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Alumni Spotlight: Adam Parker

Ogden Honors alumnus Adam Parker had been in North Carolina for nine years when he got the opportunity to return to his hometown. Butler Snow LLP invited him to join their practice, and the Baton Rouge native couldn’t pass it up. 

“I was born in Baton Rouge and I am in love with this place. North Carolina remains special to me as well, but I always pined for Louisiana in my heart,” Parker said.  “I’d watch LSU sports from afar and think about how I needed to get home.”

In August 2015, Parker and his wife Kristen did just that, coming home to Baton Rouge. While Parker was happy personally and professionally in North Carolina, he was thrilled to be back in the same city as his alma mater and to work at Butler Snow. “I’m incredibly fortunate. I work with fantastic people, in a fantastic place, on fantastic projects,” he said. Since joining Butler Snow, Parker has worked on over $500 million in public finance transactions across several states. “Each deal is a challenge and has its own quirks. There’s a lot of backwards planning, diligence, and research required to get a deal done.”

Parker’s journey to become a public finance attorney began when he was a student in the Ogden Honors College and writing his Honors Thesis.  Parker had a course with the late Dr. Timothy Cook, who was a professor in the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication, and the two had been working on narrowing down a thesis topic. After much discussion, they finally settled on the right one.

“There are so many benefits to having that kind of small group discussion and developing your own ideas. In the seminar setting, I got to know my professor, my classmates, and I became immersed in the course.  That course sparked my interest in Texas’s life without parole legislation and the legislative effort to add life without parole to Texas’s capital sentencing statute.”

In the summer before his senior year, Dr. Cook became medically unable to serve as Parker’s thesis advisor. “That was hard. I was deeply concerned for Dr. Cook’s health. A secondary concern was the thesis: I wasn’t sure how the project would turn out without his help,” Parker said. Former LSU Manship School of Mass Communication professor Dr. Kirby Goidel stepped up to guide him through the process. “Kirby was a wonderful thesis advisor. We met weekly, he helped me form a thesis review committee, and he challenged my assumptions. He remains a mentor and friend to this day.”

With the help of funding from the Ogden Honors College, Parker made multiple trips to Texas to conduct research. By the time he finished writing, his thesis, “Life and the Death Penalty: Passing Life Without Parole Legislation in Texas, Future Implications, and an Examination of Texas’ Death Row,” it clocked in at almost 200 pages. “I was able to interview state senators, district attorneys, defense attorneys, death penalty advocates, and death penalty opponents,” Parker said. “It was a deep-dive into passing legislation, the framing of policy, and the perseverance of a legislator who wanted to make a change. It was an interesting angle to come at the issue from as well. People were more open to talking with a twenty-something Honors student than they might otherwise have been.”

Parker said that the experience he gained was invaluable, and he learned to take an issue that people feel passionately about and present his findings in a neutral way.

“The thesis format requires you to say: here are the empirical facts, here are the things I’ve noticed, and I’m drawing my conclusion from those things,” he said. “It can be a challenge to take an emotionally charged issue and present it in a way that you think is fair to all parties’ viewpoints.”

While conducting his research on Texas’s life without parole legislation, Parker began reading profiles of Texas’s death row inmates. Parker noticed trends in the backgrounds of death row inmates from the profiles. This led Parker to write a second part to his thesis focusing on death row inmate profiles in Texas. Parker’s research reached beyond the subject of his thesis, but he began to think about how early intervention in educational outcomes could effect change.

“Writing my thesis was very transformative for me, for my life, and for the things I decided I was interested in,” Parker said. “I pursued Teach for America, in part, because I saw a tenth grade average education for inmates on death row, an average age of 24, and around a third of the aggravating circumstances involving robbery. From my time in the classroom, I saw firsthand how educational outcomes affect life trajectories.  My work today is also focused on bringing about the public good, primarily by facilitating development of public infrastructure, including schools.”

Teach for America brought Parker to Henderson, North Carolina, where he taught high school math. He later earned his master’s in public administration and his law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Parker has worked in the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina Governor’s Office, the North Carolina Court of Appeals, in local government, and in private legal practice.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have many opportunities and experiences in my career. One of those was writing the Thesis, and it still has a spot on my resume.” He encourages all Honors students to take on the challenge.

“In my view, writing a thesis is a central part of any Honors education,” he said. “There are research skills that you can’t learn unless you have some sort of self-guided study.”

Those research skills are an obvious asset in a university setting, but Parker insists that he draws on them every day in his job and that they have guided him in his career.

“When I was teaching I would tell my students all the time that though they may not use geometry every day, they’re learning how to think, research, and critically analyze questions. Similarly, writing a thesis isn’t just a university concept,” Parker said. “With any project, you have to start from somewhere. When you’re going to develop that new product, or start a new deal, or write a new book, or whatever you’re going to bring into the world, you have to start from nothing and build a project plan. And you also have to take the criticism along the way and grow from it. Your thesis doesn’t start out or end up as a sparking, completed masterpiece.  That is the joy of it.  It can be hard, but it’s incredibly worthwhile.” 

Besides writing a thesis, what advice would Parker give to current Honors students?

“Immerse yourself in the Honors community,” he said. “The person sitting next to you in your seminar class is going to be a leader in their field. They chose to take on additional work and be an Honors student, so why would they stop after they graduate? But also, don’t forget the benefits of being part of a wonderful research university. Get involved in Honors and at LSU more broadly. Make sure to use your time wisely because it goes by quickly.”