UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State Law in University Park held its ninth annual kickoff reception for the Minority Mentor Program (MMP) on Friday, August 25. Students, faculty, and staff gathered at the Graduate Hotel in downtown State College for an evening filled with good food, inspiring speeches, and friendly conversation.
The reception included remarks from Victor Romero, interim dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, Maureen B. Cavanaugh Distinguished Faculty Scholar, and professor of law; Dr. Wende' Ferguson, associate dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and assistant dean for student services; and Amanda DiPolvere, associate dean for enrollment, career development, planning and transition.
“Knowing first-hand what a difference excellent mentors can make, I was thrilled to see so many students at the kickoff reception for Penn State Law’s Minority Mentor Program,” Dean Romero said. “Thanks to Dr. Ferguson’s terrific leadership, Friday’s dinner was a wonderful way to begin the new academic year, with faculty and staff mentors connecting with both new mentees and returning students in a relaxed and welcoming environment.”
Interim Dean Victor Romero delivers remarks at the 2023 Minority Mentor Program Kickoff Reception. IMAGE: Emma Kappel/Penn State
The MMP program aims to provide support to underrepresented law students by matching them with mentors, both internal and external to Penn State Law, who are professionals in the legal field and can help mentees achieve academic success and emotional well-being during law school and after entering the legal profession.
The program currently includes 116 mentees, 33 faculty/staff mentors, and over 150 alumni mentors.
“The Minority Mentor Program provides mentees the accessibility of and encouragement from faculty, senior-level law school administrators, and alumni,” said Dr. Ferguson. “Building mentoring relationships that are authentic, purposeful, and productive can help mentees identify how to successfully negotiate law school experiences and the broader legal profession more generally.”
A community of support
Penn State Law students, faculty, and staff mingle during the 2023 Minority Mentor Program reception. IMAGE: Emma Kappel/Penn State
The kickoff reception was a great opportunity for MMP mentees to network with fellow Penn State Law students, faculty, and staff. It was especially beneficial for first-year law students (1Ls) who are navigating a new educational landscape.
“I think that the reception was a really great opportunity for students, especially 1Ls, to see how Penn State Law is really prioritizing DEI,” said 1L Charity Williams. “I’m an out-of-state student originally from Atlanta, and one of my primary concerns coming this far out was not having a community of support. So just seeing how they are not only saying they’re prioritizing these things, but they are actually putting resources, time, and effort into it.”
Williams added that outreach from her mentors “has made moving super far feel really familiar in a short amount of time, so it’s been amazing for me.”
Other 1Ls expressed how the MMP program has already helped make law school feel less daunting.
“Being a minority in a law school in the United States is a very intimidating experience,” said 1L Chloe Graham, “and I think having programs like [the MMP] and receptions like this make it inspiring and make me feel like it’s something that I can achieve and be successful at. Being able to talk to [my mentors] and see what their experience has been makes law school feel like a more manageable experience.”
Awa Ndiaye, also a 1L, emphasized that the reception was a great entry point to the broader support structures available to students.
“I feel like [the reception] really created an environment that was conducive to meeting new people and finding out more about the mentor program, and I loved the speeches because they really talked about the resources that are available to us at Penn State Law,” Ndiaye said.
Awa Ndiaye, a first-year J.D. student at Penn State Law in University Park. IMAGE: Emma Kappel/Penn State
Speaking about her first week of classes, she added, “The professors have been very helpful, very understanding, and open to questions, so that’s all I really could hope for.”
For returning law students, meanwhile, the reception was a great way to add energy and excitement to the start of a new academic year.
“The reception was a fantastic event, getting the chance to talk to first-year law students as well as faculty and staff here at Penn State Law—it’s an incredible reminder that Penn State Law is fully supportive of my experience here as a minority student,” said second-year law student Gurtej Grewal. “Specifically at a PWI (primarily white institution) and in a legal profession that is primarily white, it’s always a great reminder knowing that the individuals who are around you support you.”
Now a more seasoned law student, Grewal said he hoped to be able to provide insight and perspective to the incoming class.
“I came in as bright-eyed as possible as a first-year law student […] and what I want to pass on to students moving forward is to just be curious and remember that there are no dumb questions,” he said. “I was that student before them, and I was asking those same questions and it helped me progress and evolve into the person I am and hopefully the person I am becoming.”
The MMP program offers mentoring relationships to current J.D. candidates at Penn State Law in University Park who have expressed interest in the program and who identify as students from diverse backgrounds, including students identifying as a member of a racial or ethnic group underrepresented in the practice of law; members of a religious minority; students with mental or physical disabilities; and students identifying as LGBTQ+.
Visit our website for more information on the Penn State Law Minority Mentor Program.