For many students, entering law school while several months pregnant would pose enough of a challenge.
University of Iowa College of Law student Nicci Ledbetter was up to the challenge, and then some. During her first semester at Iowa Law, the DeSoto, Iowa, native also decided to pursue a Master of Arts in Philosophy.
“Being pregnant and being in law school was stressful,” Ledbetter says. “But I felt comfortable with philosophy, so I said, ‘Why not?’”
This month, Ledbetter will earn both her Juris Doctorate and Master of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Iowa. Throughout her academic career at Iowa—where she also completed her undergraduate studies—Ledbetter showed a commitment to pushing herself farther than the average student and a determination to proving any doubters wrong.
“You just have to be stubborn and dedicated,” she says. “If someone tells you that you can’t do it, do it and have a smile on your face. If you have doubts about yourself, prove yourself wrong.”
“My time at Iowa has meant everything. Being able to pave my future and my family’s future has just meant the world.”
Ledbetter came to the University of Iowa after graduating from high school in 2011. After her first year at Iowa, she took a break and enlisted in the Iowa Air National Guard. She joined as an F-16 crew chief and later cross-trained to a geospatial intelligence officer. Ledbetter is still with the Air Force National Guard as a noncommissioned officer.
After a year away, Ledbetter rejoined the University of Iowa in 2013, majoring in philosophy, political science, and ethics and public policy on her way to earning her bachelor’s degree. From there, she went on to both law school and graduate school.
“I came to law school because I wanted to help people who felt like they had no way to help themselves,” she says.
Ledbetter’s time in law school presented challenges beyond those of a typical student. She was placed on bed rest in mid-November of her first semester and went into labor in the middle of a final. During her second year, Ledbetter went into labor just a few weeks before spring exams. She had obligations to the Iowa Air Force National Guard.
To further complicate matters, Ledbetter’s husband—who also is in the Air Force—spent much of the last several years stationed away from Iowa. Ledbetter credits her support system—classmates, family, and a friend from high school—with helping her manage being a parent, servicemember, and student.
The payoff, Ledbetter says, is a better life for her and her family.
“My time at Iowa has meant everything,” she says. “Being able to pave my future and my family’s future has just meant the world.”
Carin Crain, associate dean of student affairs at Iowa Law, describes Ledbetter as “an amazing student.”
“Here’s the thing about Nicci: Her academic accomplishments alone distinguish her among law students,” Crain says, referring to her multiple degrees from Iowa. “Then she has her Air Force obligations. She’s a mother. She’s been successful in her job search. Putting all of those activities into one person is really nothing short of amazing.”
Crain says that while Ledbetter’s experience at Iowa might be atypical, she still sets an example for her fellow students.
“Students don’t have to be parents, have Air Force service obligations, and a triple major,” Crain says. “But, they can see her as an example of deciding what is the right path for themselves and taking the steps necessary to achieve those goals.”
After graduation, Ledbetter will go to work for the Marshalltown, Iowa, firm of Cartwright, Druker & Ryden. She’ll serve as an associate doing general practice. There, Ledbetter will show her clients what her time at Iowa has shown her: no obstacle is insurmountable.
“There’s always a solution,” she says.