UCI News

Student thrives on stage and in the ‘courtroom’

Third-year student Marissa Jaroscak Oxman’s performing arts background comes in handy in the mock-trial courtroom

by Heather Wuebker, School of Social Sciences | May 27, 2008
Student thrives on stage and in the ‘courtroom’

Meet Marissa Jaroscak Oxman. She’s a third-year dance major at UCI, an accomplished accordion player, and she plans to pursue a career in law. While an accordion-playing dancer-attorney might sound like a character out of a script for “Boston Legal,” Jaroscak Oxman explains the concept is not that farfetched.

“The stereotype that all lawyers come from pre-law or similarly focused majors is definitely changing,” she says.

Case in point: UCI’s nationally ranked mock trial team boasts engineering, English and drama majors among its members, in addition to the traditional law school aspirants from history and political science. The team, just three years old, recently returned from the Mock Trial National Championship Tournament in Minneapolis where it placed 12th, beating out powerhouse teams from Stanford, Duke and other prestigious universities.

“This kind of success, for a third-year program, is virtually unheard of in the mock trial world,” Jaroscak Oxman says.

In addition to the excellent coaching staff and support, she credits much of the team’s success to its interdisciplinary membership. For her, countless hours of training in classical ballet since age 6 have served a dual purpose in the mock-trial courtroom.

“As a dancer, you learn to move fluidly and use your body to talk,” she says.  “These skills are a major plus for a lawyer who has to stand in front of a courtroom and win over a jury.”

Similarly, she says, an English major may use creative-writing skills to draft an interesting argument, while a drama major might play a number of roles when acting out a case in trial.

“We jokingly refer to our team as ‘Mock Trial: The Musical’ because we have such an interesting mix of talent,” Jaroscak Oxman says. The team’s creativity often results in songs and dances to go with trial cases and speeches as they prepare for competition.

Whatever the strategy, it worked – the team closed out its season with eight team awards, nine individual awards and its first appearance in a national tournament.

“The team’s spectacular success this year is attributable to persistence, talent, dedication, and perhaps above all, the pleasure each member derives from being a part of this team,” says Mark Petracca, political science department chair and team.

Jaroscak Oxman agrees: “We have a lot of fun, and I think that really shows through in our ‘performance’ in the courtroom.”