MORGANTOWN — Rochelle "Rocky" Goodwin recently was featured in West Virginia Living magazine's annual 50 Wonder Women of 2016 for accomplishments in her life and career as an attorney, educator and advocate.
The West Virginia Record caught up with Goodwin to discuss her career and how she got where she is today, at West Virginia University, serving the newly formed John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics, where she works to improve law and public policy issues.
"West Virginia Living’s coverage of our best places, most fun activities, and interesting people is always a treat and makes me feel proud of our state," Goodwin said. "So, it was an honor to be recognized with such accomplished women. And my six-year-old daughter thinks its super cool to be a 'wonder woman' in a magazine."
What led to your decisions and path toward a legal career?
"During college, I worked at a Head Start school and a family shelter including looking at policy and coordination of social services," Goodwin said. "After that, I knew I wanted to do work that allowed me to give back in some way. Taking a year to do federal policy work and serve with AmeriCorps provided a chance to work with top-notch public servants who had varied educational backgrounds. As I surveyed grad school options, law was relevant to my interests and provided flexibility for a varied career. Although I didn’t have any family who had been to law school, I got encouragement from trail blazers like Judge Irene Berger and Barbara Baxter and also from the guy I later married, Carte Goodwin."
"I’ve been really fortunate to have been hired by incredibly inspirational people throughout my career," Goodwin said. "Adrienne Worthy, executive director of Legal Aid of West Virginia; Sen. Jay Rockefeller; and now WVU Provost Joyce McConnell and WVU President Gordon Gee — these leaders are driven by purpose, think around corners, work effectively and they lift up others. And, on top of all of their skill and vision, each of them is kind. I am grateful to have the opportunity to know them and learn from them every day."
"My legal career has allowed me to win lots of smaller-scale but important battles for individual families in the courtroom, have a front row seat and share in a few large-scale policy wins that effected thousands or even millions of people. I now work at the confluence of theory and application as Senior Associate Vice President for Academic and Public Strategy at WVU," Goodwin said. "West Virginia has big challenges and opportunities, and higher education should be a key part of creating a smart path forward. Fitting together the puzzle pieces of people, policy and place is rewarding work. It’s an important puzzle to solve."
What about guidance for young budding professionals just leaving law school or maybe beginning?
"Soak it all in, hatch big ideas, be true to who you’ve always been, be organized and get a good night’s sleep as often as possible," Goodwin said. "It’s true that law school does teach how to reason and think, and a law degree will open doors. However, to really be successful in practicing law it’s important to truly listen to and understand people, never overreach and always be prepared."
Before working at WVU, Goodwin was an attorney with Legal Aid of West Virginia. The West Virginia State Bar recognized her work with its Young Lawyer of the Year award, according to WV Living. She was also LAWV’s statewide pro-bono director and Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s director of state operations for a time.