CHICAGO — Armando Rios and his niece Kimberly Rios had no idea they shared a passion for law. But on the afternoon of law school orientation, Kimberly turned around to find her uncle standing behind her.
“I asked him, ‘What are you doing here?’” Kimberly recalled, laughing. “Then I saw his name tag and said, ‘No way!’” Armando was equally surprised to learn that his niece was his classmate. “I saw her across the room, and I knew exactly who that was,” he said.
On May 18, their family will celebrate when both graduate from DePaul University’s College of Law. Throughout their time at DePaul, Kimberly and Armando found ways to support each other, even though they pursued different paths.
Early inspiration drove Kimberly to law school
Kimberly found her calling while studying for the eighth grade U.S. Constitution test. “I loved social studies and learning how the government works. I knew then that I wanted to go to law school,” Kimberly said.
Growing up in Aurora, Illinois, Kimberly was first generation Mexican-American, and her parents placed a strong emphasis on higher education. “I’ve always been into school; my mom never had to pressure me to do my homework. I always felt an obligation to do it on my own,” Kimberly said. In high school, she interned with the Kendall County State’s Attorney’s office and found her niche in criminal law.
She went on to study political science and English at Aurora University and also worked for a criminal defense attorney. “I thought that I wanted to be a prosecutor, but then I saw what it’s like to be on the other side,” Kimberly said. “By defending someone else’s rights, I’m defending my own. And I’m making sure the Constitution is defended,” she said.
As a law student, Kimberly worked for O’Connor Law Group LLC on personal injury cases and found that being fluent in Spanish has helped her connect with clients. “Being able to speak to the clients in their native language allows me to build a relationship with them and establish stronger client-attorney trust,” she said.
Kimberly said her classmates at DePaul brought a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds to class, which enhanced her learning experience.
“It’s always good to have a diverse population to give various perspectives on different issues in a discussion-based class. DePaul’s diverse student body — from socio-economic status, to age and race — was reflected in my classes,” said Kimberly.
Armando combined love for aviation with interest in law
Flying is Armando’s first passion. He holds a private pilot’s license and earned a bachelor’s degree from Lewis University in aviation maintenance management. “There’s nothing like flying in the clouds, the instruments telling you you’re right there on course,” Armando said. However, a difficult time in Armando’s family life took him in an unexpected direction.
“My dad came to America searching for better job opportunities and then later started his own mattress manufacturing business,” he said. “In the beginning, I was planning on going to Florida to finish my commercial pilot’s license,” Armando said.
“But then my father got sick, so I had to stay in Aurora to help take care of him.”
When his father became ill, Armando faced legal challenges in managing his father’s end of life care. “Then I knew I wanted a law degree to help other people in the same situation.”
Returning to school several years after completing his undergraduate degree, Armando was drawn to DePaul. “I grew up watching Blue Demon games — the men’s and the women’s — and I have always been really familiar with DePaul.”
Armando took two aviation law courses at DePaul that connected with his real life experience from the field. Armando had interned with the Federal Aviation Administration and assisted in investigating airplane crashes. Being back in the classroom was much different than working on an airplane. “It was hard to get back into the swing of things,” Armando said.
However, Kimberly and Armando were able to be there for each other throughout their studies. “Occasionally we would have lunch together and always made sure we reached out to one another,” said Armando.
“We only took two classes together,” said Kimberly. “We wouldn’t sit together or anything; I like to sit in the very front and my uncle liked to sit in the back. In the classes we took together we would help each other with homework, send each other references and give support to one another in class,” she said.
Armando smiled and laughed as he remembered when two of their professors found out that he and Kimberly were related. “None of our professors really knew that we were related, but a couple did figure it out. After that, one professor used us in hypothetical, which is similar to an in-class scenario. And the other just started to call me ‘uncle’ whenever he saw me.”
Both Kimberly and Armando have high hopes for after graduation. Kimberly will be starting a full-time position with O’Connor Law Group and dreams of one day working for a public defender’s office. Armando is pursuing a position that will incorporate his studies in aviation and his law degree.
Written by Rae Kirby