Ten years ago, Corona del Mar resident Karina Hamilton gave up her high-powered career as a lawyer for a much different calling: education. She never looked back.

“I was a corporate attorney for 10 years, and honestly, I never liked it,” Hamilton says.

“At the ripe old age of 35, I decided to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”

She found more satisfaction in the classroom than the courtroom by helping disadvantaged students get ahead. Her dedication to helping students succeed at UCI and area schools earned Hamilton a Living Our Values Award, which are awarded twice yearly by Chancellor Michael Drake to staff, faculty and students whose actions best embody UCI’s values of respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, appreciation and fun.

Hamilton came to UCI in 1999 as founding director of the SAGE Scholars Program. SAGE – Student Achievement Guided by Experience – provides training, paid internships, mentoring and financial support to motivated UCI students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds; most are first in their families to graduate from college. Program sponsors include Merrill Lynch, Allergan, Edwards Lifesciences and Conexant.

Hamilton teaches SAGE courses on professionalism and leadership. This winter, she’s launching the program’s new track for students interested in law careers, in anticipation of the 2009 opening of the UC Irvine’s new School of Law. “It’s wonderful to work with students, to really listen to their hopes and dreams.”

In addition, Hamilton helped launch UCI’s XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship Fund, which is awarded to students who demonstrate a commitment to peace, ethics and leadership.

“She instills confidence in me because she treats me as though I have the power to make a change in the world around me,” says Rajiv Ramdeo, who received the scholarship in 2006 as a junior and is now pursuing his master’s in environmental toxicology at UCI.

Hamilton also was a founder of Sage Hill School in Newport Coast, the first independent, nondenominational, nonprofit high school in Orange County, “so students could find out what they’re really passionate about.” She also helped launch El Sol Academy of Arts and Sciences, a public charter school in Santa Ana serving preschool through eighth graders.

She’s a trustee for the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, which provides after-school programming and career exploration courses for thousands of talented, low-income students, and she’s an advisory board member for Children First, which supports innovative programs for low-income preschoolers.

For Hamilton, helping SAGE students go on to graduate school and careers has revitalized her own career.

“I look forward to going into the office every single day,” she says.