CARLISLE, Pa. — Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle Conway knows the unsettling feeling of having bills you aren’t sure you can pay. And she has made a $125,000 gift to the Dickinson Law Future Fund and Penn State Student Care and Advocacy Emergency Fund to help students navigate those financial difficulties.
“Although Danielle has only been at the helm of Dickinson Law for one year, she has demonstrated exceptional leadership during these tumultuous times,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “This gift is just one inspiring example of her commitment to the Dickinson Law community, especially the students who need our support. We are very grateful for her vision and investment in the future.”
Conway received a full scholarship to attend Howard University School of Law, but it didn’t cover her living expenses right away. She relied on emergency loans from the law school to pay her bills until her financial aid came through and she could repay what she borrowed.
“Those emergency loans were the difference between showing up for class ready to work and being anxious about not being able to pay my bills,” said Conway.
She said worries about unpaid bills impact a student’s ability to concentrate. “If you’re a student without financial means, you look at life in 30-day chunks,” said Conway. “When you are able to get a little help, whether through a loan or an emergency gift, you buy 30 days to prepare your mind to do the work required of you.”
The recent COVID-19 outbreak has created difficult financial situations for many Penn State Dickinson Law students, circumstances Conway understands from her own experience.
Her commitment, made in honor of the Dickinson Law community, is believed to be the largest single gift a Dickinson Law dean has ever given.
“Many things inspired me to give this gift, the first and most important being my desire to invest in our students,” said Conway. “I am a firm believer that we have to invest in the development of our next generation of leaders. We can’t ignore the pressing needs that they have right now.”
The Dickinson Law Future Fund provides flexible resources for the areas of greatest need and is a pipeline for the Dickinson Law mission to Practice Greatness. The fund includes gifts from alumni, faculty, staff, students, and others who want to provide unrestricted support to the Dickinson Law community and helps to sustain in-house clinics, build inclusiveness initiatives, fund classroom technology upgrades, introduce innovative new programming, supplement student aid, provide stipends for students in the Rural Law Fellowship program, and more.
Conway said she was also inspired to give because she believes in higher education and Dickinson Law. “Higher education changes people’s circumstances for the better. And, despite personal challenges, Dickinson Law students believe in the law school and in the legal profession, both of which touch my heart.”
Future Fund gifts can also be used to meet unexpected needs, like those that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to fund special programming faculty see a need for in light of current events. Recently that meant presenting information to students in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police. His death sparked social justice protests across the country.
“We saw that our students are hungry for information, content, and support in understanding the context of racism and bias and also dealing with the aftermath of overt examples of institutional racism. We created an educational response to implement our active anti-racist platform,” said Conway.
The University-wide Student Care and Advocacy Emergency Fund, the other beneficiary of Conway’s gift, offers cash grants and awards to help meet Penn State students’ basic needs. Students have received money to pay rent or other bills, allowing them to continue to attend classes.
“Another reason I contributed to these funds was because I cannot imagine being a student in the time of a pandemic,” said Conway. “My hope in providing this gift is that students know we care about them. We care about their success and acknowledge the desperate circumstances in which they are trying to learn.”
In addition to Future Fund resources, Dickinson Law students have access to the University-wide Student Care and Advocacy Emergency Fund, as well as loan funds dedicated to Dickinson Law students: the Dickinson Law Emergency Fund and the John Williams Loan Fund. All have assisted students since the pandemic began.
After Dickinson Law students lost jobs as a result of COVID-19, these funds provided relief for Law School students who lost income. The funding supplemented their income to pay for rent, utilities, and food.
Several Dickinson Law students had to move suddenly as a result of the pandemic, and they were unprepared for the costs of switching residences or setting up a new home. The support of the funds helped them bridge gaps created in their budgets by the financial stress of unexpected relocation costs.
The emergency funds paid for medical appointment co-pays for Dickinson Law students facing higher physical and mental health expenses from the pandemic. It also covered basic tools some Law School students needed to implement learn-from-home protocols, such as large computer screens, printers, internet connections, and other technological or office supplies they accessed on the Dickinson Law campus prior to the pandemic.
Conway said, “Our students believe so strongly in the rule of law that they are managing a crisis through anxiety and fear in order to serve this profession. And those things they’re experiencing are very real, and they’re still stepping up to serve.”
Conway’s commitment will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.