Penn State undergrads 'Explore Law'

From sun up to sun down, 35 Penn State undergrads experienced the intensity of what it's like to be a law student. One student, who has dreamed of becoming a lawyer since the age of 7, described the Explore Law program as an eye-opener, providing valuable insight into what it will take to fulfill her dream.

Directed by Penn State Law Professor Michele Vollmer, the program is designed to foster relationships with members of groups traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession and provided Penn State undergrads interested in the study of law with a realistic picture of law school. From learning how to brief a case and analyze a statute to making an argument in court, students were fully immersed in the study of law for one week.

From the mouths of jurists

Throughout the week, panels of alumni practitioners, Penn State Law professors, and area judges shared perspectives on different career paths available with a law degree. Professor Kit Kinports discussed her clerkships with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Abner Mikva. Stressing the benefit of networking and persistence, Professor Stephen Ross discussed how he obtained work on Capitol Hill as Minority Counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and attorney for the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission.

Kydee Williams, a senior majoring in political science at Penn State, enjoyed how the panelists openly shared stories about their personal journeys in law. “It was great to hear so many different perspectives on careers in law from real people,” she said. “I particularly enjoyed how the civil rights professor challenged us to think about discrimination in a way that I had never thought about it.”

Emphasizing the flexibility that a law degree provides Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Kistler ’82 said, “There are a million things you can do with your law degree." Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Ruest echoed the same sentiment highlighting her journey from bio statistician to patent attorney to the first woman to sit on the bench in Centre County.

Three steps ahead

“Law school teaches you to think analytically, like a chess player who plans his next move three steps ahead,” said Kistler. Robert Turchick, a junior at Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts and son of a lawyer, agreed with Judge Kistler's statement. “I now understand why my dad analyzed every detail of the day’s events during conversation at the dinner table. It’s a consequence of the profession. It’s how he was trained to think.”

In addition to attending mock classes, students were introduced to the application process. Law school admissions staff provided insight on navigating the road to admission including techniques for taking the LSAT and writing an attention-grabbing personal statement. In addition to improved LSAT scores and critical thinking skills, participants in the program also benefit by having an adviser to help them through every step of the process up to law school admission.

Sean Hill, a telecommunications senior at Penn State, also has wanted to be a lawyer from a young age, so he jumped at the opportunity to participate when he learned about the program. “Personally, I found the sessions on the admissions process very helpful. I feel much more prepared about the application process now.”

Assistant Dean of Admissions Jay Shively provided some off-the-cuff practical advice, “Law school is hard and you will be challenged. Develop a strong work ethic and it will serve you throughout your entire legal career. Maintain your GPA and your credits. They will either give or limit your options in life.”

During the wrap-up session on Friday, students were enthusiastic about the program and the role the program played in helping them to make decisions about applying for and attending law school.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010