[00:00:01] Speaker A: Greetings scholars, and welcome to following the Gong, a podcast at the Shrier Honors College at Penn State.
Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our scholar alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar alumni have gone on to shape the old after they rind the gone and graduated with honors, and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Doheen, class of 2011 and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
[00:00:55] Speaker B: You.
[00:00:56] Speaker A: This episode is for any scholar looking into a legal career and for scholars or scholar alumni who want to learn more on the why and how of mentoring with two alumni who have been mentor mentee for several years. Catherine Press. Zeltwanger Or Cat is the deputy general counsel at the Armstrong Group in Butler, Pennsylvania. In that role, she oversees all of the legal work for four of the company's eight operating groups, handles the employment work for all of the operating groups, manages the litigation for six of those groups, and manages the legal group. Before joining the Armstrong Group in 2009, Kat clerked for a common pleas judge in Fayette County and worked as an associate attorney in the Pittsburgh office of Fox Rothschild. Cat earned a BA in Letters, Arts and Sciences with honors from Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts in 1998. She also earned her JD from Pitt Law in 2004. Kat currently serves as the vice president of the Scholar Alumni Society. Catherine Chikalsty, or Kate, is a three L at Duquent University School of Law in Pittsburgh, where she spent the summer of 2021 in Dinsmore and Scholl's Intellectual Property Practice Group, learning the ins and outs of patent prosecution. She will be returning to Dinsmore after graduation in the Pennsylvania Bar Exam before attending law school. She previously worked in the oil and gas industry as an engineer servicing various refineries in the Northeast, US. And Canada. She earned a BS in Chemical Engineering with honors in English from Penn State's College of Engineering in 2017. She's happy to speak further about the transition from a technical field to the practice of law. Please feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn or email. In this episode, Kat and Kate share their insights and perspectives on finding your community as a scholar. Coming to University Park from a small high school the importance of Showtime for new first year scholars majoring in one discipline and completing a thesis in a completely different one taking a gap year or three between undergraduate and law school. Understanding the investment of time and money to pursue law school utilizing resources like career services beginning to form mentoring relationships how to be a mentee and how to be a mentor. The value of mentorship for students and for the mentor. How to set yourself up for success in law school and the importance of self discipline from a three L and a practicing attorney thinking outside the box and having a plan for using your JD and lessons learned in finding personally meaningful balance as a lawyer and law student. Now let's dive into our conversation with Kat and Kate Following the Gong.
Kate? Thank you both so much for joining me here today on following the Gong. This is our first episode for the spring 2022 semester. Going to kick things off with a conversation today really focused on mentoring. So I'm very excited to have you both here. Want to start at the beginning, as always. Kat, can you tell us how you first got to Penn State and the Shriyer Honors College and a little bit about your experience as a scholar?
[00:03:47] Speaker B: Sure. So I grew up in Center County, so, of course, did not want to be at Penn State. No Center County kid does.
But frankly, they gave me so much money, I couldn't not go there. So that's how I ended up at Penn State. I got scholarships, and when you're paying for school all on your own, scholarships is really the key to everything. As for the Honors College, it was the University Scholars program at the time. Mr. Shire had not given their gift yet.
I had heard about that program. A couple of years prior to entering university, I went to a summer program on Penn State's campus. It was the Governor's School of Excellence for Agricultural Sciences. There used to be six or seven of those governor's schools. I'm not sure any of them exist anymore. But it was a really cool program. A lot of the counselors who were there handling all of us, 16 and 17 year old idiots, were from the Honors Program, and so they talked about it all the time like it was the greatest thing ever. And so I applied to the program, and I got in, and that's how I got there. So my experience at Shrier with the USP at the time was great. I'm not sure I would have survived college without it.
Having come from such a tiny high school. Showing up on Penn State's campus where, honestly, I had classes that were bigger than my whole high school was crazy.
I don't know that I would have made it. So being in the Honors Program gave me one the opportunity to have smaller classes, opportunities to meet professors that I wouldn't have met otherwise, opportunities to really get to know the professors that I don't think I would have had in big classes. And it let me find my tribe.
[00:05:30] Speaker C: Right.
[00:05:30] Speaker B: And so when you're one of the smart kids at one of those tiny schools, you're kind of alone and moving into the Honors Dorm. I was like, oh, these are my people. This is great. And so Atherton was just an amazing experience.
[00:05:41] Speaker A: And then can you tell us a little bit about what you majored in and then also some of your outside of the classroom opportunities that you were able to create? Opportunities for leadership and civic engagement.
[00:05:53] Speaker B: Yeah, so I switched majors, I think four times starting out in biology, and I ended up in what's a major called Letters Arts and Sciences. That program lets you sort of build your own major. So I effectively double majored in political Science and sociology without actually having to take twice the classes. It also allowed me to find a really niche focus in that. And so I did public policy and demographics specifically, which meant I could study what I wanted to study, and I didn't have to do all the boring stuff I didn't want to look at. It also allowed me the opportunity to travel abroad and take those classes and put them towards my major. And so that gave me a lot of flexibility there. Although I did my honors work in theater arts.
I'm sorry, what was the second part of your question? Oh, my outside activities. So mostly my outside activities revolved around no Refund Theater, which I think is still there. So the class ahead of me, there were a couple of folks who did a play called The Martian Carnivals and got a little bit of I'm going to use error quotes here notoriety from the administration at the Honors Program at that time. And then my freshman year, we did several more plays, and the Honors Program gave us $100 and gave us the keys to G Eight in the basement of Atherton and gave us that as our practice room. And that's how we got rolling. We took our $100 and we went dumpster diving behind Eisenhower, and we bought some paint, and that's it. And so we would build our own sets, and we built all of our own lights, and we were allowed to perform in the Forum. I'm not sure where they're performing these days. We performed in the Forum, and we would do Shakespeare and Greek plays and stuff that we didn't have to pay royalties on, and then we started writing our own stuff, and there were a lot of us that did our major theses by writing plays or directing plays through that program.
[00:07:41] Speaker A: That sounds like a lot of fun. I remember going to no Refund Theater shows when I was a student. I'm pretty sure they're still around. So, a great legacy that you helped build their cat for a group like many of our groups on campus that have been around for decades. And I think that's really cool. Now, Kate, what about your story? How did you end up at Penn State and in the Honors College?
