When Jennifer Rosato became dean of the Northern Illinois University (NIU) College of Law last July, she also became the first Italian-American female dean of any law school in the country. It should also be mentioned that she also treasures her Latino ancestry, on her mother’s side.
Rosato comes to NIU from Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she was part of the administrative team that created and launched the Earle Mack School of Law. An ambitious endeavor, but with 20-20 hindsight, she was obviously up to.
She was acting dean during the school’s first year of operation (July 2006 to April 2007) and a consultant on the project for a year prior. The experience she gained in those positions will continue to be useful in her role in the top spot at NIU Law.
The NIU search committee recognized that Rosato’s experience made her stand out, even among an excellent field of candidates culled from a national search. NIU Executive Vice President and Provost Raymond Alden III said there were several attributes that made her a good fit.
“Dean Rosato provides an excellent mix of experience, enthusiasm and leadership skills,” said Alden. “The insights she gleaned in helping to open the doors at Drexel, combined with her outstanding record of scholarship and leadership in nearly two decades as a legal educator, make her a wonderful candidate to assume the mantle of leadership at NIU Law.”
Born and raised on the East Coast, Rosato earned a bachelor’s degree at Cornell in social work and, as a senior completing her practicum, worked as a caseworker in child protective services in Elmira, N.Y. It was there that her experiences dealing with children in foster care awakened her interest in law, particularly family law.
Rosato decided to enter the University of Pennsylvania Law School and threw herself wholeheartedly into the experience. She became editor-in-chief of the school’s Journal of International Business Law. She entered moot court competitions and won, even arguing before former U.S. Supreme Court Justice O’Connor as a third-year law student. She wanted to become involved in as many activities as she could handle and interact with as many of her peers and professors as possible.
“I loved law school. I saw it as an opportunity to really challenge myself and get a great education,” she said. “It’s a chance to talk to smart people, to test your ideas and get to know your professors. I ate it up.”
For Rosato, the passion for family law issues continued to drive her career and scholarship. After she left law school, she clerked for a federal court judge for two years, spent a year as an associate in a Philadelphia law firm, then turned to teaching and writing on diverse legal issues. She was an instructor at Villanova University School of Law before moving to Brooklyn Law School in 1992, where she taught courses including civil procedure, legal ethics, bioethics and public policy, and family law.
While at Brooklyn Law School, Rosato was associate dean for student affairs and also co-director of the Center for Health, Science and Public Policy as well as professor of law.
In 2006, Rosato moved to Drexel University, and was hired as a professor and senior associate dean for student affairs for the new College of Law. She had been working as a consultant to Drexel, helping the university create the law school from the ground up, including hiring faculty and curriculum development. Then, as acting dean and associate dean, she had the opportunity to launch a law school to educate lawyers for the 21st century. Part of that vision was to build a law community that championed diversity.
At NIU Law, Rosato is excited about building on the law school’s strengths, including access, diversity, experiential learning, and public service. She hopes to engage the law school further with the university and the surrounding community. She and the faculty are already working on collaborations with other colleges, including interdisciplinary programs in environmental and health law. She also would like to enhance the school’s national reputation.
What also keeps her young is maintaining a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise. Rosato is a runner and often has often participated in 5K races. She also travels a lot: returning frequently to Philadelphia to be with her 12-year-old daughter, attending conferences, and visiting alumni.
Dean Rosato is very happy with her career choice and is looking forward to fulfilling her six-year commitment at NIU.