When Lisa Pex Shevlin ’11 graduates this spring, she will have both a juris doctor and a master's degree in international affairs; she has been able to accomplish this in three years due to an impressive feat of time management.
"My interests have always been in law and international affairs,” said Shevlin. “The integration of these disciplines here at Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs
(SIA) has allowed me to efficiently accomplish my goals."
“I was accepted into a number of programs but have to say that Penn State offered the most opportunity. With the dual degree and the broader university community, the possibilities are endless,” she said. Her SIA focus is international law and global security, and within the Law School curriculum she is most interested in alternative dispute resolution. Among her experiences at Penn State, she received an IOLTA scholarship working her first summer with MidPenn Legal Services to “develop fundamental legal skills.” She was also a participant in the Center for Immigrants’ Rights
clinic and was able to attend the Montreal Summer Study Program in Arbitration
. As part of her SIA program commitment, she landed a summer internship with Human Rights First in Washington, D.C. Shevlin had a connection to this organization through her attorney mentor that had been assigned through the Career Services Office at the Law School.
Time management and faculty guidance critical
Achieving these synergies did not happen by coincidence. “I had an elaborate spreadsheet so that I could be sure I was getting both that classes I wanted and needed in order to complete the two degrees within my time frame,” she said, adding that she took 17 credits per semester. If she had taken more time, there are additional areas she would have liked to pursue. “There are so many opportunities through the University that we have access to,” she said. “A language intensive program, a semester in Washington D.C.
, or the International Criminal Justice Program at The Hague
are some of the things I would have also liked to have done.”
Shevlin credits faculty at both the Law School and SIA with supporting her ambitious goals. “Because of my heavy course load I had to stay on top of my studies, and I frequently would drop by my professors’ offices if I had a quick question,” she said. “Two of my favorite law classes have been Contracts and Arbitration.” Shevlin noted that Professor Carbonneau had a way of bringing multiple topics and issues together so that all the pieces fit. She also has valued classes taught by Professor Jett where his experiences as former ambassador contributed to "an honest and dynamic learning environment," she said. "The SIA students bring such diverse perspectives because of their different backgrounds and mindsets – it makes for great classroom discussion.”
The road to international law
Shevlin identifies a number of turning points that steered her in the direction of law and international affairs. She lived in Argentina in 2001 after receiving a Rotary International Student Exchange Scholarship. “It was a fascinating time to be in the country because so much was happening,” she said referring to the economic crisis and subsequent government reforms. She also became fluent in Spanish which allowed her to teach English as a second language classes and help Spanish speaking co-workers deal with legal and other issues while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree. As a psychology graduate in Oregon, Shevlin volunteered with a domestic violence nonprofit organization where she learned that counseling would not give her the same satisfaction that a legal career might. “There really is such a boundary of what the counselors could do to help these victims,” she said. Then as a legal and human resource assistant at Legal Aid Services of Oregon, she got a better sense of what she could do as an attorney.
When she is not immersed in her studies, Shevlin researches and writes case summaries for two American Bar Association publications, the Dispute Resolution Magazine and the eNewsletter. She also serves as secretary of the International Law Society and as a mentor in the J.D. and LL.M. student mentor programs. “My advice to students is always ‘don’t be afraid to take on more than you think you can handle, because you’re only here for a limited time.’” As Shevlin put it, “Busy is better … for me anyway.”