[00:08:02] Speaker C: So, my experience was similar to Kat's. I went to a smaller high school in Western PA. And I actually didn't even know about the honors college until I took a trip up to campus. I remember it was like my junior year of high school and I was with my aunt and she took me up to visit the campus because she was actually a Penn State alumna. And they handed us all of these pamphlets when we were sitting. I don't even remember it was probably somewhere in east halls. And they're like, oh there's this program called Shrier and if you want to apply it's really great. And I remember thinking, yeah I'm not going to get into that.
And so I kind of brushed it aside. But then a girl at my high school who was a year older than me ended up getting in and she talked about it a little bit and it interests me. And I asked her advice about how to apply and how to get in, and I ended up applying, and I ended up getting in, which I still remember that. And I still remember how shocked I was. And I was even more shocked when I got to campus and realized all of the people that were in the Honors College just like, how amazing they were. I remember there was a girl who had won a Nobel peace prize or something that was amazing just being in the company of just people who are really academically credentialed. But also worldly was new for me because I was from a 99% white rural county, kind of like cat.
So that was really great. And then I really enjoyed my time at Shrier. That was where I met most of my close friends and that was how I kind of felt comfortable.
Not to just completely copycat story. But I was very sad when I got to campus because I missed my family. I had never lived away from home and I never really had, I guess, experienced the kind of loneliness that comes being surrounded by thousands of people that you don't know. And Shrier really made that difference for me. Especially the first night they do this. I don't know if they still do it but it's called Showtime.
Yeah, showtime was really great. They had this huge crowd of people that was just like clapping along with you and it just made me feel like I was welcome. And I remember this giant rock paper scissors tournament and that was really fun. I still remember that. And you meet your first college budy and the person who I met is like, we stay in touch so that's kind of nice. So it was just really a great way to ease into campus and to feel more comfortable in a huge place that is Penn State but while being surrounded by people that are kind of like you but also different.
[00:10:54] Speaker A: Well I'm sure Donna Meyer, our director of student programs would love to hear that about Showtime. We still do that. It's a great experience for our scholars. It's looked a little bit different in the past few years with the coronavirus pandemic, but still going strong. I'm glad to hear that. That has made a lasting influence on you and your friendships. Now, Kate, I want to stick with you for another minute here. You listed that you were a chemical engineering major, and you had an interesting explanation for why you pursued Stem. But if you're reading the episode description, you know that kate, you're in law school, so we'll get to that in a moment. But I want to know how you came to pick ChemE as your major, but you also didn't write your thesis in chem, so tell us about that.
[00:11:34] Speaker C: The reason I picked chem E was because it was the only engineering major that didn't require upper level physics classes, and I was not very good at Physics 212, I think, was the class, or Physics 211, I can't remember. But that was, like, my first semester of college, and that was my first C that I ever got. So Shire people, if you're listening, it's okay to get C's, like, C's still get degrees.
But yeah, it was a huge problem for me. I was very overwhelmed with that, and I sat down with my mom, and we looked through all of the course descriptions for every single major, and I was like, this is the one I got to pick because I can't pass these other classes.
And also, I love chemistry. Both of my parents are chemistry majors in college, and I grew up with, like, periodic table place mats, which is kind of weird, but I really liked chemistry, so I thought, why not do chemi?
And as far as the thesis goes, I was always interested in writing. I wanted to be an English major, but my dad would not let me major in liberal arts. I wish he would have, but I might not be here today, so whatever. But I always wanted to do writing, and I decided to do an English minor to kind of get what I wanted out of college in terms of the liberal arts perspective.
And I think I asked somebody early on, do I have to do research if I'm going to be an engineering major to do my thesis? And they were like, no, which I was really grateful to hear because I did not like research. I found it to be very tedious and not really something that I enjoyed, and I couldn't see myself doing that for four years. So having the opportunity to explore something else that I really liked, especially with a professor that I grew close to while I was writing my thesis, it was a really great experience, and I think it's kind of cool. Like, hey, I'm an engineer, but I wrote basically three short stories for my thesis.
It's just crazy. I love the experience that you can get at Shrier, so that's really cool.
[00:13:41] Speaker A: I'm glad that you shared that because a lot of folks who come on here, and rightfully so, share the great experience that they had doing research, especially in the Stem fields, that hands on experience. But, you know, that wasn't going to provide you motivation and you found a creative outlet, which is a great opportunity for scholars, similar to what you did, Kat, with writing a play, you wrote short stories, Kate. So I think that is indicative of the experiences that you can have if you reach out and ask the right questions as a scholar. Another thing that you two have in common, in addition to the fact that either you're an attorney or soon to be a bar past attorney in the coming months, is that neither of you went to law school straight out of undergraduate. And I would love to hear your perspectives on why you did that, how you did that, and what value you found in delaying that with some perhaps practical, real world experience before going back to law school. So, Kat, I'll start with you and then Kate, same question for you afterwards, right?
[00:14:45] Speaker B: So one of the reasons that I changed majors so much is that I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I frankly still don't know what I want to be when I grew up. And that's okay, you can know. And you can have a conviction since you were four, right. Or you can just be mid forty s and still not know what you want to do with your life. Either one is fine.
But I had kicked around being a lawyer since I was a little kid. I have no idea why. It's not like there's really anyone in my family that is a lawyer. Did I see a movie or a show? I have no idea, but it sounded like a good idea to me. Right. And so I went into college thinking I really liked biology and so I was going to do that instead. And then I'd sort of given up the law school dream to the extent that it was a dream to start with, and then kicked around all these other majors where I was just like, I just don't like it. I just am bored. And so I got to my senior year with my demographics and public policy focus, still not really certain what I was going to do with that. And I took an upper level writing class called Brief Writing and Legal Research or something to that effect, but it was taught by an adjunct who was a retired litigation partner from Aaron Fox in DC. Like, the guy had been in front of the Supreme Court multiple times and really impressive, really smart man, and he and I got to be buddies. And so he took me to lunch one day and it's like, what are you doing? I don't know. I don't know what I want to do, maybe law school kind of he's like, well look, if you're thinking about law school, that's a big investment. It's a big investment in time, it's a big investment in money. And you need to know that you want to be. So you should go work for a law firm for a couple of years and figure out if that's really what you want to do. Okay, well I had no other plans, so let's just go with that, right? And so I spent that Saturday on the floor of Petite with paper.
