Alumni Short

Colleen Cowgill '15

Colleen Cowgill ’15 Awarded Rhodes Public Interest Fellowship

"Since deciding to go to law school, I have known that a career in public interest was the path I wanted to pursue,” says Colleen Cowgill ’15. During her time at the Law School, Cowgill has participated in Cornell's International Human Rights Clinic and the Advanced Gender Global Justice Clinic. She traveled to The Hague to serve as a Trial Chambers intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia last summer, and she spent the fall term of 2014 as a legal intern for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Washington, D.C. After graduating this spring, Cowgill will return to partner with UNHCR as Cornell Law’s fourth H.T. Rhodes Public Interest Fellow.

Cowgill’s Rhodes Fellowship project will focus on bringing U.S. refugee practices more in line with international law, as well as providing clarity and guidance for asylum seekers and the practitioners assisting them. The project’s strategies will include assisting UNHCR's amicus intervention strategy in U.S. courts, developing a webpage for practitioners and asylum seekers, and drafting affidavits that explain how to understand and use country of origin information under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Due to the growing number of asylum applications by children, adults, and families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, claims from this region will be Cowgill’s immediate focus.

"This work is important because it seeks to bring clarity to a field that is hugely complicated and that affects the most vulnerable communities: individuals fleeing persecution, including women and children, unaccompanied children, and LGBTI individuals," Cowgill observes. "By making UNHCR's position and resources more widely available, this project has the potential to help individuals in serious need of protection more effectively articulate their claims."

Karen Comstock, assistant dean for public service, was a member of the Rhodes Fellowship selection committee. "We are thrilled to award the fourth Frank H.T. Rhodes Public Interest Law Fellowship to Colleen Cowgill," she says. "The committee selected Colleen because she has a deep commitment to human rights and a proven track record in the field that ensures her project's success. During Colleen's full-term externship at UNHRC in the fall of her 3L year, the attorneys there came to rely on her as a valued member of their team. It is, in her supervisor's words, 'Colleen's incredible legal mind and passion for their mission' that made UNHCR eager to bring her back as a Rhodes Fellow."

Funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies with additional support provided by Cornell Law School, the Frank H.T. Rhodes fellowships are named for Cornell University's president from 1977 to 1995, a former Atlantic board member and chair. The fellowships further scholarship and research in poverty alleviation, public health, human rights, and support for the elderly and disadvantaged children.