Dean Danielle M. Conway with Jennifer Wilson Hewitt '85 and Pat Hewitt '83Pat Hewitt ’83 and Jennifer Wilson Hewitt ’85 both grew up in households that valued education. Their parents repeatedly reminded them that education could unlock opportunity, and they both took the advice to heart by graduating from Penn State Dickinson Law.

“I remember my father telling me, ‘Jennifer, get as much education as you can because no one can ever take your education away from you,’” said Jennifer. “All of our parents were very appreciative and respectful of education and what it can do for a person.”

When the Hewitts became parents, they picked up that refrain with their two children. They told them and they showed them what a difference a great education had made in their own lives — Pat as a U.S. Army JAG Corps member who now serves as managing partner at a Pittsburgh firm and Jennifer as a successful litigator.

The lesson resonated with their children, too; both went on to attend Big Ten universities. The Hewitts’ younger child, Carlie, attends Indiana University, where she is studying accounting. And their eldest child’s fantastic undergraduate experience at Penn State recently prompted the Hewitts to make a generous gift to Penn State Dickinson Law and the Eberly College of Science and the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.

“We have been very blessed in our lives for many reasons and in many ways, and one way we feel blessed is in the huge roles Dickinson Law and now Penn State have played in our family’s careers and what we have been able to do beyond them, within our communities,” said Jennifer. “As much as I felt Dickinson Law was the right choice for Pat and me, we felt the Eberly College of Science and the Schreyer Honors College were the right choice for our eldest child, Michael.”

In July, the Hewitts finalized a $3 million estate commitment to the University, divided equally among three endowments: the Wilson Hewitt Excellence in Trial Advocacy Program at Penn State Dickinson Law; the Wilson Hewitt Professorship in Biology in the Eberly College of Science; and the Wilson Hewitt First-Year Experience Endowment in the Schreyer Honors College.

“We wanted to use the two names, Wilson and Hewitt, to honor our families, for the love of education and the importance of it that they instilled in us,” said Jennifer. “And we wanted to honor the three components within the Penn State family that either we or Michael benefited from.”

“We are honored by Pat and Jennifer’s generous commitment to the University and in particular the Wilson Hewitt Excellence in Trial Advocacy endowment at Penn State Dickinson Law,” said Dean Danielle M. Conway. “Their support will promote the continued excellence of our Trial Advocacy Program and provide current and future students with opportunities to experience team trial competitions and expanded trial advocacy training.”

While the endowments will not be funded until the Hewitts’ bequest is realized, they have “early activated” each fund by committing to annually funding them for the next five years with a total of $268,750 in additional support. 

The Hewitts had previously created the Hewitt Family Educational Equity Honors Scholarship in the Schreyer Honors College. They were recently inducted into Dickinson Law’s John Reed Society, a lifetime giving society recognizing the Law School’s most generous donors.

The lasting impact of the Trial Advocacy Program

When the Hewitts recall their years at Dickinson Law, they can share funny stories (like how Pat waited late one night at the library for Jennifer to finish studying so he could arrange a “chance” meeting to ask her on their first date) and other fond memories. Both participated in the Trial Advocacy Program, which they credit with helping prepare them for their legal careers. Jennifer even led her National Moot Court Team to the national championship rounds.

“Emeritus Dean Gary Gildin’s year-long Trial Advocacy Program was essential to both of us,” said Jennifer. “I think the skills we gained gave us a leg up on our peers coming out of law school who perhaps had not experienced that type of training.”

She remembers working at a big law firm in Pittsburgh as an associate right after graduation and using Gildin’s lessons to organize the exhibits list in a huge case involving an aluminum manufacturer and a ruptured gas line. “I could tell you where every single document was by doing just as Gary taught us,” said Jennifer.

The Hewitts’ Excellence in Trial Advocacy endowment will help expand and enrich the program. It may support a faculty member responsible for oversight of the trial advocacy and moot court program, a dedicated staff person or fellow to oversee the National Trial Team and moot court program, an increase in the number of Advocacy I adjunct faculty to allow for smaller student groups and provide more individualized training, additional team trial opportunities to include more competitors, and more.

The Penn State legacy

The Hewitts say Michael, who uses they/them pronouns, fell in love with the ocean as a child while watching Finding Nemo. They found a university that nurtured that interest and helped them turn it into a career path, much to the Hewitts’ delight.

“Michael took every biology and advanced biology class they could in high school. Then they went off to Penn State and Schreyer Honors College, and their thirst for knowledge and desire to learn was not seen as nerdy or weird. It was embraced, and professors were asking, ‘How can we feed this knowledge?’” said Jennifer. “The Schreyer name opened the door for Michael to intern after their sophomore year at Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida. And that gave them the confidence to apply to Dr. Todd C. LaJeunesse’s lab, where Michael had the most incredible experience, personally and professionally.”

Michael graduated in 2023 and now works as a broodstock development hatchery technician at an oyster hatchery in Quilcene, Washington. “When you get a call from your child saying, ‘I absolutely love it here,’ it is an amazing feeling for a parent. And we can trace that back to the research they did with Dr. LaJeunesse and the opportunities at Penn State,” said Jennifer. “I cannot overstate the impact that Dickinson Law, the Eberly College of Science, and the Schreyer Honors College have had on our family.”

The Hewitts hope their gift will encourage others who attended Dickinson Law to consider giving back as well. “It is so important for us to remember to support the institution that got us started,” said Jennifer.