DENISE FOSTER CRONIN (CLASS OF 1997) MEETS A NEED WITH PRACTICE GREATNESS PROFESSIONAL ATTIRE FUND AT DICKINSON LAW
April 26, 2022 — After graduating from Penn State Dickinson Law, Denise Foster Cronin (class of 1997) worked for a state agency. Her modest salary left little room in her budget for a professional wardrobe. “I had limited professional attire. In building out my early professional wardrobe, a good price usually prevailed over whether the clothes were the best-tailored fit or latest style trend,” said Cronin.
When she got a new job with a higher salary a couple years later, Cronin bought new clothes. “Nothing about me changed, but I remember getting a lot of compliments. ‘Oh, you look great, have you lost weight?’ No. I just got new clothes that fit,” said Cronin. “I realized that fair or not, people make assumptions about you based on that first impression of your appearance.”
Cronin thought about that experience years later, while serving on the Dickinson Law Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Trusted Advisors Group. She noted how many experiential opportunities students had that involved making appearances in the classroom, court, and other professional settings, and she wondered if they struggled to afford professional attire as she once had. “I know that would have been hard for me in my first year of law school if I had to wear professional attire for any classroom experience like the Practice Greatness curriculum requires today,” said Cronin.
Hence the Practice Greatness Professional Attire Fund at Dickinson Law was born three years ago. Cronin helped to create and fund the project, which offers grants to first-year students receiving need-based financial aid so that they can purchase their first business attire for externships and jobs. Grants range up to $500, depending on what a student needs to obtain.
Few restrictions are put on the grants, as long as purchases meet the criteria for professional attire. Students can buy suits, button-down shirts, blazers, cardigans, dress pants and skirts, blouses, ties, dress shirts, socks, and shoes. The Dickinson Law Office of Financial Aid informs eligible students about the availability of the fund and selects who receives the funds.
So far this year, six students have received $2,568. One student used the fund to purchase a suit, shirt, tie, and shoes for on-campus interviewing season. “Funding like this allows those who may not have the financial capital readily available to look their best still and put their best foot forward when going to networking events and interviewing with employers,” said the student, who preferred to remain anonymous.
Finding the right approach
To put her initial idea into action, Cronin spoke with Dickinson Law Associate Dean for Administration Laura H. Williams and Director of Development and Alumni Affairs Kelly R. Rimmer about how to connect students to the right resource.
At first, they discussed clothing donations. But Cronin realized that could lead to the same problem she faced early in her career, when clothes did not fit right or were not flattering. She felt allowing students to pick their own clothing was the best solution.
Dickinson Law Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Rebecca Schreiber said the fund has been administered on a first-come, first-served basis. She notes some students do not need the full $500, which allows the fund to stretch further. “Last year, I had one student who only spent just over $200. That is all he needed, which worked out wonderfully because then I was able to support an additional student,” said Schreiber.
Students appreciate ‘generous support’
One student, who applied to the fund because he realized “my professional wardrobe was lacking, and I did not want to add any undue strain on my family's finances,” said he appreciates the generosity of Dickinson Law alumni. “I am filled with gratitude for the faith they have expressed in me, an unproven student, as manifest by their generous support,” said the student, who requested anonymity.
Kysia Jones (class of 2024) wanted to refresh her wardrobe after working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. “At the time school began, I only owned a blazer and slacks that I often paired together. Therefore, I decided to apply to the fund so that I could invest in at least one quality business suit to serve me throughout my first year,” said Jones. “With the money I received from the fund, I was able to purchase a skirt-suit set, a corresponding pair of slacks to match the skirt-suit's blazer, a blouse, and a pair of flats, which will really come in handy interning this summer.”
She said the fund demonstrates alumni’s commitment to fostering the next generation of lawyers. “Having this support from alumni of Dickinson Law reaffirms why I chose this institution as my law school home: the community,” said Jones. “As Dickinson Law students, we have so much support not only from the students, faculty, and staff on campus but also from those alumni afar as well.”
Indeed, Cronin has stayed involved at Dickinson Law even though she no longer lives in Pennsylvania. Two years ago, she moved to Kentucky, where she is the vice president, federal and RTO regulatory affairs, for East Kentucky Power Cooperative. Cronin currently serves on the Dickinson Law Leadership Council Advisory Board, DEI Trusted Advisors Group, and Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Law Trusted Advisors Group.
She said she would love to see other alumni donate to the Practice Greatness Professional Attire Fund. “It is not a huge financial burden—$20 is a very meaningful contribution to the fund,” Cronin said. To make a donation, go to raise.psu.edu/DickinsonLaw and click “Browse through areas to support” to find the fund.
Cronin’s investment in the fund moves Dickinson Law closer to meeting its goal of raising $16.4 million by June 30, 2022. Her support advances "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 serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.