Alexandra Cortese
Photo by Marcus Beasley
Alexandra Cortese ’26: Internship & Pre-Law Institute Shape Future Fierce Advocate for People with Disabilities

Major: Law & Society
Minor: English Literature

Mentors: Associate Professors Adam McKible, Ph.D., Jean Carmalt, Ph.D. and Alexa CapelotoHonors Student Support Manager Alana Philip
Programs: Honors Program, Pre-Law Institute (PLI), The John Jay Sentinel
Internship: Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal Community Internship
Hometown: Staten Island, NY

What was life like before John Jay College?
I have a sister who is on the autism spectrum and legally blind. My mom endured an accident when she was very young and is disabled. My dad has always worked, but the day before I started John Jay, he fell off a roof. Now, he’s also disabled. Even though they all have their challenges and are living with different disabilities, my family has always been supportive of my goals. Their struggles make me want to go into personal injury litigation or real estate litigation. When I become an attorney, I want to look out for people who have disabilities and help the law work in their favor.

Why did you decide on John Jay?
I’m an introvert, so I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school. Since neither of my parents went to college, I wasn’t thinking about college and didn’t even know how to apply. Luckily, my cousin Paul
(Giangrasso ’06) is a John Jay alumnus and a police officer. One day, I heard him talking positively about John Jay. He made me excited to attend the College, so on a whim, I applied. When I was accepted, I was both shocked and happy. Suddenly, I could envision myself going to college and earning my degree.

What events drew you towards a legal career?
After my father’s accident, our family struggled financially. At one point, our house was in foreclosure. Fortunately, the attorneys representing us were amazing. We had both a personal injury lawyer and a real estate lawyer. I even interned for our real estate attorney after graduating from high school. He made it his mission to make sure that we stayed in our home. Our personal injury lawyer helped me obtain documents for my financial aid application and always checked in to offer assistance and resources. Both lawyers spoke to my parents with such respect. When the insurance companies gave us issues, they’d fight with all their heart. I’d hear them on the phone saying, “My clients deserve this, and we’re going to get it for them.” That’s what I want to do for people as a lawyer.

What was your internship like with New York State Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal?
I found out about the internship through PLI’s newsletter. I loved that Assemblymember Rosenthal was on the committee for affordable housing, and it was relevant to me because I was doing a research project on gentrification. When my internship supervisor explained my responsibilities, she told me that I would be speaking to community members facing some of the worst times of their lives. I knew I had to be empathetic and use logic to get people what they needed. During this internship, I saw firsthand how rent increases could leave someone homeless. I connected food-insecure people to the right resources. And I helped people fill out complicated paperwork. One week an elderly man came in needing assistance regarding his rent-stabilized apartment. He was very anxious and brought a huge stack of papers to support his claims. Just listening to him, I could feel his pain. I immediately saw my dad in him. I tried to keep him calm and helped him fill out all the right forms one by one. I made sure that he had every document he needed because I really wanted to keep him in his home.

What courses helped deepen your career aspirations?
The first law & society class I ever took—Introduction to Law & Society—opened my eyes to a whole new world of law. It was taught by Professor Jean Carmalt. She would give us extremely dense scholarship material to read and then had us comb through the literature to understand what the facts were and the theories behind them. It made me think more deeply about the law and how it impacts our everyday lives.

What John Jay experiences, clubs, or programs helped shape you?
Currently, I’m the Editor-in-Chief of The John Jay Sentinel. When I first joined The Sentinel, I desperately wanted to be a voice for the voiceless because of my dad’s experience. Over time, I’ve become a much better reporter and journalist with the help of my advisor, Professor Alexa Capeloto. Writing for the newspaper made me rely more on the facts and it showed me how to gather people’s opinions of those facts. Being an introvert, the experience has helped me connect with my community more. Last semester, as a part of The Sentinel, I got to be on CUNY TV. Every time I see myself in that episode, I almost can’t believe it’s me.