Today during Commencement Exercises at Edward Waters College, parents inside the EWC Community Field & Stadium will be smiling broadly.
And so will Ekee Ehrlich, Esq., an assistant professor of criminal justice who is affectionately called “Ms. E” by her students.
“She’s very dependable and does things without being asked,” said Dr. Benjamin Okafor, chair of the Criminal Justice Department. “She really cares about the students and is a big reason the Lawyers in Training (LIT) students are doing really well. She exposes them to different law schools so they can experience what it takes to be in law school. She goes out of her way to help them.”
Born in Nigeria, Ehrlich was raised there, in England and in the U.S. She earned her Bachelor of Technology in Laboratory Science from Paddington College University of London, her Master of Science in Microbiology from Birkbeck College University of London and her Juris Doctor from Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco.
Becoming an attorney — not a college professor — was Ehrlich’s plan. Fortunately for Edward Waters she’s doing both, as she’s also an attorney for E3 Law PA, a local firm.
“I’m an attorney and I love practicing law, but now I love teaching,” Ehrlich said. “I never saw myself as a teacher, but here I am.”
Class of 2021 member Ethan Tejedor can’t say enough about her.
“She helps prepare students for real-world applications and the pressure of the real world,” Tejedor said. “When you’re in court and you’re not prepared, the judge isn’t going to give you a break. The jury isn’t going to give you a break. Ms. E doesn’t give you a break, and for that reason she’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.
“As an advisor, she does her best to ensure the criminal justice students have everything they need,” Tejedor continued. “Ms. E does her best to make sure we know about opportunities and constantly follows up with us about our research projects and how we’re doing with respect to preparing for the LSAT and our law school applications. She puts on a facade that we’re on our own, but we can tell she cares about us.”
Indeed she does.
Ehrlich agreed to be interviewed for this article only if she could discuss her students. When she talks about them, her pride is palpable.
“My students are amazing. One student who graduated last year and was part of the LIT Club got accepted into law school at Stetson University and is on the wait list for law school at the University of Florida and Florida State,” Ehrlich said. “Two of the kids who are graduating today are studying for the LSAT and will be going to law school next year. I just love my students! They test me, but I love them.”
Ehrlich wants Edward Waters students who earn criminal justice degrees to be well prepared for law school, careers in law enforcement or whatever they choose to do — thus she exposes them to as much as she can.
“Our students attend actual hearings with circuit court judges in downtown Jacksonville, who are very welcoming to us,” she said. “We didn’t go this year because of COVID, but we got to sit in on some hearings via Zoom.
Erhlich’s students also participate in a mock trial in Circuit Court Judge Lester Bass’ courtroom.
“We write the script, witness questions and opening statements and closing arguments and Judge Bass critiques it,” she said. “He has a prosecutor and a public defender come in … and as we’re going through the script and the questions, the attorneys give my students tips. Before we start, Judge Bass comes in in his robe and gives the students a pep talk.”
Criminal Justice is the second largest major at Edward Waters, but not all CJ majors are aspiring attorneys.
“Everyone is catered to, not just the students who want to practice law,” Ehrlich said. “We expose our students to police officers and people who work in corrections, and part of our curriculum requires that for some classes you have to go through prison visits.”
Ehrlich considers it a blessing to provide so much exposure for EWC students and credits Okafor for giving her and her colleagues the support they need to push their students toward excellence.
Today at Commencement, she’ll likely get emotional while reminiscing about the past four years and the students she’s taught.
“You remember when they came in as freshmen and how some of them were scared and unsure and shared personal things with you that they’d overcome,” Ehrlich said. “While watching the graduation you remember each student and when you first laid eyes on them, the students who gave you a rough time in class, the solid academic students and the ones who had challenges.
“Yet there they are standing tall in that robe and walking across that podium,” Ehrlich continued. “When you remember how the students persevered and see their faces and remember their stories … it makes it all worth it.”