Senior Spotlight: Sydney Beck

student at podium, speaking to empty classroom
Sydney Beck takes classes and studies at the UO School of Law as part of the Clark Honors College’s 3+3 program, which lets students complete a bachelor’s and law degree in six years. Beck wants to become a courtroom attorney after law school and will lean on her experiences working with lawyers from the Oregon Department of Justice.

Forming her own rule of law

Sydney Beck came to the Clark Honors College so she could enter the 3+3 law program and shorten her undergraduate career. She’s well on her way to becoming a lawyer.
Story by Hana Sadik
photos By Jake White
Clark Honors College Communications

Sydney Beck remembers accompanying her family as a 16-year-old to the tiny Southeast Asian country of Myanmar for a medical service trip.

Her mom, Brenda Grall, is a nurse, and her stepdad, Ken Grall, is a nurse anesthetist. They both regularly traveled on service trips to provide care for people who needed it overseas.

In Myanmar, they visited a center for victims and survivors of human trafficking. This is where Beck met a woman who served as program director at the center that helped survivors adjust and acclimate to the new environment.

Observing the way the program director interacted with people at the hospital had an impact on Beck. “She would listen, and not push them one way or the other, being a figure that a lot of people sometimes don’t have in their lives,” Beck says. “Seeing her passion to help people was really inspirational.”

The experience also allowed her to see how inaccessible legal services were for many in the country. Paired with a desire to help others, the trip sparked an interest in the law that would later become the primary driver in her undergraduate college career.

portrait of sydney beck outside a brick and glass building

Sydney Beck

Major: General social sciences
Minors: Spanish
Thesis: “Oceans and the Climate: They Can Save Each Other”
Favorite places she’s visited: Myanmar and Kenya
Describe your experience at the CHC: Unique, unorthodox, collaborative
One moment that made all the difference: Deciding to talk to her future roommate/best friend at a CHC orientation event.
Advice on the thesis project: Be OK with letting your topic drastically change.
This summer, I can’t wait for: Standing in for attorneys in court.
I’m grateful for: The 3+3 program and Elizabeth Raisanen, the CHC’s assistant dean of advising and strategic partnerships. 

As a Clark Honors College graduate who is part of the 3+3 law program, Beck is about to enter her second year of law school. The program allows students to finish their undergraduate studies early, graduate with a degree, and then automatically attend the UO’s School of Law. She finished with a major in General Social Sciences and a minor in Spanish.

“I was really hoping to get through school as quick as possible, so I could enter the real world and help people as soon as I could,” she says.

Beck was raised in Indiana with her sister and two stepbrothers. Her high school experience was heavily influenced by her travels with her parents. And she chose the Honors College because of its 3+3 program.

Elizabeth Raisanen, the CHC’s assistant dean of advising and strategic partnerships, worked closely with Beck along the way. She also served on Beck’s thesis committee.

“I’ve been so impressed with Sydney’s focus and determination in pursuing the 3+3 program almost from the very beginning of her undergraduate career,” Raisanen says. “I have been privileged to witness Sydney’s academic and professional growth from an undergraduate student to a law student.”

student speaking from podium in classroom
Becoming a courtroom attorney will require Beck to develop strong public speaking skills. She has role models from the Department of Justice.
student standing in library stacks, reading a book
Sydney Beck spends a lot of her time in the UO School of Law and the Law Library to prepare for her classes and other study projects.

Starting law school was daunting for Beck, but meeting other students in the 3+3 cohort made the transition easier. She felt like she had a community that she could lean on.

This year, she mentored incoming 3+3 law students and help them adjust to the new environment. “It was really cool to get together and tell them law school really isn’t as terrible as people make it seem,” Beck recalls. 

Whales and an unexpected connection to law

She says one of her favorite clusters of classes at the law school was a concentration in “Ocean and Coastal Law.” She learned about how whales sequester carbon in the ocean, making them an excellent ally in combating ocean acidification and the climate crisis. This was something she had never heard about previously, and she felt connected to the legal field right away.

She wanted her thesis to contribute “something new” and whales provided the perfect opportunity. Before researching for her thesis, she says “climate law wasn’t really on my radar.” 

In her thesis, “Whales and the Climate: They Can Save Each Other,” Beck explored the legal framework around protecting whales as prescribed by international law.  

student drinking cappucino sitting outside cafe
One of Beck’s favorites spots on campus is Legal Grounds Cafe, located in the Knight Law Center.

Currently, Beck is working as a legal intern for the Oregon Department of Justice in the Child Advocacy and Protection Division. Early on, she says she had “no interest in family law. I didn’t want to deal with custody, divorce, all of that stuff.”

But she was able to work closely with four attorneys who represent the Oregon Department of Human Services when children get removed from their homes. She regularly reviews cases, works with witnesses, and prepares materials for court hearings. Beck has since come to love what her position focuses on: protecting children.

Because her department deals with decisions surrounding custody,  “Most of the attorneys I work with go to court everyday,” she says. This has helped her realize “that’s what I want to do in the future, as well.” 

“Most of the attorneys I work with go to court everyday. That’s what I want to do in the future, as well.” 

One of her bosses at the Department of Justice, Molly Ortiz, helped shape Beck’s perspective on how laywers handle appearing in court.

“(Ortiz) approaches all her cases with respect for everyone involved, which is one of my goals when I become a courtroom litigator,” she says.

After graduating law school, Beck hopes to stay in Oregon and take the bar exam. Once she gets her law license, she wants to practice criminal or family law.  

black line drawing of a graduation cap and tassel

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