UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Penn State Law in University Park held orientation for the J.D. Class of 2025 on Wednesday, August 17, and Thursday, August 18. The morning started with 146 students gathered in the Lewis Katz Building’s lobby to meet their peers and start their law school journey.
Russell Shaffer, assistant dean for operations and planning and interim assistant dean of student services, said, “We’re very excited to have such a terrific group of students joining us here at Penn State Law. They’re going to be valuable members of our community.”
WELCOMING A DIVERSE CLASS
During the opening presentation, Amanda DiPolvere, senior assistant dean for enrollment and career development, called this incoming class “brilliant geniuses,” read touching quotes from some of their letters of recommendation, and shared statistics about the Class of 2025’s diverse backgrounds and accomplishments:
- More than 30% identify with a racial or ethnic group that is underrepresented in the legal profession
- Nearly 24% are members or allies of the LGBTQ+ community
- Approximately 56% are women
- 24% are first-generation college graduates
- Two students served in the military
The diversity did not end there. DiPolvere noted that the class is geographically diverse with students hailing from 33 states as well as seven foreign countries.
DiPolvere also hyped up the accomplished group by sharing fun facts about their peers such as: several hold Master’s degrees and one Ph.D.; many are musically-inclined students— including a Royal Academy of Music Certified Pianist, a professional flutist, a baritone opera singer, a bagpiper, and a trumpet player; students with experience in the music industry; a couple students who have participated in pageants; and students who play or have played a variety of sports.
DiPolvere provided an important reminder to the class, “Each and every one of you earned your place here and we are confident that you can do this,” she said. She then advised them to “trust the experts, ask for help, run your own race, and engage with this experience.”
Student poses for photo in front of Penn State Law University Park, PA backdrop.
IMAGE: Emma Kappel/Penn State Law
First-year student Darian Bernstein said, “I’m excited to start. The best advice I heard today was to not compare myself to other people.” He mentioned the “run your own race” message stuck with him.
Dr. Wende’ Ferguson, assistant dean for student services, took a break from maternity leave to welcome the new class in person. She reminded the class about the network of support available to them. “Don’t feel like you’re doing this alone because you have a community of peers, staff, and faculty that are here to support you in your new journey at law school.”
All of Penn State Law’s leadership emphasized support and community for the law students to help them succeed and it seemed like this new class of eager, soon-to-be lawyers understood the assignment.
Jamie Meyers, another member of the new J.D. class said, “Everyone has our backs. I feel like I belong here.”
One student arrived ready to make an impression from the beginning. Wearing a vibrant coral jacket and matching skirt, Jordan Henegar introduced herself with the moniker “Legally Brunette.” Henegar said, “I have always aspired to be as bold and bubbly as Elle Woods. I do hope to keep my individuality like Elle. I desire to be Elle Woods 2.0… ‘Legally Brunette,’ so I chose to dress the part for orientation. I find that clothing is an outlet for me to express my uniqueness.”
Students mingling with Penn State Law faculty and staff at J.D. Orientation.
IMAGE: Emma Kappel/Penn State Law
ADVICE FROM THE DEAN
During opening remarks from Vice Admiral (Ret.) James W. Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, he told the class, “You can only do one thing while you’re here: be the best version of yourself. If you can do that, you can leave law school feeling really good about what you’ve done here.”
I encourage you to listen. There are a lot of us here to help you be the best version of yourself.” Dean Houck wanted the new class to understand that they should not worry about what their peers are doing because it is irrelevant and that the only competition they need is themselves.
Orientation day one rounded out with The First Year Experience: Academic Programs and Resources, lunch, how to get involved in student organizations, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and a talk from the Career Services Office about preparing for a legal career.
SELF-CARE AND BEYOND
On day two, in addition to taking professional headshots inside and a class photo on the lawn in front of the Katz building, the students sat in panel discussions about their well-being and caring for themselves as they journey through law school.
They also learned about doing their part in law school and beyond when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion from Seriashia J. Chatters, Ph.D, adjunct associate teaching professor (CNED), Penn State College of Education, and director of equity of inclusivity of State College Area School District. Chatters said, “I felt welcomed during the orientation. Students were engaged and actively participated. I loved hearing how students were already applying what they learned.”
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 at Penn State Law said, “I was honored to welcome the incoming Class of 2025 at Penn State Law and to discuss the values of diversity, equity and inclusion in our law school and the legal profession. I was so impressed with the energy, honesty and intellectual curiosity of this group and look forward to teaching and learning from them.”
ENGAGING WITH THE PENN STATE LAW COMMUNITY
The new 1L class was able to engage with Penn State Law professors, staff, and faculty during the Welcome Reception. Penn State Law faculty mingled with the students to talk about the law school and what to expect in their classes.
Marie Reilly, professor of law, advised students to remove all distractions and focus on their readings before class, class discussions, and to read their notes after class. “The ability to focus intensely on a complex tangle of information for hours is an important legal professional skill. Intentionally building that skill, while being patient with yourself, is job one for 1L students during the first few weeks of class,” she said.
Another piece of advice came from Ben Johnson, associate professor of law and affiliate faculty with the College of Information Sciences and Technology and with the Department of Political Science, College of the Liberal Arts, who encouraged students to seek out mentorship. Students can rely on mentors for advice, guidance, and learn new avenues of law that may inform their future career.
After two full days of advice, meeting fellow students, and talking to their professors, the students were fully welcomed to Penn State Law in University Park. The newly prepared J.D. Class of 2025 began classes on August 22.