Name: Erin Mikel Shinneman
Age: 26
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation: Law student

If you want to see someone working to improve the world as a whole, from her friends to society, you can ring up Erin Shinneman. Not only does this law student boast tales of Tanzania, she can also knit you a super-cute hat.

Erin has always looked ahead. In second grade she decided that she wanted to be someone that the third graders read biographies on. Then, she decided she wanted to be anything with a fancy name, like a neonatologist . Born in New Jersey and raised there until she was eleven, she always had street smarts and an understanding that the world was bigger than her tiny neighborhood. Following her parents’ divorce, Erin attended junior high and high school in Washington State, spitting distance from the hip, urban enclave of Seattle. The move and the divorce were tough on her, though to this day she values her relationship with both of her parents, and still has warm feelings for both the soggy Pacific Northwest and Dirty Jerz.

While finishing up her undergraduate degree at NYU, Erin began working on communications projects for non-profit organizations. Working for social change on a large scale made her feel useful, passionate, and like she had found her true calling. Inspired, Erin decided to join Students Partnership Worldwide and live in Africa for a year, where she worked for a development organization doing HIV prevention and health education. She lived in a tiny village off of the main road in the area, where she had running water from a spigot outside of her house on most days, but no electricity. Though she lacked the creature comforts of her home, she still found that the hardest part of the work was battling with the bureaucratic administration in order to be permitted to teach HIV prevention to the young women in the area. She also was able to travel around Tanzania, an experience which she describes as “amazing.” Her Swahili allowed her to converse with the locals, and she had many memorable conversations that a year before would have been impossible. “Meeting people all over the country was by far the best part of my trip,” she adds.

When Erin returned to New York, she worked for a grant-making foundation, and found herself doing communications yet again, along with tedious office work. Although Erin regarded the foundation’s work as powerful and inspiring, she knew it wasn’t for her. She needed a change of approach, and she realized that this would require redefining her career track. “Law school found me, more than me choosing it,” Erin says. After countless long nights of studying for the LSATs, taking them, applying, and finally choosing a school, Erin now finds herself in her second year at Brooklyn Law.

Erin has taken to law school like a proverbial fish to water. “I enjoy the analytical challenge and the finality of it. Law gives you the tools to reach a solution and make changes in areas that need improvement.” These days, she continues to study through the dog days of summer, while also working for a Human Rights organization. “It’s really interesting to be working on some of the same issues I worked on before law school, but now I see them through a legal lens,” she says. She’s also the head of a student group at school, but that doesn’t mean that she’s able to make her daily life predictable. “That’s one of the great things about being in school, there are no “typical” days.” Her friend, and fellow student, Josie Colomar nominated her to be a Cool Girl because of the fact that Erin takes on so much, and keeps a cool head.

On top of law school and saving the world, Erin has four jobs and “no time.” As she puts it, “I’ve found that I need to limit my work load, to make time to knit, read a non-law-school book, see friends, and generally have “quiet time.”‘ Don’t expect her to slow down, though. “I have a hard time turning down good opportunities and projects that I think are exciting.” Considering how she seems to be a magnet for opportunities and excitement, it looks like Erin’s load as a Cool Girl isn’t about to get any lighter!

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