Charting a Career Path through Service

By Rachel Sommer

Ms. Sommer earned a B.A. in international studies from Middlebury College and a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School. Most recently, she has worked as a hospital chaplain and in communications for a non-profit focusing on international disaster relief and sustainable community development. Rachel will begin law school in New York City this fall and intends to pursue a career as a public interest lawyer.

My experience as a Shepherd Poverty Alliance intern nearly a decade ago continues to shape my professional path.

"Many of my patients struggled to find sufficient financial resources to meet their basic human needs," writes Sommer (Middlebury).

“Many of my patients struggled to find sufficient financial resources to meet their basic human needs,” writes Sommer (Middlebury).


As an intern, I served at The House of Ruth Maryland – Marjorie Cook Domestic Violence Legal Clinic in Baltimore, where I worked with survivors of domestic violence seeking legal protection. I strove to support our clients as we worked together to prepare their cases and as I accompanied them to court.

My experience visiting Berea College and learning about the college’s innovative approach to addressing poverty and community development was transformative for me, as was the opportunity to learn, work and live throughout the summer with other Shepherd Poverty Alliance interns from diverse backgrounds.

I was a white student from a white community studying at predominantly white college in an overwhelmingly white state. Learning from and with interns from diverse backgrounds expanded my worldview and shaped my professional and academic trajectories in meaningful ways. I maintained friendships with many of my fellow interns; one attended my wedding this past summer. After graduating from Middlebury College, I completed a Master of Divinity at Yale Divinity School. As a graduate student, I pursued additional opportunities to work with economically marginalized communities. My first summer, I served as an intern at a homeless shelter in New Haven. The second year, I served as a chaplain at a retirement community in Queens that is home to many economically vulnerable seniors.

After graduating, I began working as a chaplain at a hospital in Philadelphia. Many of my patients struggled to find sufficient financial resources to meet their basic human needs. As their chaplain, I drew often on my exposure to poverty studies at Middlebury College and my experience as a Shepherd Poverty Alliance intern. I also thought about the stories of my fellow interns and my clients at House of Ruth. Always, I was grateful for how their willingness to share their stories with me deepened my understanding of how intersecting systems of oppression – racism, sexism, economic injustice – shape their realities.

Now, ten years after I served as a Shepherd Poverty Alliance intern, my experience is taking on new significance as I prepare to embark on my next professional chapter. I will begin law school this fall in New York City and plan to pursue a career as a public interest attorney. Throughout the law school application process, I have been inspired by the work of the dedicated public interest attorneys and paralegals with whom I worked at House of Ruth. I look forward to the opportunity to serve economically marginalized members of our society as a public interest lawyer, and I am grateful for the preparation and inspiration my experience as a Shepherd Poverty Alliance intern affords me as I prepare to take this step.

Editor’s Note: Subsequent to submitting this essay Rachel learned that she will be a Root-Tilden-Kern scholar at the NYU Law School, fall ’16. The scholarship offers full-tuition for outstanding students in public interest law.

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