NOTED HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER AMAL CLOONEY SPOKE TO MUSTANGS ABOUT THE POWER OF LAW TO CHANGE THE WORLD.
Esteemed human rights lawyer Amal Clooney joined the Mustang community to discuss her storied career advocating for the rights of marginalized people across the globe. Clooney came to the Hilltop as part of the renowned Louise B. Raggio Endowed Lecture series, which has hosted senators, first ladies, New York Times editors and Supreme Court justices, among other speakers.
Clooney met exclusively with Dedman Law students before taking the McFarlin stage with law school professor Natalie Nanasi to discuss the trajectory of her life and the power of lawyers to make positive change. Born in Lebanon, Clooney emigrated to the United Kingdom with her family to escape the ravages of the Lebanese Civil War at the age of 2. She attended the University of Oxford and then began her legal career in New York City, arguing cases that would change the world for the better – a fundamental function of the law, according to Clooney.
“I’m not a world leader … [I] don’t have the power to pass laws,” Clooney said. “But as a lawyer, there are things you can really do to make a difference to the people on the front lines.”
Congratulations to history-making SMU alumna Averie Bishop ’19, ’22, the first Asian American Miss Texas.
She currently serves on the Mayor’s Anti-Hate Advisory Council. It was established last year by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson to advise the city and police on ways to increase tolerance and understanding and engage the private sector and communities in discouraging hate and encouraging diversity.
Bishop received a B.A. in human rights in 2019 and graduated from Dedman School of Law in May. While she was an undergraduate, Bishop and her mother establish the Tulong Foundation in 2015. The nonprofit organization serves an area of the Philippines where Marevi Bishop grew up. The foundation supports children’s education and efforts to develop sustainable farming and clean drinking water. As an SMU Human Rights Fellow in 2018–19, she spent the summer in the Philippines building water wells in rural communities.
On the Hilltop, Bishop displayed her vocal talent as Cinderella in Into the Woods, the student musical presented during Family Weekend in 2017.
Bishop will now start preparing for the Miss America pageant, which will take place in Connecticut in December. She is active on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, offering a candid look at her life as a law student and beauty pageant contestant.
Jason P. Nance, an education policy and law scholar who studies inequalities in public education, has been named the Judge James Noel Dean at SMU’s Dedman School of Law. He will join SMU on August 10 from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he is associate dean for research and faculty development and professor of law.
Nance began his career in education, teaching math to middle schoolers and GED and English courses to adults in Houston. After three years, he began to prepare for a career in education administration, intending to become a school principal. But Nance developed a keen interest in education policy and law through his graduate studies, ultimately earning a Ph.D. in education policy and administration before completing his law degree.
“The Dedman School of Law aspires both to maintain its long-standing top status in the region and to rise significantly in the national rankings,” says Elizabeth G. Loboa, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Throughout the interview process, campus stakeholders responded enthusiastically both to Jason’s experience and to his vision for the law school. Dedman Law has tremendous faculty and staff who have for years trained and supported the placement of our students in meaningful and impactful careers. Under Dean Nance’s leadership, we are well positioned to advance our well-earned reputation within the legal and business communities and to expand our impact in line with SMU’s aspirations for even greater academic excellence.”
Nance clerked for Judge Kent A. Jordan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware after graduating from law school. He served as a litigation associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, practicing corporate and securities litigation during the financial crisis of 2007–2010. Nance was a visiting assistant professor of law at the Villanova University School of Law before joining the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2011.
Since 2021, Nance has served as associate dean for research and faculty development at UF Law. Previously at UF Law, he served as associate dean for academic and faculty affairs, as an associate director of the Center for the Study of Race and Relations, and as an associate director for education and law at the Center on Children and Families. As professor of law, he taught education law, torts and remedies. He oversaw the continued development and implementation of the Introduction to Lawyering and the Legal Profession Program, then directed the program designed to help first-year law students develop key competencies to become effective lawyers.
