In her time as a student at West Virginia University, Andrea McCardle experienced just about everything the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design had to offer. She took those experiences with her to law school and is now an up-and-coming associate in the Morgantown office of Jackson Kelly, Attorneys at Law, PLLC.
A Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness Management and Rural Development (’03) and a Master of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences (’04) may not seem like the most obvious track on the way to a legal education, but McCardle says it gave her an edge in her courses at the WVU College of Law (’07).
“The Davis College provided me with a unique and interesting background to a career in law,” McCardle said. “I had so many real-life experiences that I think you don’t receive with other majors. The common-sense, real world experience life as a ‘farm kid’ gave me was reinforced and strengthened by my education at the Davis College. We all know that farming involves analyzing your situation and making decisions based on information that does not always give a clear answer. These analytical skills made a seamless transition to the legal field.”
McCardle feels that her courses and experiences at the Davis College “prepared me as well as or better than those my peers in law school participated in and studied prior to law school. My instructors encouraged interactive learning within the classroom, and gave me as a student many, many opportunities to practice my public speaking skills. In addition, as a student I was encouraged to and sometimes required to prepare research projects and then present them to the classroom.”
These exercises in creating a hypothesis, gathering facts, and then presenting a conclusion to the classroom provided great experience for McCardle’s future in law school and as a lawyer. In her current practice, she focuses on the booming area of mineral law and real estate transactions in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“At the Davis College, I had multiple courses that addressed land use, business, and economics, which proved useful in so many of my law school courses, including real property, contracts, and business law,” she explained. “Beyond law school, I currently work in the oil and gas field focusing on ownership of Marcellus Shale rights in the region. I believe I have a solid understanding of the concerns of landowners that arise with surface use for oil and gas drilling.”
This understanding arises being intimately aware of the needs and concerns of land owners, many of whom are involved in some sort of agribusiness pursuit. “I also have a solid understanding of the environmental impacts of oil and gas drilling from a number of courses I took at the Davis College,” McCardle added.
In addition to her coursework, McCardle recognized the key role her Davis College mentors played in guiding her along her career path.
Fonda Holehouse, an attorney and teaching assistant professor in the Division of Resource Management, “sparked my interest in the law, and I am a problem -solving, over-analytical type of person, so the legal field fit very well with my natural skills.”
Denny Smith, associate dean for academic affairs, “always encouraged me to pursue whatever it was that I was interested in at the time. When I came to WVU, I wanted to go to veterinary school, and by the time my stint at the Davis College was over, I changed majors five times.” Smith and other faculty members “expressed a genuine interest in me as a person – I never felt that I was just a number at the Davis College.”
She remembers being inspired by Jeff Skousen’s passion for his field as a professor of soil science and WVU Extension Land Reclamation Specialist: “The information I took from Dr. Skousen’s course on reclamation of displaced soils has proved invaluable in my line of work.”
McCardle recalls Tesfa Gebremedhin’s willingness to offer one-on-one assistance to students, Cheryl Brown’s advocacy of sustainable agriculture, and the example set by Harry and Debby Boone in terms of public service.
As successful as she ended up being at WVU, McCardle was a little anxious about attending the state’s flagship institution: “I transferred to WVU from a small school and being from a small town, I was terrified to come to Morgantown.”
The Davis College’s small class sizes and dedicated faculty helped put her at ease and succeed.
“At the Davis College, the professors and staff genuinely cared about each and every student’s success,” McCardle said. “If they saw a student slipping, someone made an effort to help that student get back on track. I felt like the professors were there to help the students succeed and had a vested interest in helping everyone obtain their degree and move forward to a successful career.”
The rich variety of out-of-class experiences also helped prepare McCardle for her future.
“As a student, I was always encouraged to participate in extracurricular career development activities, such as career fairs and presentations by speakers who had a background in agriculture,” she said. “I felt as if focusing on our future was something we were always encouraged to do as students, and we were always provided with information regarding potential careers. Also, I think that we were provided with a variety of options so far as careers beyond the Davis College were concerned, hence the reason I landed in law school!”
The culture of the Davis College also helped her reinforce another important quality in any profession: perspective.
“Law school and careers in the law are a competitive arena, and sometimes people get so wrapped up in winning, they forget what the contest really is and what it really takes to succeed,” McCardle said.
“I think that my education at the Davis College has taught me that it’s important to focus on the work at hand, and the final goal will be reached. For example, if your main focus in raising a steer is to win grand champion at the fair, you’ll never make it to that goal if you don’t focus on the work at hand of feeding and caring for the steer. Being able to keep my eye on my goal, be it passing the bar exam or finishing a long and extensive project for work, and knowing that it will take a lot of hard work in the interim that WILL pay off in the end, has helped me continue to work hard every day in order to be successful, regardless of when the reward is eventually realized.”