From Double Major to Law School: Emily Kelly-Olsen ’19

July 22, 2020
Jaimie Yue '22
Woman smiling.
A law student at University of Michigan, Emily Kelly-Olsen '19 aspires to practice Asia Law. Photo credit: Courtesy of Emily Kelly-Olsen

Class of 2019 graduate Emily Kelly-Olsen was a dedicated track and field athlete and double majored in politics and East Asian studies with a concentration in Chinese studies after taking a particularly illuminating politics course about Chinese socialism and revolution taught by Marc Blecher. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Olsen is currently a student at the University of Michigan Law School, but will return to Portland this summer as a Summer Associate/Fellow at the law firm K&L Gates.

Class of 2019 graduate Emily Kelly-Olsen was a dedicated track and field athlete and double majored in politics and East Asian studies with a concentration in Chinese studies after taking a particularly illuminating politics course about Chinese socialism and revolution taught by Marc Blecher. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Olsen is currently a student at the University of Michigan Law School, but will return to Portland this summer as a Summer Associate/Fellow at the law firm K&L Gates.

Why did you double major in politics and East Asian studies?

I went into Oberlin thinking I wanted to study the social sciences because I loved the government, history, and sociology classes that I took in high school. I dabbled in sociology, classics, and history courses my first semester, but during my second semester at Oberlin I was lucky to stumble into Professor Marc Blecher’s politics course. Cue me finding out exactly what I was going to major in! 

As for East Asian studies, I took Mandarin in high school, so I decided to try out some college courses. I ended up enjoying those courses more than I ever enjoyed my high school ones because they were so much more immersive and intensive, so we learned very quickly. I just continued to take them without any thought to making a major out of it. It actually wasn’t until I studied abroad in Beijing during my junior year and came back very proficient in Mandarin and nearly finished with an East Asian Studies major that I finally decided to declare it as a second major.

Did any professors or faculty at Oberlin particularly enhance your college experience? 

It’s hard to choose one single faculty member who particularly enhanced my college experience because I had so many amazing professors, but what I will say is that Professor Blecher is an absolutely incredible individual whom I plan to keep in touch with for years to come. He is just amazing and I owe him so much. I took pretty much every possible politics course that he offered throughout my Oberlin career. He became my mentor and was my advisor for both of my majors, as well as for my honors thesis about Chinese politics.  

What extracurricular activities or student organizations were you a part of at Oberlin?

I did fun activities such as swing and blues dancing through OSwing, and teaching third through fifth graders as an America Reads tutor. I spent most of my energy, however, on the track team. I was a sprinter all four years and was the sprint team captain during my senior season. What I loved most about being an athlete at Oberlin is that I never had to choose between sports and my education. My coaches all understood and reiterated that our education (as well as mental/emotional health) always came first over athletics, and it’s special to find that type of environment on a team that was highly competitive in our conference like ours was. Oberlin Track and Field is something I put on my resume and is actually a great topic during interviews.  

What experiences, opportunities, and classes did you have that were unique to Oberlin?

Something that makes Oberlin such a gem is their Ex-Co program! Ex-Cos courses are taught by students, staff, and Oberlin community members for one or two credits (or you can take them for no credit). They can be about pretty much every topic imaginable, from “How to Make Beauty Products” to “How to do Jiu Jitsu.” I took a beginning swing dancing course and advanced swing course for credit as well as a blues dancing course for fun my first and second years at Oberlin. To this day I still am an especially avid swing dancer, and my dad and I swing danced for our father-daughter dance at my wedding, using moves I learned at Oberlin. It was a hit! I highly recommend taking an Ex-Co if you can. They are usually low-commitment and a great way to make new friends.  

What’s next for you?

I thought about taking a gap year or two to teach English in China, but I decided that I had the energy to continue my education and I knew what I wanted to do, so why wait? I am not completely sure what type of law I will end up practicing yet, but this summer I have accepted a position as a Summer Associate/Fellow at K&L Gates in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, and I’ll be joining their Corporate Practice group this summer. I’ll probably be doing transactional law and if I stay with this particular firm, I will have the opportunity to practice Asia Law, which is my main interest. My plan is to move back to Portland and practice law there.

Photo of Marc Blecher

Marc Blecher

  • James Monroe Professor of Politics and of East Asian Studies
View Marc Blecher's biography
I’ve been teaching at Oberlin for 42 years. I love teaching our students! They’re not just smart and serious, but they ask the best questions about the big political issues that matter. They care about learning for its own sake. I can teach at a very advanced level that stimulates my own thinking.

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