Plattsburgh State junior Gisette Paez is graduating this spring and heading off to law school with a double major in criminal justice and political science.

Paez grew up in Harlem, N.Y., and after seeing first-hand how crime affects cities, she decided she wanted to be someone who could make a change in the justice system. Paez came to PSUC as a criminal justice major, but after taking some political science classes freshman year, she decided taking six classes for a minor wasn’t enough and added a double major.

Paez said most people think of police officers or law enforcement when they think of criminal justice but she knew that’s not what she wanted to do with her life. After taking more political science classes, she realized that politics and the justice system go hand-in-hand.

“I wanted to see how the system could be better,” Paez said. “In order to change the system, you need to be from within.”

After doing an internship with Plattsburgh Democratic candidate Mike Derrick, who was running for New York’s 21st Congressional District, Paez learned a lot about how to start a political campaign. Paez said she was used to being in a large city where recreation and parks are most important to citizens, and it was interesting experiencing political campaigns in a smaller town such as Plattsburgh, where tourism and infrastructure are most important.

PSUC political science professor Harvey Schantz is Paez’s adviser and was also her sponsor when she was doing her internship with local government. Schantz is impressed that it took only a week or so after applying for Paez to be accepted into law school.

“I could say I’ve seen great growth in her, but as soon as I met her, she was clearly a very smart and interested student,” Schantz said.

Paez’s advice for any students wanting to get involved is to take it slow. She said freshman year should be a year of self-discovery and finding out what you enjoy. Sophomore year is the time to start joining clubs or organizations. She said the last two years should be for building or creating something you can dedicate your time and effort to wholeheartedly.

That’s exactly what she did.

Paez and her friend, PSUC junior English education major Tiffany Martin, decided to turn something they love into a club for all students to try. Craft for a Cause is a club that combines knitting and crocheting with charity. At first, the club was a way to relax, talk with friends and knit together. Then, members decided to spread the joy and donate their handmade scarves to local soup kitchens for the homeless.

The two friends and co-creators of the club met their freshman year and instantly hit it off. Martin recalls coming to Plattsburgh and not having any friends. The first week of classes, the two met in a math class and it was “friendship at first sight.”

The club is only in its early stages, but recently, Paez noticed something during a meeting.

“Last week was the first time everybody sat down and was knitting and crocheting and we were all just talking and that’’s when I realized this is my vision,” Paez said. “Being able to knit and crochet with friends and just talk and seeing it come to life is very rewarding.”

Martin immediately noticed Paez’s “city spunk” and confidence and, for that reason, Martin thinks she will be an excellent lawyer.

“She is always willing to be there for someone else,” Martin said. “She would drop anything to help someone and as a lawyer, she’ll use those skills to help anyone around her. I definitely feel like Gisette will be a lawyer that’s for her client and not just assigned a client.”

As president of Craft for a Cause, Paez does not overstep her boundaries when it comes to dictating how the club is run. Martin said there is often a hierarchy due to given titles or positions in clubs, and Paez does not let the title of “President” impair her ability to listen. She said talking and having conversations are some of the most important aspects of clubs.

“You don’t need to dictate to be a leader, and I think Gisette is a natural-born leader,” Martin said. “She takes time to consult everyone around her. She calls me, texts me or emails to present her ideas to us in a manner that she’s asking and wanting a conversation and opening that door to a conversation rather than telling, and that’s something you don’t see in a president.”

As a member of the Student Association Judicial Court, it seems logical that a natural-born leader such as Paez is on the track to helping others already.

“She pushes me and I think that’s what you need in a friend,” Martina said. “Your friends should sharpen you like knives and they shouldn’t be there to dull you.”

Email Laura Schmidt at opinions@cardinalpointsonline.com

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