Martindale Hubble manuals. No one will know what those are anymore, but for those of you who are 40 and above paper Martindale Hubble Manuals, I wrote down the address of every law firm within a few hundred miles of the State College, applied to all of them, got one interview in Baltimore, they hired me. And so I graduated on a Saturday, did my medal ceremony on a Sunday, or might have been vice versa, and moved on that Sunday to Baltimore and started to work on Monday. So I worked as a paralegal for three and a half years before I came back to law school. So the value of that, I think, is immeasurable.
Having gone to the law firm and you see what that law is going to be like. But you also get to the point where I was training baby lawyers to do their jobs, and I'm looking at them going, I do this better than you can, and you get paid three or four times what I get paid. I'm going back to school. So that's what I did. I really considered going part time to Maryland, University of Maryland, and then still working while I was in law school. But again, Pitt gave me a really good scholarship and so that actually made it cheaper for me to move up here to Pitt. So that's where I went and here I stayed.
[00:17:54] Speaker C: I have a similar sort of story, I guess. So while I was in undergrad at Penn State, I was supposed to stay and do research for my second summer after sophomore year. And I didn't want to, but I had no other job lined up and I felt like I had to do something that summer and I was going to stay in State College and do research.
And then I think like three weeks before the school, like the finals week started, there was an email that goes around from Shriyer that's like jobs, like alumni posting jobs. I can't remember exactly what it is, but the Shriyer Honors College actually gives Shrier students a way to apply for certain positions. And Kat's company was actually looking for an intern and I had been tossing around the idea of going to law school, but I really had like Kat, I had no one in my family is a lawyer. I had no idea what lawyers even did. And I was on a stem track. So I had no prior exposure to anything like it. And I saw this posting and I was talking to my roommate and I was like, I got to do this. If I get this, I'll just drop out of the lab. So what, I want to do this, and if I get it, I get it. And I went down and interviewed and I ended up getting the job. And I was so happy that I didn't have to do research all summer, but I was also really excited to get some exposure to what it's like to work in a legal environment. And that was a really great summer. I remember leaving and going back to school and thinking, like, I can definitely go to law school. I feel like I would be really happy doing this. It's really interesting to me, but I was very overwhelmed with the process of applying and the prospect of not having any money after I graduated was really concerning to me. So I ended up talking to Kat about it for a while. I took a job in Texas and I moved there and I had kind of put the dream, I guess, of going to law school kind of on the back burner. I was working as an engineer and then I moved to Philly for the same job and I was still working as an engineer and I didn't really love it. It was interesting and I learned a lot. It was very insightful. As far as my field goes, I really enjoyed learning the things. Actually, it's interesting. I still use a lot of the knowledge that I learned in that job, even though I'm not an engineer anymore. It's very practical knowledge.
And so about a year and a half in, I just decided, you know what, I'm just going to apply. I'm just going to apply and see what happens. And I ended up getting into Ducane with a very significant scholarship. And I knew that I wanted to go back to Pittsburgh. I had applied to several schools, like probably 15 or 16, but I knew I wanted to go home. I knew I wanted to eventually work in Pittsburgh, so I took it and I ran with it.
I'm not a lawyer yet, but I'm so happy. Even with the COVID pandemic and all, I would do it all over again.
[00:21:10] Speaker B: So Sean, to answer the second part of your question, because I'm not sure I did, I think it's super important to take time off between college and law school. And I preach this all the time. Every time someone comes to me and says, oh, I'm thinking about going to law school, what should I do? I'm like, get a job. Get a job before you go to law school. There are, of course, struggles going back as a returning student, you've been an adult, treated like an adult and a professional with a job and paycheck and all that. And then you go back to being a student with assigned seating and required attendance, and you're like, really? I'm not twelve.
But by that same token, by the time I had gotten to law school, and I'd only been out three and a half years, I'd bought a car, I'd gotten into a fight with a landlord, I'd had life experiences, right? And so when you're sitting in contract class and they're like, well, you're doing this and this, and this isn't actually a contract. I've read contracts, I've looked at them, I've seen what they are, I've been involved in them. And then you've got students who have done nothing but be in school and they haven't had those life experiences. And I think it's really invaluable to come into law school with some sort of perspective outside of school.
[00:22:13] Speaker C: Just to echo that, I think as someone who's in school now and had taken two, three years off, I feel the difference between me and my classmates. My classmates who maybe went straight from undergrad to law school. They're still going to do great, and they're still going to be great lawyers. I feel like my experience was just invaluable because I know how to interview, I know how to talk to people in a professional setting. And that is a skill. Like, you don't realize how I cringe at some of the things that I did as like a 22 year old applicant to certain jobs. I'm just like, why did I say that? And so knowing that those practical skills are just so invaluable and I also think it gives you some perspective on what law school is because it is a huge time suck. It is a huge financial investment, and even if you're not paying for it, and you're lucky, you are taking three years out of your life where you could be earning money. So either way, it's a huge investment and you need to understand, I guess, that you need to take it seriously.
Not that undergrad is a joke, but you can't skip classes.
It's like a job. And having done a job before that, you have a much better perspective on how to treat that. And I think it was very helpful. I really am glad that I did take a couple of years off.
[00:23:43] Speaker A: I'm glad that you both kind of talked about what our friends in the economics field would call the opportunity cost of attending law school, that you are not earning, you are spending for those three years. But obviously the returns can be great if you are a really good attorney. So I appreciate that you both pointed that out. Now, you both mentioned the value of having that professional experience, and one way that you could probably get that is through an internship. And I want to go back to your internship experience, Kate, because you mentioned that's where you met Kat, and I want to know how exactly did you two get connected when you were working together.
