By ALLYSIA FINE
Amarillo College employs instructors with all sorts of backgrounds. Some have taught at other institutions. Others are fresh out of college.
Then there are those who combine their curriculum with real-life experiences.
Rhonda Brashears is the latter. As a full-time paralegal with Underwood Law Firm, she brings the things she learns in her everyday life straight into the classroom as a part-time instructor.
Teaching for the past 15 years is second nature, she said, and includes exercises such as the yearly mock trial, a major assignment for her paralegal students.
For her contributions, she was recognized last semester by the AC faculty with one of six faculty excellence awards.
Brashears was on the original advisory board during preparation for the paralegal program. She became one of the original instructors in the program, which started in 1999 and was approved by the American Bar Association in 2006.
“Rhonda Brashears is a major leader in the paralegal field. The primary goal of our program is to prepare students to work as a paralegal,” said Bruce Moseley, coordinator of legal studies and business department chairman. “She’s our main connection to that.”
Moseley said he approached Brashears to add active learning components to the program.
“Her response was, ‘Well maybe we could do mock trials, and let’s let me look into what that will be like,’” Moseley said.
Brashears said she focuses on preparing her students for their careers after graduation. Civil litigation, an exercise added to her class two years ago, does that as part of the mock trial.
It’s used to challenge her paralegal students, she said, and help them understand the value of preparation that goes into presenting a court case.
“She is a good teacher. She focuses on preparing us for the work force,” said Rebecca Muja, a paralegal studies major.
The first year, the mock trial was conducted in a classroom. Participants arranged the desks to look like a courtroom.
Brashears later coordinated with local law professionals to conduct the mock trials at the Amarillo Municipal Courthouse.
The trials have been a success, unlike those conducted by Moseley. He said he tried mock trials in his torts class and advanced civil litigation course, which both were “major, epic failures.”
“It takes hundreds of hours of preparation on the professor’s part to make this work and find all of the materials and then cull them down,” he said. “The mock trials get better every semester, and the students love it.”
Although Brashears said most of her students don’t plan to be attorneys and will not try the cases themselves, it is important for them to understand what it is like in the attorney’s place.
It may not be a mile, but walking even a short walk in their shoes helps the students become better paralegals, instructors said.
“The students are way into it, and you can tell that they put in a ton of time,” Moseley said. “When you put in a ton of time preparing for something, you are learning, and that’s what is cool.”