Spring/Summer 2023


New Scholarship Supports First-Gen Students

By Chelsea Liddy Pivtorak

Charles and Susan McKee Pavlica, ’81
Charles and Susan McKee Pavlica, ’81

As a first-generation law student from a suburban Midwestern community, it took some time for Susan McKee Pavlica, ’81, to find her footing at Michigan Law. During her 1L year, she faced the phenomenon that we now refer to as imposter syndrome. “When I arrived, I was very intimidated by the academic prowess of my classmates. I had gone to a small college in Kansas that no one had ever heard of, and I kept meeting people who went to the Ivy League schools, as well as the Seven Sisters. It was outside of my realm of experience,” says Pavlica. “At first I wondered why I had been granted admission. When I took my first exams, I received grades that were much lower than I was used to receiving in college. During the first few months in Ann Arbor, I was very concerned about whether I could succeed at the Law School.” 

Things began to change when Pavlica began her 1L summer clerkship. She greatly enjoyed the work, and the experience demonstrated that she was learning what she needed to know and that she could hold her own in a legal workplace. She entered her 2L year with a newfound confidence and improved her grades while building strong friendships as part of the first class of women to live in the Phid House. 

Recognizing that first-generation students may face distinct challenges, Pavlica established the Wilfred and Roberta McKee Fund at Michigan Law. The scholarship is named for her parents, who supported her law school dreams, and Pavlica hopes to pay it forward to students whose journeys have mirrored her own. “Having lived it, I recognize the extra layer of challenge for a first-generation law student who doesn't have the familiarity with what to expect and who may also face financial difficulties,” she says. “My parents were very encouraging, but my dad worked in construction and my mom sold commercial insurance, so they didn't have the background to know what law school was really like. Being able to relieve the financial worry for somebody who's got a little bit of an extra challenge in adjusting to law school is something that I want to do.”

After graduating from Michigan Law, Pavlica decided she wanted to try cases and obtained a position at a firm in Wichita, Kansas. She met and married her husband, Charles, during this time, and when he was transferred to Houston, she switched to a boutique firm to pursue appellate litigation—which she found more conducive to starting a family. Following the birth of her son, she began working part time, first for a solo practitioner and then for Mayer, Brown & Platt (now Mayer Brown LLP), where she stayed for six years before retiring from law. Pavlica took a professional break until the family relocated to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Once there, she spent 13 years with Silver Key Senior Services, where she served the aging community until her official retirement in 2020. She and her husband now spend time volunteering, visiting their son, Mike, and daughter, Kathy, and traveling to national parks around the country. 

Establishing this fund is a full-circle moment for Pavlica, who offers this advice to current and future generations: “Have confidence in yourself. Realize that Michigan is such an incredible school, and you were admitted for a reason. Law school is something that you can do, and you were chosen for this opportunity because somebody recognized that you had the ability to take advantage of the opportunity and to use it to the best of your ability.”