UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – An innovative program now in its second year at Penn State Law provides students with a unique avenue for developing their leadership skills while they serve in their local community. Leading Law Students, which started last year at the suggestion of a current Penn State Dickinson School of Law student, places select law students on the boards of directors of local nonprofit organizations.
“The program was envisioned as a way to encourage our students to begin thinking about how, as future attorneys, they can give back to their communities and start interacting with community members who could be their future clients,” says Neil Sirota, assistant dean of Career Services at Penn State Law. “The reaction from our students and the local community has been tremendously positive. Our students are honing their leadership skills, expanding their professional networks, and helping to create new connections between the law school and the local community.”
Penn State Law students currently serve as nonvoting members on the boards of several area nonprofits (see below for complete list of participating organizations), including Community Help Centre (CHC).
Third-year student Jeffrey Gdovin and second-year James Edward are members of the board of CHC, an organization that provides services, resources, education, training, and information to people who are in need of support in the State College, Pa., area. The organization operates a drop-in center and a 24-hour hotline, and works to coordinate and deliver human services throughout Centre County.
Gdovin, who has been with the Community Help Center since February, has found benefit in seeing firsthand how nonprofits are managed.
“I have noticed how connected within the community each board member is,” he says. “It is very inspiring to see these individuals so committed to the community they live in, even though they are all very busy with their outside lives.”
While the students don’t hold voting power as board members, they otherwise participate fully in board meetings and provide insight that is valuable to their organization.
“Even though I am not a voting member, it’s clear that the board and the rest of the organization value my input and opinions,” he says. “I’ve been paired with a great organization and at every board meeting I have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the service it provides to the community.”
For Edward, the program has helped cement his personal dedication to serving the community in which he lives.
“It is important to me to give back to the community in a meaningful way,” he says. “I plan to continue to work with nonprofit organizations in some way throughout my entire career.”
According to Sirota, this is precisely what makes the program a success.
“Not only are our students contributing to the greater good, but they are gaining experiences that will stay with them through their entire careers,” he says. “And they are developing a sense of service that will benefit their communities wherever they end up working and living.”
In the future, Sirota hopes to expand the program to include more nonprofit organizations and eventually place students on the boards of public companies.
Organizations participating in Penn State Law's Leading Lawyers Program:
- American Red Cross - Centre Communities Chapter
- Centre County Women's Resource Center
- Centre County Youth Service Bureau
- Centre Region Care Partnership/Communities That Care
- Centre Volunteers in Medicine
- Child Development and Family Council of Centre County, Inc.
- Community Help Centre
- The Foundation for Mount Nittany Medical Center
- Global Connections
- Housing Transitions, Inc.
- New Leaf 2.0
- Skills of Central PA
- State College Meals on Wheels
- Tides Program
- United Way of Centre County
- YMCA of Centre County