Growing up in Dunwoody, Ga., a suburb north of Atlanta, Mary Katherine Byrne was surrounded by teachers in her family. They encouraged her to pursue a career in education early on, so she majored in secondary social studies education and history at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania. While there, she was a student teacher and substitute in Pittsburgh Public Schools. Her experience made her see that the disparity issues she wanted to address in education went beyond the classroom. Education law seemed to be a more effective tool to help teachers, so she decided to enroll at the Georgia State Law. Since coming here, she has done an externship at Legal Aid, volunteered with the Veterans Assistance Project and is currently the vice president of Moot Court. Now, as a rising third-year law student, Byrne has her heart set on joining the JAG Corps—and eventually becoming the U.S. Secretary of Education.
What drew you to the College of Law?
When I came to visit Georgia State, it was the week of Thanksgiving my senior year of college, and even though the school was closed they set up a tour to accommodate me. Then, when I got to campus, it was so beautiful. I learned about in-state tuition and what a good price it was compared to other law schools. After that tour, I knew I wanted to come to Georgia State. It seemed like a good and happy place, and it definitely has been.
What has been your favorite class so far?
I took Public Health Law with professor Jonathan Todres, and there is no better time than the present to take that class. It was interesting to learn how public health affects so many areas, including education. He let us pick whatever we wanted to write about for our final. I did mine on how school dropout impacts public health, because when students dropout they’re less likely to get jobs with good insurance, less likely to be able to afford healthy food and less likely to live in neighborhoods where it’s safe for them to exercise outside.
I saw you did an externship at Legal Aid last year. What are you up to this summer?
I will be interning with the JAG Corps at the Maxwell Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. My older brother is a first lieutenant in the Army and that sparked my interest in serving in the military. I was also an athlete on the rowing team in college, so I was drawn to it because I like the teamwork and being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. I will be working with the staff judge advocate of the base, and helping with research for trials, separation boards and things like that.
You’re also involved with Moot Court. Talk to me about that.
This past year, I was a member of our Intrastate Moot Court Team, but our competition was canceled due to COVID-19. But, we did win the Best Brief Award. What I’ve enjoyed the most is getting to know how a practicing attorney would approach an appellate level problem. The oral advocacy portion is my favorite part. It’s fun to know your argument so well and be able to defend it in front of a panel of judges. It makes me feel like I’m the one changing the law.
What law would you change or enact as Secretary of Education?
We need to provide resources to teachers and administrations to strengthen schools. In the classroom, this means more support for teachers, such as technology, updated curriculum and supplies. Outside of the classroom, this could be putting resources towards athletics, arts, clubs and other extracurriculars, along with partnering with communities to promote participation. Creating an environment at school where students are supported by great teachers and have the ability to find their passion is important.
What has been your favorite part of the College of Law experience?
The community aspect that I feel at school is unique. Professors support you and want to help you get connected. Being in the state capital is great because there are so many resources and opportunities to network. Having Georgia State alumni in the area to help you is the best part for me. I’m excited to go to school each day, because everyone is nice, welcoming and supportive.