Philsan Isaak: A brilliant undergrad
Growing up in Blaine, MN, and attending high school in Spring Lake Park, Philsan Isaak was able to concurrently enroll at the University of Minnesota for her final two years of high school through the Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program. In spring 2021, she took the online version of Professor Lisa Hilbink's "Law and (In)Justice in Latin America" course.
A month into the course, Isaak met with Hilbink on Zoom to discuss a presentation she was preparing for class.
“As we were chatting, Philsan told me she was a PSEO student and was only 17 years old," says Hilbink "I practically had to lift my jaw off the floor. The student who had distinguished herself with her spot-on answers to questions and remarkable insights … was also the youngest member of the class.”
Before taking Hilbink’s course, Isaak focused on studying American politics with an eye toward law school. But internationally focused courses often allow students to build a theoretical framework for assessing topics that one might think only resonate domestically.
“Taking [Professor Hilbink’s] classes allowed me to see political contexts outside what I had previously known and understand how different situations and starting positions could impact political outcomes,” says Isaak.
Working toward a better future
“If I could say that any one course put me on the PoliSci bandwagon, it was 'Supreme Court Politics' with Professor Tim Johnson," says Isaak. "The course content and Professor Johnson’s teaching style was extraordinary. It was just the perfect recipe and ultimately had a large part to play in the academic path I chose.”
Johnson also has high praise for Isaak.
"Philsan is the epitome of a liberal arts student,” he says. “She thinks critically but with an open mind, she is a beautiful writer, and she has a keen eye for sussing out logical problems. [She] is clearly in the top one percent of students I have ever taught.”
The rigorous academic content in the Department of Political Science is providing the base for Isaak to launch herself into law school. As a lawyer, she wants to make the world a better place.
“I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that progress happens incrementally, through many people doing their small part to push the world towards a better future,” she says. “Being a lawyer feels like the most natural and ‘me’ way of doing that. By offering voices for those who have been stripped of their own, and challenging the assembly-line method of justice delivery currently in practice, I feel that I would be doing my part in achieving positive progress.”
Isaak says that, for her, choosing the University of Minnesota was easy.
“UMN had the largest student body, the best research resources, and the most course options," she says. "[It] offered everything that I was looking for in a school.”
This story was adapted from the College of Liberal Arts.