“We look forward to welcoming Dean Nance to Dedman School of Law,” says SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “His early public education experience combined with a distinguished legal career and passion for education equity issues bring talents that will be valuable on many levels at SMU.” Read more.
Trial attorney Laura Benitez Geisler ’97 made history on January 12 when she was sworn in as the 110th Dallas Bar Association president, becoming the first Hispanic member to lead the organization.
“The Dallas Bar Association is among the strongest and most active in the country, and I’m looking forward to the year ahead,” Geisler says. “I’ve been an active member of the Dallas Bar my entire career, having served on the board of directors since 2006. I am eager to get to work in this new and challenging role.”
Among her goals as president is to highlight the importance of protecting the independence of the judiciary through a series of programs on the history and challenges facing an independent judiciary, the development of a “Life Skills for Lawyers” series and a “Legal Incubator” program designed to help young attorneys become successful practitioners.
Geisler has served as president of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers. She was elected to chair the Dallas Bar board in 2015 and served as president of the Dallas Women Lawyers Association in 2003. As the co-chair of the 2014–15 Equal Access to Justice Campaign benefitting the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, she helped raise more than $1.1 million for pro bono legal services for low-income Dallas County residents.
She received her J.D. from SMU’s Dedman School of Law and has 21 years of experience representing clients in personal injury and wrongful death cases. She has achieved multimillion-dollar jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of her clients.
Geisler has been recognized by The Best Lawyers in America and Texas Super Lawyers and has earned a National Diversity Council listing among the Top 50 Multicultural Lawyers in Dallas and Top 50 Women Lawyers. The Hispanic National Bar Association also honored her with its Top Lawyer Under 40 award in 2011. She recently merged her firm to form Sommerman, McCaffity, Quesada & Geisler.
The Dallas Bar Association is a 145-year-old professional, voluntary body of more than 11,000 Dallas-area lawyers.
Elizabeth Mills Viney ’10 was named the winner of The Dallas Foundation’s eighth annual Good Works Under 40 Award. Offered in partnership withThe Dallas Morning News, Good Works Under 40 honors up-and-coming leaders who are improving the future of Dallas and inspiring their peers to make a difference.
Viney was nominated by Guy Delcambre, director of advancement at Advocates for Community Transformation (ACT). Since 2013, Viney has logged more than 400 volunteer hours with ACT, where she works with West Dallas residents, law enforcement and the civil justice system to reduce crime.
A former attorney with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Viney uses her knowledge of the legal system to empower families to restore hope and dignity to the area. In addition to her own service, Viney recruited many other attorneys to volunteer with ACT, together donating nearly 1,200 hours of pro bono legal counsel.
In inner-city areas typically pervaded by intimidation and fear, “residents live like prisoners in their homes,” said Delcambre. “For residents to stand and accept the risk of retaliation against them takes an indescribable amount of courage.”
A former attorney with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Viney uses her knowledge of the legal system to empower families to restore hope and dignity to the area. In addition to her own service, Viney recruited many other attorneys to volunteer with ACT, together donating nearly 1,200 hours of pro bono legal counsel.
“Elizabeth is a joyful, selfless and motivated leader who has given her time and talents to serve ACT in whichever way the organization has needed,” said J. Reid Porter, president of ACT. “Her service as a volunteer lawyer is unmatched.”
Viney was honored during an award ceremony hosted by The Dallas Foundation on November 8. As part of the recognition, Viney earned a $10,000 prize for ACT. In addition to the winner, four finalists received $3,500 checks for the nonprofit agencies that nominated them. The finalists were Stephanie Giddens, president and founder of Vickery Trading Company; SMU alumna Lana Harder ’00 with Dallas Court Appointed Special Advocates; SMU alumnus Dominic Lacy ’03, board president of Deaf Action Center; and Robert Taylor, founder and director of The Educator Collective. Applications were reviewed by a committee of emerging civic leaders led by Meg Boyd of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
“Elizabeth is a shining example of the commitment, dedication and passion that Good Works Under 40 aims to spotlight,” said Boyd. “She and all our finalists prove that the future of philanthropy is bright in Dallas.”
