Time for a Change

Melinda Thies '18.
By Nina Murphy | Photography by Savannah Barkley

Melinda Thies, RWU Class of 2018

Juris Doctor

Melinda Thies realized a long-held dream when she graduated from RWU Law in Spring 2018. After retiring as the Superintendent of the Bristol Warren Regional School District in 2014, the Barrington, R.I., resident had taken the extraordinary step of applying to and entering law school.

Back when she was a high school student in Connecticut, an economics teacher told Thies that she had a good mind for law. But she didn’t pursue it. “When I was growing up, the thinking in my family was that a good career would be education,” Thies says. “Opportunities for women were fewer.”

Thies spent 17 years teaching English, then got her masters in administration at Providence College. “I was told that to get into administration, the entry step was a disciplinary role,” she says. Such roles, she says, were “typically positions held by men.” But this disparity only egged her on. “‘You can’t do that, Melinda,’ was precisely the wrong thing to say to me. When I was in administration in 2000 in Cranston, I was the only female in secondary education.”

Thies loved her job at BWRSD – particularly the work she did on policy, personnel issues, and contract negotiations. “That seed of thought of going to law school had always been with me,” Thies says. “It became more compelling because I was running out of time. If I didn’t do it then, it wouldn’t happen.”

But before taking the plunge into law school, she met with RWU Law Professor David Logan for advice. “You are at the pinnacle of your career,” he warned her, “and you will go to the bottom. You will be like every other student and be treated the same.’” She chose to go anyway – although, she says, “he was so right!”

Logan’s words would often come to mind that first year, when Thies was sitting in a class with 150 students. “If you were asked a question and you hesitated, they would just move on to the next student. I had gone through so many life experiences, I knew it was going to be okay. But it was still unnerving.”

This past semester she had an externship with (retired) Chief Justice Frank Williams of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, and she hopes to practice labor law and mediation after graduation. “It’s very fulfilling to facilitate two opposing positions,” she says, “guiding them to something they will build hopefully rather than a decision being imposed on them.”

Reflecting on her career trajectory, Thies says, “I firmly believe [that] if you totally commit to it, you can be successful and overcome a lot of obstacles. I don’t think you’re ever too old or should let your gender prevent you. Do you have to work hard? Absolutely.”

But after years of hard work, she was ready for her May 18 graduation. “It’s time,” she said.  Next challenge: the bar exam!

This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, in the May 2018 issue of The Bay Magazine. It is reprinted here with the permission of both Ms. Thies and The Bay.