F&M Stories

Attorney's Passion Paves Way for Students

A Ƶ & Marshall grant enabled Karla Avelino ’01 to return to her Central American birth country and discover a passion for immigration law. 

A founding partner of Roger and Avelino law firm, she’s now paving the way for current and future students to find their potential. 

Avelino serves on F&M’s Alumni Association Board and is a frequent supporter of the College’s Pioneers Club and diversity, equity and inclusion priorities. She has served F&M as a Day of Giving ambassador, participated in Night of Networking and attended alumni events in her home region of Southern California. 

“I thought about how important it is for people who look like me to see me as part of the Alumni Board. Being Latina, I feel like people haven’t really heard us – our experience and our voices,” Avelino said. 

Avelino co-founded ALMA – the College’s Latinx alumni association – in 2002 with Teresita (Barba) Gurrola ‘01. Short for the Asociación Latino para Movimiento Alumna (Latino Association for Student Movement), the acronym ALMA also means “soul” in Spanish. The alumni group works in cooperation with active student members of Mi Gente Latina, a multicultural campus group focused on spreading awareness of the vibrant Latinx cultures at F&M.

“I thought about how important it is for people who look like me to see me as part of the Alumni Board.”

— Karla Avelino '01

ALMA’s annual graduation breakfast honors Hispanic and Latinx graduating seniors. As a first-generation college student raised in a single-parent household, Avelino wants students from diverse backgrounds to confidently explore career paths. 

“I went into F&M thinking I was going to be a doctor,” she said. “It wasn’t until my senior year that I realized I wanted to consider immigration.” 

The topic is close to Avelino’s heart. Born in El Salvador’s capital city, San Salvador, she was brought to the United States at a young age fleeing from the country’s civil war. Avelino was raised in Los Angeles and has since acquired citizenship, as she was still considered a minor when her mother naturalized.

As a Marshall Fellow, Avelino received a $3,000 grant to complete undergraduate research in El Salvador. Though her initial focus was the psychological impact of war on children (Avelino graduated with an anthropology major and psychology minor), a passion for immigration law began to bloom. 

“I read more about policies during the war. I started to get this passion for helping people,” she said. 

After graduating, Avelino spent two years working at a mental health clinic in Venice Beach, Calif. The experience solidified her decision to go to Southwestern Law School. “I met with people who were going through hard times. I felt like a degree in psychology would limit me to one or two roles,” she said. “I just felt a law degree gave me more opportunity to pursue different careers as I wanted.” 

This article originally appeared in F&M’s 2022-2023 Annual Report of Giving.

ALMA breakfast

Karla Avelino '01, front left, at the May 2024 ALMA annual graduation breakfast honoring Hispanic and Latinx graduating seniors.

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