New this year is the People’s Choice Award, a $1,000 grant to the nonprofit of the finalist who garnered the most online votes from the community. Dominic Lacy received the inaugural People’s Choice Award on behalf of the Deaf Action Center.
Just a week before Hurricane Harvey hit, Punam Kaji ’12, an associate with Haynes and Boone, LLP, had relocated from Dallas to Houston. After the hurricane, her inbox was flooded with emails from other lawyers asking, “What should we be doing right now to help?” Kaji, a graduate of SMU’s Dedman School of Law, serves as chair of the Asian Pacific Interest Section (APIS) of the State Bar of Texas. APIS recently organized and co-sponsored hurricane relief legal training with a coalition of Bar organizations and community groups at South Texas College of Law–Houston. Above the Law, a legal news and commentary website, highlighted the pro bono initiative on October 20, 2017. EXCERPT
Renwei Chung Above the Law
Last week, the Asian Pacific Interest Section (APIS) of the State Bar of Texas organized and co-sponsored hurricane relief legal training with a coalition of diverse bar organizations and community groups at South Texas College of Law–Houston.
Their training focused on ways to help with Hurricane Harvey relief, specifically instructing attorneys and others in the community on how to manage the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) appeals process. But other issues, such as language access and cultural barriers, were topics of discussion as well for the 44 attendees.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to catch up with Punam Kaji, chair of APIS, associate at Haynes and Boone, LLP, and alumnus of SMU Dedman School of Law. As Harvey’s downpour was still draining, her inbox started flooding with emails from other lawyers. Even attorneys whose homes were damaged were asking, “What should we be doing right now to help?”
As the chair of APIS, Kaji felt compelled to help focus its attention on a project they could do with several other community organizations. Helping with Harvey relief was very personal for her as well. The week before Harvey hit Houston and the surrounding areas, Kaji had just relocated to Dallas from the ravaged region. This training allowed her to be there in spirit to help after the catastrophe.
Renwei Chung: Your pro-bono initiative focused on training people for the FEMA application appeals process. Why?
Punam Kaji: The local organizations and pro bono lawyers in Houston did an incredible job getting to the shelters and assisting with FEMA applications. Daniel Hu, an APIS Council Member and board member of Lone Star Legal Aid, informed us that the FEMA Appeals process would come next, and be a difficult stage for those who have been denied FEMA assistance.
We wanted to anticipate the next critical legal need for Harvey survivors trying to get their life back. We figured if we train lawyers they will be able to take on a pro bono case or even give better advice to friends, family and community members.
“Choose Your Own Adventure” CLE experience, a reunion party for classes ending in 2s and 7s, and barbecue on The Boulevard are planned for Dedman School of Law alumni during SMU Homecoming Weekend. Read more at Dedman Law.
Kent Hofmeister ’73, ’76 of Brown & Hofmeister in Dallas, Texas, has been selected by the Federal Bar Association as the 2017 recipient of the Earl W. Kintner Award for Distinguished Service presented as “a lifetime contribution award to an FBA member who has displayed long-term outstanding achievement, distinguished leadership and participation in the activities of the association’s chapters, sections and divisions throughout the nation over a career of service.”
The award will be presented at the FBA national convention in Atlanta on September 16.
He served as the national president of the FBA in 2002–03, was a member of the FBA National Executive Committee (later the board of directors) for 14 years, and created the FBA’s Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award, which honors that attorney “who promotes the advancement of civil and human rights amongst us, and who exemplifies Judge Hughes’ spirit and legacy of devoted service and leadership in the cause of equality.”
Hofmeister earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts in 1973 and his juris doctor from Dedman School of Law in 1976.
