Medha MakhloufDecember 17, 2020 — Penn State Dickinson Law Assistant Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic Medha Makhlouf approaches teaching with the goal of helping her students to develop “roots and wings.”

“Roots come in the form of a secure environment to grow and learn, a sense of belonging within the profession, and a built-in network,” said Makhlouf. “Wings are what they take with them when they graduate: the building blocks of lawyering skills, confidence in navigating ethical issues, and a sense of humility.”

Those roots and wings help students grow, then soar. Those roots remain just as strong long after students leave Carlisle. “The relationships we’re forming during their time at Dickinson Law are not limited to their time at the Law School. I follow their careers, hoping to hear updates from them,” said Makhlouf. She often hears from Dickinson Law graduates who say they applied a concept or idea they learned in one of her classes.

Forging such connections based on a passion for the rule of law has been one of the highlights of Makhlouf’s five-year tenure at Dickinson Law. For her unique contributions to the core values of community, teaching, research, and scholarship at the Law School, Makhlouf has been named the first recipient of the Dickinson Law Faculty of the Year Award.

She learned of the nomination during a recent faculty meeting, where her colleagues voted for her unanimously.

“The Dickinson Law community is extremely fortunate to have Professor Makhlouf as a leader, teacher, and scholar. She represents a new vanguard of professor at the Law School,” said Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway. “Professor Makhlouf brings a sophisticated research agenda and line of inquiry to the Law School in her field of health law. She is also an extraordinary teacher and mentor, having invested in teaching and learning best practices for the benefit of students and colleagues alike. Professor Makhlouf deserves the Dickinson Law inaugural faculty of the year award.”

“I feel incredibly honored to be recognized by my colleagues for this award,” said Makhlouf. “I receive a lot from my everyday interactions with other faculty members. They provide amazing support, and Dean Conway has been so encouraging of my own efforts and interests.”

Seeking and creating new knowledge

As founder and director of the Dickinson Law Medical-Legal Partnership, Makhlouf emphasizes critical thinking to create a more equitable health system. Law students work with health care professionals to identify and address health-harming legal issues that may have otherwise gone undetected or unaddressed.

First, students learn the law, and then they put it into practice. “One of my goals is to prepare students to represent individuals in an imperfect legal system and to push against unfair laws,” said Makhlouf.

In everything she does at Dickinson Law, in both teaching and scholarship, Makhlouf sees an opportunity to seek and create new knowledge.

“Students should emerge from the Clinic with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors of the competent, ethical, and humane lawyer,” said Makhlouf. “I want to introduce them to the idea that as future lawyers, they will actually be making and creating new laws.”

Leadership beyond the classroom

Makhlouf enjoys the opportunity to provide service at Dickinson Law as well. As chair of the appointments committee, which hires new faculty members, Makhlouf seeks candidates whose experience, background, and unique points of view help diversify and strengthen Dickinson Law. “We have identified some outstanding faculty with the help of our community members and persuaded them to join our community,” said Makhlouf.

Makhlouf’s desire to integrate health equity values into her teaching, service, and scholarship led her to the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity, a one-year, non-residential fellowship program where participants work across societies and nations to promote health equity. The program began in person in Washington, D.C. in January, but shifted online following the global COVID-19 outbreak.

She has applied concepts learned during the fellowship to the Clinic, including implementing some new ideas she believes will improve the experience for students while also strengthening the services received by clients. For instance, Makhlouf has changed the way she seeks feedback from students.

“I used to solicit feedback midsemester and ask for more formal feedback at the end of the semester. This year, I am doing a mini survey every week, which is something I was very influenced by in the fellowship training,” said Makhlouf. “I ask, ‘What did you learn this week? What were you inspired by in the Clinic? What did you find uninspiring?’ Asking students to reflect as they’re going along provides me with immediate feedback if something is not going well.”

Makhlouf embraces the part of her job that allows her time for reflection, something she knows is not always afforded in other areas of law. “I appreciate the many opportunities I now have to reflect about the law,” said Makhlouf. “Developing and revising lectures for class leads me to identify problems I may have overlooked or not had time to address while in practice.”

Her students aren’t the only ones using their wings. “Every class discussion with motivated, energetic, and insightful students gives me a new perspective on the law,” said Makhlouf.