UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As Daniella Johner scrolled through her Instagram feed earlier this summer, she wasn’t expecting to find anything specific — just the normal assortment of photos and updates from friends and family. Instead, she found out that she won a significant scholarship from the Energy & Mineral Law Foundation (EMLF).
One of her Penn State Law classmates was attending the EMLF Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, where they announced the winners of their scholarship competition. After hearing Johner’s name announced as a scholarship recipient, he sent her a message on Instagram to share the good news.
“I was relieved because I felt like I had a strong application,” said Johner, who also noted that — although she trusts her classmate — she has since confirmed the news with EMLF. “It showed me that other people are seeing that my dream is possible.”
The EMLF Law Students Scholarship provides grants to law students studying energy, environmental, natural resource, or mineral law, and who show high academic and leadership ability and the potential to make a significant contribution in the field of energy, mineral, and natural resources law.
Johner, a rising 3L, has certainly demonstrated her ability and potential. Her interest in natural resources and energy law is a recent development, stemming from her enrollment in Professor Ross Pifer’s Oil and Gas Law course in fall 2017. Johner’s exceptional work in the course led Pifer to invite her to be a research assistant for Penn State Law’s Center for Agricultural and Shale Law, where she will research current law and policy changes and contribute content to the center’s blog. She is also one of six students selected to participate in the Rural Economic Development Clinic for the fall 2018 semester. The clinic, which is directed by Pifer, trains talented students to become future lawyers by providing free, competent and committed representation to clients in the agricultural, food and energy sectors.
Johner attributes her rapid success in this new field partly to the fact that the analytical skills needed to thrive in natural resources and energy law fit her personality well.
“It’s a linear logic, there’s a step one involved and a step two,” Johner explained, adding, “Most of the time there is a definite solution to the problem, which I like.”
But her success is also due to her work ethic and leadership ability. Johner, who served as an associate editor of the Penn State Journal of Law and International Affairs for the 2017-18 academic year, described her work ethic as “an intrinsic part of my character.” Her professors have certainly taken note of such qualities — and that recognition has led to the growing list of opportunities outside the classroom, of which Johner has taken full advantage.
"Daniella is a true self-starter and a very curious and conscientious student,” said Professor Jamison Colburn, a scholar of environmental law and policy who taught Johner in his Natural Resources Law course in spring 2018. “What's more, the initiative she showed outside the classroom this past year was equally impressive. She's a credit to Penn State Law."
“I was really moved by my recommendation letters and the great things my professors wrote about me,” said Johner.
Making those kinds of personal and professional connections is generally not an issue for Johner, whose diverse background helps her relate to people on different levels and is part of why she is a strong leader. Born and raised in Switzerland, she moved to the United States at age 15. She attended high school and started college in Montana before transferring to the University of Colorado Denver, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice.
Now entering her final year at Penn State Law, Johner’s plan is to earn her juris doctor degree and move to Texas, where she wants to apply her talents in the energy sector. Texas is a top energy producer in the country and presents myriad opportunities for a talented law professional, and Johner is already developing connections in the area while working as a summer clerk at Ekvall & Byrne LLP, an insurance litigation firm in Dallas.
Still, Johner will be relatively new to the energy sector, so she understands that this upcoming year will be critical to launching her career. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Johner is looking forward to building off her success. Thanks to the grant from the Energy & Mineral Law Foundation, she will enter the fall semester with an added boost of confidence.
“Obviously I still need to prove myself,” said Johner, “But now there is another organization — besides Penn State — saying that they believe in me and that I have a bright future in this field.”