And maybe Kat, you can explain just briefly what your company actually does since you are an in house counsel and not at a law firm. And then also how did you piece together that you were both Shrier or in your case Cat originally university scholar? How did you figure that out? Know, just talk about some of the serendipitous organic elements to the beginning of your mentoring relationship.
[00:24:46] Speaker B: Yeah, so the company that I work for is actually a true conglomerate. We have eight wildly distinct operating divisions ranging from a cable and internet company to a chain of so you know, we're literally all over the place. So the work is extraordinarily diverse and there's a lot of it. It's a pretty small law department. I think at the time that Kate was interned here we had what four attorneys I think and I don't know, four or five staff. And so we made a lot of use of college and law student interns for quite some time. And so the summer that we hired Kate, I can't remember what the specific project was but we needed bodies to come help us with something, probably some contract management project.
And so I called up Shrier and said I need two people and they said OK and sent me two people. So I got Kate and another young woman named Sneha and we put one here and one at our subsidiary in Cranberry and they helped us all summer long. So that's how we ended up with Shriyer interns and that's how I knew that she was Shrier. I specifically went looking for Schreier students because I know the quality of the students that come through that program.
[00:25:56] Speaker A: And I'll give a shameless plug here for Lisa Kirchinski, our director of career development. If you are a scholar listening to this and you haven't connected with her, go ahead and go on the SHC psu.edu slash appointments and book some time with Lisa. She is a great resource on top of the other resources available to you as a scholar at Penn State from your home, college or campus from the bank of America Career Services Building here at University Park. So just want to put in a shameless plug for that resource and if you are a prospective student listening, these are the kind of things that can be available to you if you end up coming to the Shrier Honors College.
[00:26:30] Speaker C: Yeah, so I remember like I said, I interviewed, I think it was like I was going to a wedding or something and like stopped up at the office just to interview. It was like a crazy time.
And I remember like we connected over our Shrier experience mutually I guess. She said she was shriyer. She didn't explain the difference to me between the University scholar program that summer. I was very new. Like I said, I hadn't had any other legal experience and so she was really great. At explaining very probably rudimentary concepts to me at the time that any person who had taken a basic legal class probably would have known.
But I think just in general, that initial connection really helped because I felt comfortable going in and asking questions. And she was very great at explaining probably really dumb questions back to me. And just in general, the work that I got was super great. It really made me think differently. And again, I hadn't had legal training, so it opened up an entirely different world to me that eventually pushed me to go to law school. And during the summer, she would ask me like, oh, do you want to go to law school? Are you thinking about it? And I just remember being like, oh, I don't know, it's still like two years away. I haven't really thought about it. But I ended up going back the following summer because another internship ended up falling through. And that was when I really started considering it, because that's the second summer I got more complex work, and I was doing work that was more like I don't know what the word is. It was better, it was more involved.
[00:28:21] Speaker B: Well, we had a paralegal quit about a week after she came back, and so I made her a paralegal for the summer, which is entirely different than being an intern.
[00:28:29] Speaker C: Yeah, so there was that just in general, that second summer, everything was second nature. We knew each other, we'd go to lunch and talk about law school, we talk about the world, we'd talk about work. And it was just a really comforting experience, but also challenging because I got to do complex projects and I had the confidence of a boss who knew I could do them. And even if I made a mistake, she would just correct it and show me what I did wrong. And I would definitely put that in my back pocket and be like, I'm not going to do that again. But that give and know the ability for someone to have confidence in you and you wanting to do better the next time, that is so key to, I think, a good working relationship regardless of mentor mentee. But that was a really solid foundation that we were able to build.
[00:29:33] Speaker A: So Kate Kat was your supervisor for two summers, but obviously we're here today, years later, talking. So how did you go about maintaining that relationship over the past few years once you were no longer an intern or a suddenly promoted paralegal?
[00:29:51] Speaker C: It's hard for me to say because I feel like we honestly, it wasn't really like I had to maintain it. It just was always there. We'd email each other like every couple months, hey, how's it going? How's school? How's work? That kind of stuff. But then I think what really happened was when I realized that I wasn't happy at my job as an engineer, I reached out to her for advice specifically on how to handle a couple of things that came up and she was very helpful. She listened to me, which for anybody who wants to be a good mentor, I think listening is like the most important skill that you can have. Even as a leader, actually listening to someone's problems is so important. And I think that's sort of when I started getting serious about going to law school and applying and I was asking her a lot more. I was getting in touch with her more regularly just because I had so many questions and didn't know what to guess. I guess the answer to your question, Sean, is more that you shouldn't really have to maintain a relationship. I feel like if you build it correctly, it should be there such that you don't need to think about how to maintain it. It should just be there constantly.
[00:31:13] Speaker A: Kat, what are your perspectives on know?
[00:31:15] Speaker B: I think Kate made a lot of good points. You shouldn't have to maintain it. Our relationship grew kind of organically and I don't know that either of us really worked at it or gave it much thought. It's just sort of how it went. And I don't know if that's just our personalities or where we were in our lives at that point or whatever. And it's been, what, eight, six, seven years at this point? A while?
[00:31:38] Speaker C: Seven or eight, I don't know, something like that.
[00:31:40] Speaker B: I've had mentor, quote, formal mentor assignments from the liberal arts college before, and some of them have been great, and some of them have been one or two meetings and that's it. And so the relationship with the mentee varies a lot depending on what the mentee wants too, right? So sometimes the mentee is looking for a long term supporter. Sometimes the mentee just needs someone to bounce a couple of ideas off of and then can go on their merry way. And that's those all of those are it's, really. If you're looking for a long term mentor, you need to find someone that you can really mesh with. I think Kate and I benefited from the fact that we both were on the western side of the state and so we could actually just see each other once in a while. Sometimes it's hard to have a conversation over the phone or over zoom that would be easier to have in. I mean, sometimes it's just easier to sit down over a coffee or a cocktail and say, look, here's the situation. You're like, okay, well, let's talk about it.
[00:32:36] Speaker C: Right?
[00:32:36] Speaker B: And so Kate and I will go to dinner and spend three or 4 hours at dinner just going over whatever.