Under Texas and Federal law, individuals convicted of domestic abuse are required to surrender any firearms they possess – but it rarely happens.
A team of SMU law students who spent the past year studying Dallas County’s gun-surrender efforts presented their recommendations for improving the program during a press conference at the 12th annual Conference on Crimes Against Women, presented on May 24 by the Dallas Police Department with the Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support and other collaborating agencies.
“It is estimated that between 7,000 and 8,000 cases of domestic violence go through the courts each year in Dallas County, and yet only 60 guns have been turned in over the past two years,” says SMU Law professor Natalie Nanasi, director of the Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women. Nanasie advised law students Laura Choi, Rachel Elkin and Monica Harasim in assembling the report.
“Statistics show that the presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation increases the likelihood of death by 500 percent,” Elkin says. “We hope that this report can be a tool for Dallas County leaders to use to expand and improve the Gun Surrender Program.” Read more at SMU News.
When third-year law student May Crockett ’17 entered the VanSickle Family Law Clinic program, she expected “to gain practical lawyering experience.” What she never anticipated was the life-altering impact her work would have – on her clients and her future.
The high point of her two semesters with the clinic in SMU’s Dedman School of Law was handling an adoption from the beginning to a happy ending. The action protected children from a perilous situation, driving home the magnitude of Crockett’s role as a legal advocate and emotional anchor.
“I didn’t realize I would become an integral part of my clients’ lives. Whether it is finalizing an adoption or helping them through a difficult divorce, my clients rely on me heavily,” Crockett says. “Without the clinic, these clients would have no one to turn to.”
SMU’s community clinics open doors to legal services for low-income North Texas residents unable to afford representation. One of the newest among 10 clinical programs and projects offered by the Dedman School of Law, the VanSickle Family Law Clinic launched in January 2016 under the direction of Chante Prox. Prior to joining SMU, Prox was managing attorney and mediator with Barnes Prox Law, PLLC.
“Having built my own practice, I was excited to take that experience and apply it to the challenge of shaping a clinical program from scratch,” she says.
Helping families heal lies at the heart of the clinic’s mission – and is a cause Prox has embraced throughout her career. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work and started out as a caseworker with Texas Child Protective Services (CPS). What she saw there was a revelation for someone who grew up in a stable home.
“Our family wasn’t perfect – no family is – but my parents always made sure I felt safe, secure and loved,” she remembers. “They were my first role models. Thanks to their example, I knew what it takes for a family to be strong and healthy.”
In contrast, many of her cases at CPS involved children whose parents were debilitated by drug abuse and whose grandparents were raising them. Prox later became a champion for those “second-time parents” while serving as a legislative aide for Texas State Senator Royce West. She recommended the “Grandparents Bill” West sponsored to provide financial assistance to grandparents raising their grandchildren to keep them out of the foster care system and preserve their family ties. Tenets of the bill have been adopted in federal kinship care legislation.
In a prophetic twist in Prox’s life, divorce pushed her to take a leap she had been considering for years, and she enrolled in The University of Texas at Austin School of Law. When she moved out of the classroom and into the courtroom as a student attorney, it reinforced her passion for the legal profession and family law. She has been an enthusiastic booster of clinical programs ever since.
Prox says it takes a special breed of attorney – part therapist, part legal ninja – to handle the emotional highs and lows involved with family law proceedings. Things get personal as attorneys navigate the choppy legal waters surrounding some of life’s most stressful changes.
“You are often more than a lawyer assessing and advising clients on their legal rights,” she explains. “Clients frequently come in with a lot of baggage and issues. Acting as an effective advocate for them requires listening, understanding and patience. It’s an area of law that you really have an affinity for or you don’t.”
Student attorneys see the full spectrum of the field when they work in the VanSickle Family Law Clinic, which functions much like a family law firm. The clinic handles divorce, child custody, visitation, paternity, child and spousal support, and adoption proceedings. Cases can include enforcement actions and modifications of previously issued court orders.
