- Francine Stewart Soliunas (LAS '70, JD '73)
- Mikah Soliunas (JD '05)
A mother-daughter journey in law and service
For Francine Soliunas and her daughter Mikah, the decision to attend law school at DePaul really wasn’t a decision at all, but rather a natural selection. DePaul was already like family.
“I always say DePaul chose me, in addition to me choosing DePaul,” says Francine, assistant dean for strategy and student professional development, and executive director for the Institute for Law and the Work Place at Chicago-Kent College of Law. Her longstanding relationship with DePaul is rooted in service and a love for the Vincentian mission.
As an undergraduate student in the 1960s, Francine was actively involved in the life of the university, working with student-initiated charitable, educational and multicultural programs. She continued her service work as a law student and, today, supports and serves a long list of community organizations.
Above: Mikah, left, and Francine Soliunas (photo credit: Nathan Keay).
“I feel I am DePaul,” Francine often says, when speaking to groups at DePaul.
“What that means in large part for me is the quality of character that I try to be: forgiving, loving, caring, hardworking, nonjudgmental,” she says. “I’ve come to love and respect the quality of education and the way the university carries out its values and mission.”
The mentorship Professor Scheller offered Francine as a student developed into a long-term friendship, and, more so, an extension of her DePaul family. After law school, he helped Francine find a job, and as her own family grew, he became Mikah’s godfather.
As a law student, Francine knew she wanted to work closely with people and thought she would become a civil rights lawyer. Though she spent several years in government-related legal work, including as a supervisory trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it wasn’t until making a career move to corporate law that she discovered her real passion.
“When I went into corporate America, I found my niche. I realized what power really was and what it could do to really help people.” She served as labor and employment counsel for Illinois Bell Telephone Company, later Ameritech, for more than 20 years before transitioning into academia.
In 2010, she was recognized for her lifetime of legal, civic and community service with a Sage Ward, presented by Mayor Richard M. Daley (JD ’68) and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on Women. She continues to be active in the DePaul community, serving on the law school’s Dean’s Council and as president of the DePaul Law Black Alumni Foundation, on the university’s Capital Campaign Committee, and on the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ Dean’s Council.
Through her close involvement with the school, Francine’s children also became very familiar with DePaul. After earning an undergraduate degree at Dartmouth, Mikah returned to Chicago to work and teach, but shortly after decided to pursue a law degree. DePaul was the obvious choice. In fact, she didn’t even apply to any other schools.
Mikah earned a criminal law certificate and participated in the Death Penalty Legal Clinic. “The clinical program was phenomenal. It was the highlight for me, because it provided the hands-on element of the material that we’d been learning up to that point.”
Growing up in a household that valued and practiced service—a tradition passed down from her mother—it is no surprise that Mikah chose a career serving the public. “There s nothing I’d rather do, she says. I can’t imagine myself doing something that was not public interest-oriented.”
Below: Francine (right), with family friend and her daughter's godmother Judge Bertina Lampkin (JD '74), hoods Mikah during commencement at the Civic Opera House in May 2005.
Now, an assistant state’s attorney with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, she spends many hours in the appellate and juvenile courts, practicing in the area of law that she is most passionate about. “Our whole focus is to give a voice to people who have no voice. That’s our mission, and it’s directly in line with the perspective that my degree gave me.”
“If you find something you’re passionate about, the people and the experience you need are there at DePaul,” Mikah says.
And her mother agrees. “Anyone who makes a genuine search can find inspiration at DePaul.” Out of all her memories, Francine says, “The proudest moment in my 40 years with DePaul is when I was able to walk across the stage and hood my daughter at graduation. That will stand out for the rest of my life.”
Article featured in the winter 2011 issue of Dialogue magazine.