Sauntharya Manikandan is currently a Legal Ops Analyst at TIBCO Software and serves as a fellow for both California’s Young Leaders Advisory Council and the Legal Education and Access Pipeline. She graduated magna cum laude in Spring 2021 with a double major in Psychological Sciences and Criminology, Law, and Society, with a minor in Digital Information Systems. On-campus she served as a Peer Academic Advisor for the School of Social Ecology, Lead Teaching assistant for the Saturday Academy of Law program, Campuswide Honors Collegium Ambassador, and as the ASUCI Legal Education Commissioner. A member of the Campuswide Honors Collegium and Social Ecology Honors program, she pursued a UROP funded research thesis on the implications of jury note taking on final trial verdicts. She was also selected to serve both as a cohort member of the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative at UCI, UCI Admin Intern program, and the UC Sacramento Internship Program. She is a 2021 inductee of the UCI Mu Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, the PSI CHI honors society and was selected for the Distinguished Anteater Award in 2020-2021. She plans to pursue a Juris Doctorate degree and hopes to focus on making legal education and access more equitable!
1) If we ask one of your friends to describe you, what would they say?
If a friend was asked to describe me I think they would mostly refer to my positive and adventurous nature! Of course there are times where I feel down or unmotivated, but I have always had a strong sense of bouncing back and being optimistic in myself and in others. I love to encourage my peers and family members to try new things and always try to be open to what life has to offer! If there is one saying I resonate with my life philosophy, it was what my parents used to say when I was little “ நல்லது நெனச்ச நல்லது வரும்” which in english means if you think good things, good things will come!
2) What life events or personal mentorships, if any, directed you to the field of study you have chosen for your future endeavors?
Being a first-generation Indian-American, politics was never spoken about in our household. My parents always had the mentality of “keep your head low and work hard”. They were simply grateful to be living in the United States, and didn’t want to ask for more. In their world, politics and advocacy were not spaces meant for people like them, and so they were apprehensive in allowing me to pursue this path.
I first explored this realm by chance in college, after taking an Introduction to Criminology course required for one of my psychology electives. Not only did I learn the characteristics of the U.S. criminal justice system, but also the injustices that perpetuate the system due to policies, racial biases, and lack of reform. This kickstarted my interest in the legal field and more importantly the barriers these systems faced. I joined the Pre-Law Society in my freshman year surrounding myself with those who had similar interests to me. From there I learned of opportunities like the Saturday Academy of Law and ASUCI, which allowed me to understand the deficits in legal education and awareness. I followed up with professors who helped me find those who were doing work in these fields like Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and her graduate student Jillian Kenchel, and was even encouraged by them to pursue an independently funded thesis under Dr. Dent’s Social Ecology Honors program! I took these experiences to explore SOP programs like Capital Fellows and Fulbright under the gentle push of my CHC advisors; especially since I was interested in understanding more of the political aspects involved in the legal system both in the United States and internationally. Most importantly I learned about myself and tackled my personal weaknesses with the gentle mentoring of people like Andrea Reyes of UCI CSL, Jamie Shea of the SE Advising team, and the UCI counseling center.
These mentors truly helped me navigate both personal and professional barriers as I found my future endeavors in helping change the legal field for the better.
3) Did you ever seek information and advice from the SOP advising team? If so, what type of advice were you seeking and what was your experience with them?
Yes, I am lucky to say that the SOP advising team has been part of my UC Irvine Journey since my sophomore year and has been a great resource in seeking knowledge on not only what opportunities are available to me, but also providing me guidance on ways to approach these opportunities. I was able to apply for scholarships like Strauss, Fulbright and the Capital Fellows Program, even making it as a finalist for the latter Capital Fellows Program. One of the most valuable resources throughout the application process were the advisors themselves, people like Brendan Park, Courtney Santos, and Theresa Nguyen helped me work through countless drafts, prepped me for interviews, and most importantly instilled confidence in my abilities when faced with doubts on whether I was qualified to be applying. Without their push and encouragement, as well as support from my UC Irvine Faculty recommenders, I would not have been able to get as far as I have today!
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