Students Become Teachers: Alumni Team Up with Professor Michael Principe to Publish Prelaw Textbook

Successful law practitioners who got their start at William Paterson share insights with next generation

Though they graduated years ago, four William Paterson alumni suddenly found themselves submitting assignments to a University professor this summer.

Michael Principe, professor of political science and director of the Legal Studies Program, asked the graduates to join him and two fellow academics— Ryan Rebe, William Paterson University assistant professor in the Legal Studies Program and Marty Carcieri, professor of political science at San Francisco State University – in a project to write and publish an electronic textbook for prelaw students. Every team member wrote a chapter of Readings on the American Judicial System, with the contributors – each a successful law practitioner – focusing on topics in which they have particular interest and experience. This marks the first time any of the alumni contributed to a book.

Principe spearheaded the project and served as editor. He says the group’s e-book is intended to supplement a main textbook that gives students all the basics of how the judicial system works, as it offers a more in-depth point of view on certain aspects of the discipline.

“What I wanted was a book that gave students both a legal practitioner’s perspective and an academic’s perspective on different areas within our judicial system,” Principe says.

Ducoatb“I always thought, in college and in law school, that books written by practicing professionals were very insightful and showed me that what I was learning was actually used in the real world,” says Frank Ducoat ’03 (shown right), assistant prosecutor and director of the appellate section of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. “When I wrote my chapter, I mentioned a lot of cases that students might read about without understanding how those cases matter today. We actually do use those cases on a daily basis,” he explains. Ducoat and eight fellow attorneys in his division handle about 200 post-sentencing cases every year.

The alums, who lovingly refer to Principe as “Doc,” express that they felt honored when he reached out to ask if they’d be interested in collaborating on the book.

CBauer100“I had the same response as everyone else – that we’d love to, in part because Doc has done a lot for all of us individually and collectively as a group,” says Christopher Bauer ‘13 (at left), attorney at Steptoe and Johnson PLLC in West Virginia. “He really does care about his students and does whatever he can to help them, and also keeps in touch with all of his former students. I would jump at any opportunity to help Doc with anything he needs.”

Principe is using the electronic textbook with his students this semester, and teaching them lessons born of William Paterson graduates, he says, is quite meaningful.

“I tell my students, ‘This chapter was written by a former student who sat right here in that chair, in jeans and a t-shirt just like you,’” Principe recounts. Citing each of the alumni’s professional success, he adds, “This is what you can do with hard work. It inspires our kids when they see other kids from their background go on to achieve great things.”

Likewise, writing a textbook that would be read by students at William Paterson and beyond was meaningful for the alumni-authors.

JohnPizzo100“It’s a little surreal to think that just a few years ago, I was reading undergraduate textbooks, and now I’ve written a section of a book that the next group of students is reading,” says John Pizzo ’12 (at left), law clerk for United States District Court Judge Irene M. Keeley in the Northern District of West Virginia. He attributes the surreal feeling, in part, to his long journey to Commencement Day at William Paterson.

Pizzo attended the University from 1989 to 1991 and withdrew when he could no longer afford to attend. After more than 20 years in the construction industry, he returned to William Paterson and graduated with his bachelor’s in 2012. He went to law school on a scholarship and landed an internship with a federal judge after his first year there. In an effort to help other students on their journeys, he plans to become an adjunct professor someday.

Valerie-Gross100Valerie Gross ’03 (at right), who recently joined the Dean's Advisory Board of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, also has a special place in her heart for students. An attorney at a prestigious global law firm ranked one of the top 50 firms in the world – Morgan, Lewis & Bockius – Gross was on campus last week to speak at the College's Major Day.

“If it’s a way to reach students, then I’m all for it,” she says, of both the e-book and her speaking engagement. “This is where I started, and I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t start here. The direction and encouragement I received – the professors always made time for me. And I’m not some special case.”

Principe said the alumni, who he still refers to as “my kids,” were very nervous about letting him down in his publishing venture, but they rose to the challenge and did a “really nice” job. “I’m so proud of them,” he adds. “This was a really fun experience.”