From Teacher to Student

A headshot photo of Taylor Gilbertson
Taylor Gilbertson

Building community, advocating for others and helping them to advocate for themselves: These are the things that drive Taylor Gilbertson (a second-year Law student) and that brought her to University of Wisconsin Law School.

Just not in a straight line.

Gilbertson mentored younger students while attending high school in Neenah and won the Excellence in Civic Engagement Award as an undergraduate at University of Wisconsin–Madison for her volunteer work at Meals on Wheels and the Neighborhood House Community Center. A fourth-generation Badger, she double majored in sociology and nonprofit community leadership, but as graduation neared, law school wasn’t on her radar. Instead, inspired by her experience as an after-school teacher at the Lussier Community Education Center in Wexford Ridge, Gilbertson took a job in Washington, D.C. with Urban Teachers, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of children in urban schools.

For two years, Gilbertson spent her days teaching low-income minority students at a D.C. charter school, and her nights studying for a master’s degree in elementary education and teaching from Johns Hopkins University.

“I would be at school before 7 a.m. most days, get home after 8 p.m. and start on homework,” she said.

In her second year, Gilbertson became a special education teacher, a role that saw her forge close relationships with students who were coping with disabilities, trauma and hunger. The work was grueling but rewarding, and it was only after COVID-19 shuttered her school in March 2020 and forced her to work remotely for a year that Gilbertson began contemplating a career change.

By then, Gilbertson had returned to Wisconsin, and after talking to friends who had already earned law degrees, she found her way to UW Law.

“People are deserving of fair treatment, and the law shouldn’t be something that people are afraid of, or that is used against them just because of who they are.”

“I’ve always been interested in advocating for people; that’s what I loved about my special education job,” Gilbertson said, adding that the School’s commitment to the Wisconsin Idea—most notably the premise that students can use the knowledge they have gained at the university to give back to their communities—was a major draw.

As a first-year student, Gilbertson worked at Common Wealth Development, a Madison nonprofit that provides affordable rental housing to low- and moderate-income families. She is currently enrolled in both the Unemployment Appeals Clinic and the Eviction Defense Clinic and serves as president of the local chapter of the American Constitution Society. And though she is loath to describe herself as a social justice warrior, Gilbertson does see connections between her lifelong commitment to community service, her previous career as a teacher serving disadvantaged kids, her clinical experience at UW Law—and her future career as a lawyer.

“People are deserving of fair treatment, and the law shouldn’t be something that people are afraid of, or that is used against them just because of who they are,” Gilbertson said. “That’s something I feel strongly about, and I want to spend my time, if not my career, working to help counteract it.”

By Alexander Gelfand