During her undergraduate years at Knox College, a small liberal arts school in Galesburg, Illinois, Anelisa was a dynamic force on campus. She served as president of the prelaw club, worked as an admissions ambassador, took on roles as a resident assistant and teaching assistant, managed social media initiatives, and even contributed as a student athletic trainer.
The nurturing environment at Knox College gave her the confidence to explore leadership roles beyond the classroom. Thus, when she embarked on her journey to law school, Anelisa was determined to find a similarly supportive community. Her visit to Iowa Law reaffirmed the sense of belonging and community she sought.
“No one in my family has been to law school, so I didn’t know what to expect. The image I had in my head was that you’re on your own, and no one will help you. I did not want a school like that—especially since I was used to the warm and friendly environment of a small liberal arts college,” says Anelisa. “I knew when I went to law school that I wanted to feel at home, and when I visited Iowa Law, I definitely felt that.”
Now in her third year at Iowa Law, Anelisa serves as the senior online editor of the Iowa Law Review, one of the top-ranked “high impact” legal periodicals in the country.
“Iowa Law has allowed me to further my leadership skills,” says Anelisa. “As a board member for the Iowa Law Review, I get to make decisions about the voices we highlight and share the perspectives of those in our field I believe are important.”
Her leadership skills have not gone unnoticed by Tania Lefevre Hernández, an academic advisor at Iowa Law who also serves as a mentor for Anelisa.
“Through my mentorship experiences with Anelisa, I have witnessed her remarkable transformation into a leader, advocate, and beacon of inspiration for her peers,” says Lefevre Hernández. “One of the moments that stands out most in our journey is when we discussed her academic goals and aspirations. Anelisa’s passion for the law and her determination to excel were palpable. I saw in her a diligent student and a compassionate advocate in the making.”
Anelisa’s commitment to following her passion is commendable, considering her unique challenges as a first-generation law student and a member of an underrepresented group in the legal profession. People identifying as Hispanic or Latino make up about 5.8% of the 1.3 million lawyers in the United States. The statistics are even lower when looking at gender, where Latinas are approximately 2% of female attorneys in the US.
“My heritage is everything to me. It reflects the way I walk in the world,” says Anelisa. “My mom was born in Guatemala and moved to the United States when she was younger. Thinking about her childhood has made me value education and understand the impact I can make with a law degree.”
Anelisa’s dedication to pursuing a legal career underscores her commitment and resilience—qualities that are vital for a public defender who often faces emotionally taxing and complex cases.
“What truly sets Anelisa apart is her genuine commitment to making a difference,” says Lefevre Hernández. “Her boundless compassion has been evident throughout her time in our law school community. As a future public defender, I have no doubt she will excel and profoundly impact those she serves.”
During her first year at Iowa Law, Anelisa discovered numerous opportunities to help students like herself, including the Bridge Program, where she served as a mentor. The program introduces students from underrepresented communities to the law school experience.
“The Bridge Program was even more impactful than I anticipated," says Anelisa. “Drawing from my experience as an undergrad, I had no prior knowledge of law school or who to turn to for guidance. That feeling of uncertainty can be intimidating, so having the opportunity to help students in similar situations has been very rewarding. It’s helped me realize that I can make someone’s transition to law school more enjoyable.”
Anelisa’s journey within the Bridge Program instilled a deep desire to break barriers for others who share her background. “I recognized the importance of representation and the potential of diversity within the legal profession,” she says. This newfound confidence motivated her to foster a more inclusive environment within the academic community.
She decided to join Iowa Law’s Hispanic and Latinx Law Students Association (HLLSA), an experience she describes as one of the most impactful during her law school journey. She served at the 2L president of HLLSA during the 2022-2023 academic year. The organization promotes Hispanic and Latinx enrollment at the College of Law and improves legal services in underrepresented communities.
“The Hispanic and Latinx Law Students Association is something I’ve felt very connected to during my time here. It’s a place to seek guidance and mentorship, but more than that, it’s a place that allows us to celebrate our cultures together,” says Anelisa. “This year, we’ve been really focusing on community, and many of our goals are centered around diversity and inclusion, which has been great.”
Lefevre Hernández says Anelisa’s leadership within HLLSA has played a pivotal role in creating a supportive and inclusive space for all students at Iowa Law.
“Anelisa’s leadership skills, dedication to mentoring, and commitment to embracing her cultural heritage make her an invaluable asset to Iowa Law. She goes above and beyond to share her experiences and insights to help students navigate their legal journeys,” says Lefevre Hernández. “Anyone fortunate enough to have her on their side as a public defender will benefit immensely, as we’ve had the privilege to witness within our Iowa Law family.”
Anelisa plans to return to her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, to be closer to her family after law school. This past summer she interned at Snell and Wilmer working as a public defender and will be returning after graduation to explore other areas of the law that interest her and plans to return to public defense later in her career.
“My experience at Iowa Law has given me the confidence to embrace my heritage and use it as a powerful tool to make a meaningful impact in my future career,” she says.