Celebrated College of Law grad Chanel Rowe is one of the newest members of the university’s governing body
–By Alexandra Pecharich for FIU Magazine
One of the newest members of the FIU Board of Trustees bears more than her fair share of others’ expectations.
Like those with whom she serves—primarily businesspeople who have reached the upper echelons of their respective fields—Chanel Rowe brings with her the intellect and high-level professional experience standard of those who sit on the board.
She is a 2014 College of Law alumna who after graduation went on to practice at two of the nation’s 100 largest law firms and later clerked for an esteemed federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Rowe currently serves as an enforcement attorney at the Miami regional office of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, where she has distinguished herself as a top investigator of fraud and complex securities violations. She is a graduate of the Florida Bar’s competitive W.M. Reece Smith Jr. Leadership Academy and has served on several Florida Bar committees. She twice has been recognized publicly for her achievements, first in 2017 as a Super Lawyers Rising Star, which recognizes no more than 2.5 percent of attorneys in each state, and in 2020 as an honored designee on the National Black Lawyers “Top 40 Under 40” list.
The “extra” for which the university and greater South Florida now look to Rowe derives from her filling a gaping void on the 13-strong body. The first Black woman (and currently only Black member) on the board, she in so many ways represents the new guard.
Second in youthfulness only to the group’s student representative—Rowe, at 33, is believed the youngest person ever appointed a member of the Board of Trustees within the 12 institutions of the Florida State University System—she speaks to the aspirations of millennials looking to make their mark in an ever-changing world. A first-generation college student and the daughter of an immigrant mother—Rowe’s father died during her infancy—she understands the challenges and hopes of FIU students and alumni, many of whom share aspects of her background. A woman of color whose family comes from Jamaica, she also understands the need for greater racial diversity in leadership and the importance of providing an example for those too often ignored and undervalued.
At a time when FIU and its president, Mark B. Rosenberg, have made clear a commitment to capitalizing on Black excellence that has for decades remained under-tapped, Rowe has an oversized role to fill.
And her answer to this charge?
“I absolutely appreciate the importance of my presence on the board,” she says. “I bring gender, race and age diversity. I know that just being me, I present an image of possibility. I totally embrace that. I’m overjoyed by that.”
Embodying “possibility” in the interest of elevating others means a lot to a young woman who early on had few mentors and relied upon her own strength of character and innate will to succeed.
From her earliest days as a latch-key kid in Brooklyn, New York, and later, South Florida—her mother was a single parent and certified nursing assistant who worked long hours—Rowe filled her days with books and reading and a love of learning that knew no limits.
To an outsider then, her entry years later into the upper levels of the legal profession might seem a natural progression, given her studious nature. But few paths could have been more difficult to traverse, say those who know better.
“It’s not always easy for a first-generation student with no long-term connections in the legal community to navigate the complex legal employment market,” says Angelique Ortega, an associate dean at the College of Law. She remembers Rowe landing a job with a prestigious firm right after graduation—Rowe was valedictorian—a huge win and a testament to her hard work.
“She really understood that she needed to make her destiny,” Ortega says of Rowe’s overcoming challenges to create opportunities for herself. “She’s really good at life, for lack of a better word,” Ortega adds, recalling the thoughtfulness with which the younger woman sought out professional prospects. “She doesn’t believe that there is anything she can’t do.”
And all of it, says another mentor, emanates from a place of authenticity and with the intention to bring others along.
“Her goals and her aspirations and her dreams are noble because they don’t represent any aspect of selfishness at all,” says George Knox, the first Black attorney for the City of Miami and later a professor of law who taught Rowe at FIU. He speaks of her “depth of commitment,” be it to those she mentors, those with whom she works or, now, to those whom she will serve as a university leader.
Megan Fairlie, another former professor, echoes the same, describing Rowe as “so invested, in a real way as opposed to someone who’s looking to put accomplishments on their CV.”
One example: Fairlie recalls Rowe’s organizing an event in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing to examine justice inequality. In her second semester of the traditionally difficult first year, Rowe found time to invite a local news anchor to serve as emcee for the thought-provoking panel that analyzed the so-called Stand Your Ground legislation at the heart of the case. It was just one instance, Fairlie says, of how Rowe’s initiative benefited all of the student body.
Notably, Rowe has maintained contacts with many of her former professors, and they in turn express pride and pleasure in calling her a friend and colleague. That same investment in individual relationships comes through in her ongoing promotion of the institution. From early on, Rowe has kept the law school close by recruiting for interns and hires wherever she worked.
And from 2016 until her appointment to the BOT earlier this year, she held several leadership roles on the FIU Alumni Association board. As its vice president, she sponsored an amendment to create an inclusion committee, one that will build a pipeline for diverse leadership on the board and at the university. That activity prefigures the kind of work on which she will now expand as she strives to bring all Panthers into the fold.
The source of Rowe’s extraordinary motivation lies, seemingly, at the center of her being, the rare individual who pulls herself up by virtue of serious reflection and truly knowing herself.
“There has always been something inside of me that knew there was something bigger out, beyond my surroundings,” she says, “this desire to be something different, to be the example that I didn’t have or become the person I wanted to see.”
Among the forces that have played a role in her formation: her mother, whom Rowe calls her greatest influence, “a remarkable woman who always instilled the importance of hard work and kindness, just being a good human being, a compassionate human being;” and her Christian faith, which she considers a foundation for leadership.
“It’s a guidepost for me,” she says of the latter. “My philosophy of being a servant leader is really something that shaped my career and shaped my personal life. It keeps me in a position of always thinking about others and how I can give back.
“I’m always looking for ways to be better, do better and bring out the best in others. I believe in doing things that matter, leaving your mark in a way that influences and lifts other people up.”
Now may all of FIU follow her lead.