Each semester the case selection process starts with a call for applications, which is posted on the clinic’s website. In spring 2016, 150 Dallas-area residents contacted the clinic to inquire about services, and 12 applicants were accepted, with two cases assigned to each of six student attorneys.
While Prox is the attorney of record and sees the proceedings through to their conclusion, students are in the driver’s seat during their clinic commitment. They interview and counsel clients, conduct factual investigations and legal research, prepare court documents and negotiations – including property settlement and custody agreements for divorce actions – and represent clients in court.
Prox serves as a sounding board during weekly one-on-one meetings with students. She also accompanies them to major settlement negotiations and all appearances in the 17 different courts in Dallas County that handle family law issues.
Students embrace the high ethical and professional standards set by the clinic and emphasized by the director. “I’ve been so impressed with the students as they take ownership of their cases, apply my teaching and demonstrate exemplary lawyering,” Prox says. “Their professionalism in dealing with clients is particularly meaningful because our low-income clients often don’t expect to be treated with respect.”
In addition to the cases assigned through the clinic, student attorneys work with the courts and community legal clinics to provide some assistance to pro se litigants – individuals representing themselves in court. Through this work, they help keep minor policy and procedure issues from clogging courts already swamped with cases.
“Pro se litigants are offered advice on such things as how to dress and given information about where to file and how to conduct themselves in court,” Prox explains. “They won’t be as frustrated if they know what’s going on and what is expected of them in court.”
“Chiefs” serve as her proxies for addressing students’ day-to-day questions and concerns. In the fall, third-year students Crockett and Ashley Jones ’17 filled the roles. Both were in the first class to participate in the clinic and have completed family law internships.
After receiving her Juris Doctor (JD) in May, Crockett will join a family law firm in Houston. She’s looking forward to lending a legal hand in the Gulf Coast city.
“I will definitely continue doing pro bono work,” she says. “Almost half of the cases that come into the Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid arm of the Houston Bar Association, are family law related, so my clinic work has been great preparation.”
Jones also will earn her JD in May and praises the clinical program for adding an unmatched dimension to classroom training.
“The clinic offers a very special social component that is vital to being a successful attorney,” she says. “From day one, you are given real clients, with real problems, who depend on you to help them. No other internship or law school experience has provided me with this level of real-world client contact and responsibility.”
Giving families in distress a fresh start is the ultimate reward of family law practice, she says.
“I had the opportunity to finalize a client’s divorce in court. She was my first client, and I really got to know her and her story,” Jones recalls. “When we were walking out of the courtroom, she had the biggest smile on her face, and she kept thanking me. I realized that as a student attorney, I’m not just getting amazing experience that will prepare me for the rest of my career, but I’m also affecting and changing lives.”
Elizabeth Holzhall Richard credits one of her Dedman School of Law professors with urging her to take the Foreign Service exam, the first step in her long and lauded career in the United States diplomatic corps. In her 30 years of service, she has held posts in some of the world’s hot spots, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. She grew up in Hammond, Indiana, and was interviewed by the Northwest Indiana Times for a story published on June 21. Richard earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences before graduating from law school. NORTHWEST INDIANA TIMES
Elizabeth Holzhall Richard, a former Hammond resident, is scheduled to be sworn in today as the new U.S. ambassador to Lebanon.
Richard served most recently as deputy assistant secretary and the coordinator for foreign assistance to the Near East in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. In that role, Richard oversaw a foreign assistance budget of more than $7 billion.
Richard, 56, said she was thrilled when she was told she would be named to the post in Lebanon. She called it both a huge honor and a huge responsibility.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years now, so I’m absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to serve with the folks that I’ll be working with and try to be able to make a little bit of a positive contribution,” Richard said.
When attending law school, Richard said she took some international law classes and one of her teachers suggested she take the foreign service officer test. Richard said she wasn’t really exposed to the fact that there was this line of work out there prior to that time and now urges young people to consider such a career. The government is seeking people from a wide variety of backgrounds and parts of the country to serve.
