Jenna Ripke
Attorney, Brown Immigration Law, Lincoln, Nebraska
Jenna Ripke

Special advocate

In addition to Northwestern’s strong academics, caring faculty and staff, and close-knit community, Jenna also appreciates that her Northwestern education integrated Christian faith with learning in and out of the classroom. It was during her time in college, particularly through what she was learning in her Spanish classes, that she felt compelled to serve immigrants. Following Northwestern, Jenna graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law and now serves as an immigration attorney.

What led you to major in history at Northwestern?
History is a typical major for people who plan to attend law school, for obvious reasons. There’s a lot of reading, writing papers and arguing for your position, which is what the practice of law is all about. I also have a historical context for the cases I am reading, which helps me better understand why the court may have reached its conclusions. A history major at Northwestern is special, though. The small class sizes allow for more classroom discussion, which encourages critical thinking and better clarification of your perspective on an issue. The professors expect you to work hard and produce quality work (which is what law professors and lawyers want), but they also encourage you and are always there to help you when you need it.

Why did you decide to add a Spanish major?
I wasn’t sure when I enrolled at Northwestern what I was going to do for a career, but I knew history and Spanish were what I was most interested in and passionate about. My love of history started all the way back in elementary school when I would read historical fiction. In high school I enjoyed taking Spanish classes and figured I’d at least minor in Spanish in college. When I discovered the only difference between a Spanish major and minor at Northwestern was studying abroad—something I wanted to do anyway—I figured I would just go for the major.

So what was studying abroad like?
I studied in Seville, Spain, my junior year. It was probably the best semester of my life. I took classes while I was there, all in Spanish, and lived with a host family in their apartment. I also did volunteer work with an organization called Solidarios. We would share coffee and cookies with homeless people and talk to them as an affirmation of their dignity. It got me out in the community and helped me meet people.

How well prepared did you feel for law school and your work as an attorney?
At Northwestern, I had to be prepared and ready to participate in every class. That helped me adjust to the rigors of grad school. History is more than just knowing facts; it’s analyzing how those facts work together to paint a picture of the past. Sometimes you have to look at the facts from a different angle, reach a conclusion you didn’t expect or maybe didn’t even want, and make a well-reasoned argument for your position. That’s really important for grad school and as a lawyer, because sometimes the answer is obvious and sometimes it’s not—and you have to explain with solid facts and through sound reasoning how you got there. An attorney’s job is very demanding and fast-paced, and the rigorous, high-quality curriculum at Northwestern prepared me to excel both in law school and in my career.

Tell us about your job as a lawyer.
I work as an associate attorney at a business immigration law firm. We work with companies and organizations who are hiring immigrants to fill positions requiring specialized knowledge, as well as immigrant entrepreneurs who seek to start businesses in the United States. We also do some family-based immigration work and provide assistance with naturalization. In particular, I work with hospitals that are seeking to employ immigrants as medical technologists, as well as a few high-tech startups.