“I was 17 years old and my life was a series of bad decisions and even worse haircuts,” the Bloomfield native said. “I didn’t know much, but I knew I didn’t want to go to college. So me and my best friend chased the band ‘One Direction’ all over the East Coast.”
But after her friend and her boyfriend — now her husband — nagged her a little, she thought better of her decision. After receiving brochures from Middlesex County College in the mail on two consecutive days, she viewed that as a sign from God that she should go to college.
After a few fits and starts, Milano-Sumalinog excelled at MCC, graduated in 2016 and transferred to Montclair State, from where she graduated as valedictorian. In September, she will be starting her third year at Rutgers Law School, which she attends on a full merit scholarship.
And she was just named the Middlesex County College Alumna of the Year in recognition of her service to the college, and her professional and academic accomplishments.
“MCC really helped me reorient myself,” she said. “I don’t think I would have been able to do half of what I’ve accomplished without it. I’m really glad I made the decision to go to Middlesex.”
She spoke on an alumni panel last year, the annual Alumni Association Dinner Meeting last June and at new student orientation in September.
“That was great,” she said. “I met many students there and I’m still in contact with two of them. They send messages looking for advice or just wanting to vent. I really enjoy hearing from them. I’ve been really fortunate to have a relationship with Middlesex.”
Latoya Carroo, manager of alumni engagement at MCC, said Milano-Sumalinog is an incredible role model for students.
“Sam exhibits tenacity, dependability and approachability when it comes to engaging current students,” Carroo said. “She shares her story of how MCC provided an educational foundation that enabled her to move closer to her dreams. Her strength of character, her patience and, of course, her sense of humor make it easy to see why Sam will make a great lawyer.”
Even with the burdens of law school, Milano-Sumalinog has been extremely active outside the classroom. She is a student-attorney in a child advocacy clinic, working on behalf of children with disabilities. She was involved in a Newark community water project, in which a group of law students and undergraduates were trained in lead-water safety to canvass the Newark area, which recently experienced water quality issues. And she recently completed writing her fourth novel, which is set to be published this summer.
Additionally, she is a member of the Rutgers International Alternative Dispute Resolution team, which participated in the International Chamber of Commerce’s moot competition in Paris — her team finished among the eight finalists out of 66 teams from 39 countries.
“That was a great experience,” she said. “I loved everything about that.”
She was also one of the founding students of the International Law and Human Rights Journal, where she researched and wrote about “Killer Robots,” or the humanitarian implications of using lethal autonomous weapons, such as drones and autonomous submarines. She has been elected as the ILHR Journal’s assistant managing editor.
This summer, she will be working with DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Giblin, a full-service law firm in Paramus with a wide variety of specialties, from cannabis law to government and regulatory affairs.
In the fall, during her third and final year at Rutgers Law, Milano-Sumalinog will serve as mentorship coordinator of the Women’s Law Forum, and, for her second term, as parliamentarian of the Student Bar Association.
It’s doubtful the 17-year-old Sam Milano would even recognize her 27-year-old self. She is now poised, confident, accomplished. And she has a spectacular haircut.