Realizing a dream at any stage in life

by Daniel Johnson,

After working in various professional fields for more than 25 years, Tamara Palmer JD’21 wanted to attend law school — and donor support made it possible.

  • Tamara Palmer

Changing careers can be extremely difficult and stressful — not just emotionally, but financially, too. Tamara Palmer JD’21 knows this because she’s in the midst of making a bold career change for the second time. A former chemist, lab analyst and high school math teacher, Palmer is now in her second year at Willamette University College of Law, working toward a dream made possible by scholarships.

“From the time I was accepted, I was trying to figure out if attending Willamette Law would be financially feasible and worth the risk of leaving my teaching position,” Palmer says. “When I found out that Willamette had increased my scholarship, I burst into tears. I had been praying that a nearly 100% scholarship was possible.”

Because of this support, Palmer had the opportunity to apply for and earn both the Dean’s Scholarship and the Business Lawyering Institute Scholarship. With that financial burden lifted, she’s now able to focus on her goal of graduating in 2021.

“I don’t want the experience to go by too fast, but I am looking forward to passing the patent bar and the Oregon bar exam and becoming a real attorney!”

Embracing a new challenge

Like most law students, Palmer loves a challenge. But unlike most, she already has plenty of real-world experience in taking them on.

As a quality assurance program manager and senior laboratory analyst for the City of Portland Water Bureau, she was tasked with solving a diverse range of environmental and natural resource problems. As a high school math teacher with the Estacada School District, she developed pedagogical practices to support each and every one of her students. But all the while, she still felt compelled to tackle a new challenge by entering the law field.

"Legal issues were always a part of my experiences as a scientist and as an educator, and I found them interesting, complex, multi-layered, and challenging,” Palmer says. “I knew that I wanted to continue learning, and the idea of going to law school kept coming to mind persistently throughout my career.”

Using power for good — from the classroom to the courtroom

While Palmer was drawn to law school for the opportunity to learn and develop new analytical skills, she also sees becoming a lawyer as a way to help others and give back to her community.

“In my old classroom, I had a sign that read: ‘Use Your Power for Good.’ Willamette Law really embodies this philosophy by giving non-traditional students like me the opportunity to develop the critical-thinking skills, the ability to reason and to listen to diverse perspectives, and the desire to contribute positively to society.”

Being open to a new path

Based on her previous positions, Palmer knows there are areas of law in which she could grow and succeed (education, patent, environmental), but she also feels that real success means taking this opportunity to explore, discover and find her true calling.

“I am keeping my heart open and seeing where my path takes me,” Palmer says. “I want to honor the people and experiences that made it possible for me to be on this journey by making the most of all opportunities.”

Willamette University

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