During her first year of law school at BYU, Rhonda K. Peck spent a lot of time wondering how she would apply the things she was learning to a future career. Law school was good for a legal education, but it didn’t include what she was passionate about nor did it have an educational specialization. Instead, she applied to the joint JD-MEd in educational policy studies program, and it turned out to be a smart move. As Peck explained, “The MEd program is what made my law degree make sense to me.”
Peck, ’20, is the second graduate of the joint JD-MEd program; the first graduated in 2001 when the program was introduced. Peck has long loved the intersection of education and law—she was an elementary education major before switching to political science—and her time at BYU is a testament to the possibilities of what a legal mind can do in the education sphere.
Even before Peck was accepted into the MEd program, it was opening up doors for her. “Just applying to the program is how I got my internship my first summer at the Utah System of Higher Education,” said Peck. That internship ultimately guided her interests in higher education, and although the MEd largely focuses on K–12 policy, she was able to pursue her own interests throughout the program. “That’s one thing that I loved about the professors,” said Peck, “they were always willing to let me write about higher ed and legal education, specifically.”
For her MEd thesis, Peck wrote about the admissions policy of BYU’s J. Reuben Clark School of Law and whether the school achieves in-group diversity, that is, diverse representation within the Latter-day Saint faith. Peck concluded that the law school could do more to achieve this kind of diversity, perhaps starting with recruitment. “I'm not saying, ‘Hey, we need to change our standards by lowering them so people get in.’ I'm saying, ‘Well, there are minorities who are LDS who are going to other law schools; how do we get them to apply here?’”
Beyond class and internships, Peck has also been involved in volunteer organizations on campus. She served as president of the Student Bar Association, which brings student concerns to the law school administration. During that time, she helped pass a student proposal to reduce plastic water bottle use at the law school on the basis that plastic waste disproportionately burdened minority groups and their health. Peck also held a vigil for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims in 2018.
She also served on the BYUSA Student Advisory Council last year, where she worked on the project to create a Book of Mormon class for nonmembers, a project that was successfully implemented. Peck, who is half Black and half Jewish, also sits on the BYU Black Alumni Society board.
In the midst of meeting the needs of other students on campus, Peck also had to learn to be her own advocate. Peck has dyslexia, which has made graduate school even harder than it otherwise would have been. When she was reevaluated for her learning disability during her first year at BYU, evaluators told her she shouldn’t be in law school. Her response: “Yeah, I know. But how do we do this?”
One of the things that helped her complete her degrees was to focus on her purpose. “I'm really passionate about people,” she said, “so that drives me to use my talents and build where I am.”
Writer: Anessa Pennington
Contact: Cynthia Glad 801-422-1922
All photos courtesy of Rhonda K. Peck