Three Penn Law students and a recent alumna have been awarded national fellowships in the public interest sector that will enable them to use their educations for civic good. 2015 Penn Law graduate Chelsea Edwards and current Penn Law student Ian Charlton received Public Interest Law Fellowships from the Independence Foundation. Penn Law students Blair Bowie and Elizabeth Levitan were among the 30 individuals from around the country to win the Skadden Fellowship for 2017.
Established in 1988 by the Skadden Foundation, the project-based fellowship provides funding for a two-year partnership between a law school graduate or judicial law clerk with a public interest organization of their choosing.
Bowie will work with the nonprofit group Campaign Legal Center located in Washington, D.C., to challenge felony disenfranchisement laws, which prevent previously convicted felons from voting. The laws currently prevent 6.1 million Americans from voting and are under fire for disproportionately targeting black populations.
“I was always interested in these issues of making our democracy more equal,” said Bowie. “I really feel like the issue of felony disenfranchisement highlights some of the worst problems in our democracy.”
Levitan plans to spend the next two years working with the Youth Advocacy Foundation to ensure that minors already sentenced in the Massachusetts juvenile delinquency system have support systems and necessary services available to them. She will also implement a panel of attorneys to provide pro bono assistance to juvenile delinquents statewide.
“I hope to continue to work in juvenile delinquency or child welfare,” Levitan said. “That’s what I’m passionate about. The goal is to be in that world, even after my fellowship.”
The Public Interest Law fellowships are designed to support top law school graduates providing free legal services to disadvantaged populations in the Philadelphia area.
Edwards' work will focus on defending the rights of female restaurant employees to reduce the frequency of workplace exploitation. Charlton will focus on mitigating the housing crisis' effects on low-income neighborhoods by working to inform tenants of pending eviction cases that may be filed against them.
The University of Pennsylvania Law School has a history of preparing top students for careers in the public interest sector. Penn Law houses the Toll Public Interest Center, which aids students in their pro bono and public service endeavors by connecting students with faculty and practitioners. Penn Law was one of the first post-undergraduate institutions to install a requirement that all students complete 70 hours of public service in order to graduate.
“There’s a really good core community and a good support system at the law school for people who want to do this kind of work,” said Bowie. “I always knew I wanted to do it, and Penn has given me the opportunities.”