UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – In some ways, the career paths of Iyadh Abid and Teleicia Dambreville are very different.
Dambreville earned her J.D. from Penn State Law in 2013 and entered the field of management-side employment law; following stints at two law firms, she settled into her current position as in-house counsel for Burlington Stores, Inc., in New Jersey, managing all aspects of employment litigation and leading its nationwide early dispute resolution program.
Two years after Dambreville graduated, Abid arrived at Penn State Law to begin a one-year master of laws (LL.M.) program. After completing the program, Abid returned to his native Tunisia to serve as an advisor to the Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation of Tunisia, providing legal analysis related to investment law reforms and streamlining market entry.
Their paths crossed this past spring when they returned to Penn State’s University Park campus to accept, along with 13 other young professionals, the 2019 Penn State Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award. While on campus for several days, the two spent much of their time in the Lewis Katz Building—home to Penn State Law—speaking in classes, networking with faculty, and providing career advice to current students who will soon be entering the job market.
Throughout their visit, another commonality emerged: though they may be working in divergent legal fields, they are both driven by a commitment to giving back, applying their knowledge and experience to help the next wave of legal and civic leaders.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting with the current students,” Dambreville said. “Those are the interactions—talking with recent grads—that I found most helpful when I was in school.”
“It’s very humbling,” added Abid. “They [current students] look at us as mentors, but in some ways I feel like a student still, just a little older.”
That characterization doesn’t do justice to the impact Abid and Dambreville have made in their young careers—before, during, and after law school.
Supporting Underrepresented Law Students
Teleicia Dambreville gives a career talk in spring 2019 to current Penn State Law students. IMAGE: Andrew Gabriel
Dambreville entered law school in fall 2010 as a first-generation student, a status that can lead to particular challenges. Students whose parents graduated from college can look to their parents as role models and for specific advice, an advantage that Dambreville, and others, didn’t have.
“As a first-generation student, you don’t always know what success looks like—inside the classroom or in the professional world,” Dambreville said.
She also knew that black lawyers—and by extension, black law students—are underrepresented across the country. A spring 2019 study by Aaron N. Taylor, executive director of the AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence, found that 49 percent of black law school applicants were not admitted to a single law school during the 2016-17 admissions cycle, the largest percentage among any racial or ethnic group.
“To see that we were lagging so far behind really inspired me to get involved and try to make a difference,” Dambreville said. “I thought it would be a great way to give back and benefit students and young professionals.”
She quickly found an outlet for her inspiration: though Penn State Law had a previously established Black Law Students Association (BLSA), Dambreville learned that it hadn’t been as active in recent years. Along with her husband Daivy, whom she met at Penn State Law, she helped to “breathe new life into the group” with the goal of providing a strong “voice to underrepresented students.”
BLSA members were—and continue to be—a source of both friendships and professional colleagues for Dambreville. Getting involved in student organizations, she said, is a great way for students to prepare for career success while still in school, showcasing the importance of networking and making connections—true for any student, but especially those from underrepresented groups.
Reforming Legal Education in Tunisia
Iyadh Abid gives a presentation in fall 2018 on Tunisia and the Arab Spring. IMAGE: Andrew Gabriel
Around the time that Dambreville was graduating from Penn State Law, Abid was busy co-founding LEAD Tunisia (Legal Education Advancement and Development), an NGO aimed at reforming the legal education system in Tunisia. It was in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, a time of optimism when many Tunisian youth were eager for change.
“We knew there were a lot of things that were missing from law schools in Tunisia,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of practical, hands-on education; it is mostly theoretical.”
In response to that need, LEAD Tunisia provides opportunities for Tunisian law students to draft model laws and participate in moot courts. The organization also launched an online legal journal, a colloquium series of student-centered public debates, and works with universities outside Tunisia, creating exchange opportunities for law students and faculty. Because Tunisian schools don’t have much leeway to change curricula, LEAD mostly works outside the official university structure—as a kind of supplement to the country’s formal education system.
Abid hopes his work as a government advisor will help bridge the gap between LEAD’s ad-hoc reform efforts and the institutional change needed to achieve widespread progress in higher education. For example, he is an advocate for increasing educational investments by streamlining regulations and reducing red tape.
“We want to encourage people to think of higher education as an area for development and more foreign investment,” Abid said, while also noting the need to balance stimulating foreign investment and protecting national interests.
The push to diversify and internationalize Tunisia’s higher education stems from Abid’s own experience as an international student. He received a Fulbright grant to attend Penn State Law and remains committed to the Penn State community; he is the part-time director of African programs for Penn State Law and welcomes any opportunity to return to the Katz building—including a fall 2018 visit during which he gave a presentation on Tunisia and the Arab Spring to LL.M., J.D., and School of International Affairs students.
The aftermath of the Arab Spring was again a topic of conversation during Abid’s most recent trip to University Park this past spring. Giving a presentation to a group of LL.M. students in a human rights course, he spoke about the need to integrate economic prosperity into a broader human rights push; without financial security, he said, many people will question the importance of democracy and human rights.
“In Tunisia, some people are saying we were better off with a dictator,” Abid told the class. “They say, ‘What good is freedom of speech without food on the table?’”
A Lasting Impact
Teleicia Dambreville speaks during a spring 2019 labor law class at Penn State Law. IMAGE: Andrew Gabriel
Abid’s dedication to Penn State Law has certainly had an impact. In 2018-19, five Tunisian students participated in the LL.M. program, the largest cohort ever from that country. All five have credited Abid’s outreach as a big reason why they chose Penn State.
Engaging in work that has a lasting impact has also been a hallmark of Dambreville’s early career.
Her effort to reinvigorate BLSA has, and will continue to, benefit current and future Penn State Law students. While back on campus this spring to accept the alumni award, she connected with current BLSA members, spoke with students in several classes, and offered career insights and tips as part of a “Career Conversation” roundtable.
Current students would do well to heed Dambreville’s advice, given her impressive accomplishments.
Dambreville is a leading advocate for diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, and is active in the Philadelphia Diversity Legal Group (PDLG), an organization that fosters participation of a more diverse group of lawyers in the Greater Philadelphia region.
She has received many honors, including being named to Pennsylvania’s Super Lawyers Rising Stars (2017, 2018), Billy Penn’s Who’s Next Leaders in Law (2017), and The National Black Lawyers Top 40 Under 40 (2016).
She serves on the Academy Planning Committee for the National Employment Law Council and is a board member of the Providence Center and the PDLG Alumni Association. She is an active alumna of the National Black Law Student Association, obtaining corporate sponsorships for its events, serving as a panelist at conferences, and providing assistance on event planning. She is a frequent admissions volunteer for Penn State Law and in October of 2018, she served as a continuing legal education presenter for the law school.
During her acceptance speech for the Alumni Achievement Award, Dambreville reflected on her time at Penn State Law and expressed gratitude to those who helped her along the way.
“I hope with this award that I will continue to strive every day to show myself deserving of it, of this extreme distinction,” she said. “Remembering that the building blocks of any of my current or future success, and those of the lives we touch, was first sparked, fostered, and molded at Dear Old State.”