UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The newest Penn State Law in University Park J.D. students kicked off their law school journey last week with orientation on Wednesday, August 16, and Thursday, August 17, in the Lewis Katz Building.
Victor Romero, interim dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, Maureen B. Cavanaugh Distinguished Faculty Scholar, and professor of law, shared his thoughts on the new class. “I was particularly impressed with their energy and enthusiasm, and I look forward to getting to know as many of them as I can in the days ahead.”
The new students were able to enjoy a light breakfast, tour the state-of-the-art Katz building, sit for individual law school photos in the picturesque H. Laddie Montague, Jr. Law Library under the guidance of the Penn State Law marketing and communications team, as well as record the correct pronunciation of their names for commencement (yes, we are preparing them to get to the finish line!) with Penn State Law’s Digital Learning and Information Technology team.
Then, the new students filed into Sutliff Auditorium in the Katz building to meet the Penn State Law administrative staff and faculty that they will interact with over the next few years.
Their excitement was palpable.
“Orientation is a great way to get students acclimated to the Penn State Law environment,” said Dr. Wende’ Ferguson, assistant dean for student services and associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. “Our incoming 1L students are eager to start the semester.”
This year’s entering class is diverse and accomplished, as demonstrated by the fast facts shared by Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid Julian Morales:
- 134 students
- 33 states
- Six countries
- Over 106 undergraduate institutions
“It’s really great to see the students walking through the halls, with built-up anticipation, and share the day with them as they embark on this new journey in their legal career,” said Morales.
Students networked with other students who were in their same sections and already started forming bonds with each other on day one.
“I thought [the] student orientation was very informative and all of the deans, professors, and staff proved to me that they not only want me to succeed but also to be safe and healthy throughout,” shared first-year law student, Elian Martinez. “I applied to Penn State Law because I wanted to be a part of a prestigious law program and well-known university close to home.
“What I am most looking forward to is getting to know my colleagues from all different walks of life and getting through 1L and beyond together.”
First-year J.D. student Elian Martinez. IMAGE: Emma Kappel/Penn State Law
ORIENTATION DAY 1
Deans Morales and Ferguson kicked off the morning with a robust welcome from admissions and student services, respectively. Essentially, orientation has been known as the time when admissions passes the torch to student services now that all the new students have been admitted and are ready to start on their three-year journey to becoming the newest legal scholars of their generation.
Dean Ferguson introduced Dean Romero right before he welcomed the class of 2026 on their very first day of orientation. “It’s always exciting to welcome a new class of terrific first-years to Penn State Law,” shared Romero.
You could see and feel first-year Roshni Raji’s electrifying energy at orientation. “I love it! I am very excited to be here. I think orientation was really helpful in helping me get my bearings. I felt like there was a lot I didn’t know. I feel much more prepared for my week one of law school.”
First-year J.D. student Roshni Raji. IMAGE: Emma Kappel/Penn State Law
Dr. Jud Mathews, associate dean for academic affairs, professor of law, and affiliate professor, School of International Affairs, and Jacob Schuman, assistant professor of law, affiliate faculty, Penn State Criminal Justice Research Center, and affiliate faculty, Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse, both followed up giving the students a taste of their first-year experience by letting them know about the academic programs and resources available to them.
“The first day of orientation is one of my favorite days in the law school calendar. The excitement of these new students at the start of their law school journey is contagious,” Mathews emphasized. “They’re ready to get down to work—and the faculty is ready too.”
Dean Ferguson addresses first-year J.D. students during 2023 orientation. IMAGE: Emma Kappel/Penn State Law
After a wellbeing break, students returned to the Katz auditorium for Dean Ferguson’s talk on DEI and Dr. Seria J. Chatters’s session, “DEI & You: Doing Your Part in Law School and Beyond.” Then students from the Student Bar Association (SBA) executive board and Law Lion Ambassadors hosted student roundtables.
The day rounded out with a student life panel, a message from the career services team, and a resources scavenger hunt, led by Dean Ferguson.
ORIENTATION DAY 2
The second day of orientation began with more opportunities for touring the law building and a gathering of the entire first-year class for a class photo on the Katz building front lawn.
At Penn State Law, we care about the wellbeing of everyone who enters our building—especially our students. So it was especially fitting for there to be a law student wellbeing session hosted by Laurie J. Besden, Esq., ’99, executive director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers-PA; Erin Raupers, assistant director, Penn State Health and Wellness Promotion; Anna Barone, director, Penn State Student Care and Advocacy; and Avery McLean, Student Bar Association mental health and wellness Chair.
“It was a little bit of an information overload over the last day and a half, but I feel like I know much more,” Raji explained. “It was a little more relaxed today. I felt like I got to talk to a lot more people, got to know people in my section, and people in my classes a little bit more.
“It was really helpful to see all the ways in which I could get support at the college and from the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers program. I think those are things that, as a first-generation law school [student] and first-generation immigrant, you don’t think about the ways in which you might need support in a new, kind of, scary journey. So it’s really nice to get all of that information up front.”
Following that important session, Nicole Chong, associate dean and professor of legal writing, and Rebecca A. Mattson, head of faculty and research services and professor of legal research, held another session on academic program and resources.
Then to give students a bigger picture of what resources are available to them on campus, Danny Shaha, assistant vice president for student affairs and Penn State Division of Student Affairs, was able to disperse important information to these eager new students.
The last day of orientation rounded out with a reception in the Katz commons where students mingled with faculty members to talk about the journey that lies ahead.
J.D. students mingling with faculty and staff during 2023 orientation at Penn State Law in University Park. IMAGE: Andy Gabriel/Penn State Law
Before the official welcome of orientation even began, over 50 students (including incoming 1Ls), faculty, and staff also took advantage of Penn State Law Service Day on Tuesday, August 15. Everyone came together to contribute their time to volunteer at the Student Farm at Penn State, the Arboretum at Penn State, Housing Transitions, and the Centre County Historical Society.
“Given [Penn State Law’s] rich history of providing opportunities for students to contribute to underserved clients, causes, and communities, and the need to develop a broader ethos of service for the legal profession, the service day has become a critical part of orientation,” said Ferguson.
Classes for all Penn State Law students begin on August 21.