Experiences while at UMSL helped prepare alumna Andrea Ellis to juggle work, law school
Too often these days, Andrea Ellis finds herself dining on whatever fare she can find in the closest vending machine.
There simply aren’t enough minutes in the day for her to scrounge up anything else in between her job as an assistant manager at the Bank of America branch at Riverview Circle, her nighttime studies as a first-year student at the Saint Louis University School of Law and her weekend work as a first lieutenant in the Missouri Army National Guard that inevitably spills into the few free moments in her schedule.
“My first week of school, I would try to pack my lunches and everything,” Ellis said. “That quickly went by the wayside.”
But Ellis, who studied economics at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and graduated in December 2015, so far is managing to juggle the workload as she pursues a career she’s dreamed about since she was in elementary school.
“I’ve had to learn time management,” she said recently. “I have always been a procrastinator. I work well under pressure. But that’s not feasible now.
“I think the biggest piece of advice that has made things a lot easier is, ‘It’s a lot easier to keep up than it is to catch up.’ So I try to work my days off of that quote alone.”
If anyone can handle it all, Anne Winkler believes it’s Ellis.
Winkler, who chairs the Department of Economics at UMSL, still marvels at the perseverance Ellis demonstrated two years ago while she pursued her bachelor’s degree.
Until the early part of November in 2014, Ellis – who’d previously completed a bachelor’s degree in political science from Spelman College in 2012 – had kept a low profile in Winkler’s course titled Work, Families and Public Policy.
She’d done well on her assignments, but the professor hadn’t known much about her beyond information revealed in class introductions in the first week of the semester.
That changed when Ellis approached Winkler one day and let her know she’d be missing class for an indefinite period of time.
With a grand jury expected to rule on whether or not to bring charges against Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown three months earlier, Ellis’ Military Police unit had been called up to begin preparing for what might happen in the aftermath of that decision.
“It was only then that I had a conversation with her where I learned everything that she was doing,” Winkler said. “I learned that not only was she in the National Guard, but I found out that she also worked full-time at the airport and that she still somehow was able to make time to be a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I was just so impressed that she could get all that done and do so well in my class.”
While Ellis’ peers were winding down the semester and beginning to prepare for finals, she was spending her days and nights in a vacant airplane hangar at Lambert–St. Louis International Airport, going over plans with her fellow soldiers and getting briefed by Gov. Jay Nixon on his expectations for the weeks ahead.
Ellis still has memories of being at a command center in St. Charles, Missouri, when her commander called her over to a bank of monitors just as businesses in Ferguson were going up in flames amid riots after the grand jury elected not to bring charges.
It hit close to home for Ellis, who was raised in Ferguson and whose parents still live there.
She recalls watching and thinking: “This is my neighborhood. This is the place that I grew up. I had my first car accident there. I had my first quote-unquote date there. This is part of my childhood that’s literally being destroyed.”
“You just watch all these frustrated kids not knowing where to put their anger at, and it’s just so misguided,” Ellis said. “I just wanted to be there and just say, ‘Stop. Just look what you’re doing.’”
She understood the frustration and felt much of it herself, but she was tested to stay focused on her duties during those chaotic days.
“It was probably the most trying time of my life by far,” she said.
All the things she saw have affected her now as she contemplates what type of lawyer she would like to be. She acknowledged a tug toward criminal law, though she has enjoyed working at Bank of America and might want to attempt to transition to a legal position within the company.
Those decisions will come in the future.
Back in 2014, tensions across the St. Louis area finally showed signs of calming near the end of the year, and in January 2015, people had largely resumed normal routines.
Ellis went back to school and had some makeup work to do to complete the previous semester’s courses, including Winkler’s.
“She got the exam and paper completed as swiftly as she could,” Winkler said. “They were both very well done.”
During her time at UMSL, Ellis came to appreciate how understanding professors such as Winkler were of military life.
“At no point did I feel that I was falling behind,” she said. “They worked with me so much. I had professors who would meet me every day after they already taught a class to teach me solely because I wasn’t there to get the information.”
It’s among the biggest reasons she looks back with such fondness at UMSL.
The knowledge she gained from her studies should continue to benefit her as well.
“The fields of economics and law are very much tied together,” Winkler said, pointing to the work of late Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase as an example. “Economics is excellent preparation because you develop all these analytical skills that are incredibly useful for understanding a problem or making a decision.”
Ellis remains grateful to the St. Louis Community College adviser who encouraged her to begin working toward a second bachelor’s degree as she bided her time before heading to officer training school. Until then, she had only been looking to take a couple economics courses over the summer while waiting to leave for South Carolina and had not considered adding another degree or the diverse learning environment UMSL offered.
“It’s definitely shaped a lot of my decisions going forward in my future,” Ellis said. “It’s helped me so much in particular with law school.
“I love UMSL for what it’s given me and what it’s taught me. It’s two different worlds coming from an HBCU and then going to a public university. Both of them have extremely valuable lessons that you could learn, and I feel like I was able to merge both of those worlds together, and it’s given me a better understanding of the community that we live in.”
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