Read the full article in the Fall-Winter 2013 issue of Carolina Law.
Twenty-three years after graduating from UNC School of Law, Anita
R. Brown-Graham is not practicing law.
But she credits her Carolina Law education with allowing her
to create a great career that merges her professional life with personal
In her case, that means finding ways to bring people
together to improve the economy in North Carolina. Brown-Graham is director of
the Institute for Emerging Issues, a center based at N.C. State University that
aims to tackle the big issues that affect North Carolina’s future growth and
prosperity. The institute hosts a widely attended annual conference, the
Emerging Issues Forum, which brings together the most innovative thinkers on
topics that are of increasing importance to the state. Most recently topics
have included manufacturing, Generation Z and health care.
For her work, Brown-Graham was named a White House Champion
of Change this summer. She is also a William C. Friday Fellow, an American
Marshall Fellow and an Eisenhower Fellow.
“The skills and perspective I gained in law school prepared
me for a wide range of opportunities,” she says.
The first thing she did with those skills was not that
unusual for a law school grad: She clerked for a judge, in her case a federal
district court judge in California. It was there that she first began to get a
sense of how exceptional her Carolina Law experience had been.
“It wasn’t until I got to California, and would sit around
with my fellow law clerks who graduated from other law schools across the country,
that I realized how insanely lucky we were at Carolina to have the access to
professors that we had,” she says. When she started law school, Brown-Graham
threw herself into not only the classes, but also extracurricular activities.
The faculty at Carolina Law was always there to encourage her efforts.
“One of the things you learn in the classroom at law school
is how important it is for you to use your tools to create access opportunities
for others,” she says. “The law school gave me the opportunities to do that.”
She mentored youth in the Chapel Hill community while at law
school and was coordinator of Minority Law Day her third year. Law school, she
says, gave her a chance “to learn how to follow my passions.”
After the clerkship and two years in private practice, she
found she was more inspired by the community development and volunteer work she
was doing in her spare time than her legal work. It was time to come back to
Carolina and figure out a way to turn that passion into a career.
A call to the law school quickly turned up a faculty
opportunity at the nearby School of Government. She spent 13 years there,
focused mostly on rural communities struggling to revitalize their economies, and
in 2007, moved to the Institute for Emerging Issues.
“I tell students to follow their heart, not the career path
they’ve laid out for the next 10 years. It has been my experience that
unimaginable opportunities will come your way and disrupt the pathway you
thought you’d created,” she says. “For me, taking the risk, stepping sideways
and following my heart have always been the right things to do.”
-December 6, 2013