Austin McNew is ready to start his first year at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law on the IUPUI campus in Indianapolis.
He was successful taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and is registered to start at McKinney in August.
The native of Webster, Indiana, completed a double-major in three years while at Indiana University East, a remarkable accomplishment for any graduate. This May he received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Political Science.
Many people in the Wayne County area are familiar with McNew. In January 2016 McNew had a serious injury to his spinal cord during a sledding accident. The spinal injury at the C4-C5 level left him paralyzed from the shoulders down, he said. At the time, McNew was a junior at Northeastern High School in Fountain City, Indiana. The community rallied around McNew and his family, showing their support with #McNewStrong, as he worked to recover.
“I came back (to high school) in the middle of the semester, and I got caught up in the summer,” McNew said. “After that I graduated a semester early.”
That fall he started at IU East.
At the start of his college experience, McNew minored in political science but soon changed it to the double-major because of his interest in law, and he enjoyed the classes so much.
“I came to IU East planning on going to law school, so I started out in psychology,” McNew said. “I figured in the field of law if I could understand theories, I could maybe understand people a little bit better in situations.”
McNew chose IU East based on its affordability and location.
His mother, Teresa McNew, is an IU East alumna. She received her Bachelor of Science in Education in 2004. However that didn’t influence his choice on where he attended college. Both parents, Teresa and his father Michael McNew, were supportive. He did look at other colleges but because of expense or location, IU East was his college of choice. “They (his parents) were happy wherever I was happy to go,” McNew said.
“With my spinal cord injury going somewhere else was going to be difficult. Due to its proximity to IU East it was close to home, it made it easy to travel to, and because of its affordability, it’s just a great option for our community,” he said.
McNew added he met with IU East’s Accessibility Office and decided the Richmond campus was the best fit.
“I realized IU East was going to do what they could to help me, so it just really picked for me,” McNew said.
Before deciding on law, McNew had an interest in becoming a physician or physician’s assistant.
“But someone started talking to me about lawyers and they had met someone that reminded them of me,” McNew said.
He started researching law as a profession and found it was a good match.
“My spinal cord injury has really been what’s pushed me,” McNew said. “After my injury I realized I could work with my mind or I could work with my body, so I chose law in order to work with my mind. I’ve just pushed myself to move through these courses quick so that I can show anyone that no matter the circumstances, anything is possible.”
Liz Ferris, associate director for the Office of Student Success, was McNew’s academic advisor when he started at IU East in 2017.
“I realized very quickly that he is no ordinary young man,” Ferris said. “Despite physical challenges that are beyond what most of us will ever have, he is one of the hardest-working people I know. In the classroom, in physical therapy, and in life. He has a positive attitude and a sense of humor that puts others at ease. He is confident, determined, and skilled in relating to others.”
Ferris said McNew pushed through any setback or challenge that he faced as a student or outside the classroom.
“IU East is better because he has been with us, and I know he will continue to make lives better in the next step of his educational journey at McKinney School of Law,” Ferris said.
As a student, McNew was a student advisor on the Athletics Committee for a brief time, giving him some experience and insight on how the discussion that goes on and the work it takes to run the program.
“My favorite thing has been small class sizes and the ability to work with professors one-on-one,” McNew said. “Some of my classes have been as small as five to 10 students, so it allows a lot of discussion with the class itself and with the professor.”
He said the individualized interaction with the faculty on papers or projects is a benefit because expectations are clear.
Chera LaForge, associate professor of political science, taught McNew in her upper level classes. She said his positive reputation preceded him.
“Everyone who mentioned Austin would mention how great a student and person he was, so I knew that he would be a strong and engaged presence before he even set foot in my classroom,” LaForge said. “Austin is intelligent and analytical.”
LaForge said by double-majoring in political science and psychology, McNew was able to see the connections between the courses for each program, and beyond that, within the courses in the discipline.
“He’s also driven to succeed,” LaForge said. “Finishing a degree in four years is a challenge, and Austin will complete his dual degrees in just three. I know that, at times, he’s faced challenges outside of the classroom and every student sees peaks and valleys of interest and motivation, but that never translates into his work or his time in the classroom.”
When he starts this fall at McKinney, he already has areas of law he wants to pursue.
McNew has an interest in corporate and commercial law, but he would like to explore sports industry law with the possibility as being a sports agent. “But I’m going to see when I get to McKinney,” he said.
He will know a few familiar faces when he starts at McKinney.
Taylor Webster, of Richmond, Indiana, and Bri (Parker) Rea graduated from IU East in May 2019. They started at IU McKinney School of Law in August, along with Cassidy Clouse, B.S. 2018.
McNew has connected with Webster to talk about what the law program is like at McKinney, and what he can expect as a new graduate student. He met Rea through Webster during a visit.
“The few questions I’ve had I sent to Taylor over Twitter,” McNew said. “We’ve had conversations so I know what to expect. She’s helped me to know how to prepare myself with extra reading.”
As of right now McNew plans to commute and he plans to go full-time. “There’s going to be some long days,” he said.
McNew feels prepared for the challenge of law school ahead. His political science program at IU East included extensive writing and reading as part of the curriculum. He took courses on Constitutional Law and Constitutional Rights and Liberties which involves reading Supreme Court cases. “They’re just taxing,” McNew said. “They take a while to get through and you have to make sure you get all of the information. I feel like that repetitive study I’ve done is going to help me in my law program.”
His psychology course prepared him as well with critical thinking skills and logic, which in turn helped him with the LSAT.
Each spring IU East hosts the Indiana Court of Appeals. The Court hears oral arguments across Indiana to enable Hoosiers to observe the real-world issues that face the Court and learn more about the Court’s indispensable role in Indiana government. The oral argument is open to the public but students who have an interest in pursuing law have an opportunity to meet with the judges during a closed event.
McNew attended the Appeals on Wheels event and it left an impression. “It was really my first time sitting in a court and seeing lawyers go back and forth. I really liked that. Afterwards I got to have a meet-and-greet with the judges. That really solidified what I wanted to do after experiencing that.”
McNew talked with one of the judges about his time at McKinney and opening his practice. McNew realized through the conversation that no matter what he did, he would have an opportunity to help people. Helping others is what had drawn his interest to the medical field, and he can have that in law too.
Now that he has completed his bachelor’s degrees, McNew has a few words of advice for current students. “Come in prepared to work. Don’t procrastinate,” he said.
“Procrastination is what gets me into trouble. When you don’t procrastinate, and you start your assignments early in the week, you feel a lot more relieved. And don’t be afraid to ask your professors questions. I haven’t had one professor who wasn’t willing to talk on the phone, email or in person. They’ve all done what they could to help me.”
After law school he’d like to pursue entrepreneurship. “It’s always been a lifelong dream of mine to be my own boss, so whether it’s my own firm or some type of business, that’s my long term goal.”
He likes the Richmond area but he’s open to the possibilities.
“I’m going to see where life takes me,” McNew said.