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Each year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts selects approximately ten to twelve Nelson Fellows to intern at the Court. Fellows spend their time learning from immersive courses and field trips, interning in a judge's chambers, and attending various court proceedings.

Judge David S. Nelson

Judge David Sutherland Nelson was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1933 to immigrant par- ents. He was a student in the Boston public school system during the 1930s and 1940s, later graduating from Boston College in 1957 and Boston College Law School in 1960.

After working as an attorney in private practice, Judge Nelson was appointed as a Justice of the Superior Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1973. Shortly after, in 1979, he was appointed as a judge at the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, becoming the first African American appointed to the federal judiciary in this district.

Judge Nelson was strongly committed to his community and to public service.

About his impact, U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy remarked:

"He dedicated his great mind and his great heart to public service and the pursuit of equal justice for all. We are better people because he touched our lives."

John J. Moakely Federal Courthouse

The fellowship is located at the John J. Moakley U.S. District Courthouse in Boston, MA.

The Nelson Fellowship Program

During this intense six-week summer program, Fellows participate in courses that focus on civil rights, writing, current social issues, and public speaking. In addition, Fellows meet community leaders, take tours of local colleges, and visit organizations that facilitate the college application process.

The final and most exciting event of the Fellowship is the mock trial, which is argued in front of a Federal Judge. Throughout the summer, students prepare for their mock trial under the guidance of legal professionals.

Program Q&As

What are the benefits?
  • Learning about the judicial system
  • Gaining leadership and networking skills
  • Enhancing critical reading and writing skills
  • Exposure to the legal world
  • Mentors (judges, law clerks, etc.)
  • Improving public speaking abilities
  • College advice and preparation
  • Meaningful friendships
Who is eligible?

This program is for high school students from Boston and Worcester who have shown leadership potential and academic ability. Although juniors are preferred, the program has taken sophomores and seniors in the past.

When is the program?

The program runs 6 weeks from July-August. Exact program dates will be released soon. During those 6 weeks, the Fellowship will take place from Monday - Friday, 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM.

Is this a paid opportunity?

Yes: Fellows will receive an educational stipend. Additionally, travel to and from the Fellowship is paid for.

When & where do I apply?

Applications are now closed for 2020. Please check back in late January for our call for applications for the 2021 Nelson Fellowship program.

The application should be accompanied by your high school transcript, a letter of recommendation from either an instructor at your school or counselor at your high school, your resume, and proof of your eligibility to work in this country. Instructions for completing the application will be found on the online application.

What are my next steps?
  • Send in a completed online application
  • Be ready to provide your transcript and a letter of recommendation from either a teacher or guidance counselor
  • Have proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residence status (green card/work authorization)

If you have any questions about the program, please reach out to


The Honorable Patti B. Saris

"Each year, the court eagerly anticipates the arrival of the Nelson Fellows from Boston and Worcester. They represent the enthusiasm, energy, diversity and civic commitment of a new generation of citizens. To date, we have had about 240 students who have graduated from the program. They have gone on to attend over 30 colleges and universities, and are engaged in a wide array of careers, including business, government, and law. Judge Nelson would have loved the program. So do we!"

The Honorable Richard G. Stearns

"A dozen Nelson and Lindsay Fellows over the years have become part of my extended chambers family. Whatever my law clerks and I have been able to teach over the course of too short a summer has been repaid a hundred times over by the joy of following the Fellows' life experiences and successes as they grow into adulthood. The Fellows are a living legacy honoring the memory of the two great judges whose names will always be connected to theirs."

The Honorable Denise J. Casper

"It is our pleasure every summer to welcome a new group of bright and talented young people who are so eager to learn about civic engagement and the judicial system. It has been a pleasure to work with the Fellows and to see and hear about the accomplishments and achievements of Fellows alumni over the years. I look forward to welcoming new classes of Fellows to the Court in the years to come."

The Honorable Judith G. Dein

"Having the Nelson Fellows here has always been a highlight of the summer. These students bring with them a diversity of experiences and thirst for knowledge that energizes us all. The Fellows care deeply about making this world a better place, and we look forward to seeing them become the next generation of skilled advocates."



The Nelson Fellowship has shown me that I actually have the power to go out in the world, pursue an education in law, and use that to help people. To say this program has changed my life for the better would be to say the least. - Cheryl Aikins (2018)

Everything was fun and new to try. It was like we were learning and exploring something new everyday. The Nelson Fellowship is amazing! If your eyes get watery on the last day, that's how you know the people in this program meant something to you-and that's what happened to almost all of us. - Jasmyn Dore (2016)

This program has instilled a confidence in me which has enabled me to challenge myself by furthering my ambitions and goals. The Nelson Fellowship program is truly a life changing experience, and if I could, I would do it every summer. - Gladymir Joseph (2009)

The Judge David S. Nelson Fellowship is one of the most difficult but gratifying journeys I have ever encountered. I use the word journey because that fully describes the fellowship. In a short period of time, I have grown drastically. I have improved verbally, sociably and above all I have learned to believe that nothing and no one can stand in the path of my dreams. - Rosanna Lograsso (2008)

Being able to call myself a Nelson Fellow will forever be a status I will hold in high honor. Partaking in this program allows me to affiliate myself with one of the titans of man, Judge David S. Nelson. - Keshav Persad (2006)

The Nelson Fellowship not only taught me who Judge Nelson was, but it also pushed me to re-evaluate myself and find out who I am. - Jose Santiago (2003)

Judge Nelson was a man who was greatly concerned with second chances. He believed in serving his community by providing services to those who needed them. The Nelson Fellowship perfectly exemplifies these important values which Judge Nelson held most dear. - Oneda Horne (2003)

It is a shame that I never got to meet a wonderful man as [Judge Nelson] but I am glad to carry his name for the rest of my life as a Nelson Fellow. - Steve Guan (2000)

Alumni: Keep in touch!

Please send your updated contact information to the Clerk's Office:

Other Fellowship Opportunities

The court appoints a Coordinator and Deputy Coordinator each year for a two year commitment. The Deputy Coordinator typically becomes the Coordinator after the first year. (The terms are staggered.) These two positions are normally filled by past Fellows. The Coordinators term is longer than that of the Fellows - the start date is usually around the third week of May and ends during the third week in August.

An educational stipend is offered.

For any questions, please contact

Former Outreach Coordinator Ginny Hurley 1957 - 2015

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