Interview by Derek Grosso
Name: Rena Shak
Profession: In-House Counsel and Assistant Policy Director- City of Columbus, Office of the Mayor
Education: Bachelor of the Arts, The Ohio State University; Juris Doctor, Capital University Law School
Community Involvement: PL+US Paid Leave for the United States (Legislative Advocate, Columbus Bar Association (Member), Franklin County Democratic Lawyers Club (Board Member and VP of Events), Columbus Legal Aid Record Sealing Clinic (Volunteer), Dress for Success Columbus (Volunteer and Former YES! Board Member), National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice (Member).
Quote: “Always stand up for what you believe in, even if you’re standing alone.” I don’t know where to attribute that quote other than to the poster on the wall in my 4th grade classroom. It has stuck with me ever since!
Connect: LinkedIn | Facebook
Give us a snapshot of your career path: I am a native of the Youngstown area and I was raised in a bilingual household, with both sides of my family having immigrated to the United States of America from Greece. From a young age, I knew I wanted to become an attorney. Influenced by my family history, I made it a goal to go to law school and use my degree for the betterment the community around me.
I went to The Ohio State University, where I studied Political Science and International Studies and was able to graduate in three years. I then attended Capital University Law School, where I was a program coordinator for the Criminal Law Association, legal intern for the Legal Clinic, member of the Women’s Law Association, and a writer and editor for the Capital University Law Review. During this time, I also spent a summer in Florence, Italy studying international human trafficking and criminal law.
I found that my passion was criminal law and the criminal justice system, so during law school I worked as a legal intern at a local law firm as well as for the Wrongful Conviction Project at the Ohio Public Defender. When I graduated law school, I began my career as an attorney at the Office of the Franklin County Public Defender. For almost a decade, I represented defendants in every type of criminal matter, ranging from traffic offenses to charges of aggravated murder. I spent almost every day of my legal career in at least one of the Franklin County courthouses advocating on behalf of indigent clients in need of legal representation and connecting them to community resources.
In 2021, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to run for Franklin County Municipal Court Judge. While I was not ultimately successful, the experience afforded me the chance to get very familiar with the needs of our communities in Columbus, as well as to meet so many inspiring community leaders doing incredible work.
It is with that knowledge and passion for helping to better our communities that I have recently begun a new career in Mayor Ginther’s office as In-House Counsel and Assistant Policy Director. I am so excited to get to work and to help make lasting change for those in our communities who need it most.
What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek?
I chose a career in pubic service because I wanted to be able to help make life better for people as a part of my job. I have been very intentional in choosing employment paths that allow me to help create positive change for people. That is what gets me up in the morning and gets me through the week. I know that I get to make a difference in our community through my work and I feel blessed to be able to do that.
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way?
I have had too many mentors to count and am so thankful for each one of them and the advice they provided at different stages of my life. My greatest mentors, though, are my parents. They always instilled in me a sense of community, a sense of right and wrong, and a sense of limitlessness. They taught me to always go through life being unapologetically ME. That, at the end of the day, as long as I am being true to myself (to my morals, my goals, and my dreams) then I have achieved success.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind?
I don’t get much time to unwind… but when I do it usually includes spending time with my husband, our three year old son, and two dogs outside on a walk or at a park. Or after my toddler goes to bed relaxing with ridiculous reality TV shows, a cup of tea, and a good face mask.
What are a few of your favorite local spots in Columbus?
I love all of our great parks! I also think the Scioto Mile area is absolutely beautiful day or night. And I really love all of the mini “downtown” areas being built up in the suburbs.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
I said I wanted to be a pediatrician from the earliest time I could remember to about early middle school. That’s when I realized that I really disliked math, hated the sight of blood, and passed out every time I got a shot… so then I turned my sights to being an attorney and here we are today.
What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now?
I love listening to The Daily by The New York Times every morning while I get ready for work. It catches me up on current events and makes me think deeper into certain subjects. I have also really loved everything published by Into America with Trymaine Lee. I listen to these two podcasts pretty religiously.
What does it mean to you to be chosen for the Next Up Columbus award?
Receiving this award is so humbling! I come from grandparents and a parent who came to this country with nothing but the clothes on their backs, so to be able to realize my goal of becoming a lawyer giving back to my community every day is a dream. It is an honor to be recognized as a Next Up Columbus recipient for doing what I love and makes it all the more special. With so many incredible young professionals in this City doing wonderful work, I am so grateful to have been chosen for this award.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
I think the “pulse” of Columbus is a city that is growing in every way: in population size, economically, in political influence, and socially. I love that this City is made up of young people who want to work toward a greater good and toward positive change to make sure that we are uplifting all of our community members.
The Next Up Columbus Awards highlight emerging leaders who are connectors and ambassadors in central Ohio and who are making a positive impact on the future of Columbus. The Columbus Young Professionals Club would like to offer special thanks to our 2022 co-presenters, Discover Financial, Ohio Dominican University and Spectrum for their support of this year’s awards program. Meet the entire “Class of 2022” »