… READ THE FULL STORY
Writer/producer David Hudgins ’91, known for such soulful, family-centered dramas as Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, switches gears for his new NBC series, Game of Silence, a dark drama revolving around a group of childhood friends and a secret from their past.
Viewers will be treated to a preview airing of the first episode April 12 at 9 p.m. (CST) before the 10-episode series settles into its regular time slot at 9 p.m. (CST) on Thursdays, beginning April 14.
Hudgins, an executive producer and writer for the series, adapted Game of Silence from the Turkish series Suskunlar.
The network describes it as “a gripping new drama about friendship, love, revenge and the moral dilemma of how far one will go in the pursuit of justice.”
More from the series’ website: “Five best friends have a dark secret they thought was buried, but they soon discover that you can’t hide your past forever.
Jackson Brooks (David Lyons, Revolution) is a successful attorney who seems to have it all. He’s engaged to his boss, Marina (Claire van der Boom, Hawaii Five-O), and he’s on the fast track to becoming partner at his firm, but his world is turned upside down when his long-lost childhood friends unexpectedly reappear after 25 years. Jackson, Gil Harris (Michael Raymond-James, True Blood), Shawn Polk (Larenz Tate, Rush) and Boots (Derek Phillips, Friday Night Lights) always stuck together, like brothers. They spent their boyhood summers in the small town of Dalton, Texas. But their idyllic world turned chaotic one fateful summer afternoon when a well-intentioned and heroic attempt to save their friend Jessie (Bre Blair, Las Vegas) ultimately cost the 13-year-old boys nine months at Quitman Youth Detention Facility, where their lives were changed forever.
Now 25 years later, the nightmare of the worst nine months of their lives has resurfaced, uprooting a mystery even deeper than their buried past. The cast also includes Conor O’Farrell (The Lincoln Lawyer), Deidrie Henry (Justified) and Demetrius Grosse (Saving Mr. Banks).”
A childhood spent in Texas is familiar territory for Hudgins. He grew up in Dallas and graduated from St. Mark’s School of Texas. After earning his undergraduate degree from Duke University, he served as a staff assistant to Sen. Al Gore before entering SMU’s Dedman School of Law. After receiving his J.D. in 1991, he spent eight years working as a trial lawyer for a Dallas firm.
Hudgins’ journey to success as an executive producer and award-winning writer reads like a screenplay he might have written. In 2001, following the death of his sister from breast cancer, he made a life-altering decision to quit his law practice and and move with his family to the hills of Tennessee, where he concentrated on writing. Two years later, he sold his first feature screenplay, prompting a move to Los Angeles
A staff writer position on the WB show Everwood was his first job in television. Hudgins spent three seasons writing for the series and also served as a co-producer. He then moved to the NBC drama Friday Night Lights, where he served for three seasons as a writer and co-executive producer.
In 2009, Mr. Hudgins created and ran Past Life for Warner Brothers Television, a one-hour drama that aired on Fox. He then returned to Friday Night Lights, serving as showrunner and executive producer on the show’s fifth and final season, before moving on to Parenthood, where he spent four seasons as a writer and executive producer.
In March 2014, he moved his overall deal to Sony Pictures Television, where he also is adapting the best-selling novel Natchez Burning for cable.
For his work in television, he has received multiple Emmy and Writer’s Guild Award nominations, including Best Drama Series for Friday Night Lights. He is also a recipient of the Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting.
In 2012, Hudgins founded The Catherine H. Tuck Foundation in honor of his sister. He serves as president of the breast cancer charity. A frequent guest speaker and industry panelist, he also serves on the board of trustees for The Humanitas Foundation and the Austin Television Festival.
Hudgins lives in California with wife Meghan and their four sons: Jackson, Brooks, Reid and Owen.
