Meet the UNT Dallas College of law trio who succeeded through motivation and collaboration

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Three 2024 UNT Dallas College of Law graduates—LaDyrian Cole, Annaliza Rodriguez, and Jamaria Rongey—are true Trailblazers. Over the past three years, this dynamic, high-achieving trio has supported and encouraged each other through shared experiences and a special connection—a connection that will continue far beyond law school.

Jamaria Rongey, Annaliza Rodriguez, LaDyrian Cole (L-R)

Jamaria Rongey, Annaliza Rodriguez, LaDyrian Cole (L-R)All are women of color, all are mothers, all have ties to the U.S. Armed Forces, all are first-generation law students, and all are passionate about making a lasting impact on the legal system in North Texas and beyond. 

Building on a Unique Bond

As they prepare to cross the Commencement stage at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas on Saturday, May 18, Cole, Rodriguez, and Rongey are grateful for the unique bond they have forged. It has made their individual strengths even stronger as a group. They have survived and thrived through the countless challenges and opportunities that are part of the UNT Dallas College of Law experience.

The curriculum emphasizes hands-on, experiential, and collaborative learning, focuses on real-world practical skills and abilities, and encourages community service. It is designed for students to achieve academic success and bar readiness. These are important components that differentiate UNT Dallas College of Law from others.

Jamaria Rongey Outside the UNT Dallas College of LawRongey recently won the Kastl Law PC mock trial competition. Rodriguez served as Editor-in-Chief of UNT Dallas College of Law's Law Review, Accessible Law. Cole is graduating cum laude and with Dean’s List Honor in the top 10 of this cohort.

For Rongey, 28, it’s a long way from the small Alabama town where she grew up. “As the third child of five born to teen parents, we did not have the resources that a lot of kids experience,” she said. Rodriguez can relate. She comes from humble beginnings in San Angelo, Texas. As the eldest among her siblings, she took on the responsibility of supporting her family by working throughout high school to contribute to their financial stability. Throughout her journey, she encountered adversity, navigating periods of homelessness and financial struggle, yet remained resolute in her pursuit of a better life.

Balancing School and Family

Marine Annaliza Rodriguez and Her Now-Husband Serving In AfghanistanRodriguez, 32, joined the United States Marine Corps at age 18 and received specialized training in aircraft maintenance. She met her husband, who is also a Marine, while they were deployed in Afghanistan.

Annaliza Rodriguez with Her Husband and Three ChildrenTheir military service ended, and they now have three children, ages 6, 4, and 2. “Balancing my goal to excel academically with the responsibilities of being a wife and mother was my biggest challenge in law school. I am deeply grateful for my husband's support and encouragement, as well as the joy that both he and my children bring into my life.” Rodriguez said.

Her classmates understand all too well. Cole, 33, has a 7-year-old daughter. Her child’s father is an air traffic controller on active duty in the Army. Rongey has two children; one was 15 months old when Rongey started law school, and the other was born while she was a student. Her husband is an Army aviation reservist and works as a pilot at Southwest Airlines.

Jamaria Rongley with Her Husband and Two ChildrenBecause of the lessons of their past and hopes for their future, all three women are dedicated to helping underserved communities with an eye toward empathy. “I chose UNT Dallas College of Law because of its reputation for carving a path of community service and because it is focused on the minority population,” said Rongey. Cole said she enrolled at UNT Dallas College of Law because it is a “school of community,” both internally and externally, which supports each other and those around it.

Cases in point: Two Community Lawyering Centers staffed by College of Law students, which offer free legal services in areas including immigration, housing, family law, child support and custody, and wills and probate. And the Joyce Ann Brown Innocence Clinic, which works on behalf of Texans who believe they were wrongfully convicted.

LaDyrian Cole When She Worked As a Flight AttendantCole's dedication to helping others drove her in previous roles before she became a law student. She worked as a flight attendant and a journalist. As a television reporter in Tyler, Texas, Cole often covered crimes, hearings, and trials. Her presence was felt in the courthouse and on the air. But “I was tired of being on the sidelines,” Cole recalled. “I wanted to be more involved to have an impact on the outcomes.” She earned a Dallas Bar Assn. Judge Sarah T. Hughes Diversity Scholarship, which paid her tuition for all three years.

What's Next?

Although the challenges of law school are now behind them, new challenges lie ahead, regardless of which type of law these women decide to practice. Rongey’s specialty is criminal law. “CPS was involved in my childhood, which lit the fire that made me want to go to college and be the change. Cases involving crimes against children are what make me want to be a prosecutor,” Rongey said. 

LaDyrian Cole Reporting for CBS19 in Tyler, TXAfter interning at the Dallas District Attorney’s Office, she was hired there. Her goal is to help those with similar backgrounds. “I feel I need to continue to fight for my spot in the legal profession as both a minority and a female, she said.

Rodriguez has overcome Imposter Syndrome, the sense that she didn’t belong at the College of Law and didn’t deserve what she had accomplished. She has come to believe differently. “This is where I need to be. I belong here. I deserve it.”  Rodriguez excelled as the top graduate in her undergraduate degree program and is currently positioned within the top 10% of her graduating class and Is graduating with honors. Her academic achievements have earned her a position at the international law firm Greenberg Traurig, where she will focus her expertise on corporate law.

Cole is pursuing corporate law and, starting in November, will work for Polsinelli Law Firm, where her practice group will be financial services litigation. She’s used to deadline pressure and adventure.

Rongey, Rodriguez and Cole at a 2024 College of Law Board of Advocates Celebration

Rongey, Rodriguez and Cole at a 2024 College of Law Board of Advocates CelebrationThis trio of highly accomplished Trailblazers was brought together by fate, luck, and purpose. It is a purpose they share with Commencement speaker U.S. Circuit Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez, who has broken barriers throughout her career and has served as an inspiration to minority legal professionals for decades. Ramirez currently sits on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the first Latina appointed to the court.

As these dedicated, persistent, and resilient future attorneys take the next step in their journeys, they may take different paths, but they have one common goal: Practice law with integrity and make a real difference doing it. Said Cole, “We all give it all; nothing is left on the table.”

From UNT Dallas – Student Commencement College of Law News