UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—The Minority Mentor Program (MMP) at Penn State Law in University Park held its eighth annual kickoff reception on Friday, August 26. With 200 people overall participating in the program, faculty and staff mentors mingled with more than 50 J.D. mentees, ending the first week of classes with a strong note of support for diverse students.
Second-year students Nia Evereteze and Kevin Rodriguez offered the 1L class insight into what makes the program unique and how to make the most of having a professional mentor.
“When I think about a mentor, I imagine someone that will provide guidance and support beyond an academic or professional role. Someone who will care about my well-being as a person. And that is what I believe makes this program special. Your mentors are aware of this and all of them want to contribute to your growth,” said Evereteze.
Rodriguez told the new mentees, “Always remember you’re more than just a student; your mentors and everyone here want you to succeed in life; use your mentors as a resource and always feel free to reach out to them.”
Penn State Law mentees in the MMP.
Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar, clinical professor of law, and director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic said, “It was great to kick off the eighth year of the Minority Mentor Program with such good energy from participating faculty, staff and students. Many of our new mentees were able to meet with their mentors and to build community with others in the MMP.”
The MMP connects internal and external legal professionals with J.D. students who identify with an underrepresented group in law practice. “It serves as a tool to ensure these students feel a sense of belonging in law school and the legal profession,” Wadhia said. The mentor helps the student with their academic success and emotional well-being as they have had similar experiences as their mentee. The mentor’s empathetic source of support means they can supply practical advice to their mentee, while also understanding the other factors the mentee is dealing with on their academic journey.
Penn State Law mentees at the MMP event.
“Mentoring is crucial to the academic experience, especially among underrepresented law students. I hope the relationships created through MMP blossom throughout the year and provide our students with the tools to succeed in law school and the legal profession,” said Wadhia.
The mentees received the message from the student speakers. Oluwafunmi Lawal, first-year student and new mentee, felt confident in her future because of the support she’ll receive through the program. “It gave me a sense of assurance that I could thrive at Penn State Law. Representation is essential in the legal field, especially for an immigrant like myself. It means everything! Embarking on the law school journey with a minority mentor that has similar experience is paramount to my success,” she said.
Vice Admiral (Ret.) James W. Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, said, “Penn State Law is committed to supporting our diverse students. The Minority Mentor Program gives students the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with a professional who can provide guidance, advice, and encouragement. Mentors are an invaluable resource to our law students, and it’s heartening to see such robust program involvement and support.”
The event also created a lasting impression on the faculty. Gopal Balachandran, assistant professor of clinical law, director of the Externships Program, and director of the Criminal Appellate & Post-Conviction Services Clinic, said, “I was honestly floored by the level of engagement and interest in the program and also, how much the students themselves enjoyed interacting with each other and faculty. We have a great community and a wonderful class of 1Ls.”
With introductions underway, new students can dive into their studies with trusted people to turn to for questions and leadership. The MMP will continue to thrive and uplift Penn State Law students as they navigate the transition to law school, build their network, and find future opportunities through internships, externships, and more.