Penn State Law alumna works to bring justice to people around the world

Penn State Law graduate Mary Laurie, Class of 2013, will wrap up a post-graduate fellowship at Human Rights Watch in Washington, D.C., later this month. Laurie credits connections and programs at Penn State Law as factors in helping her succeed in the position. For example, when she was working on an op-ed with Human Rights Watch’s Acting Washington Director Sarah Margon on U.S. policy in Bahrain, Laurie knew exactly who to call — former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley.

Crowley served as the Law School’s Omar Bradley Chair for the 2011-12 academic year and taught courses on strategic leadership. During her second year of law school, Laurie took Crowley’s class, Foreign Policy & the 21st Century Global Media Environment, which she said sparked her interest in foreign policy work.

While Laurie already had gained some hands-on practice at several traditional internships – Martson Law Offices, the U.S. Army War College and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania – Crowley’s class inspired her to consider alternative ones. What truly set the ball in motion was a discussion about international human rights work during which Crowley suggested Laurie apply for an internship with Human Rights Watch, as part of Penn State Law’s Semester in Washington Program. Crowley offered to put Laurie in touch with someone he knew at the Human Rights Watch. The connection scored Laurie an interview, which in turn landed her the Washington DC Semester internship.

“The Semester in Washington program really opened a lot of doors for me,” Laurie said. “It allowed me to work a 35-hour work week, which made me stand out from the typical, part-time intern and helped me get the graduate fellow position.”

Laurie is currently working in Human Rights Watch’s Advocacy Division as part of Penn State’s Public Interest Graduate Fellowship program. There, she helps influence Congress, the White House, the State Department, and other executive agencies to condemn human rights abuses and comply with international human rights law. Laurie also works with Human Rights Watch’s Refugee Division, where she’s worked on a report about the problems with the work authorization system for asylum seekers. In addition to helping research the report, she’s had the opportunity to apply what she learned in professor Shoba Wadhia’s asylum course while interviewing asylum seekers from all over the world about their experiences. “I’m taking what I learned in law school and using it in the real world,” she said.

Laurie has found success outside of Human Rights Watch as well. While researching drone strikes for her internship, she wrote an article on the Chinese government’s killing of Naw Kham, a Burmese drug lord — but from the Chinese perspective. Her paper was quoted on the widely read law blog, Lawfare.

Laurie’s advice to first-year law students. “Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what you want to do after your first year of law school, but do get to know your professors. They really want to help you.”

At the conclusion of her fellowship, she hopes to work for a member of Congress as a foreign policy fellow. If that doesn’t happen immediately, she said it’s no big deal. “All of my learning experiences have been valuable. Who knows what other doors will open.”

Last Updated November 12, 2013