May 2024 — A plethora of fun prizes were up for grabs at the annual Penn State Dickinson Law Public Interest Law Fund Auction held on April 15 at Back Porch Brewing in Carlisle. They included an evening of duckpin bowling with the Dickinson Law admissions staff, a dinner at Café Bruges with Visiting Professor of Law Emily Spottswood, and one of the night’s biggest-ticket items, a barbeque for 10 people at Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway’s house, which sold for $350.

The bidding was competitive, the conversation flowed, and everyone had a good time while supporting a program that provides students with funding for summer fellowships at public interest law organizations. Just over 100 people attended.

The 15 live and 58 silent auction items, plus a generous donation of 10% of the night’s profits from Back Porch Brewing, generated $9,106 for PILF. That also included $1,400 in ticket sales for the event.

“We had a live band playing music. The atmosphere was fun, people perused the live auction items and enjoyed food and drink. It felt like a cocktail hour, only louder,” said Steffanie Craig '25, who received one of the fellowships when she worked a summer in Colorado on the Korey Wise Innocence Project. She joined the PILF executive board to give back to the organization and ensure other students get similar funding opportunities.

Craig served as one of this year’s auction organizers, along with fellow e-board members Samuel H. Roos '24 (the auction chair), Andrea S. Faulknor '24, and Alixandria Wright '24.

PILF’s purpose: Promoting interest in public interest law

PILF is a student organization that, in addition to funding several fellowships each summer, holds events to bring the community together and learn more about public interest law.

It awards Cherie M. Millage Fellowships to students during summers throughout law school (the fellowships are named for a former Dickinson Law career services director). Public interest jobs may include working in legal aid, for an immigration law office, for a public defender or district attorney, and more. In addition to Craig’s Innocence Project experience, recent jobs have been with organizations including the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, Humane Society of the United States, and Compass Immigration Legal Services.

Each fellowship award is about $5,000 and comes from three sources of funding: the Degenstein Foundation (a charitable organization that funds at least three fellowships annually), the Community Service Federal Work Study program, and PILF event fundraising. The auction is PILF’s most successful event.

There are no minimum GPA or class requirements to apply, but anyone who receives a fellowship is asked to assist PILF in the future, such as soliciting donations from local businesses for the auction. Roos said that PILF has awarded between four and eight fellowships annually over the past few years.

“Everything we raise gets put into a pot at the end of the year to hopefully award even more fellowships to students,” said Roos.

PILF executive board members view the fellowships as a critical way to ensure people pursue their interest in public interest. Without a fellowship, most cannot afford to take a low- or unpaid summer externship opportunity.

“It has a way of snowballing because students who do not go to these public interest opportunities stick with paid opportunities, usually in a law firm. Those firms will offer you a job well in advance, even a year or two before you graduate,” said Roos. “A student who might have an inclination toward public interest but who needs to get paid over the summer might say, ‘OK, public interest is something I will explore after graduating,’ and then they go to their firm for the summer, they get invited back after graduation, and they get a great big salary offer. Who can fault them for never making their way back to public interest?”

Bouncing back from a COVID slump

The PILF Auction has been an annual event at Dickinson Law since 1990, the year the student organization was created.

COVID-19 took a toll on the auction, as it did on all live gatherings. The 2020 auction was planned and organized but did not take place because of lockdown restrictions. The auction shifted online and through email, and Roos notes many Dickinson Law professors generously purchased items to ensure PILF still earned vital funding.

PILF ran a digital-only auction in 2021 that raised $2,200. The in-person event returned in 2022, though it was not as profitable as past years, raising about $5,000. The 2023 and 2024 events fared much better, and this year marked only the third time in history the auction has brought in more than $9,000.

“I think the past two years have been about breathing air back into this event and getting the community to recognize it as well,” said Roos.

The PILF auction has two components, live and silent. The silent auction largely consists of donations from local businesses, such as gift cards to restaurants and wineries or movie tickets. The live auction is mostly donations of live experiences with faculty and staff, such as the barbeque and bowling. Another popular item is bar prep materials, which can go for half of the usual retail price.

With Roos on his way out as both PILF president and auction chair, Craig and the rest of the e-board are already looking to the future, hoping future events pull from a wider group of attendees. “This event is not just for the Law School, even though some of the things auctioned off are for students,” said Craig. “I hope in the future we can reach more people in the community.”

“I would love to come back in five to 10 years and see a lot of involvement from the community and our alumni bidding, too,” said Roos.