Fresno State student Caleb Charles began college with one goal in mind: becoming a lawyer to defend and fight for those in need of representation in the criminal justice system.
“I aspire to become both a criminal defense and civil rights attorney to advocate on behalf of the voiceless men and women of America and those who have been unjustly charged with crimes they did not commit,” he says.
He learned about the Central Valley Regional Pathway to Law Pipeline while attending Fresno City College and found it fit well with his goals. The goal of the pipeline is to provide a pathway for underrepresented students of minority backgrounds to earn law degrees and increase the State Bar of California members’ diversity.
“I came to college with the intention of becoming a lawyer. However, a hurdle I faced was that I wasn’t sure what I needed to do to become one,” said Charles.
The Central Valley Regional Pathway to Law Pipeline is part of the California Leadership-Access-Workforce (LAW) Pathways established in 2015 under the State Bar of California’s Council on Access and Fairness to provide an educational pipeline for diverse students from high schools, community colleges and four-year universities. Pathway to Law Pipeline is a collaboration between Bullard High School, Fresno City College, Fresno State and the San Joaquin College of Law.
The pathway received the 2021 State Bar of California Education Pipeline Award in February at the Pathway to Law Summit. Fresno State Interim President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval accepted the award during a short virtual ceremony.
Over 600 students are in the Central Valley pipeline, including over 500 at Bullard High School, over 100 at Fresno City College, 15 at Fresno State and four at San Joaquin College of Law.
For Charles, the pathway was what he was looking for.
“This program has provided me with the ability to network and learn from the experiences of some very bright legal professionals, have access to service-learning opportunities, obtain information on the law school admissions process, receive academic counseling when needed, participate with fellow classmates in a variety of in-depth discussions about legal cases and to be a member of the Law Pathways Club,” Charles said.
By following the pathway, Charles completed his associate degree in law, public policy and society at Fresno City College. At the same time, he was able to get his CAL-LAW Scholar certificate, which earns him special admissions consideration when applying to the 10 partnering law schools in California, including UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC and the San Joaquin College of Law.
When entering the pipeline at Fresno City College, Charles not only found a way forward, but a network of mentors who supported him through the program. After transferring to Fresno State, that support and mentorship continued with professors Andrew Fiala and James Rocha in the Philosophy Department.
“I can say that it was truly an honor to have Caleb represent our Pathway as well as our major in Philosophy Pre-Law,” Rocha said. “Caleb stands out as one of the best students I have had the pleasure to work with; he is always motivated to work hard, is a creative and intelligent thinker, and excelled in all of the classes he took with me, which was especially impressive since they all occurred during the pandemic,” he said.
In addition to his studies, Charles is a member of the Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity and participates in the Student Advocacy Project, representing Fresno County residents appealing low-level citations.
“I am currently participating in the student advocacy program, and I love it!” Charles said. After completing the training to do this project and upon receiving consent from the citizens of Fresno seeking help, students are able to advocate on behalf of them as they appeal citations through the administrative hearing process in Municipal Court.
The cases are minor infractions such as unlawful dumping, illegal firework usage or public nuisance citations. Still, it gives students the experience to craft legal arguments and advocate for those who may not be able to afford legal representation.
Charles is on track to graduate with a philosophy pre-law bachelor’s degree with honors this semester. He is also the Philosophy Department’s 2021 undergraduate student of distinction, making him eligible for the College of Arts and Humanities Dean’s Medal.