Four Southeast Students Selected for 2020 Federal Justice Fellowship


Four Southeast Missouri State University students have been selected as fellows for the 2020 Federal Justice Fellowship with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

The fellows are Raven Cole of Afton, Missouri; Katherine Carter of St. Charles, Missouri; Antonio Barner of St. Louis, Missouri; and Drew Beussink of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

The new Federal Justice Fellowship will provide upper-level college students with a unique educational opportunity at the Rush Hudson Limbaugh, Sr., United States Courthouse in Cape Girardeau July 20-Aug. 14. The Court’s Education and Outreach Committee selected the four Southeast students from 16 candidates for their leadership potential and academic ability to thrive in an intensive learning environment.

During this intense four-week summer pilot program, fellows will gain an understanding of the state and federal judicial systems; learn more about the U.S. Constitution; observe district court cases and appellate arguments before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals; and receive an introduction to legal writing. Fellows will also shadow lawyers, staff, and Federal law enforcement officers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Federal Public Defender’s Office, U.S. Probation Office, U.S. Pretrial Services Office, U.S. Marshals, and the Clerk’s Office. At the end of the program, each fellow will make a final presentation to a federal judge in a courtroom.

The Federal Justice Fellowship is spearheaded by Abbie Crites-Leoni, U.S. Magistrate Judge, Eastern District of Missouri, an alumna of Southeast Missouri State University and former president of the Southeast Alumni Association. Crites-Leoni, who serves on the Court’s Education and Outreach Committee, said she proposed the fellowship because law-related summer internship opportunities at the federal courthouse are typically reserved for law school students, with a preference for those finishing their second year.

“When I first became a judge, I heard of a fellowship program in Massachusetts that endeavored to provide an opportunity for underrepresented students to learn about the federal courts. With Southeast being located so close to our courthouse and many students interested in studying the law, it made sense to create a program that would enable rising juniors and seniors to observe the work that goes on in the federal justice system,” she said. “The general population does not have a full understanding of the role of the federal courts.  By showing undergraduates how the system works and the agencies that play a significant role, I hope the students will be better equipped to make informed decisions about what career path they will pursue.”

Crites-Leoni said she shared her idea for the fellowship with the Court’s Education and Outreach Committee.  Later, a flyer promoting the Federal Justice Fellowship (FJF) was distributed at Southeast and posted on the Court’s website.

Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University, said, “I would like to congratulate and thank Judge Crites-Leoni for her leadership and foresight to create this tremendous learning opportunity for students. “These fellows will get an extraordinary window into the federal judicial system and will gain insights that will serve them very well in their future careers.”

Crites-Leoni said that while the Federal Justice Fellowship is somewhat modeled after the Massachusetts program, a “unique and challenging curriculum that could be described as a law school boot camp has been created for our fellows.

“If all goes well, we hope to offer the opportunity to a larger group next year,” she said, adding she anticipates their St. Louis courthouse will offer the same opportunity next summer.

Cole is a senior pursuing a major in criminal justice with minors in Spanish and political science. She is a member of Southeast’s McNair Scholars Program, and a Resident Assistant.  She hopes to work in legal defense.

Carter is a senior pursuing a double major in criminal justice and political science. She has interned with the Missouri Senate, is executive director of the Southeast Missouri State College Republicans; and vice president of the Law, Politics and Society Club. She hopes to pursue a career in the legal field.

Barner is a junior pursuing a major in political science. A first generation college student, he hopes to be a family law attorney and serve as an example for others in his community.

Beussink is a senior pursuing majors in political science and economics. He is employed with the Limbaugh Law Firm and was a Senate Page during his high school years for former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.

For more information about the 2020 Federal Justice Fellowship, visit