And I think the relationship has kind of gone both ways at this point. Actually, it's nice for me to have a mentee who's 1520 years younger than me, because now I can come to her and say, okay, this is what's going on with a staff member who's about your age. What's your perspective on that? And she'll tell me, well, this is what she would do and why she would do it. I'm like, hey, well, that makes a little more sense. And so it helps me understand. It gives me another perspective on things, which is important. So I think mentoring is going both ways at this point, and that's important, I think, to the long term relationship, too.
[00:33:13] Speaker A: So, Kat, you mentioned that there's different types of know. Maybe you have one or two conversations, even something like this podcast, which is kind of an on demand tee up for scholars to reach out to folks afterwards and get a little bit of insight. And then there's also these long term relationships. And something you and I, Kat, particularly have talked about many times through the Scholar Alumni Society is the value of mentoring. What is that value proposition for scholars, and particularly for first generation scholars who may not have had exposure to this topic before? First Kat and then Kate, you can add your thoughts then. Why is mentorship so important for students?
[00:33:49] Speaker B: So I never really had a formal mentor. I had a number of teachers and professors who, for short periods of time, were very influential in my life, but I've never had the sort of relationship that Kate and I have.
So it's hard for me to say when and how you should start something like that. I don't really have a good answer to that. But the value to it is even those short term relationships that I had is you need someone to bounce an idea off of once in a while. And I know that a bunch of 20 year olds think that they know how the world works, but when you're 20, you don't. Sorry, perspective of 40. OD. But that's just what it is, right? I mean, at 40, I don't know how the world works. So you're always learning. You constantly need someone a little older, a little wiser, who's been there, done that, to say, is that really the direction you want to go? And so even having the short term relationships that I had, being able to sit down with that writing professor and saying, I don't really know what I want to do, and for him to say, well, go try working for a law firm and see if that's what you want to do, that was invaluable. That changed my life.
I think the reason that I got to that summer program that taught me about the Honors College was because a teacher at high school told me about it. I can't imagine how else I would have learned about that summer program. And so cultivating relationships with your teachers, your professors, with your managers, with other people in your workplace, wherever it is that you're finding it, boy Scout leaders, whatever, those are important. Those are important. You never know what conversation is going to get stuck in your head and really drive the direction of something that you're trying to do. So you don't have to go looking specifically for a mentor. You don't have to be in a formal program. You're going to run across them. You just need to recognize them when you find them.
[00:35:35] Speaker C: Yeah, I can think of a couple of people who have been that person for me. As I look back on school and work, I remember a high school teacher I had that taught coding classes, and he recognized that I was not doing my best.
I would do enough to submit the assignment, and that was sufficient. But he was like, what are you doing? You can do so much better than this. Why are you just not going to your best potential? And I remember that conversation and thinking, he's right, why am I doing this? And just a relationship like that someone that I actually still talk to as an adult, those little ones that crop up, but then I totally agree with Kat.
I think the benefit of seeking them out in your everyday life, or not even seeking them out, but just recognizing them, like she said, I think that's the best way because the organic relationship, I think, is so fundamental. It's like the difference between, I don't know, meeting someone on a dating app and meeting someone in real life. I don't know. I can say that because I met my boyfriend on a dating app. So no shame there. I don't know. I think the organic part of it is really important because that way you kind of get to know the person in a really unique way. But also there's no shame in seeking know, hey, I really don't understand how to navigate this part of my young adult life. I don't know how to apply to law school. I don't know how to do better in interviews. I don't know how to do. You know, you go to Shire and you say, I need to connect with an alumni who can help me with this because they're in the real world and I'm still in school. And having that resource, it's just amazing.
I don't know what I would have done without having those people in my life to sort of navigate me through maybe something I didn't even know was plaguing me.
[00:37:38] Speaker B: Yeah, the formal programs are useful for things like, I'm a student or I'm a young professional, and I don't know how to handle this particular program or this particular problem or whatever this issue is. What do I do? And if you don't have someone in your life that you can go to and say, I don't know what to do with this, my manager is doing this thing, I don't know how to handle it. And you're not at a workplace where you can go talk to some other manager. Right. For okay. I mean, it's great. The Alumni association is great for that. Reach out to the alumni association or to Shrier or whoever and say, look, I've got this issue, I want to talk to another professional who's been dealing with this and they always hook you up. And I've talked to, I don't know, a dozen students over the year who have come to me with one or two issues that they just want to talk about for a couple of weeks. And those are great, those are great relationships. It's nice from the mentor perspective to help someone sort of think through a problem. And it's great from the student or the young professional perspective to say, okay, well now I have an objective outside of you to really help me think this through, because I find a lot of times, even when I'm doing this and I'm asking people around me, okay, I've got this issue, what do I do? It's sort of an informal mentorship, if you want to call it that.
It's great to just have someone to bounce a problem off of and it's great to have someone who doesn't know you, doesn't know the company, doesn't know anyone involved, has such an objective view to it to really say, okay, well, you're thinking about it this way, but maybe you're putting a little emotion into it. Maybe you should pull that back a little bit. You're to twelve, I need you to six. And so it's good to have someone really call you on your nonsense. It's good, it's good to have that sort of outside objective perspective. I think that's really the most valuable thing you can get from a mentor.
[00:39:15] Speaker A: So Kat, this question's for you. If you're a student listening, eventually you're going to graduate and you're going to grow up and maybe you're an alum listening, and even if you're still a student who's maybe an upper division student, you can mentor first and second year students. So Kat, what are your suggestions for being an effective mentor?
[00:39:34] Speaker B: You need to listen. I mean, for anything in life you need to listen and then you need to really give it some thought, right? So you need to listen. You need to accept that whatever the student is telling you or whatever the younger professional is telling you is true to them. Whatever it is, even if you're looking at it going gosh, you're so young and you have no perspective.
Sometimes it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. That's their experience and you need to just live with it. And so you need to listen, understand, accept, and then just help them walk through it. I find that I don't spend a lot of time saying you should do this, you should do that, because that's my experience, that's not their experience. So what I do is I ask a lot of questions, well, what do you think you should do about it? Well, how does that work? If you're going to do a, then how do you think that's going to interact with B? How do you think that's going to affect your ability to continue this hobby that you really seem to enjoy or that means you're going to have to move cities? Are you okay with that? That sort of thing. The benefit of being out of school for as long as I've been and then talking to students is students sometimes don't understand everything that goes into moving to another city right. Or everything that goes into applying to grad school. And so you can pose questions to them that they haven't thought of. And that's the benefit of being the more experienced person in the relationship. So I think that those are the most important things you need to do as a mentor. You need to listen. You need to accept what they're talking about and then just not impose your advice, but more sort of guide them the way that you think, or at least down a path that helps them think through the process a little better.
