In honor of Black History Month, we are celebrating our Black alumnae women who have been the voices and changemakers in our community.
Pam Ingersol Saindon graduated from Mother McAuley in 1980 and went on to study Sociology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
In an interview with Michelle-Marie Nimo ‘23, a junior and member of the Black Student Union, Pam shared the tangible skills she learned from McAuley that prepared her for her professional life, including both writing and social skills.
“McAuley laid the foundation for me to be a good writer because they taught us how to write actively, rather than passively.” Pam’s writing skills aided her during her time at DePaul University - College of Law, where she graduated in 1995. During her second year of law school, she was working full time, going to school at nights, and gave birth to her son. With her full schedule, she recognized that her grades would not meet the requirements for clerkships. But because of her superb writing sample, she was able to receive a prestigious clerkship for former Justice William Cousins of the Illinois Appellate Court and then later for Justice Charles Freeman of the Illinois Supreme Court.
The social skills she gained at McAuley were very influential in her life. As one of the few Black students in her classes, she shared, “It helped me learn that we all have different skill levels, different intelligence levels. No race is smarter than another. You belong there just like anybody else in that classroom. There are people in class that are smarter than you and some (people) you are smarter than. Everybody has their challenges.”
Prior to law school, Pam lived in Japan and worked as a conversational English teacher, a kindergarten teacher at her alma mater Saint Helena of the Cross, and a Mental Health Specialist for adolescents and teens in Englewood.
Each past experience in Pam’s life and the support of her family have played pivotal roles in who she is today. Working as a teacher in Japan and Chicago gave her a love for teaching and led her to be an adjunct professor at University of Illinois Chicago School of Law. Her work as a Mental Health Specialist sparked her interest in the interplay between mental health and the court system, and thus beginning her career in law and as a mental health advocate in her everyday life.
Pam is currently a Principal Attorney for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. She practices in the District's User Charge and Enforcement Division, she spent five years in the Real Estate, Environmental, and Employment Divisions. Prior to her practice with the District, she spent 14 years as a contract, litigation, and housing policy attorney for the Chicago Housing Authority.
Pam is also the Second Vice-President of the NAACP-Chicago South Side Branch and has been a member of the Cook County Bar, Black Women Lawyers Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Asian American Bar, and The Decalogue Society of Lawyers.
How has being a Black woman in roles of leadership shaped you?
“When you take on leadership positions you learn a lot about yourself. You learn what your strengths are and you learn about what people see in you and why they have chosen you. I have learned that I am very diligent, hardworking, dependable, if you ask me to do something I will do it and do it to the best of my abilities. It has made me a more confident person because I know if I want to reach a goal, I can do it. I have these qualities, and I use these same qualities in my personal relationships.”
“People have preconceived notions, being a woman, a black woman and being yourself. They will put you in a box. Sometimes that is fine because you can use it to your advantage. Going to court sometimes is disconcerting because many times Black lawyers are automatically seen as the defendant in the case. So more times than none, I walk into court in my suit and nice coat, looking professional. I go to sign in at the attorney’s desk and the person at the desk tells me ‘Ma’am that’s for the attorneys’. Or you’ll walk in and they will say ‘Defendants are over here’. These things happen, and I’m not going to say these things happened a long time ago, these are recent instances. These are some challenges in leadership or professional positions, but you can’t help that or help people's perceptions. You can control your response and how you respond in a professional manner. ‘Yes ma’am I understand that this is for the attorneys. I am an attorney, I am signing in on behalf of my client’.” You are still looking to be professional in your response.
What advice do you give to young Black women going into the professional world?
“Be yourself. You are all the wonderful things that have gotten you this far and keep doing those wonderful things. Do not try to be somebody else because as the saying goes ‘be you, everybody else is taken’. You are never too nice or too aggressive. We all have things we can work on. Just know that who you are, where you are is where you are supposed to be. Always try to continue to grow and learn. Read about different ways that you can grow - self help books. Persevere when you meet challenges. When you have challenges, big or small challenges, life is going to happen. If that is what you want, you need to keep going.”
Watch part of Pam's interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?