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Q&A with Courtney Echols (JD ’08), Director of Alumni affairs

alumni directorCourtney (Perdue) Echols’ commitment to serving the Pepperdine community began a little over four years ago. The San Francisco native chose Pepperdine for law school because of its mission and close-knit community. As a young law student, she cochaired the student mentor program and planned and led service trips, including two trips to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Upon graduation, she worked for various legal organizations before returning to her alma mater in October 2009 to direct the school’s Alumni Affairs department. In this interview, Courtney talks about alumni, Pepperdine, and why she bleeds orange and blue.

Your father is a litigator in San Francisco. Did you always know you would go to law school?

My dad does not like me to say that he influenced my choice, but I think that I always hoped I would go to law school. When my dad speaks of history or the law, you can really see how much he truly loves it and respects it. I grew up watching a lot of PBS, reading a lot of books, and listening to my dad tell stories about law school and his practice. I feel very fortunate to have witnessed a passion personified in his affections for what he does. He truly believes in the legal process and the invaluable life asset of legal training.

What was the most important thing you learned in undergrad at UC San Diego?

I learned the importance of remembering that you are more than just the major you have selected. There are so many interesting classes offered in college and I think the concept carries over into your approach to law school too. You never know what will end up being of interest to you, and the flexibility that you allow yourself is important to your development as a well rounded, multi-talented, and multi faceted individual.

How did you choose Pepperdine for law school?

I know that God’s plan was for me to come to a law school that focused on strengthening lives for purpose, service, and leadership. I was drawn to the close-knit community that I observed on a visit, and I knew Pepperdine was the right choice when I received an email from Professor Wendel (who was on a business trip to San Diego, where I was living before law school) offering to share a meal and answer any questions about law school, not necessarily about Pepperdine, that us San Diego-based admitted students may have had. I was blown away by his genuine care for Pepperdine students, and I knew then that I needed to be a part of that kind of place.

Who was your favorite professor and what was your favorite law class?

What a tough question! I will be forever grateful to Professor Knaplund for the way that she made property interesting and the way that she cared for each of us as stressed out 1Ls. In terms of my required classes, Professor McGoldrick and Dean Bost made me forget that I was taking Constitutional Law and Corporations because I had to. I probably enjoyed my electives the most, however. I loved Family Law with the ever entertaining and sweet Professor Miller, and I discovered an interest in immigration law because of one of our adjunct professors, Susan Hill (JD ’93), who is also one of our alums. Working in the special education clinic with Professor Peterson introduced me to the “real world” of law and caring about your clients, something that can never be fully learned inside the classroom.

As a law student, you coordinated two service trips to New Orleans, Louisiana, to help with cleanup. How did those service trips impact your experience at Pepperdine?

The trips to Louisiana reminded me that I was at a law school that truly focused on the development of a citizen and a scholar. Taking those trips with the generous support of the law school’s administration, staff, and faculty made me feel like Pepperdine was training me to be more than just a lawyer. It allowed for me to remember the lives that we are called to and the many gifts we have been given to achieve bigger goals than grades, bar cards, etc. It also provided an invaluable bonding experience for me and my classmates which I am very grateful for.

What are your goals for the alumni mentoring program?

My motto for the alumni mentoring program is “quality, not quantity.” My hope is that every student would have an alumni mentor because all 8,000 of our alums are invaluable assets to our school and to our students. However, my goal is that our students and alums are matched up in a personal, productive, and meaningful way. This proposes a challenge for me because there is no short cut to forming these kinds of relationships; it’s all a matter of meeting students and meeting alums and figuring out where the connections and points of common interests lie—whether that be geographic, area of practice, undergraduate degrees, etc. The mentor relationship is a win-win situation for our community because a successful mentor relationship results in a student who feels connected and empowered to set out to achieve their goals by someone who has done the same, and our alums feel re-connected and valued in a way that they may not experience on a daily basis at work. I am really excited to see these relationships come to life.

What would you like to see Pepperdine accomplish in the next five years?

In five years, I would love to see a school overflowing with alumni involvement. I want our alums to have such a presence here that our 3L students know no different than to immediately find ways to get involved upon graduation because of what our alums did for them while they were students. Above all, I want every person in our community to be proud to be Pepperdine.

If you could tell the law alumni one thing, what would it be?

You bring a story that is all your own and a story that needs to be shared with our students and this world. Please find ways to share it; you have no idea who may be listening and who may choose to be a part of this community because of you.

Do you have any hidden talents? What reality show would you hands-down win?

My husband (Aaron Echols JD/MBA ’10) would be happy to hear that I really think we could win The Amazing Race; it might not be pretty, but I think we’d have a good chance. I’d like to think that I could win on Jeopardy, too. I’ve been watching it since I was little because my dad is a trivia buff and I think if I could get the timing down on “ringing in” and the final question wasn’t based on some obscure category, I might be able to bring some money home. As for hidden talents, I speak fluent French and I used to be a kickboxing instructor. I have a knack for cake baking, but I am becoming somewhat infamous for killing plants.

Thanks, Courtney!