Aspiring lawyer draws inspiration from strong women

Shari Routch
October 06, 2015

ALTOONA, Pa. — Since she was a little girl, Kadijah McDowell dreamed of being a lawyer. As she grew older, she dreamed of attending Penn State. With the latter dream a reality, and the former on its way to becoming so, she credits the women in her life with inspiring her goals and passion.

“My mom has seven kids, and I was that kid who defended and stood up to my parents, and if everyone was being punished because the floor wasn’t swept, I provided detailed reasons as to why I shouldn’t be held accountable,” said McDowell. “My mom always told me: ‘Kadijah, it is not that serious. You don’t have to prove a court case to me.’ But I told her that I needed to prove it to her, because ‘the law applies to you too, Mom.’”

That’s what drew McDowell to the law at a young age: the notion of fairness and a standard by which everyone must be held accountable. “I’ve always had the mentality that, if there’s a law or standard, it has to apply equally for everyone,” the Washington, D.C., native explained. “I love how the law was created to set peace and equality among all people. I think that’s what lawyers do: make sure that everyone keeps that standard and the law is upheld.”

But becoming a lawyer is only part of the dream; promoting and empowering women is the other, based on the women in her life. “I believe that women are phenomenal and amazing creatures,” she said. “My grandmother and my mom were both committed to helping our neighborhood. My mom was an ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] commissioner; my grandmother received a token of appreciation from the president of the United States for her involvement in the Food Stamp Act. They both believed in something and fought for it. They set the standard.”

That standard is something McDowell hopes to help other women reach. “My goal is to start a nonprofit to help women and remind them of their worth and that they can achieve great things in life,” said McDowell. “In the community in which I live, there’s a lot of poverty. There are a lot of women who don’t know their worth. There are a lot of women being abused, women who just gave up. If I can combine the law and my passion to help them change their perspective, I know that I can effect a change. That’s ultimately what I know my purpose in life is: to remind women of their self-worth.”

But McDowell isn’t waiting until graduating from law school to embark on this endeavor; this is something she has already started, albeit on a smaller scale. “I created a girls group in D.C. called Ambitious Queens,” she said. “It was me and a couple of girlfriends. We came together over the course of the summer to set goals and hold each other accountable for meeting those goals at our weekly meetings. By the end of the summer we had reached one of our goals and were able to donate food, water and clothing to the Salvation Army and the local homeless people in Washington, D.C.” McDowell plans to continue the Ambitious Queens group when she returns home for summers and is looking into starting a similar group at Penn State Altoona.

Through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in Washington D.C., McDowell met another woman who impacted the course of her life: Leah, her Big Sister and mentor.

“Leah is a great lawyer and loves her job, and she saw a lot in me," said McDowell. A Penn State alumna herself, Leah stated that Penn State has a lot to do with who she is today. “So I figured, if this amazing lawyer can be successful because of the impact that Penn State had on her life, why not come to Penn State?” McDowell said.

Now a junior at Penn State Altoona, McDowell chose to major in political science based on a class she took her freshman year. “I took Poli Sci 17 with Professor DiLeo. It was the hardest class I’d ever taken in my life,” McDowell said. “But I fell in love with the course because it picked at my brain, made me think outside the box, and challenged my way of thinking in a way I’d never been challenged before in my life.” That sealed the deal for her. “I thought, ‘If this is anything like the whole political science major, I want to do it.’”

She hasn’t been disappointed. “The major is a lot or work and I have to dedicate a lot of time to my studies, but I love that. I feel like any opportunity in which you’re uncomfortable, challenged, or being forced to grow, that’s something you stick with. Political science has constantly, consistently pushed me.” The political science professors also have helped fill in the mentorship role that as a resident assistant, as many — especially DiLeo — have encouraged and pushed her to succeed. “Among the political science professors, you’re going to find different people that care about you, and want to help. I’m so grateful for that.”

Last Updated October 06, 2015