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Public Interest Law Fund auction raises $11k for Penn State Law students

The Public Interest Law Fund (PILF) at Penn State Law hosted its 18th annual auction on Thursday, February 22, at the Graduate Hotel in downtown State College and raised more than $11,000 to help fund Penn State Law students to work in unpaid summer fellowships in the public interest law field.
Hannah Chapple

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Public Interest Law Fund (PILF) at Penn State Law in University Park hosted its 18th annual auction on Thursday, February 22, at the Graduate Hotel in downtown State College. The auction—a popular event among the law school community—raised more than $11,000 to help fund Penn State Law students to work in unpaid summer fellowships in the public interest law field.

“Penn State Law’s PILF Auction is a wonderful celebration of our community,” said Victor Romero, interim dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, Maureen B. Cavanaugh Distinguished Faculty Scholar, and professor of law. “At this annual event, students, staff, and faculty all get together to support those who advocate in the public’s interest, and the auction is a terrific, fun way to accomplish this.”

This year’s auction was masquerade-themed and featured opening remarks from Romero and Lara Fowler, chief sustainability officer at Penn State, director of Penn State Sustainability, professor of teaching at Penn State Law, and an affiliate faculty member at the Penn State School of International Affairs.

“The Public Interest Law Fund provides funding critical to allowing students an opportunity to follow their passions and take an otherwise unpaid public interest internship,” Fowler said. “Students gain real world experience while keeping the cost of law school lower; at the same time, employers get help to work on important public interest questions. This win-win dynamic is so important—a little bit of funding goes a long way and can really help support students following a path into the world of public interest.”

That sentiment was echoed by PILF President and second-year law student Chloe Saine, who said that supporting the auction and PILF is “an opportunity for the Penn State Law community to invest in students who, in turn, invest in the communities they serve through their commitment to public interest law.”

The auction is organized and run by students—the PILF executive board, auction committee, and auction chairs. This year’s co-chairs were third-year law students Hannah Chapple and Ava McCartin. 

A unique aspect of the annual auction is that students can bid on various “experiences” hosted by Penn State Law faculty and staff. Some of this year’s notable experiences included:

  • A round of golf with Keith Elkin, associate dean for academic success and professor of legal skills;
  • A “Taste of the African Diaspora” hosted by Dr. Wende’ Ferguson, associate dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) and assistant dean for student services;
  • A yoga session with Jill Engle, professor of clinical law and a certified yoga instructor; and
  • A fly-fishing lesson with Marcus Englert, associate director for student services.

Those experiences—many of which draw significant competition among the bidders—help make the auction a valuable community-building event in addition to the primary fundraising goal.

“The PILF Auction continues to be an astounding success,” said Brandan Parks, vice president of PILF and a second-year law student. “For 18 years, the Penn State Law community has come together for a night of fun with all the proceeds going to the PILF Fellowship Fund.”

The PILF Summer Fellowship was created to enable non-transferring first-, second-, and non-graduating third-year students at Penn State Law to work in non-paying public interest jobs for the summer. Students planning on interning for non-profit organizations with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, some government agencies, and private firms engaged in public interest practice are eligible to apply.

The 2024 PILF Summer Fellowship application will be opened in the coming weeks. Check the PILF website for updates.

In summer 2023, PILF awarded fellowships to:

  • Parks, who interned at the Philadelphia office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC);
  • Current third-year law student Alexandra Johnson, who worked at The Innocence Project in New York City; and
  • Current third-year law student Bri Maikisch, who interned at the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender in Ocean County.

PILF was created by law students with the goal of helping fellow law students interested in public interest careers gain valuable experience. The organization recognizes that most public interest internships are unpaid, and this can be a significant barrier for those who are passionate about public interest work but cannot afford to work for free over the summer. Through financial support to students engaged in public interest internships, PILF assists populations who are traditionally underserved and inadequately represented by providing greater access to legal services.

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