[00:41:06] Speaker A: And obviously, Kate, I would love your perspective on how can you be a very effective mentee and make the most of these either one off or long term relationships with faults who have a little bit more world experience than you do.
[00:41:21] Speaker C: I think the biggest thing is to be prepared to accept advice that you don't want to hear. I think it's really easy to come into a situation and think I'm right.
In a situation where maybe you have a problem instead of, I don't know what I'm doing kind of thing. It's easy to come into a situation and say I'm right, I'm looking for validation, and this older, more experienced person is going to validate my worldview. And I think that's kind of the wrong way to approach it. You're much better off listening. Again, listening is important. Listening to the mentor tell you things that maybe aren't popular with how you perceive the world or what your experience has been thus far. But it's really important for you to understand that they're coming at it from years and maybe decades of experience that you don't have. And you don't have to listen or you don't have to follow that advice. You can make your own decision, but you need to be prepared to accept what they're saying and have some internal process where you're weighing those interests. There's a reason they're telling you what they're telling you, and there's also a reason you ask them. You are looking maybe for validation, but also you know that there's another side to this that you might not be aware of. I would say that going in with an open mind is probably the biggest thing and being prepared to accept that there are alternative views on maybe the problem that you're experiencing or something you haven't thought of before. And it's really key to take that.
[00:42:55] Speaker A: To heart, knowing that I have an attorney and a three L on here with me. I'd love to just get some perspectives on the legal profession on law school from you both. So, Kate, you're living it right now. You're a three L. You're at Duquesne, you're in your third year. You're getting ready for job hunting. If you haven't already, you are getting ready for the bar. What advice for somebody who just lived through law school during a global pandemic do you have for students other than I know we talked earlier about taking a gap year or two and getting real world experience. Once you're in law school, what suggestions do you have for students who are looking down this path?
[00:43:31] Speaker C: I think self discipline is like the most important thing for a law student.
It's hard because law school is like high school.
It's 100 people that are being pitted against each other, and that's just the way it is.
And it's tough. It's tough on your mental health, it's tough on your relationships that you form with people. But you have to come up with a plan, and you have to stick to it. My one L year before the pandemic, I would get up every day. I'd go to the gym at like 06:00 because that was the only time I could fit in a workout. And then I would study until like 10:00 at night. It sucked. It was the worst thing ever. But it brought me a very good first year, and I learned a lot, and I was able to use that to get a job or get an internship. But then when the pandemic hit, that changed a lot. There was no gym I could go to at any time of the day because they were all closed and all of my classes were suddenly online. And it was a lot harder to pay attention because your phone's there and your professor isn't there to yell at you whenever you're using it. So that was really difficult.
I think that with the pandemic aspect of law school, it's definitely changing a lot more. Things are going to be online even as a third year and kind of not really sure where the pandemic is going at this point.
I still have classes that are online.
I think it's valuable because it gives you more flexibility. But with that flexibility comes great responsibility. You have to still be disciplined. You have to be willing to put your phone down for an hour and listen to your professor talk, even if it's through a screen. And you have to absolutely set aside four to 5 hours on a day you don't have class, and just make sure you're reviewing all of your notes, making outlines, whatever it is you want to do. But I'll say this even with that, even with all of that work, I still have, most of my weekends are free time to do what I want to do. And that's also really important, is giving yourself some time off so that you don't hate your life completely.
I make it sound like law school is really awful, but it is really fun. You learn so much, and I'll be glad when it's over. But I also feel like it's just been a really cool experience, and you'll never be in it again, so enjoy it while you can.
[00:45:56] Speaker A: And I think you could say the same of undergrad, too. You're an undergrad student once, so make the most of your experience here, and then if you go to law school or medical school or another graduate program, make the most of that because you only do it once. Now, Kat, you could probably guess what I'm going to ask. You've been practicing law for nearly 20 years. You've seen some things. What perspectives can you briefly offer to scholars who are looking at the law school law track here on following the.
[00:46:24] Speaker B: Gone today, my first recommendation is take as many writing classes as you can. I cannot understate the importance of being able to write clearly, coherently, consistently. You're going to spend your rest of your life writing. You might as well figure out how to do it well. And it drives me nuts when I get a contractor, I'm like, I have no idea what this sentence means, or the sentence went on for literally a page and a half. Stop it. Just stop it.
It's crazy. So write to every opportunity you have to write. I would also say a lot of law is figuring out where the money is, and so taking an econ class or a finance class or accounting or however it is that you want to figure that out would be invaluable, too. And then beyond that, take whatever experience you want, right? I don't think that there's one way to get into law school. There's no one way to go through law school, and there's no one way to practice law. You can do a lot of things with a law degree. It's very versatile, which is good and dangerous. You can get to law school and say, I don't know what I want to do with this thing, and then just have Fish be wayward about it. When you come out, you need some sort of plan, even if it's not a good plan to have a plan to start with, and then it's okay, change your plan, that's fine. But you need to come into law school thinking, okay, I don't want to do any sort of criminal law, or, I only want to do whatever. And you're going to change your mind, and that's okay because you're going to take a really cool class and do some really neat cases with a really awesome professor. And then you go, you know what? Criminal law not too bad. I want to do this for the rest of my life. But it's also important to understand what you're getting into at the end, right? And so if you want to go do public law. That's awesome. People need to do that. People need to go be public defenders. They need to be das. They need to be working at legal services. Those people are necessary and important. They make no money, so be prepared for that. If you want to go work at a law firm, great. That's your prerogative. If you want to work in big law, that's cool. You're going to make a boatload of cash. You're also going to sell your soul to do that. And then there's a large range in between, and so you need to really understand what you're getting into. So ask a lot of questions. Lawyers love to talk, and they love to give advice. Go talk to a couple of law firm partners before you go to law school. Go have lunch with the DA. Take the public defender to lunch or know, do those sorts of things. We love to do that. Go to a bar association meeting. Find your local county bar association. Find out when they're having their local bench bar program, and go lawyers love that. So it's good to have a lot of perspective of a lot of different things when you come in because there's a lot of options. You could also do things that are not lawyer at all, right? Go be a politician. Go teach. Go to the military. Do research with that law degree. I know a lot of lawyers, a fair handful of lawyers who then turn around and go to med school or do medical things. Now they're nurses and JDS. Those people make a gajillion dollars being expert witnesses at medical malpractice lawsuits. There are a lot of ways to use your JD. Be creative. Don't be afraid. There's always an here.
