Second-year law student Eduardo Salgado Diaz '14 said he never aspired to be a lawyer, but was motivated to attend law school while working as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for Minneapolis Public Schools.
"I never saw myself as a lawyer," Salgado Diaz said. "And honestly never wanted to be one until the first of many students came to me with problems they thought I could help with, only for me to not have the answer."
The school Salgado Diaz worked at in south Minneapolis serves students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight from predominantly low-income families. He said that, as expected, the challenges his students faced outside of school – such as a fear of deportation, housing instability, the incarceration of a parent or food insecurity – came with them to the classroom.
"I saw the issues my students were facing and I felt powerless to help," Salgado Diaz said. "My students mean the world to me and it broke my heart every time I didn’t have the answer."
That was when Salgado Diaz decided that there was, in fact, something he could do to help his students: He decided to attend law school. Salgado Diaz says he chose St. Thomas School of Law, in part, because of its location in Minneapolis, where he would like to practice law after he graduates and be a voice for those in his community who lack access to the legal system.
‘I connected with their stories’
Last year, as a 1L, Salgado Diaz became a volunteer with the St. Thomas Public Service Board student organization, participating in the group's food packing and Habitat for Humanity projects. This year he is also the 2L representative for the Wellness in Practice student group, which promotes health, balance and collegiality within the law school.
This past summer, as part of St. Thomas Law’s Externship Program, Salgado Diaz worked with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), which provides legal aid to low-income individuals. Salgado Diaz was part of SMRLS's Agricultural Workers Project and spent time in rural Minnesota where he worked with migrant farmworkers on fair wage issues and victims of human trafficking."Being an immigrant myself, I connected with their stories," Salgado Diaz said. "And having that shared experience seemed to help the clients trust me more. I was glad that I got to play even a small part in helping them."
Salgado Diaz’s professors describe him as intelligent and a leader.
“In a class full of talented students, Eduardo stood out to me for his eagerness to engage, ability to analyze difficult issues with diplomacy, and natural charisma,” said professor Rachel Paulose, who had Salgado Diaz in her Criminal Procedure class this fall. “I predict Eduardo will be a compelling courtroom presence.”
Clinics and volunteering
In addition to his law classes, this past semester Salgado Diaz participated in St. Thomas Law's Immigration Law Clinic led by Professor Virgil Wiebe. This spring he will be part of the law school's Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic with Professor Rachel Moran, and in the summer Salgado Diaz will be working in the criminal division of the Ramsey County Attorney's Office in St. Paul.
Outside of law school, Salgado Diaz is a big brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters; judges Spanish-language debate competitions for the Minnesota Urban Debate League; sits on the board of directors for a YMCA youth camp; and is the chair of the Minnesota DFL caucus in his precinct. Last year he was a volunteer for the Minnesota Justice Foundation's Street Law program, which teaches low-income, at-risk youth throughout the state about legal rights and responsibilities.
Salgado Diaz holds a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science from the University of St. Thomas and a Master of Education degree from the University of Minnesota. He is also a former member of the Minnesota Army National Guard.