Latina lawyer opens doors for diversity in the field, while addressing the intersection between law and health

The legal profession is a profession in which Latinos are very underrepresented.

Despite making up nearly a fifth of the population in the United States, Latinos only make up about 4% of the legal field. For Latinas, the number is halved to around 2%.

Gelvina Rodriguez Stevenson is a Latin American lawyer who is committed to providing opportunities for others in the Hispanic community to enter the legal profession.

The child of a Puerto Rican mother and an American father who is also a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, Rodriguez Stevenson has spent his life immersing himself in his heritage and helping his community transcend stereotypes.

Growing up in a very diverse community in the South Bronx, Spanish was her first language as she attended a Catholic school for most of her school career.

While living in the Bronx, she and her family frequently visited extended family in Missouri and Puerto Rico — often spending summers there.

The experience helped her learn to adapt to different environments.

A glaring discovery

When choosing a college, Rodriguez Stevenson decided to attend New York University College of Arts and Sciences, where she studied Comparative Literature.

After working for a few years, she decided to continue her education, this time to law school.

As the daughter of two social activist parents, Rodriguez Stevenson wanted to find a way to give back to her community and believed the law was an effective way to do so.

For this, she returned to NYU, where she would later earn a joint degree—a Juris Doctorate in Law and a Masters—in public policy,

Still involved with the Latino Student Association as an undergrad, she noticed a stark difference during her law school experience.

“I felt like maybe one of five Latinx students in law school, so I always spent a lot of time trying to find my people and my community,” Rodriguez said. Stevenson in an interview with AL DIA.

At first, she often felt intimidated that she had no one to connect with.

Rodriguez Stevenson would later discover an association of NYU Law alumni, now called the Law Alumni of Color Association (LACA).

There, she learned that there was a much larger group of individuals of Latinx background who graduated from NYU Law School, but not without their own challenges of underrepresentation within the program.

“That, for me, was so essential to succeeding in law school, knowing that other people like me did,” Rodriguez Stevenson said.

It became clear to her the importance of mentorship and building a strong network and community as she navigates these waters.

This is where her advocacy work began, as she became involved with the Latin American Law Students Association, of which she eventually became the president.

Find your passions

After earning his degrees in law and politics, Rodriguez Stevenson spent a few years in corporate finance law as an associate, then served as a clerk to a U.S. District Court Judge for the Central District of California. .

As she considered what she wanted to do, she later got a job with the New York City Council, the legislative branch of New York government, and was assigned to the health law committee.

“I thought, ‘This is so important because these local laws that have been passed have a real impact on everyday life,’ Rodriguez Stevenson said. “That’s when I decided that health was what I wanted to be.”

In 2005, Rodriguez Stevenson was hired as an associate academic attorney for Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

Her eight-year tenure was an exciting time for her, and with her legal background, she was at the forefront of this intersection between science and law.

“As one of the lawyers, I had to understand how the laws could follow what the scientists wanted to do. The laws are so much further behind,” she noted.

In the role, Rodriguez Stevenson had the opportunity to speak with a host of innovative scientists to learn more about their work, educate them on how the laws work, and also advocate for changes to the law when needed,” so we can keep pushing science forward,” she said.

Her advocacy work also remained of utmost importance to her. Heavily involved in the National Hispanic Bar Association, in 2008 she became regional president of the New York chapter of the organization.

Even after her term as president ended, she remained committed to the organization, providing more young Latinx and other diverse people the opportunity to pursue legal careers.

Rodriguez Stevenson’s thought process was, “We need to do so much more to frame,” she said. “We’re bringing more diverse students into law school and they’re graduating, but for some reason, throughout the pipeline, we’re just not hitting all the levels of success.”

It was his participation in PODER25™, an HNBA talent pipeline initiative that seeks to place more Latinx lawyers in Fortune 500 and other leadership roles, that truly served as an eye-opening experience for him. Rodriguez Stevenson that she could pursue to achieve greater heights within her own career, while helping others.

“This is one of those programs that is really designed to support our community and give us the tools we need to continue to be successful,” she said.

After having twins, Rodriguez Stevenson was recruited to join Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2013.

“It was a dream opportunity, [an] an amazing organization,” she said. “My husband is from the Philadelphia area, so this was a good choice.”

In 2015, Rodriguez Stevenson helped launch the Health and Life Sciences Section of the National Hispanic Bar Association, along with its first co-chair, Latinx attorney Daniel Mateo.

“They had a business section, an international law section, a litigation section, but they didn’t have a health law section,” she recalls.

Through this launch, Rodriguez Stevenson was once again able to find his community, connecting with other Hispanic lawyers who work in the field of law, in relation to the health and life sciences.

In addition, it gave them the opportunity to network and share legal and policy developments related to this area.

For nearly nine years, Rodriguez Stevenson served as associate general counsel for CHOP, while simultaneously working eight of those years as an adjunct professor of pharmaceutical law governing clinical research and development at Drexel University College of Medicine.

“I find it fascinating,” she said. “This is again, one of those areas where the law has failed to follow.”

His role as a teacher is a continuation of his passion to pass on his expertise to the next generation of people who share similar interests and passions.

Start a new chapter with the Wistar Institute

In July 2022, Rodriguez Stevenson began a new role as Vice President, General Counsel, Secretary and Government Relations for The Wistar Institute.

She brings with her 20 years of experience, having served in some of the nation’s top clinical, research, academic and government settings.

His role includes identifying, evaluating and managing Wistar’s legal and regulatory affairs; assistance with transactions and contracts related to business development and intellectual property; manage litigation cases; and provide advice to the Institute on legal, compliance and policy matters.

She also leads government relations and the corporate secretary function, as well as governance issues related to the board of directors.

Rodriguez Stevenson has long been aware of the work done at Wistar, one of the world leaders in cancer, immunology and infectious disease research.

“It’s really just great science, cutting edge science…a great environment where it’s the right size to really provide the best kind of support for scientists,” she said.

She also praised the Institute’s growth trajectory and workforce development as other factors that attracted her to the new role.

“We are committed to providing students with educational opportunities to learn these skills and then enter the market. It’s like a perfect marriage, a perfect combination,” Rodriguez Stevenson said. “You have students who need a good career choice. And you have this industry that needs more people… it’s a growing industry, it’s just going to keep growing and developing.

As the birthplace of cell and gene therapy, Philadelphia will continue to advance new developments in science and research, with innovations in basic biomedicine led by Wistar.

“I love being able to be where it’s happening,” added Rodriguez Stevenson.

Denise W. Whigham