Chapman piano performance alumna Oliva Mellow standing by a baby grand piano.
Studying in Chapman University’s College of Performing Arts provided the well-rounded educational foundation that Olivia Mello ‘20 says will carry her through law school.

First-Gen Piano Performance Major Gets Ready for Law School “I just picked up all this momentum and I could not stop,” says Olivia Mello '20.

Oliva Mello ’20 credits her rigorous combination of studies to Chapman scholarships and opportunities, along with faculty and staff support. “I just picked up all this momentum and I could not stop.”

Piano performance major Olivia Mello ‘20 was smitten with Chapman University starting in 8th grade. That’s when Mello watched a YouTube video of Grace Fong, professor and director of piano studies in Chapman’s College of Performing Arts, discussing the artistic process of bringing music to life.

“I fell in love with Chapman then,” says Mello. “I wanted to study with Dr. Grace Fong.”

But as the child of a single mother who worked hard just to make ends meet, the first-generation college student knew she would ultimately have to choose the school that could provide her financial help. Happily, that turned out to be Chapman. Mello received a Chapman Celebration Music Talent Scholarship, as well the Maxwell Family Endowed Scholarship, along with the encouragement of caring staff and faculty.

Altogether, that support set her on a journey of academic success and opportunity as a piano performance major in the College of Performing Arts. She studied with Fong, launched a student club that mentors teens also aiming to become the first in their families to graduate college and blossomed in a campus job in the Office of Legal Affairs. Now she’s working on the next step – law school applications. She credits Chapman for myriad opportunities that have prepared her for success.

“I hit the ground running,” says Mello, who minored in political science. “I just picked up all this momentum and I could not stop.”

In a recent interview, Mello shared other insights about her Chapman experience.

It might surprise some that a piano performance major would head off to law school. How did Chapman prepare you for that next step?

“Studying the literature and language of music was great preparation. A paper I wrote for a class with Professor John Compton combined both disciplines. The paper, “Constitutional Law and Western Art Music: A Comparative Analysis of Interpretation Methods,” scored among the top 10% of entries in the Global Undergraduate Awards and I was named a Highly Commended Entrant.

Working in the Office of Legal Affairs gave me a behind-the-scenes look at law. When I was little, I was always super into puzzles and it’s so interesting to see that in law, too. The attention to detail, the specific language, the thinking process. It relates back to music.”

How did the Chapman community offer encouragement and support?

“Dr. Fong has been an incredible mentor to me. To work with someone for two hours every week, one on one, that has been an incredible blessing. Dr. Compton has been another great mentor. He’s one of the pre-law advisors, and he started school as a piano major, so I can relate to him.

Janine DuMontelle, (vice president of legal affairs and general counsel), would do weekly check-ins on me during the whole COVID-19 experience. She’s the type of person you can call at any hour of the day. When my senior recital was canceled in spring because of lockdowns I just started crying. I called her and she said, ‘I will take care of it!’ She arranged for my recital at her house with a small gathering. She even provided food.

I feel so prepared because of all the support and resources I was able to take advantage of at Chapman. I think that says a lot about Chapman’s commitment to first-generation students.”

In addition to academics, is there a Chapman experience that was especially rewarding to you?

Launching the First-Generation Mentor Program is probably my proudest accomplishment. It’s a campus club that pairs Chapman students with high school students and eighth graders to help them plan for college. We even secured a partnership with the Office of Migrant Education in the Department of Ed that allowed us to work with the students at the library in downtown Santa Ana. To be able to give back some of the opportunities that I have been given is important.”

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Dawn Bonker