UVA Student Toni Ajala Receives McGuireWoods Scholarship

July 6, 2021
Tracy Walker, summer associate Athena Sophie Mouros, scholarship recipient Oluwatoni Toni Ajala and Yasser Madriz

From left: Tracy Walker, summer associate Athena “Sophie” Mouros, scholarship recipient Oluwatoni “Toni” Ajala and Yasser Madriz

McGuireWoods managing partner J. Tracy Walker IV recently announced the recipient of the 2021 McGuireWoods scholarship at the University of Virginia School of Engineering & Applied Science — rising fourth-year student Oluwatoni “Toni” Ajala.

Ajala majors in chemical engineering with a focus on biotechnology. She has developed an interest in cancer research and healthcare policy and has completed summer research internships at the National Cancer Institute’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities and at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. During the school year, she has been a research assistant at the Lysiak Laboratory at the University of Virginia.

Ajala was inspired to attend law school by a chance encounter with an immigration lawyer in Houston. The lawyer supports himself working as a high school history teacher and does all of his immigration work pro bono. He assisted Ajala on her own path to citizenship, a dream she realized in April when she was naturalized. She aspires to pay the gift forward by helping undocumented children attain citizenship. In her scholarship essay, Ajala wrote: “Being undocumented is a burden that children often endure without talking to their friends, teachers, and sometimes even family.” She hopes to work at a legal clinic to assist immigrants in the DACA program and help them file for citizenship “because no person should stop believing in their dreams because of their status.”

On June 30, 2021, Ajala visited McGuireWoods’ Houston office and attended a happy hour with summer associates and firm lawyers, including Tracy and office managing partner Yasser Madriz. “It was a delight to finally meet Toni in person,” Walker said. “I was impressed with her poise and her confidence. With her incredible record of achievement at UVA, I have no doubt she will achieve great things as a lawyer.”

The McGuireWoods scholarship is part of a law school pipeline project the firm launched in 2019. In addition to awarding a scholarship each year to a rising fourth-year student interested in law school, the firm has partnered with the School of Engineering to develop and sponsor the school’s Future Leaders Speaker Series, where students can learn about careers outside of engineering.

Walker, who graduated from UVA with a degree in mechanical engineering, has explained the firm’s focus on engineering students: “Engineering school graduates are particularly well-positioned to do well in law school and to go on to successful careers as lawyers. Engineering schools, like business schools, focus on team-based problem solving, a particularly important skill set for lawyers. It is a demanding curriculum. Students who thrive in that environment have developed strong analytical skills and are poised to do well in law school and beyond.”