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UK Rosenberg Law Alumna Sworn in as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director

Earlier this year, Vice President Mike Pence swore in University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law alumna Aurelia Skipwith as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate to her new position, Skipwith previously served as the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the Department of the Interior.​

A native of Indianapolis with strong ties to Mississippi, Skipwith was president of the International Law Society while in law school at UK. She graduated with a juris doctor in 2015. She holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Howard University and a master's degree in moleculer genetics from Purdue University.

UKNow asked Aurelia Skipwith to share how her education at the Rosenberg College of Law prepared her for this new role.

UKNow: Why did you choose to attend the Rosenberg College of Law?

Skipwith: I consider law my second career, and I envision it as a conduit to bring science into regions of this nation and around the world. I have found laws and regulations can either be barriers or used to facilitate the use of science and technology to improve our environment and world.

Since I was in the workforce for about seven years before attending law school, I did not want too many distractions from my studies. I knew I could get a great education in a nice city without paying a fortune. The UK J. David Rosenberg College of Law, formerly UK College of Law, was highly rated for their academic program and the reasonable cost of living.

I visited the school and liked the professors that gave a preview of what class would be like. I had visited other schools, but was impressed by the faculty, the students, and the administration here.

UKNow: How would you describe your time at UK?

Skipwith: Most law school students have some experience or familiarity with law school, either they have friends attending with them, a family member in the field, or they have prior skills and knowledge. I did not have any of those. 

That was truly a new world for me and the first year was hard. I spent a lot of time studying in a room on the second floor of the law building or at a table hidden in the basement of the law library. Although nerve-wracking at the time, it was just a part of adjusting to being a law student. Studying together with my fellow students forged a bond — although at the end of the day, it was still competition.

UKNow: Which faculty members made an impact on your UK experience?

Skipwith: One thing I will never forget is taking Tax I from Dean Douglas Michael. I had some questions and due to scheduling, we were not able to meet during the weekday. He offered a Saturday morning and spent hours answering my questions until I was comfortable with the information. It just showed how dedicated the faculty at UK Rosenberg Law was and is.  

I also enjoyed Professor Sarah Welling’s teaching style. Her articulation of the subject matter and elements for each law was very methodical and scientific in the presentation.

Professor Thomas Rutledge’s course of “how do you create a business for your client and protect their interests” was a creative style unlike any other.

One person that truly made a difference and kept me going when days were rough was Dean Danny Murphy. He was so supportive. No words can describe my gratitude to him and all that he does, and I love that he always had a smile. 

UKNow: How did your time at Rosenberg College of Law prepare you for your new position?

Skipwith: I work on a myriad of subject matters and work in very close coordination with the lawyers and solicitors on decisions and regulations promulgated by the Service. Prior to working at the Department of the Interior, I practiced in-house at an all-natural agricultural company based in Kentucky. In my current role, I support President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt’s mission to improve the lives of American people and to protect our fish and wildlife. I use my legal background every day to make my decisions.

UKNow: How has your law degree impacted your career?

Skipwith: I spent about three years contemplating going to law school, but it was finally having a job in the Corporate Affairs department that convinced me to go back to school. I had spent six years working in the laboratory and then accepted a role in Corporate Affairs to manage a project developing crops in African countries where people were facing starvation.

I never thought that that job would have a nexus to law, but it did. I desperately saw that having a background in law was a necessity for me, not only for that particular role but to ensure science can be used to ensure our environment is protected.

As the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, my background as a biologist and a lawyer has been an asset to the work I do every day on behalf of the American people. As a public servant, I bridge the gap between science and policy while operating within the boundaries of the laws.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.

By Danielle Donham

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 28, 2020)