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Maddie Campbell

A Change of Direction

In the game of basketball, one of the most effective ways to get open on the court is by changing direction – moving one way, then quickly altering course. It’s a skill that players practice over and over as they work to improve their game.

Off the court, being open to altering course can also be one of the most effective ways to find success.

Employing an effective change of direction is one of the many skills Maddie Campbell ’16 learned during her basketball career. She also learned confidence, resilience, teamwork and a competitiveness that has helped her navigate her professional life as she has gone from ILR student, to Barclays Sales & Trading, to second-year student at the UC Davis School of Law.

A native of Loomis, California, Campbell set Del Oro High School’s record for three-pointers in a career and earned a full-ride athletic scholarship to the University of California, Santa Barbara, of the Big West Conference. Over the course of two years, she played in 49 games for the Gauchos, making five starts, but when the program changed head coaches, she decided it was time to change direction.

In a leap of faith, Campbell gave up her scholarship in order to contact schools about transferring, and her first call was to the Ivy League.

Campbell, who had been majoring in history and anthropology with a minor in feminist studies, picked the Big Red over Brown and Dartmouth and initially transferred into the College of Arts & Sciences.

“It seemed like the natural fit based on what I had been studying, but I always knew law school was in my future and at some point someone mentioned ILR to me,” Campbell said. She met with Ian Schachner, ILR’s senior associate director of ILR Admissions. “He was so nice and so helpful. He started telling me about the courses and the coursework, and I just thought it sounded perfect.”

“I remember Ian telling me I’d be a good fit in ILR, and he was clearly excited about my future. He made me feel wanted and at home at ILR, which was such a good feeling.”

So, Campbell set a new course with the ILR School and began taking advantage of law classes the school offered.

One of those classes, “Thwarting the Dream of Brown v. Board of Education,” taught by Lee Adler, is one that sticks in her mind.

“Lee Adler was incredible,” Campbell said. “He had these high expectations for us, as if we were in law school, and he brought this interesting perspective and knowledge to the material. We looked at Brown v. Board of Education, which was supposed to desegregate schools, and how it was such a big step in our country, but then people have just been working every day since to try and tear it apart. It’s the first time I really understood the law is not black and white.

“And that just got me super pumped about law school, too. It was just another thing that confirmed that I was on the right path and I wanted to learn about civil rights issues.”

But, once again, a divergent path emerged when Campbell attended a finance recruiting event sponsored by the Department of Athletics. She had already joined AKPsi, a business fraternity on campus, and several Big Red teammates had interned with companies like JPMorgan. So, when Barclays offered her an internship, she decided to change direction.

“The only way to get hired full-time by a place like that is to do an internship, so I thought, I can always go to law school, but this internship is a once in my lifetime thing,” Campbell said.

After the internship, Campbell accepted a full-time job in equity financing sales and went to work on the trading floor, a job for which she felt well equipped, thanks to her experience as an NCAA Division I athlete.

“So much is happening, and it’s really stressful, and chaotic, but it just feels like you're in a game,” Campbell said. “Definitely having the athletic, clear headedness during the chaos was a huge asset. Also, just being able to talk to people quickly, and then also, when mistakes are made, being able to communicate and improve as a group for the next day is something I carried over from basketball.

Maddie Campbell playing basketball for Cornell University.
Maddie Campbell ’16 scored a layup in her first game wearing a Big Red uniform as Cornell played Hartford on Nov. 14, 2014, in Newman Arena.

“A lot of people have told me the pressure would be too much for them, but for me, the pressure was my favorite part.”

While working for Barclays, Campbell never forgot about her passion for civil rights, equity and justice, so she spent “every free moment” finding ways for the bank to work with local nonprofit organizations. She became chief operating officer of Barclays’ Human Capital Program and was able to fund outreach events around New York City.

“For a lot of people that work in finance, their main goal is to make as much money as possible, but that’s never what drove me,” Campbell said. “And they’re still good people, so a lot of the time they would want to help or do something meaningful, but they didn’t know how other than throwing money at it. So, they would give money to me and I was able to run basically whatever volunteer event that we wanted.”

After six years, it was time for Campbell to pivot, circle back to her original intent and begin law school.

“I knew Barclays was never going to be my career, but I knew I could make the money I needed to pay for law school and I walked away from it feeling really good that I was going to be able to go on and pursue the thing I originally wanted to do and take the next step on my journey.”

Campbell arrived at UC Davis in the fall of 2021 and immediately leaned on her ILR experience to compete for a coveted position with the Sacramento Center for Workers’ Rights. Typically reserved for second- or third-year law students, she believes it was her undergrad experience that helped her stand out from the other applicants.

“I think my entire class of 250 students applied because they thought it would look good on their resumes, but I remembered learning about disenfranchised workers and the power imbalance between employees and employers, and I felt like I really wanted to get involved with a clinic like that,” Campbell said. “I wrote an essay for my application and just completely ran through everything I remembered from ILR. I talked about my classes and what I learned and when I got the spot, the clinic leader said that she could tell that this was something I was actually passionate about.”

Maddie Campbell posing with a group of women on a sidewalk
Maddie Campbell ’16, third from left, with Aoki Criminal Justice Practicum Clinical group members at UC Davis Law School in November. 

Last summer, she had an internship with the Sacramento Public Defender’s Office, which she enjoyed, but was left feeling a little dismayed by the sheer volume of injustice.

“The criminal justice system is so messed up,” Campbell said. “The district attorney’s office has nine times the amount of funding as the public defender’s office. So, you're literally just fighting this uphill battle and if you make it and you win, you just help that one client. And that’s great. That feels good. But it's one person, in one case. So, it was just a little bit depressing how those huge systematic problems still hang over you.”

That experience encouraged Campbell to look for opportunities on a grander scale, and she found them with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, where she will intern this summer in the Washington, D.C., office.

Campbell is excited for the opportunity to combat systematic problems on the national stage and hopes the internship will lead to a full-time position back on the West Coast.

But, if it doesn’t, she will no doubt change direction once again and find a new path on her journey.