Drexel’s Kline School of Law Receives Gift to Advance Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession

Stephen and Sandra Sheller

Sandra and Stephen Sheller

The Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University has received a $1 million gift from Stephen A. Sheller, Esq, and Sandra Sheller to establish an endowment that will permanently fund and expand an initiative that was created in 2019 to prepare undergraduate students and working professionals, from backgrounds typically underrepresented in the legal field, to study and practice law. The Stephen and Sandra Sheller Diversity Pipeline Program strives to advance diversity and inclusion in the legal profession via free workshops, classes and networking programs.

The program is intended to demystify the law school admission process and academic experience and connect participants with mentors during three weeks of workshops and classes held in the summer. It seeks to support students of culturally diverse and historically underrepresented groups.

“I’m deeply grateful to Stephen and Sandra Sheller for their continued generosity to Drexel, which will help add much needed diversity to the legal profession in Philadelphia and beyond,” said John Fry, Drexel president. “I’m particularly pleased that the Shellers’ gift will play a key role in advancing the University’s priority of promoting both diversity and antiracism by making the Kline School of Law and other law schools more accessible to students from all backgrounds.”

Created three years ago and initially designed for third- and fourth-year undergraduate students, the program has benefited from annual funding support from the Shellers beginning in 2020. Danielle Boardley, assistant dean for diversity, inclusion and student life at the Kline School of Law, has led the program from its launch. Made possible by the new gift, the expanded program will be able to accommodate younger undergraduate students as well as college graduates. All nine members accepted into the inaugural cohort were students at Lincoln University in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the nation’s first degree-granting historically Black college and university (HBCU). The cohorts have grown each year, including 40 students participating this year from colleges and universities across the US.

In addition to receiving guidance on the admission process, LSAT and legal careers, participants practice many of the skills required in law school during condensed classes taught by Kline faculty and guest lecturers. The subjects include contracts, advocacy, legal reading and writing, professionalism and other topics. Students also participate in valuable and distinctive immersive experiences, including residing on Drexel’s campus with their program peers and gaining exposure to experiential learning, advocacy and community organizing through the law school’s Andy and Gwen Stern Community Lawyering Clinic.

“It is a privilege for us to support the Kline School of Law and future generations of the legal profession,” Stephen and Sandra Sheller said in a statement. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to advance through education. And all people must have fair access to and representation in the legal system. We’re pleased that this critical program serves both goals.”

The American Bar Association estimates that fewer than 15% of lawyers in the United States are African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or multiracial. In contrast, those groups represent approximately two-thirds of Philadelphia’s population. By building a long-term, sustainable foundation for the Sheller Diversity Pipeline Program to grow in reach, visibility and impact, the new gift will enable the Kline School of Law to further its goals of increasing representation in the legal profession.

“We are immensely grateful to Stephen and Sandra Sheller for providing opportunities for students of all backgrounds to consider and have access to a legal education,” said Daniel M. Filler, JD, dean and professor in the Kline School of Law. “As a community dedicated to training the next generation of lawyers and leaders, the Kline School of Law holds diversity and inclusion as critical values. We expect our graduates to deliver excellent services to a wide array of clients and to guide the legal community and society at large through the major transitions of the 21st century. A diverse and inclusive law school community is a prerequisite to these goals and aspirations.”

The gift marked a major progression in Drexel’s fundraising and engagement campaign, The Future Is a Place We Make, which launched publicly in 2017 and concluded on June 30, 2022. Including the Shellers’ new commitment, the effort surpassed $806 million – more than $55 million above its original goal. The Campaign for Drexel advanced the University’s highest strategic priorities, including creating pathways for student support and success; growing commitment to access, diversity and inclusion; pioneering approaches in teaching and learning; accelerating multidisciplinary and high-impact research and innovation; and deepening civic engagement. In addition to financial goals, the campaign engaged a widening circle of alumni in the life of the University.