[00:49:33] Speaker A: There's two that came to my mind where you could be an agent for a performer or an athlete or even folks here at Penn State who help with something we call gift planning, which is when you put Penn State in your will. There's a huge legal element to that. And Kate, I saw you raise your hand, so I want to turn the floor back over to you.
[00:49:51] Speaker C: I just wanted to say one thing that Kat mentioned.
When you are a law student who hasn't had a real job, like a full time job between undergrad and law school, I think it's really hard to miss or sorry, it's really easy to miss.
What do I want to do with my life and what do I want to do with my life and how does that impact what I want from my life? As someone who works for a few years, I understand what it's like to not have weekends available to you. Like the job that I had sometimes I missed a Bachelorete party once, and I felt really bad about it. Those kinds of things, those are really important when you're working at a government job. Most of the time you're going to be working nine to five. You're going to be working 40 hours a week. Your pay isn't going to be that great. Your benefits are going to be awesome, but your life will be there. And the same thing goes for law firms. If you want to make a lot of money and buy a really big house and do those things, that's awesome. But you need to understand that that might take away time for you to spend with your kids or your dog or go on vacation. Even though you're earning a lot of money, you don't necessarily have time to use a lot of it. So I just think having that perspective on what you can do with your life and what you want from your life, those are two, like, sometimes they're at ODS with each other, and you really need to understand that going in. And somebody who has worked, you're going to have that experience, because someone who hasn't, they see a salary at $200,000 out of law school and they're like, oh, my God, I can't believe that. That's crazy. But what they don't understand is maybe they're going to be spending 90 hours a week at the firm. So just some practical advice.
[00:51:39] Speaker B: The other thing to keep in mind is that legal skills are legal skills, and they're really versatile and you can take them other places, right? So if you want to start out at a law firm making a bajillion dollars and you get three years into it and you're exhausted because you haven't slept for three years and you want to quit and go be a DA, you can do that. You can take your degree and go do something else. So don't feel like you're locked into whatever it is that you're doing. It's not written in stone, and even if it was, just drop the stone, right?
You can go do something else with it. It's okay.
[00:52:08] Speaker A: Really good advice. We're in the tail end of our conversation here. All right, we're going to do some rapid fire questions here at the end. First, I want to know what is your biggest success to date? Feel free to brag as much as you want right here.
[00:52:20] Speaker B: Biggest success to date professionally is dragging my current law department out of the 18th century and into the 21st century. So we now have a legal operations almost backbone to our department. It took me a decade to do, but it's great. Everyone loves it, and that was a lot of work, but it was definitely.
[00:52:38] Speaker C: Worth it, I guess for me, I don't really have this great professional career, but I did recently pass the patent bar exam, which has like, a really low pass rate. It's like super bad, like in the 30%.
And I want to brag that I did that while my cat was dying and it was miserable, but I still did it and I don't have to take it again. So I'm very happy.
[00:53:03] Speaker A: Well, my condolences on your cat. Never easy to lose a pet, but congratulations on passing that exam, and I think that bodes well for the actual bar down the road. The flip side of that question is what is the biggest transformational moment? You might call it a mistake that you had so far, either as a student, as a professional, and what did you learn from it?
[00:53:23] Speaker B: All right, so when I looked at this question when you posed it earlier this week, I had sort of a different bent to it. So I'm going to answer it slightly differently than maybe you just answered it than you just asked it now. But I'm looking at it kind of as my biggest failure and what did I learn from it? So professionally, this is going way back. So my very first job when I was 14 was at a little stand that sold ice cream and hot dogs.
We had a down period at one point, and the owner says, okay, I'm going to go do whatever it was that she was going to go, do you guys need to take down the soft serve ice cream machine and clean it out while we've got this period where we think no one's going to show up? Here's the instructions. I'll be back in an hour. So I and my probably 16 year old coworker followed the instructions, cleaned it all out, did exactly what she told us to do, couldn't have dumped all the stuff back in, turned it on, went about our lives, didn't really think it through. Right? You followed the instructions. That's all you did. So a couple of hours later, the softball team shows up, or Little League or whatever it was, wants ice cream for everybody, and we couldn't do it because we hadn't plugged the machine back in, because the instructions didn't say plug it back in. So here's my lesson from that. It doesn't matter what the instructions say. You have to think about it. You cannot just blindly follow whatever the rules are.
[00:54:46] Speaker C: This is tough when I looked at this question, not because I've never failed, obviously I've failed, but it's tough to answer because I think there's a lot of experiences that you can draw from that don't result in total failure. But the biggest one I can think of is when I started my first real job out of college, I didn't understand the importance of speaking up and making sure that I was known. And I actually had a conversation that was not good with people who worked with me, who were trying to tell me that I needed to make myself known in the company. And I don't know what the word is, but I needed to make them aware that I existed. And I think it's easy when you're young to want to disappear and kind of learn from people around you by watching, but I think they were right, and I was very upset when they brought this information to me and they were like, you really need to speak up and you really need to be loud. And I was like, I don't like that. I like to be quiet. But I think they were right. Looking back on it, even just like a few years later, I remember being very upset. But what I didn't get from that conversation, if I would have got into it with an open mind, is that I should have taken their advice and realized that it benefits me to be involved. Even if I'm going to make a mistake as a young person, even if I'm going to say the wrong thing, even if I'm going to ask a question that is kind of dumb, I'm going to learn from that. And people are going to know who I am, and they're going to be able to work with me better. And so I would say it sucked at the time, it was really bad. But now as a more, I guess, older adult, I look back on that and I think, hey, I should have taken that advice.
