Humans of St. Thomas introduces us to some of the incredible members of the St. Thomas community. Read about more of our fellow Tommies here.
With a presence best described as bright and joyful, Samia Corbett fills a room with her vibrant energy the minute she enters. She quickly makes people feel at ease and it comes as no surprise when asked what the soundtrack to her life might sound like, she answers with a smile, “Walking on Sunshine.”
As she talks about her work experiences over the years – she’s had an array of jobs including banker, restaurant server, human resources employee and office manager – she points out the skills and knowledge she has gained from each one. Soon she’ll add lawyer to that list.
Corbett grew up in Chicago before moving to Minnesota as a teen. After graduating from Champlin Park High School, she went to college for a year before taking an extended break. Eventually she returned to her studies, earning a degree in criminal justice. Originally, she planned to become a police officer but decided law school was a better fit, so in 2017 she came to St. Thomas School of Law to pursue a J.D. Currently, Corbett is planning to practice business litigation when she graduates.
Corbett is someone who lives in the moment and is a true believer in pursuing her interests. She credits a driving ambition along with a positive attitude for getting her to where she is today. Since entering law school, Corbett has had two externships at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis; worked at a major Twin Cities law firm; and was recently awarded the National Bar Association Corporate Law Section Gateway to Success Scholarship. We caught up with Corbett and chatted about everything from her time at law school to growing up in Chicago. Here are the highlights from our conversation.
When you were growing up did you ever think you would become a lawyer?
It’s funny – my grandma told me when I was eight I would be a lawyer because I always advocated a lot when I was a kid. Especially for animals. I would try to save all animals and bring them home – turtles, snakes, salamanders.
What have you learned about yourself during your time at the School of Law?
I’m from a very rough side of Chicago – the South Side. In some way, where we grew up and what we experience informs the lens we see life through. It needs to be that I have an awareness of that lens when I’m looking through it and I also have to be able to say, ‘OK, now try looking through it through someone else’s lens.’ In law, the implicit biases you have about everything becomes evident. It’s important you’re aware of that. As much as possible you want to be objective and reasonable. I’ve learned that about myself. I used to think I was objective, but law school has shown me – and many others – my implicit biases. But the good news is you can be aware of them, you can work on them and you can push yourself to see things and expose yourself to different experiences. I’ve become better for that. I have biases and continue to work on them.
Growing up in Chicago seems to be a big part of your identity.
It is. There are some things you learn growing up in a neighborhood like I did. It gives you a certain type of courage. There were a lot of kids in my class who didn’t make it out alive or they couldn’t finish school due to so many systematic barriers all over the place. For me, I’ve used my position and I’m going to go as far as I can. I understand this hasn’t been everyone else’s experience. I understand it’s a blessing for me to even make it this far. I have to go as far as possible and I’m happy to carry that weight. I’m always aware of where I’m from, who didn’t make it and the struggles of my family and other people in my community.
Did any of your prior jobs prepare you for law school?
All of them have. There was a time when I thought that if they looked at my job history, they’d say, ‘She can’t stay in one place.’ To my surprise, people have been amazing, pointing out that I have this skill set and this and this. It opened my eyes. Sometimes we assume things will be perceived negatively, but you never know how something is going to be used for good. Especially being a restaurant server. In a way, we’re all serving people especially as attorneys, but in any profession, we should have that mentality of being able to serve people. The professionalism of HR – that’s applicable, too. The common sense I’ve gained from the jobs I’ve done has aided me well. I’m always thinking about, ‘What does it mean for everyday people living their lives?’ That has really informed my perspective.
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
It’s really hard for me to pinpoint one, but I’ve had a few. One is my close friend Yolanda who is a Minneapolis police officer. Seeing her be in law enforcement and the obstacles she encounters as a black woman – her attitude she approaches it with is amazing and fantastic. She is so graceful and she really inspired me.
My high school teachers on the South Side of Chicago – they taught me to fight for my education. They taught me what it would take to get to where I wanted to go and they were realistic about it. That’s some of the best training I ever received. Professor Schiltz has been absolutely amazing and has shown me how you can use your position – wherever you’re at – to help people.
If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
Michelle Obama. I want to bask in her wisdom. She’s also from the South Side of Chicago. I especially want to talk to her about her experience as a corporate lawyer, why she decided to leave that world and when she knew she was called to do something different. I want to see what motivates her, how she pulls through difficult times being in her position. I want to know her coping strategies as a black woman in that type of spotlight when people are ostracizing you. How she is able to be so graceful, while raising two daughters and being a superwoman. I did go to see her speak in St. Paul recently. It was amazing, but I need more.
What is your dream vacation?
Tahiti. It’s so beautiful and tropical, but way out of my price range right now. Maybe one day. That’s my dream right now. I’d take Hawaii, too.
What do you do when you have a Saturday all to yourself?
I love praising God. I like fellowshipping with people – it gives me peace and refocuses me. I recently bought a keyboard and I’m starting to take piano lessons.
What motivated you to learn to play piano?
I’ve always wanted to learn to play, but after a certain point, it felt like I was too old. However, if I tell somebody else it’s not too late to do something, then I have to take that advice, too. I’m doing it and it’s fun! I have my beginner’s books and I’m already getting the hang of it. It’s therapeutic and a nice break from law school.
What do you want people to remember about you after meeting you?
I want people to remember that I was a genuine person. That I was somebody who took time to have a genuine conversation with them that wasn’t scripted or awkward. That I care about people. For me, making connections is important and staying true and being there for people. I’m very aware life is precious and I try to make every interaction matter because you don’t know what that person has been through. Life is hard. I want to be that positive interaction with them because I don’t know if they’re going to have another one for the rest of their day or if they’ve had one prior.