When attorney Brandi (Kelly) Suter ’09 is asked what kind of work she does, she often refers to herself as “the social worker of law.”
After graduating in just three years from Gannon with a bachelor’s degree in social work, Suter went on to earn her master’s from the University of Pittsburgh, and a law degree from Duquesne University, before founding her own practice.
Suter focused her studies on family and children’s services. She pursued what she felt was a calling to advocate for children with disabilities – or any kind of special education needs – in order to provide caring service to families and focus on their holistic wellness.
“Whether it is a severe mental health disorder, a developmental delay, Down Syndrome, Autism, or a learning disability, [I work to] get the appropriate support in school settings [for these students],” said Suter.
She educates children and their families on their rights to receive the support they need to be successful in the classroom and at home. Today, she does this work through her own firm, Extraordinary Law, LLC.
How did she prepare for the important work she’s doing now?
“Because of my diverse experience, as a social worker, I was able to hit the ground running as an attorney focusing on this type of case. I learned the law, and applied my experience working with families, understanding mental health disorders, and any necessary behavioral interventions. My background really helped me to understand what schools are actually doing and getting support that students need to succeed.”
When it comes to her time at Gannon specifically, Suter shared her high regard for Gannon’s social work program and faculty.
“I loved everything about Gannon, and I think that Gannon’s social work program is top-notch. I would encourage anyone considering the program to do it because you will be glad you did.?The classroom experiences and training you receive are so beneficial. The knowledge and accomplishments of the staff in the program, such as Dr. Lichtenwalter and Dr. Baker are unmatched. I think about these Gannon educators – the broad topics of conversation – all the time, and those experiences really shaped me as a professional and an adult. Gannon also offers great internship experiences that allow you toto get out in the real world and experience the work that you can do when you graduate.”
“While I am not a special education teacher by background, my Gannon education as a social worker and my experience with children as a therapist and behavioralist, created a knowledge base that I think brings a different perspective to the families that I work with,” she said.
Suter began her exploration into child advocacy at Gannon through an internship placement with the Child Advocacy Center, where she navigated the legal process for children who had experienced abuse. From this experience, Suter learned much of the legal system and the mental health supports for students in these situations, which set her educational and professional trajectory to advocacy and support.?
As for what ultimately drew her to Gannon? She had one answer above all others: Dr. Parris Baker.
From the beginning of her Gannon journey, Dr. Baker was beyond supportive. “He just communicated the program’s ability to support, my passion for working children and families, how our profession could really help others, and the broader benefits of being involved in social work.”
“We, as students in the social work program, were mentored and supported by him so fully in our time at Gannon,” Suter continued, “He was such a crucial part of my experience. Gannon provided me opportunities beyond just the curriculum: building of relationships within the community and my peers, a diverse experience within Gannon’s clubs, even the spiritual exploration aspects of the university – it was a great choice for me. But ultimately, my Gannon experience was perfected by the people within the social work program,” she shared.
Advice for someone looking toward their next steps?
“I think you have to follow your passion. To find your career, follow the path that makes work not feel like work. When you find something that you care about enough to dedicate your whole self into, it makes everything you do that much more enjoyable and so much more rewarding.”