As a contestant on the Millard West High School debate team, Ashton Koch began to understand how the world often worked against those without power or agency, and her undergraduate experience at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln reinforced his desire to use his talents to help those who have been left behind.
“I always had this philosophy, when I started down this path to becoming a lawyer, that in society, those who have access to power have an obligation to use that power to help others who don’t have the same access,” Koch said.
She aims to graduate on May 14, but Koch is also preparing to begin law school in Nebraska in the fall, to further her goals of serving others through immigration and labor law. humanitarian law.
Koch, an honors student majoring in political science, global studies, and French, with a minor in human rights and humanitarian affairs. Her classes piqued her curiosity and her internships gave her strong legs to stand on. In her sophomore year, she began an internship for State Senator Lynne Walz (District 15) of Fremont, where she worked behind the scenes but with a front-row seat to the legislative process.
“I worked on legislative research, press releases and speeches,” Koch said. “It was an incredible experience to see the cooperation that goes on behind the legislation, beyond the debate in the hall, to have the final product of a bill.”
His internship at the Capitol was cut short by covid-19, when almost everything was closed and largely reopened in a virtual world. Like all students and professors, Koch made adjustments to online classes and saw some plans evaporate. Her planned summer trip abroad was canceled, so Koch left in search of a new opportunity. She found it through Changemaker internships at the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.
“I articled with the Nebraska State Bar Association’s pro bono attorney project in the summer of 2021, and spent my summer mornings on the second floor of the courthouse in Lancaster County Justice to help with the tenant assistant project,” Koch said. “To date, I think this internship has been the most rewarding and empowering experience I have had as I worked directly with lawyers, learned legal processes and made a difference.”
As an intern and volunteer, Koch interviewed tenants facing eviction, gathering information to help volunteer attorneys FAUCET fight for them at hearings. While rewarding, the work was also often an “emotional roller coaster,” she said.
“It really opened my eyes to a part of society that I think we don’t like to think about or talk about. There were times when it broke my heart because you heard stories from people about the hardships due to the pandemic, or domestic violence situations, or landlord bias towards people with capacity statuses different,” Koch said. “There have also been amazing times when we have been able to extend time for people or help them get rental assistance. And it was amazing to see a group of people who just wanted to volunteer and serve our community to help ensure that these people had what should be a basic right to housing. The cards were literally always stacked against them, and we helped.
On campus, Koch also found ways to get involved, even though the pandemic often prevented face-to-face interactions. She has worked as the Outreach Coordinator for the Women’s Center since August 2020. Her responsibilities have evolved alongside the ever-changing covid-19 restrictions, but she said it was beneficial to gain experience working with volunteers in different capacities and serving the campus community.
She also excelled in an area she didn’t know she could: academic research, writing, and even presenting. Her honors thesis, “Clash and Cooperation of Ecofeminism and Postmodern Feminism: the Intersection of Two Theories in Dystopic Literature,” garnered rave reviews from her advisors, Julia Frengs and Erica Shauer. They encouraged her to present it at a conference, but Koch was very apprehensive.
“I thought, ‘Absolutely not, no part of me does that,'” she said. “But I ended up doing one lecture, then another, and well, they were right. I hadn’t given myself enough credit. I think presenting it at the conferences was so rewarding for me because I lived in this project for several years and was so passionate about it.
“Writing this thesis really enhanced my undergraduate studies because I had kind of grounded myself in international politics, international relations, and it allowed me to branch out into another field that I was passionate about. “
Despite personal struggles and disappointments in a college career marred by a global pandemic, Koch has found the silver lining.
“As of March 2020, we had no idea how big this was and continues to be,” she said. “There was a significant learning curve for me, but I think it helped me learn new ways to organize my time and my work. It interrupted my study abroad plans, but at the same time, if I had studied abroad, I would not have found the pro bono lawyer project, and who knows if I would have applied for work at the Women’s Center. The pandemic has of course thrown curveballs, but at the same time it has led me to a lot of opportunities that I don’t know if I would have found without it.
In 10 years, Koch hopes to use the solid foundation of his undergraduate years to serve the public in political office or as an immigration lawyer.
“I’m passionate about the immigration system, that it needs to be reformed and that there are so many ways to improve it,” she said. “Right now, I’m focused on making tangible change and applying this philosophy of helping people, and I really want to impact this world and make it a better place.
“Maybe in 10 years I’ll be a lawyer somewhere, maybe I’ll run for office, but hopefully I’ve made some kind of positive change to make our systems better and fairer.”