I should have made myself known and let people know who I was.
[00:56:48] Speaker A: I think there was also another piece of advice in there, which was your coworkers were trying to help you and coming into that with an open mind as well. Always good to pipe up. And Kat, I love your story about the ice cream machine. Sometimes it's the most basic piece. There's the assumption in those instructions that you've already plugged it in. So think about what those implicit assumptions are in any circumstance. Quick question for you. As attorneys or rising attorneys, how do you find work life balance? Any tips for scholars and future law students?
[00:57:19] Speaker B: That's going to vary from job to job, right? So one of the things you need to do is put up your unrails. So if you don't want to answer emails after 07:00 P.m., then don't answer emails after 07:00 P.m., but if you decide you're going to answer emails after 07:00 P.m., then that's the way it's going to be, right? So once you set that expectation, that expectation is there. And I know that's hard when you're first starting out, and that's going to be hard if you're working at a big law firm. It's going to be hard if you're at a startup, but those are the trade offs for the job that you're in. And so you need to figure out in your job where you can put those rails and then how those rails are best going to benefit your life. And then you need to hire help.
[00:57:59] Speaker C: I'm going to come at this from a different angle. I think you need to make the people in your life aware of your responsibilities as an attorney or a law student. In my case, my family has never had someone go to law school. They didn't understand that I can't talk to them for, like, two weeks during final exams. It's not like undergrad.
And I think sitting them down and saying, like, hey, look, I'm not ignoring you, and I'm not set the expectation that what you're doing is really key and important and that you will not ignore them, but you will get to it at a certain time. And I think if you set those expectations up early, then you have a better time when maybe you have to miss something really important. And that's tough if you don't want to do that. Like Kat said, you need to set that expectation for yourself. But if you have really important things that you need to do, you need to let the people in your life know communication is really key, and if you don't tell them these things and you just miss your niece's birthday party or you don't respond to text for five days and they're like, do you hate me? What are you doing? The answer is no, but you need to let them know what's going on. And so I think that's also a really key part of work life balance.
[00:59:17] Speaker A: I think that advice from both of you boils down to setting expectations, and I think that's really helpful, regardless of what industry you end up going into, you as the listener. Fun question for you. Are there any professors, friends, anybody like that that you wanted to give a shout out to here? At the end of our conversation, I.
[00:59:34] Speaker B: Will give a shout out to the entire Red Mantis cult. You know who you are. And Professor Golumbuk is the one who got me to be a paralegal.
[00:59:44] Speaker C: I want to give a shout out to Professor Mike Janick. He was my chemical engineering professor who gave some really sage advice at the time when we were going to graduate. He said there's going to be floor techs and people at your jobs that have worked there 2030 years, and you're going to be the new engineer, and you're not going to know anything. So you need to listen to them, even though they're maybe earning hourly wages and you're salaried, you need to listen to them. And that was the best advice I got going into an engineering position. That man is incredible, and he deserves every award that they give him, and he's just incredible.
[01:00:22] Speaker A: Very good advice, again, regardless of what industry. And I think that boils down to just the Penn State value of respect. Speaking of advice, do you have any last burning pieces of advice that you wanted to share that maybe didn't organically come up in our conversation over the past hour?
[01:00:36] Speaker B: Just the value of asking for help when you need it, and even when you don't need it. Just ask it's okay? It's taken me 40 some years to learn that lesson, but it's important. Ask. Just ask it's, okay. People will answer your questions. They're usually happy to answer your questions.
[01:00:49] Speaker C: Just ask along cat's advice. I would say if you want to do something and you have no idea how to do it, that shouldn't deter you. That should just motivate you like, hey, I can do this amazing thing that I've never done before. It's going to be awesome and I might screw up, but so what? I get to do it. That's how I feel every day as a law student. I'm like, I can't believe I'm here. This is what I wanted to do for so long and I'm so happy. Even if I make a million mistakes, I'm here.
So go to law school, but only if you want to.
[01:01:22] Speaker A: If a scholar wanted to reach out to either of you to ask for help, ask for that advice. Keep this conversation going well past the end of the podcast episode. How could they connect with either of you?
[01:01:33] Speaker B: You can find me on LinkedIn.
[01:01:34] Speaker C: Same LinkedIn's. Great.
[01:01:36] Speaker A: And if you're a regular listener, you know the last question that we're about to ask here. If each of you were a flavor of berkey creamery ice cream, which would you be? And most importantly, as scholar alumni, why would you be that flavor?
[01:01:49] Speaker B: So I thought about this and I think that I would be butter pecan because it's an old sort of traditional flavor and I'm an old sort of traditional soul. I'll do all kinds of crazy things. I am your crazy adventure friend. No one knows that, but I am. But at the end of the day, I want to come home to some butter pecan.
[01:02:08] Speaker C: I want the soft serve vanilla with the blue and white sprinkles because it's classic, but it's also like, it's the best.
If I had to pick an actual flavor, I would be scholarship just because I think that's the most awesome play on words ever. No, at the end of the day, I'm kind of like Kat. I want my soft serve with the blue and white sprinkles and I won't mix it. I promise I won't put chocolate in there.
[01:02:33] Speaker A: If you're going to have the soft serve, just make sure that Kat plugs the machine in first. Otherwise you won't get your soft serve on time.
[01:02:40] Speaker B: Very important.
[01:02:41] Speaker A: Kat, Kate, thank you both so much for spending the past hour with us. I hope you were listening, got something out of this. I know I did really appreciate all of your sage insight and advice, not just on the legal profession, but more importantly, the value of mentoring and how to go about doing that right. So thank you both.
[01:02:59] Speaker C: Thanks for having me.
[01:03:00] Speaker B: Thank you.
[01:03:07] Speaker A: Thank you, scholars, for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Shrier Honors College Emergency Fund benefiting scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise psu.edu forward slash Shrier. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe like or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on Today, you can follow the college on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or a scholar alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on Following The Gone, please connect with me at scholar alumni at psu.edu. Until next time, please stay well. And we are.