Tarah Powell-Chen,Class of 2017

Found in Translation

When she got lost in the language of health care bureaucracy, Tarah Powell-Chen discovered her calling in law

Tarah Powell-Chen 3L is clear about her reasons for studying law — she wants to advocate for people struggling to deal with complex, overwhelming systems like she once did.

“My goal is to be able to help those who can’t navigate the system, whether that’s the health care system or another complex bureaucracy. Navigating these systems is difficult if you don’t understand the language and so often that language is the law,” says Tarah, who grew up in the diverse Bay Area communities of Richmond and Hercules. “I’ve seen firsthand the disparity in assistance, legal and otherwise, available to diverse populations. That diversity can be racial, socioeconomic, or even age-related. I want to be a voice for these groups as they make their way through different systems.”

My voice has grown stronger and stronger since being at USF. Once I leave USF, my goal in any field is to make a change and use that voice that I’ve gained. At the end of the day, there is a really finite group of people who get that training to use their voice for change. There are so few people who get that opportunity that I want to put my voice to use.

Tarah first discovered how confusing such systems can be while still in high school. That’s when she developed a difficult-to-diagnose heart condition that ultimately took doctors more than three years to diagnose. The life-changing experience plunged Tarah and her family into an unfamiliar world of hospital policies and insurance procedures that left them struggling to get the right tests and treatments approved. It was difficult to make sense of a complex, disjointed system.

The experience also led Tarah to law school. Finally diagnosed while in college, Tarah had come to realize that while the system on the surface appeared medical related, it ultimately was built on the language of the law. She wanted to understand that language so that she could help others in similar situations.

As she researched law schools, Tarah knew she wanted a school with a strong support network similar to the family support network she already had. USF stood out the moment she visited campus. “When I stepped on the USF campus, I immediately sensed that warmth, that this is a different type of place,” Tarah says. “It was an undeniable feeling of this being an inviting, welcoming community.”

When I stepped on the USF campus, I immediately sensed that warmth, that this is a different type of place. It was an undeniable feeling of this being an inviting, welcoming community.

Tarah credits USF’s supportive environment with providing the opportunity to find her voice. She describes herself as a naturally reserved and shy person, but says that the School of Law is a safe place to learn to speak up. While at USF, she’s served as moot court case counsel and now co-chairs the Public Interest Law Foundation.

“The USF community has allowed me to foster these ideas of how to be assertive and how to do it effectively,” Tarah says. “My voice has grown stronger and stronger since being at USF. Once I leave USF, my goal in any field is to make a change and use that voice that I’ve gained. At the end of the day, there is a really finite group of people who get that training to use their voice for change. There are so few people who get that opportunity that I want to put my voice to use.”