Carl Pankratz ’03, ’06, city councilman for the City of Rowlett, Texas, and vice president/legal counsel for Capital Title, was recently named to the Dallas Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list of the area’s top young business executives and entrepreneurs. The rising stars are recognized for their work both professionally and in the community.
Pankratz specializes in closing industrial, multi-family, office and retail properties, as a commercial escrow officer; oversees the real estate firm’s legal department; and manages more than 200 employees.
His service to the community of Rowlett, the growing city in northeast Dallas County that he calls home, is equally multidimensional.
Active in civic affairs, he was elected to the Rowlett City Council in June 2011, having previously been a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustment. He has drafted several key ordinances, including an ordinance to reserve oil and gas rights for the city and a program that requires outside vendors to carry a “pink badge” when soliciting homes. Currently, he is drafting an oil and gas drilling ordinance.
He also is co-founder of the Rowlett Association of Non-Profits, a network of more than 100 arts, service and support organizations.
A passionate champion of and participant in the arts, Pankratz has starred in more than eight productions with the Amateur Community Theatre of Rowlett and has been selected for the Texas Ballet Theater’s Leadership Ballet for his commitment to the performing arts.
In addition, he has been selected as one of the “Top Five Dallasites” by the Dallas Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Pankratz graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in advertising from Meadows School of the Arts. He earned a Juris Doctor from Dedman School of Law, where he served on the Moot Court Team and National Mock Trial Team, and founded the SMU Dedman School of Law Sports and Entertainment Law Association.
The busy alumnus was able to “take five” recently to share some Hilltop memories with SMU Magazine. Did you do any acting at SMU?
I only took one acting class, The Art of Acting, and I was never in a production. But I remember being blown away by the first production I saw at Meadows as a freshman, The Threepenny Opera. What was your favorite course/professor?
Don Umphrey [professor emeritus of advertising] and his Advertising Research class. On a smaller group project before our big final project, he gave us a lower grade than I thought we deserved. He and I had a passionate discussion about it before I took the group and decamped to the library. For the next two weeks, we worked almost around the clock on that final project. When we turned it in, he said it was the best he’d seen in 20 years of teaching the class. He was the first professor to challenge me in that way, and it was really motivating. What is your favorite SMU memory?
I’ll never forget the feeling of being part of the first Mustang football team to play in Ford Stadium. [Pankratz was a field goal kicker for two years.] Running through the tunnel, the energy, the excitement. It was amazing. How did your undergraduate experience prepare you for the road ahead?
The advertising degree program gives you a great foundation, regardless of where you go with it. You have to present frequently, and the more you do it, the more polished and confident you become. Public speaking is a valuable asset for your toolbox in any field. What do you value most as an SMU alumnus?
As a commercial real estate attorney, I attend a lot of networking functions, and at almost every event, the vast majority of the successful professionals there are SMU alumni. The distinction of being part of this large network of people who excel in their fields is a priceless opportunity. Success breeds success.
“Universities do not grow old; but yearly they renew their
strength and live from age to age in immortal youth.”
With that statement in 1913, SMU’s first president, Robert Stewart Hyer, made a commitment for SMU in his time, but affirmed that we would be a university for all time.
Reflecting that vision, SMU has built upon its initial offerings in the liberal arts as the core of the University along with programs in theology and music. We have remained young and nimble in developing professional education to serve a changing region, nation and world, adding programs in the sciences, business, engineering, law, communications and other applied areas of learning. Today, part of SMU’s uniqueness comes from the fusion of our liberal arts core with pre-professional and professional programs through our seven schools.
We celebrated this tradition of looking forward as we marked the 100th anniversary of SMU’s founding April 15. At a briefing that day, I shared a wealth of good news with our alumni and friends:
Cox School of Business is one of the few in the nation to have three M.B.A. programs ranked in the top 15 by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
You’ll read in this magazine the many ways in which we are saying Happy Birthday, SMU. We pledge to remain “in eternal youth” as we move into our second century of achievement. R. Gerald Turner President