Supporting Insights That Foster Equity

By Richard Westlund

Supporting Insights That Foster Equity

By Richard Westlund
Philanthropist underwrites groundbreaking Judge-in-Residence program

Whatever our academic or professional pursuits, the United States legal system affects our lives, careers, and values.

The University of Miami’s Judge-in-Residence program, based in the College of Arts and Sciences, is designed to highlight those impacts and to prepare undergraduates across the University for citizenship through experiential learning.

“The innovative Judge-in-Residence program offers insights into how our justice system shapes individual lives and the community at large,” says Dean Leonidas Bachas. “It encourages students to explore how they can support justice and fairness, whatever their studies and career goals.”

Founded in 2018 and led by the University’s Judge-in-Residence, Miami Circuit Court Judge Ellen Sue Venzer, the program recently received generous support from philanthropist Nancy Hector.

Hector has been a major supporter of the University of Miami for many years. Her daughter Brittany is a junior in the School of Education and Human Development, and many other family members have graduated from UM. She has given grants to more than 50 charities that support children and families through the Hector Family Foundation, which she cofounded with her late husband, Robert.

The Judge-in-Residence program reaches students through multiple paths, including seminar-style courses on crime and punishment, courtroom experience “on the bench,” University-wide lectures, dinners and dialogues, and structured conversations with prominent legal and judicial professionals. 

“The Judge- in-Residence program provides students not only a rare real-world perspective on the forces that shape our system of justice,” Hector says, “but direct experience of how systemic bias in the system affects real people, including at-risk children and families."

Hector witnessed the phenomenon firsthand as a foster parent. It was in this role that she first met Judge Venzer. 

“I have known Ellen Venzer and admired her work since she was a judge in dependency court,” Hector recalls. “Now, as a criminal court judge, she is on the front lines every day, trying to make a difference in people’s lives. Her dedication to her students—whether mentoring in the classroom or the courtroom—is unmatched.”

A 1987 alumna of the School of Law, Venzer has presided over felony criminal circuit court cases since 2004. She has served for the past 15 years as a professor and lecturer at UM, teaching undergraduate and law school classes, with a focus on criminal justice and sentencing.

“What a privilege it has been to engage students in thoughtful, relevant conversation about issues of law and society that have a direct impact on their lives,” Venzer says.