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Professor appointed to Director of Academic Excellence

by Jessica Rotter,

Professor Kelly Gamble
Willamette University College of Law is proud to announce the appointment of Professor Kelly Gamble to the position of Director of Academic Excellence. Professor Gamble’s appointment is the culmination of her devotion to building communities that support students both in the classroom and as they prepare for a legal career. The Academic Excellence program centers on the principle that the twin pillars to student success are belonging and ability. Gamble’s appointment will allow her to continue to strengthen and build up the program.

Following a seven year long career as a high school English teacher, Gamble made the decision to change careers and attend law school. Now, as a professor of law, she focuses her teaching on 1L legal writing. Gamble was surprised to find herself teaching 1L students as she remembered how difficult 1L year was during her time in law school. However, this was, in many ways, what launched her desire to build strong, supportive communities for 1L students. 

“I wanted to demystify the law school experience, particularly for first year students. My goal was to make it more transparent so they could develop confidence in their law school experience,” Gamble shared. As she began teaching in her first year at Willamette Law, she started to implement people-development and community building concepts into her curriculum in order to better prepare students for a legal career. Her goal was to, “support law students, make the entire law school experience easier, and to build a stronger community amongst 1Ls,” she said. 

When Gamble heard the positive feedback from students in her classes, she began thinking about what it might mean to bring these experiences and practices to the entire Willamette Law community. Gamble shared that it is “connecting people with people that makes this a better place.” 

The Academic Excellence program was formed in 2021 with 2L and 3L students applying to be Academic Excellence fellows. A group of faculty members review applications and select approximately 12 students to serve as leaders. Since the program began, the fellows have developed an orientation week program, created a 1L Field Guide, run the Dean’s Series, a regularly scheduled set of support seminars aimed at first year students, and generally made themselves available for coffee, lunch, or a listening ear. The impact the program has had on the 2L and 3L students is just as profound as the impact on 1L students, Gamble reflected. This is evident in the nearly 50% increase in fellow applicants for the next academic year. 

Current Academic Excellence fellow, Teddy Krolczyk JD ‘23 (3L) was inspired to apply because she “loves being involved and wants to be a part of the outreach to incoming students.” After joining Willamette Law in the midst of the pandemic, Krolczyk “felt disconnected to the community and wanted to be the person that builds connection for others during their law school experience.” 

“I hope the program makes people feel welcome and heard. Law school can be a scary experience, especially if you don’t have a support system,” Krolczyk shared, “the work Professor Gamble is doing is so important. She is very approachable and it helps to have someone like that here to make law school less intimidating.” 

For her part, Gamble commented that her mission is for “students to feel like they have the ability to succeed academically but also to belong in a community.” As the Director of Academic Excellence, Gamble wants to “make [the College of Law] a better place and continue to think each year about how to make the experience better.” The program started as a leap of faith, and now it is growing and will continue to impact more people, Gamble hopes. 

“People want to make a difference, and I get to help them do that. I get to train up the next generation of lawyers who will fight for justice,” Gamble said. 

With regard  to the future of the program, Krolczyk “hopes that it expands even more to the point that it is interwoven in the College’s identity. It makes such a big difference for people and you don’t see that in other places.” 

In reflecting on her new appointment, Gamble shared “as a child I wrote down that I wanted to be ‘maybe a lawyer, maybe a teacher, maybe both,’ and it is really fun and rewarding to see that dream come to life and to be able to make change for other people.”

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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