It’s hard not to be in awe of Jules Porter. Six months ago, Porter’s dream of starting an African-American owned and directed video game company was nonexistent. Since then, the joint J.D./MBA graduate student developed the idea for Seraph 7 Studios, won $16,000 in the Fowler Business Concept Challenge and $10,000 in the St. Thomas Business Plan Competition. The money will help further her dreams of investing in the next generation of diverse gamers and empowering them to tell their stories through video games.
As if pursuing two demanding degrees and starting a company wasn’t enough, Porter volunteers for the Minnesota Justice Foundation’s Street Law program where she teaches legal topics to high school students. And as part of the Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services’ Community Justice Project, she worked with Professor Carl Warren to design the class Race, Practice and the Pursuit of Justice.
Porter has an equally impressive background. She studied aeronautics and theology as an undergraduate and her time in the Marine Corps took her around the world. When she graduates this spring, she plans to go into intellectual property law and computer technology law. “I love artificial intelligence, blockchains, cryptocurrencies – things like that,” Porter said.
Along with practicing law, also front of mind is developing her video game company. Porter’s fresh ideas include a “Mortal Kombat”-type game with elders duking it out; a game based on the biblical war in heaven; and a game that puts you in the shoes of legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Another component of Seraph 7 Studios is a work-study program for high school students and a summer camp for middle school students.
When asked if she draws superpowers from the Wonder Woman emblem plastered across her phone case, Porter smiles.
“I think so,” she laughed.
The Newsroom caught up with Porter for an engaging conversation that covered everything from video games and academics to her love of science fiction. Here are the highlights.
Why did you decide to go to law school?
What really got me to go to law school was the death of Trayvon Martin. My youngest brother looks a lot like Trayvon Martin. I thought, How am I going to protect my family? Protect my brother? Protect my nephew? I decided I needed to understand the law. I didn’t know at that time this type of tragedy would reach Minnesota. When I came back here, we had Jamar Clark, then we had Philando Castile. I’ve been able to see what the role of a lawyer is during these social justice crises. I participated in the march for Jamar Clark from north Minneapolis to downtown and it was awesome, but I felt there was something more I could do with all the skills I was learning. With the Community Justice Project we have through the Legal Services Clinic, we defended people who marched after the death of Philando Castile. Right then, I knew this is my role. I learned I was good at constitutional law, even though I don’t want to practice that, but I have a natural passion for it.
You won the Fowler Business Concept Challenge and the St. Thomas Business Plan Competition. What’s it like winning two major prizes back-to-back?
It was huge. It was gigantic. Especially because six months ago, I didn’t think I’d be starting my own company and now I’m convinced I’m going to. It was just an idea. The thing about the business school was when I started I was such a law student. I looked up to all the MBA students. They were so amazing at math and I’m over here doing my best to keep up. When I won the Fowler, I had come such a long way from when I felt a little out of place or awkward, to not only have I learned a lot, I fit in here. This is something I’m proud that I did. It’s something I needed to do. I realized it changed the way I think about issues and approach them – that was amazing.
How has your military experience helped with your demanding school schedule?
Being able to hunker down. I would get into campus at 5 a.m. I would do most of the reading in the morning. So when it was time for class, not only was I prepared, it was fresh on my mind. I would have a cutoff – there was no way I would be on campus after 6 p.m. Generally, I would do all my work in the morning, have class and I would be able to leave here about 4 p.m. Then I’d go home, relax, get enough sleep and be here early in the morning again.
Do you have a favorite place on campus?
My whole first year of law school, I had a place people called “Jules’ Office.” It was on the third floor overlooking the atrium. It was right by a plant and a picture of one of our benefactors. That was my little corner where I sat every day. By sitting there, near the faculty offices, that’s how I got to know so many faculty members. I got to know security and the custodial staff, as well, since I was there at 5 a.m. every morning.
Who’s the most influential person in your life?
Barbara Jean Porter, my grandmother. She’s one of the main reasons I went to law school. When I was a child, she noticed I was extremely headstrong, curious and loved to read. She would always tell me that I should be a lawyer. She passed away in May 2013, a year after Trayvon Martin. That was the final push for me to step up, and to study and apply for the LSAT and later law school. I entered law school at St. Thomas in August 2014. My grandmother is also who pushed me to get my MBA. The family business and the vision she and my grandfather prepared for my family inspired me to ensure I had the knowledge to carry on that dream.
Going old school on this one – “Pac-Man” or “Tetris”?
I like them both. When I was a little kid, I played a lot of “Pac-Man,” but as I got older, I played a lot of “Tetris.” The old-school games – “The Legend of Zelda” on Nintendo 64 was a really great game. You also have “Super Mario Bros.” and “Super Mario Bros. 2” where you had Princess Toadstool — that was cool.
What’s the last thing you ordered online?
I was a little stressed out with the J.D./MBA program. I realized that all my efforts to maintain a decent work-life balance were failing. I was burned out. I started looking at the habits of successful people and then tried to emulate what they do. There was one person who did aromatherapy before bed each night to calm down and relax. What I started doing was working out at night and then taking my post workout shower. There’s also this oil that I wear with a citrusy smell. It helps me relax and calm down. The last thing I ordered was more of that oil.
You just found out you have a free Saturday afternoon. What would you do?
I’d play video games or watch Netflix. I’ve recently been watching Amazon Prime and a lot of sci-fi. I’ve been fascinated with people’s views on sci-fi and how we’re so distrusting of AI [artificial intelligence]. I think we’re distrusting of our own human nature and the fact that we’re making these things. And a little bit fearful they’ll be smarter than us, think faster than us and overtake us. I’ve been watching the TV series “Extant” and there’s a show called “Humans” that I find interesting. I’ve finished all of “Black Mirror.”