Soto will receive the Committee on Minorities and Women in the Law Award during a June 26 luncheon at the Bar's annual convention in Phoenix. She is among several people with College of Law ties to be feted by the Bar -- Chief Justice Ruth McGregor of the Arizona Supreme Court (Class of 1974), Nancy Logan (Class of 1977), an Assistant Attorney General in the Child and Family Protection Division of the Arizona Attorney General's Office, Linda Dayish Benally (Class of 2003), an attorney at Pinnacle West Capital Corp., and Victoria Tandy (Class of 2008), an associate at Quarles & Brady.
"This is a great honor and an extraordinary testament to Shelli's dedication and success," Dean Paul Schiff Berman said of the award.
Ed Novak, President of the State Bar of Arizona, said Soto is committed to ensuring that the College of Law's student body reflects the cultural and ethnic diversity of Arizona.
"She juggles the demands of her position with a long-term vision of helping advance diversity in the legal profession," Novak said.
Soto, who joined the College of Law in 2005, said she was honored to be nominated for, and now to receive, an award that has been bestowed on such a distinguished group of individuals in the past. They include Justice Michael Ryan of the Arizona Supreme Court (Class of 1977), Frank X. Gordon Jr., former Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, Roxana Bacon, managing director of the law firm of Littler Global, and the late Thomas Tang, who served on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"How gratifying it is to be recognized for doing work that I love," Soto said. "I am fortunate to be able to work with so many wonderful people at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, and I feel lucky to be involved in helping our amazing students to achieve their academic and professional dreams."
Soto, who has a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law, realized early on that her passion was in education "While in law school, I realized that working in higher education was my passion. Playing a part in opening educational opportunities to others (really opening the door to the highest levels of leadership in this country and our world) and helping them reach their dreams is my heart's greatest satisfaction," she said.
Law students feel the same way about Soto. Edith Hernandez, a third-year law student and the first in her family to graduate from college and pursue a legal career, struggled greatly during her first year of law school. She was ready to drop out, until Soto intervened.
"Dean Soto became aware of my situation, and she was able to reach out to me through others to address my emotional and financial stress," Hernandez said. "I know that, without her support, I could not possibly be where I am now. It is refreshing to be in such a large institution and feel like someone cares."
When Blair Moses decided law would be her second career, nearly everyone was against her enrolling in law school, except for her family and Soto.
"She expressed her admiration for what I was doing, and told me all that I could contribute to the field of law because of my healthcare background," said Moses, who will graduate next May. "She encouraged me to become involved in school so I could get the full experience of law school and learn as much as possible to take into my future career. My law school experience has been fun and enriching thanks to Shelli's encouragement."
Moses also said Soto's interest in women and minority students is not just from the College's goal of increasing diversity. "She wants them to have no doubt that they can enter law school and be successful," she said. "She listens to them, hears their fears and concerns, and with her excellent communication style finds just the words they need to hear to start believing in themselves."
That admiration extends to the faculty of the College of Law. Bob Dauber, a Clinical Professor and chairman of the College's Admissions Committee, said he has never met a law school administrator more committed to the ideal of advancing diversity in the legal profession. Soto not only personally visits and telephones applicants, Dauber said, she diligently pursues financial aid opportunities for them, and once they are enrolled, she goes out of her way to help them succeed.
"She recognizes the significance of her position as one of the primary gatekeepers for the outermost walls of the legal community in Arizona," Dauber said. "She knows quite well that the make-up of the Bar in Arizona will be determined, more than anything else, by the admissions decisions of the state's three law schools, and she is determined to do all she can to make sure the Bar continues to reflect the rich cultural, ethnic and gender diversity of our state."
Soto is a former Assistant Dean for Admissions at the University of Texas School of Law, and a former director of the Center for Law and Border Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso. She has served a two-year term as a member of the Law School Admissions Council's Finance and Legal Affairs Committee and is currently serving for the third time on LSAC's Diversity Committee.
Soto is a regular presenter locally and nationally on a variety of issues relating to law school admissions, pipeline programs and diversity. She also is co-author of "Affirmative Action Revived: What is the Future for Law Schools?" and is a former member of the Board of Advisors for the Texas Hispanic Journal of Law & Policy.