Brenda Villanueva '14, JD

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Making the Connection

Even while still a student at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, attorney and alumnus Brenda Villanueva, JD, was always prepared to network.

Case in point: One day, standing in line at the law school’s café, she noticed standing in front of her, Dana Morris, JD, assistant dean for career development. Villanueva turned to Morris and boldly asked her if she knew any law school alum at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That inquiry helped Villanueva to obtain three legal internships at the FCC, and paved the way for her to begin her career as an attorney — Villanueva earned a position in the agency’s prestigious Attorney Honors Program, a two-year competitive program for recent law school graduates, upon graduation in May 2014.

“I took a chance and sought help,” Villanueva says. “And Dean Morris went out of her way to connect me to an alum there [the FCC]. Dean Morris called the alum on my behalf, sent a warm email introduction, and the connection took off from there.”

Her networking savvy and tenacious focus on her professional goals set Villanueva apart, even among a group of high achievers like her law school classmates. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s the oldest of six siblings. Perhaps it has something to do with the California native’s prior work experience: serving six years at the U.S. House of Representatives in several legislative capacities after college. Villanueva’s focus and resolve helped create exciting professional opportunities for her — and even for her Maryland Carey Law colleagues.

Just ask Rosa Cabrera, JD, who at the time was the director of private and public sector recruitment and outreach. When Cabrera arrived at the law school in 2012, she came prepared to delve into her new position helping law students connect with potential employers. She found Villanueva to be generous in precisely the same way, sharing her own connections with fellow students, faculty, and staff.

“Villanueva sought me out,” Cabrera recalls. During the past few years, their relationship has grown, as has Cabrera’s regard for Villanueva. “I call her the guru of networking. She knows how to work a room. She’s connected me to people through her networking.”

As president of the Latino/a Law Students Association while at Maryland Carey Law, Villanueva put her people skills to work. “A big focus for the group was connecting our students with attorneys, people who may be potential mentors or employers,” she says. “We tried to help our members use their time efficiently and network strategically as they went about the internship and job hunting process.”

Villanueva followed her own advice, with great success. Her focus and ambition led her to a career in the telecommunications industry, a field of particular fascination for her in recent years. “Of the many issue areas I worked on before law school, telecommunications remained a personal interest while in law school,” Villanueva says. “I kept up with new legal developments, related legislation in Congress, and the industry news.”

Villanueva’s enduring interest in telecommunications facilitated some amazing opportunities. For the summer of 2011, she earned a coveted spot as one of 15 Google Policy Fellows; selection was based on a national pool of 1,300 applicants. That experience led to legal internships at the FCC, which Villanueva believes provided essential substantive understanding to receive an offer to participate in the Attorney Honors Program, post-graduation.

She is particularly thankful for her mentors.

“I’ve been extremely lucky, having had mentors for my important life stages and from all walks of life,” Villanueva says. “They’ve been very supportive and very honest — which next steps make sense, which do not.”

Villanueva winds down by exploring new places to eat with her husband, playing with her Rottweiler named Sasha, and catching the latest episodes of her favorite shows.  She says she still supports the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s emphasis on civility, collaboration, and interprofessional education.

“You can’t do this experience on your own,” she says. “Whether it’s mentors, faculty, or your cheerleaders at home, the team approach is invaluable.”