Newly established fund provides support for students historically underrepresented in legal education.
As Wisconsin’s flagship public law school, University of Wisconsin Law School is committed to providing access to legal education and the legal profession for people from a wide variety of backgrounds. A newly established fund will help the Law School make good on that commitment by providing support for Native American students.
The Pathways to Excellence Fund, established in September 2022, was created to support scholarships and pathways programs for prospective students from recognized Native American tribes and others who are historically underrepresented in legal education. This is part of the Law School’s prioritization of expanding its presence in Indigenous law and deepening its collaborations with Native Nations and people in Wisconsin and throughout the country, memorialized in its 2021-26 strategic plan.
“The Pathways to Excellence Fund aims to expand access to legal education and the legal profession, especially for Native students,” said UW Law School Dean Daniel Tokaji. “This is central to our future, ensuring that we are educating the next generation of lawyers and leaders in a way that will prepare them to practice in a society that is pluralistic and diverse.”
The practice of law demands lawyers who can interact and work with people from all walks of life. In addition to providing access to students in need, the Pathways to Excellence Fund will help prepare students to succeed in the legal profession.
“We are better as a Law School if we include people with a wide range of identities, backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints,” Tokaji said. “We learn a lot more from people who are different from ourselves, and our community is stronger when it embodies many different perspectives.”
University of Wisconsin–Madison sits on land that originally belonged to the Ho-Chunk tribe.
“That gives us a moral obligation to serve Native Nations and peoples,” said Tokaji. “We intend to honor that moral obligation.”
The Pathways to Excellence Fund was established in honor of Maryann Schacht ’64 and David Schacht ’62 (deceased). Maryann retired as Beaver Dam’s city attorney in 2022. She took the role in 2001, following her husband into that position. David was city attorney from 1971-2001 and then an assistant city attorney under Maryann for 10 years. Together, the Schachts served the City of Beaver Dam for over 50 years in the city attorney’s office.
“The Pathways to Excellence Fund aims to expand access to legal education and the legal profession, especially for Native students. This is central to our future, ensuring that we are educating the next generation of lawyers and leaders in a way that will prepare them to practice in a society that is pluralistic and diverse.”
When Maryann came to UW Law School, there were very few women studying law. She remembers former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson (S.J.D.) ’62 and U.S. Western District Senior Judge Barbara Crabb ’62 at UW Law. She recollects the Law School as a welcoming place.
“We were never treated as token women by the staff,” she said. “There was a feeling that we belonged.”
The Schachts mentored Dan Vande Zande ’86, who established the Pathways to Excellence Fund with his wife, Carleen, as a retirement gift for Maryann. Dan has served as Waupun’s city attorney since 1991 and has a private legal practice.
The Vande Zandes and Maryann hope the Pathways to Excellence Fund will give students from underrepresented groups the vision to study law and a clear path toward it—without being deterred or burdened by debt. Those successful students would then be an example to their communities that law is a viable career option.
Dean Tokaji applauds the Vande Zandes and Maryann for their leadership in creating this fund.
“It is truly inspiring that both the Vande Zandes and Maryann want to build something and inspire others to join them,” he said. “It is important to their legacy that their names aren’t carried on with this but rather a desire to expand the legal profession to others. They hope their action plants a seed for other alumni and friends to give to this fund to expand the pathways for Native students and others to achieve their personal excellence.”
You may donate to the Pathways to Excellence Fund via the UW Foundation website.
By Holly Marley-Henschen