The primary purpose of an internship is to offer students real-world experience. Few opportunities achieve that goal as profoundly as Kaylee Gum's summer 2014 internship working to enhance the delivery of legal aid to the Iraqi people.
"It was a very interesting time to be in Iraq," says Gum, a second-year law student at William & Mary. "As Iraqis look into the next steps for their country, it was interesting to hear local opinions and learn how people perceive the politics, economy, and future of their country."
Growing up in a military family, Gum spent several years of her childhood abroad, living in Germany and Italy. She enlisted in the Air Force ROTC program and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2013 with a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, then continued directly to law school.
"William & Mary had great credentials and I knew I'd be happy here," says Gum, who is a second lieutenant and reservist on an Air Force JAG educational delay. "I liked that the school offered lots of international law classes and that there is a lot to do outside the classroom to enjoy a well-rounded experience. Everything I heard was positive and it has all proven to be true."
Last spring, when Professor Christie Warren, director of the Program in Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, posted a selection of international internships, Gum applied to go Iraq, the only Middle Eastern country on the list.
"Almost 100 students have participated in international internships since the program began in 2002, but this is the first time anyone has gone to Iraq," says Warren. "Kaylee's experience was definitely unique, and she was the perfect match for the opportunity."
For 12 weeks, Gum worked with two senior legal advisors in the Iraq Access to Justice Program, part of the United States Agency for International Development's five-year effort to improve access to justice for vulnerable and disadvantaged people in that country.
"I worked on legal aid development within Iraq," says Gum. "One of my primary projects was to conduct comparative research on legal aid systems in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. I drafted a document of best practices for delivery of legal aid in an ethical way."
Her recommendations were provided to an Iraqi organization whose mission is to assist in the on-going development and sustainability of legal aid in the country. She also developed an assessment tool for legal aid clinics to ensure that those best practices are followed. Another part of her responsibilities included teaching the legal aid clinic staff how to write grants to fund their programs.
"I learned a lot about legal aid in general," says Gum. "It was interesting to see both sides of the process. I had the opportunity to see how vulnerable groups can receive legal assistance and I got to see the inside working of the clinic. It was a perspective I wouldn't get in the United States."
Gum's supervisors were thrilled with her accomplishments.
"Kaylee is thoughtful and analytical, and provided valuable input and feedback," says Wilson Myers, deputy director of the Iraq Access to Justice Program. "In meetings with civil society, government, and international partners, Kaylee demonstrated professionalism and preparation and an impressive ability to communicate with stakeholders in both Arabic and English."
The unrest that took place all summer in Iraq made Gum's internship particularly challenging. She spent the first half of the summer living in Baghdad. During the second half, she was moved to Erbil, a city in Iraq's northern Kurdish region. Baghdad was no longer safe, and concern mounted when Mosul and surrounding cities in the north fell to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). After careful assessment of the developing situation, and in consultation with her supervisors at the Law School and in Iraq, Gum made the decision to stay in the country to complete her internship.
"She handled herself impeccably in a very challenging environment," says Warren. "Her experience is one of the best examples of why the Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Program is so important and useful for the Law School. She benefited and the project benefited."
"I never really feared for my personal safety and I never felt threatened," says Gum of her summer experience. "I am very grateful for the opportunity and the contributions that made this experience possible."
Gum's internship was supported by a gift from Lois Critchfield, a donor who shares Gum's interest in the Middle East.
"I've been involved with the College for more than 10 years, trying to help students focused on Middle East studies," says Critchfield. "My long-time interest in the region goes back before Saddam Hussein. I had a career in the CIA, stationed in Jordan, and I made many visits to the embassy in Iraq. Iraq is a wonderful country, and I'm thrilled to be able to help students, like Kaylee, who are interested in helping the Middle East."
Next summer, Gum will complete a required internship with the Air Force JAG Corps. After graduation, she will serve four years with the Air Force.
"I'd like to go back to the Middle East," she says. "Ultimately, I want to work in international law."
Read more about it: Kaylee Gum and other W&M law students who worked at projects around the globe in summer 2014 blogged about their experiences at law.wm.edu/voicesfromthefield. You can go directly to Kaylee's blog here.
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