Alumna Spotlight: Patricia Medina
Call her attorney Patricia Medina now.
With her family by her side, the Palm Beach State College alumna and former student trustee was sworn in to the Florida Bar in October by Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Scott Kerner. Now, Medina has begun her new role as associate attorney at Acosta & Fraga Law, PLLC, an immigration law firm just minutes from the PBSC Lake Worth campus where she began her higher education journey in 2012. “I’m working at something I’m passionate about, which is helping people,’’ she said.
Medina’s path to becoming a lawyer highlights the pivotal role PBSC plays in transforming the lives of its students. She credits much of her success to the support she received as a student and continues to get from staff and faculty.
“I can honestly say going to Palm Beach State changed my life and my family’s life,’’ said the married mother of an adult twin son and daughter, who earned her Associate in Arts degree as an Honors College student in 2015. “My husband and I were students at Palm Beach State. My children were students at Palm Beach State. We’re a Palm Beach State family.”
Medina graduated from Howard University School of Law in May 2020, and after a year of preparation, she passed the Florida Bar Exam on the first attempt this past July. Only 44 percent of the 3,343 people who took the state’s online remote bar exam that month, passed, according to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.
She graduated debt free, thanks to landing a Graduate Scholarship in 2017 from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which paid up to $50,000 a year for up to four years of her law school education. That was the second scholarship Medina had landed from the prestigious foundation. She also had received the Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which paid up to $40,000 per year to cover up to three years of the expenses for her bachelor’s degree in religious studies, which she completed at Stetson University in 2017.
Had it not been for her decision to enroll at PBSC to pursue her education and to set an example for her children who were entering high school, she may not have known about the scholarship. “They were in high school, and I felt like a hypocrite. I was telling them they were going to college, and I had never gone. I figured that was a perfect opportunity to start,’’ Medina said.
Jerinae Speed, former director of PBSC’s Student Support Services TRIO Program, and Dr. Roxanna Anderson, a former professor, wrote letters of recommendation both times for the Cooke scholarship, which widened the doors of opportunity for Medina.
After enrolling at PBSC, Medina recalled sitting in Speed’s office pondering her career direction. One thing Medina knew for sure is that she wanted to help and advocate for people. After a two-hour conversation, they decided she would become a lawyer, ditching Medina’s original idea of getting an A.S. degree in Human Services.
“I didn’t know what shape that would take,’’ Medina said, citing the Trayvon Martin case that she said “angered me because I didn’t see justice being done. I wanted to do criminal justice, but I wasn’t sure what side I wanted to be on. Immigration law just kind of fell into my lap. The day I got sworn in Ms. Speed said, ‘you wanted to help people, and now you’re going to do that.’”
Medina was active on campus, serving as editor of the Beachcomber student newspaper and of “Sabiduría,” the Honors College academic, peer-reviewed online journal. She was a member of Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Society and a volunteer on the Human Trafficking Awareness Committee on the Lake Worth campus. A crowning moment during her tenure at PBSC was when she was selected student trustee for the 2014-2015 academic year and served on the search committee that led to the District Board of Trustees’ selection of Ava L. Parker, an attorney herself, as PBSC’s fifth president and first female.
While at Stetson and Howard, Medina remained focused on her academics while also remaining active on campus. While in law school, she served on the Huver I. Brown Trial Advocacy Moot Court Team for two years, including captain her second year. She completed three internships, including at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, with U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson and then with boutique law firm Hunter and Johnson, PLLC. She said attending Howard University School of Law was a “dream school.”
“If I was going to practice law, I wanted to learn how to do it in a social justice context, and I wanted to learn from the best. There is a quote by Charles Hamilton Houston, who was a former dean there. He talks about a lawyer being a social engineer or a parasite on society. I don’t want to be a parasite. I want to be a social engineer,’’ Medina said. “When you walk through the halls, you see every class that’s ever graduated. Pauli Murray is on the school wall. Thurgood Marshall is on the school wall. I got to walk through hallowed halls, and I get to be on the wall one day.”
Her time away from her children and husband was a sacrifice she made. While she pursued her education, her husband, Frank, watched over the children, who both earned their A.A. degrees from PBSC and are now both studying at Florida Atlantic University. Her son, John, earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting, passed all sections of the Certified Public Accountant exam this past summer and is now pursuing a master’s degree in accounting. Her daughter, Mary, is completing her bachelor’s degree in political science and has plans to get a master’s degree and eventually a law degree. In addition to her A.A., she also earned a Paralegal A.S. degree from PBSC.
Medina, who earned her A.A. degree from PBSC in 2015, stayed in contact with Speed and Anderson, as well as various others, including Honors College Manager Marcella Montesinos, current State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who taught Medina’s Constitutional Law class, Dr. Sankaranarayana Chandramohan, a science professor known as Dr. Chandra, former professor Dr. Barbara Scheffer, who led the Paralegal program and Rowina Petion, current director of Student Support Services TRIO program.
Scheffer, for example, helped her with her application for the bar and shared insights on the law as she was studying for the bar exam. Aronberg arranged for Kerner to conduct Medina’s swearing in ceremony so that her family and other supporters like Speed and Petion could attend. Montesinos, who is friends with Gina Fraga, a partner in Acosta & Fraga Law, PLLC, informed her of the job opportunity at the firm and helped her land a spot there in August, first as a paralegal until she was admitted to the Florida Bar.
“Palm Beach State has been my family,’’ Medina said.
“It makes me happy knowing I had some part in her first job,’’ Montesinos said. “She came back to serve the community. Being able to come back and have that opportunity to give back to the community, however that may be, that really is full circle to me.”