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Toll Public Interest Center at Penn Law Announces 2012 Postgraduate Fellowship Awards

April 24, 2012

Megan Rok L'11, Sara Alba L'11, and Jamie Gullen L'12 (Not pictured: Denisse Cordova, L'12, studying abroad at University of Mannheim)
Megan Rok L’11, Sara Alba L’11, and Jamie Gullen L’12 (Not pictured: Denisse Cordova, L’12, studying abroad at University of Mannheim)
As part of its commitment to supporting public interest legal careers, the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC) has named 2012 Postgraduate Fellowship Award recipients.

As part of its commitment to supporting public interest legal careers, the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC) has named 2012 Postgraduate Fellowship Award recipients.

Launched in 2009, the postgraduate fellowship program has grown through the generous support of alumni like Robert L’66 and Jane Toll GSE’66, Gerald McHugh, and Penn Law alumni at the Langer, Grogan, and Diver law firm. This year, the Law School added support from the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, creating a total of four full-time postgraduate fellowships. Fellows design their own public interest projects and work with partnering non-profit organizations locally, nationally, or internationally on pressing issues and advocating for clients.

“The commitment to social justice and public-interest lawyering demonstrated by this year’s Fellows is both inspiring and impressive,” said Michael A. Fitts, dean of Penn Law. “They have identified a broad range of social needs to which they are responding with great passion and outstanding legal talent.”

“These students work so hard in their time at Penn Law to serve the communities they care so much about,” noted Arlene Finkelstein, Assistant Dean & Executive Director of the Law School’s Toll Public Interest Center. “It gives us great pride to see them develop these projects in conjunction with their partnering organizations in a way that will not only have a tremendous impact, but also launch their public interest careers.”


The 2012 TPIC Postgraduate Fellowship recipients and their projects are:

  • Sarah Alba, L’11, awarded the Toll Public Interest Fellowship. Alba will work with Manhattan Legal Services in New York. Sarah’s project, Advocacy Project to Remedy Employment Discrimination on the Basis of Credit Checks, will create a credit discrimination clinic which will employ community education, direct services, and policy advocacy to assist unemployed members of the minority communities of upper Manhattan overcome an emerging but overlooked barrier to re-employment: the usage of credit reports by employers to deny employment opportunities to minority applicants.
  • Denisse Cordova, L’12, awarded the the Penn Law Fellowship. Partnering with FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), an international network of organizations, Cordova’s project, Responding to Violations of Women’s Human Right to Food, will serve women and girls whose right to adequate food has been violated by developing legal strategies that respond to gender-differentiated needs and priorities as well as gender inequalities in terms of opportunities and outcomes to enable affected communities to realize this human right. This project will respond to specific cases of violations of women’s right to food in Latin America and develop prototype methodologies that can be replicated in other regions.
  • Jamie Gullen, L’12, awarded the Langer, Grogan & Diver Fellowship in Social Justice. With partner organization Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Gullen’s project, Empowering Youth through Work Project: Reducing Barriers to Employment for Young Adults with Criminal Records, will utilize direct representation, community education and outreach, and systemic reform to will reduce barriers to employment for young adults with criminal records.  Through her project, Jamie will work with young adults to expunge their arrest records, reduce the amount of criminal justice debt they owe to the courts, and challenge the predatory practices of for-profit educational institutions that enroll students in training for fields from which they are barred by their criminal records.
  • Megan Rok, L’11, awarded the inaugural University of Pennsylvania Law Review Public Interest Fellowship. Rok will partner with the Support Center for Child Advocates in Philadelphia. Her project, Educational Advocacy for Court-Involved Youth, will enable Megan to provide services for children in the child welfare system, who are at a high risk of poor education outcomes. In Philadelphia, 75% of these children do not graduate high school. Through this project Megan will provide a critical and missing element in the effort to address the education crisis of court-involved youth: an improved process for early identification and intervention through direct representation in Family Court and school proceedings to ensure new and existing education rights.

Fellows are selected by the TPIC Advisory Board, a group of legal professionals who serve as counsel to TPIC on its public interest programs and initiatives. The Fellowships are awarded through a competitive process, and recipients are screened through written applications and interviews. Successful applicants must demonstrate both a strong commitment to public service and an effective partnership with a public interest organization that will allow them to provide a necessary legal service to an under-represented cause or community. The Fellowships are designed to launch long-term public interest careers.

In addition to the Penn Law Fellows, a number of Penn Law 3Ls and alumni have succeeded in obtaining other fellowships to engage in public interest work.

Founded in 1989, TPIC is at the center of public interest initiatives at Penn Law, helping all students to cultivate meaningful opportunities to provide pro bono legal service to under-represented communities, while mentoring students who hope to make public interest their professional focus. The Center’s pro bono program, which includes a 70-hour pro bono requirement and emphasizes students’ professional development, has been recognized with the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award.