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Professor Martin Shelby inspires at January Lunch-n-Learn

Assistant Professor Cary Martin Shelby shared her experience growing up in foster care at the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Ce​nter's January 14 Lunch-n-Learn.

From a teen growing up in Illinois’ foster care system to a lawyer and law school professor, Professor Martin Shelby has surmounted many obstacles. Yet she cites the constant movement from one foster home to another as a top challenge in her life.

Describing her journey for law students and staff, Professor Martin Shelby credited teachers and caseworkers as some of her staunchest advocates, helping her with everything from clothing and toiletries to discovering a path to college. She recalled one caseworker, in particular, who told her she could attend college for free and helped her navigate the application process. Once in college, Professor Martin Shelby identified law school as a goal and proceeded to earn her JD from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Following law school, she joined law firm Sidley Austin and worked on regulatory and corporate matters involving hedge funds, commodity pools and derivatives trading.

Professor Martin Shelby also discussed the role of lawyers and the court system in her life. She found her guardian ad litem most helpful, she said, if she needed a new placement because of issues in a particular foster home or with a particular foster family. She also talked about how Illinois’ foster care system could improve, particularly when supporting youth who are transitioning out of foster care to independence.

The Black Law Student Association(BLSA) and Center for Public Interest Law co-sponsored the event. In addition to teaching at the College of Law, Professor Martin Shelby is the faculty advisor for BLSA.

BLSA President Gloria Crawford was deeply moved by the presentation. “The January Lunch-n-Learn with Professor Martin Shelby was one of my favorite panel discussions that I have attended thus far in my law school career,” said Crawford. “As BLSA president I have had the pleasure of working closely with Professor Martin Shelby. She has always encouraged and supported me both personally, and as a law student and student organization leader. For me, learning the story behind the woman was inspiring and motivating. Her experience in foster care was eye-opening for me, because my background in a two-parent household was vastly different. She could have let this difficult situation define her and her future. Instead, she used it as fuel for success for herself and her son. As a law student I feel blessed and honored to know that Professor Martin Shelby is on the faculty of my law school. Her presence lets me know that I can face adversity and win. One of the most important lessons that she taught me [during the presentation] was that it is possible to achieve success while unapologetically striving for my own happiness.