will prepare and guide me.” In the exciting times and those of disappointment, that statement rings true. I have such an incredible support team uplifting me that even when I do not feel like “I’ve got this!” I know that I am not expected to face those experiences alone.

Q:  What was the hardest hill you had to climb (not counting Jeff Hill) at OHIO? And how did you overcome challenges or obstacles in your path?

A: As both an OHIO university student and as a person, I have countless times considered if I am deserving enough or prepared enough to take on a new position. This doubt has clouded my confidence at moments and resulted in me delaying applications, searching for reassurance, or even counting myself out before I can even try. While this is definitely still a growing process, I have been able to overcome this fear by being bold enough to fail or to wildly succeed.

I always joke that my greatest strength and weakness is that I say yes to new opportunities. This mindset has allowed me to be open to new experiences and has resulted in me falling in love with topics, people, and places that I never would have identified as consistent with my interests. By being bold enough to allow myself to fail, be rejected, or potentially honored with a new responsibility, I have opened myself up to unexpected growth and immense joy.

Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?

A: One of my favorites moments at OHIO was the result of saying yes to an unknown opportunity. During my first year at O.U., after being accepted into the Law, Justice, & Culture Certificate program, I began receiving emails from the then-program director, Dr. Duschinski. One afternoon, Dr. Duschinkski sends an email to all certificate students asking them to email back if they want to connect further with a few speakers that were coming to town.

I flippantly responded to the email and within the hour, Dr. Duschinski invited me to dinner at Salaam with the speakers and others. I was shocked by the prospect of a wonderful dinner with these speakers but put on my best business casual attire and showed up to Salaam, only to find out that I was the only student that responded. I ended up being the only student among nearly 15 incredible scholars who all proceeded to share with me one of my favorite meals of my life.

This group welcomed me and engaged me in their conversations as if I were a fellow academic. This experience serves as an example of the serendipitous nature of just saying yes to unexpected opportunities to connect. Even though I had no idea what I got myself into, my dinner at Salaam created new friends, a new beloved food experience, and conversations I will never forget.

Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?  

A: Go to the guest speakers and stay late to talk with them! Email your professor and ask to grab coffee! Overshare your passions and make connections! To all Ohio University students, the best advice I can give is just to take advantage of the wonderful scholars, professors, and people that congregate in Athens. Moreover, do this in a meaningful way that builds relationships that flourish over time. If you spend four years in Athens promising you will make time for a new guest speaker or local restaurant the following week, you will unintentionally miss the opportunity for growth and joy being thrown at you.

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