Alumna provides gift to create Public Interest Law Award

January 12, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A Penn State alumna has recently made a gift to Penn State Law in University Park students who participate in the Public Interest Law Fund’s Summer Fellowship program. This program promotes the practice of law in the public interest arena. 

Christie Tillapaugh earned her bachelor’s degree in international politics from Penn State, 1999 and her juris doctor from Dickinson School of Law, 2002, serves on the Penn State Law Board of Advisors and mentors law students — including those pursuing public interest law. Her $25,000 gift will create an endowment known as the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Public Interest Law Award at Penn State Law. Consideration for this award will be given to law students enrolled in Penn State Law who are participants in the Public Interest Law Fund’s Summer Fellowship Program for one academic year.

“I appreciate having opportunities to interact with the Penn State community and to think about ways in which we can support Penn State Law to create the leaders of tomorrow,” Tillapaugh said. “Serving on the board (of advisors) has given me a chance to meet with and learn more about the caliber of leadership, faculty, and students at the law school.” 

Tillapaugh has strong ties to Penn State and the law community as a Penn State graduate and now as a shareholder and co-chair of the nonprofit practice at the law firm of Dentons Cohen & Grigsby in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her law career began in mergers and acquisitions and has transformed into providing general counsel and corporate governance and strategic transaction-related counseling to the nonprofit sector.  She also co-chairs the gender equality committee of her local bar association.

“I am so grateful to Christie Tillapaugh for her leadership in support of public interest law and diversity and for all she contributes to our students and school,” said Dean Hari Osofsky. “This award will make an important difference in helping our students serve society and bridge the access to justice gap as they honor Justice Ginsburg’s legacy.”

She draws her professional inspiration from the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was “an advocate for equality and, essentially, a brilliant jurist,” said Tillapaugh. Ginsburg’s legacy is tied in large part to her advocacy for equal rights informed, in part, by her public interest work. “It seemed fitting to honor her life by finding ways that the law students of today can be better lawyers and advocates in the future by benefiting from positions in public interest law,” Tillapaugh said.  “By establishing this endowment in her name, I hope to create a unique opportunity for the students to gain valuable skills while honoring her legacy.”

“I appreciate having opportunities to interact with the Penn State community and to think about ways in which we can support the law school to create the leaders of tomorrow.”

— Christie Tillapaugh, 2002 juris doctor, Penn State Law

Bianca Gutierrez, student president of Penn State Law’s Public Interest Law Fund (PILF), said that she and Tillapaugh first crossed paths last year when Gutierrez was the president of the Women’s Law Caucus, which Tillapaugh served as the alumni adviser. She remembers Tillapaugh as always being available and supportive and “intentional about making spaces for women of color,” she said. 

One year later, they met face to face at a Penn State Law event for the very first time. Now, as a third year law student who wants to do public interest work in a nonprofit landscape, preferably in Pittsburgh, Gutierrez was officially matched with Tillapaugh, who works in Pittsburgh, through a Penn State Law Mentoring Program. “I feel appreciative of her mentorship. She’s open…and wise. She checks in with me every two weeks and asks me about my job search.” 

Penn State Law PILF Executive Board 2020-2021

2020-2021 Executive Board of the Public Interest Law Fund (PILF) at Penn State Law in University Park. Top row, left to right: Bianca Gutierrez, Alexis Thackurdin, Ashleigh Herrin, Cole Dorsey. Bottom row, left to right: Anna Notchick, Kaitlin Briggs, Phoebe Gilmore.

IMAGE: Penn State Law

Now, Tillapaugh’s connection to Penn State Law and PILF has come full circle along with the inspiration that she drew from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s perseverance and determination in the face of tremendous barriers. Following the words of the justice known to her admirers as RBG, who once said, “Fight for things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” Tillapaugh said her goal is to support students who choose to work in public interest law.  

Even her children know how much RBG meant to her; and to be able to formalize her gift on her daughter’s 11th birthday was, in her words, “serendipitous. “Setting this type of example for my daughter — of actions we can take, now, to help make the future a better place — is something that she will remember and take with her — especially after everything that has happened in 2020,” said Tillapaugh. 

If you would like to contribute to the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Public Interest Law Award, visit this link to make your online gift.   

These gifts will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

  • Penn State Law PILF Executive Board 2020-2021

    2020-2021 Executive Board of the Public Interest Law Fund (PILF) at Penn State Law in University Park. Top row, left to right: Bianca Gutierrez, Alexis Thackurdin, Ashleigh Herrin, Cole Dorsey. Bottom row, left to right: Anna Notchick, Kaitlin Briggs, Phoebe Gilmore.

    IMAGE: Penn State Law
Last Updated January 12, 2021