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PLEDGE Initiative

The Professionals in Legal Education Developing Greater Equity (PLEDGE) Initiative is an effort to increase knowledge and skills related to using empirical research methods to design, administer, and assess student success programs.

The initiative was launched in 2022 as a partnership between AccessLex Institute and the Southern Education Foundation. Its purpose is to help foster diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environments within law schools.  

The initiative is targeted at law school administrators and faculty and consists of two components:  

  • The PLEDGE Bootcamp: a two-day in-person empirical methods training. The 2024 Bootcamp will take place April 3-5 at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. Apply Now.
  • The PLEDGE Fellowship: a 14-month professional development program in which fellows complete a Capstone, taking the form of an empirical assessment of a law student-facing program.

PLEDGE Bootcamp

The PLEDGE Bootcamp is a two-day, in-person training session focused on building knowledge and skills related to conducting and interpreting high-quality empirical research. The Bootcamp targets experienced law school administrators, faculty members, and other similarly situated professionals seeking insight into the practical uses of empirical research methods. The Bootcamp is intended to serve as a precursor to applying for the PLEDGE Fellowship. The 2024 Bootcamp will take place April 3-5 at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C.

Below are covered topics: 

  • Importance of conducting empirical research and program assessment
  • Developing viable and meaningful research questions
  • Overview of varied research methodologies
  • Conducting comprehensive literature reviews
  • Creating a PLEDGE Capstone research proposal
  • Overview of research ethics and the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process

Bootcamp Eligibility and Application

Participants must be employed by a higher education institution or nonprofit and have an interest in assessing the effects of a law student-facing program. The program should be premised on fostering diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environments.

The Bootcamp is limited to 20 participants. Preference will be given to applicants who:

  1. describe in sufficient detail a law student success program that they want to assess.
  2. submit a joint Bootcamp application as part of a two-person team interested in assessing the same program.

AccessLex will cover two nights' hotel stay for participants. Participants will be responsible for all other travel expenses.

The application form will require you to upload the following documents:

  • A statement describing the law student success program that knowledge and skills gained from the Bootcamp would assist you in assessing (no more than three pages)
  • Applicant CVs/resumes highlighting relevant experiences and qualifications (no more than three pages each)

Bootcamp applications will be reviewed as they are received. Therefore, earlier applicants are more likely to be selected. We expect that all Bootcamp slots will be filled by March 10, 2024.

Questions about the Fellowship or this application should be directed to PLEDGE@accesslex.org

Please note that by uploading your application, you agree to be bound by the terms of the AccessLex Privacy Policy.

PLEDGE Fellowship

The PLEDGE Fellowship is a 14-month professional development program in which Fellows complete a Capstone, taking the form of an empirical assessment of a law student-facing program. The program should be premised on fostering diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environments. The Fellowship targets experienced law school administrators, faculty members, and other similarly situated professionals.

Teams of two Fellows will undertake program assessments, called Capstones, using empirical research methods focusing on one of the following three topical strands: 

  • Admission and Access
  • Academic Performance
  • Bar Exam Performance

Fellowship teams will receive the following funding and support premised on enhancing the feasibility and quality of their work:

  • Capstone budget: up to $25,000 for research activities
  • Stipend: $4,000 per Fellow
  • Access to Capstone design expertise
  • Access to professional development coaching

Important Dates:

  • Fellowship Application:
    • Launch: June 3, 2024
    • Submission deadline: July 14, 2024
  • Fellowship teams announced: August 9, 2024
  • Fellowship:
    • Begins: September 25-27, 2024 (Southern Education Foundation headquarters — Atlanta, GA)
    • Ends: November 2025

Please feel free to send questions about the Fellowship to PLEDGE@accesslex.org.

Fellowship Structure 

Fellowship cohorts will be comprised of up to three teams of two Fellows each, made up of experienced law school administrators, faculty members, or other similarly situated professionals.

Each Fellowship team will undertake a program assessment, called a Capstone, using empirical research methods, focusing on one of the following three strands:

  • Admission and Access: must center on assessing the impact of a program designed to foster the successful law school enrollment of people from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Academic Performance: must center on assessing the impact of a program designed to foster the law school academic success of students from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Bar Exam Performance: must center on assessing the impact of a program designed to foster bar exam passage among students from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds
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The Fellowship will last September 2024 through November 2025 and comprise of nine Fellowship meetings: five two-day, in-person meetings and four 90-minute virtual meetings. Meetings will take place roughly every seven to eight weeks. Each Fellowship team will be expected to host an in-person meeting at their home institution.

Fellowship teams will receive the following funding and support premised on enhancing the feasibility and quality of their work:

  • Capstone budget: up to $25,000 for research activities
  • Stipend: $4,000 per Fellow
  • Access to Capstone design expertise
  • Access to professional development coaching

By the end of the Fellowship, each Fellow should be knowledgeable of:

  • Foundational empirical concepts of program evaluation and assessment
  • Concepts and issues relevant to fostering inclusive student success in law schools
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Fellowship Curriculum 

The 14-month Fellowship curriculum will focus on building practical knowledge and skills related to using empirical research methods to design, administer, and assess student success programs. The curriculum will culminate in each Fellowship team drafting a Capstone report detailing findings from the research project it designed and executed.

The curriculum will be centered around nine Fellowship meetings – five two-day, in-person meetings and four 90-minute virtual meetings. The meetings will take place roughly every seven to eight weeks. The first meeting will take place in Atlanta, GA on September 25-27, 2024. The last meeting will take place in November 2025.

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Below is a preliminary Fellowship meeting schedule. Each of the three Fellowship teams will be expected to host a two-day in-person session at their home institution at some point during meetings four-eight. The exact dates will be determined at meeting one.

Draft Meeting Schedule

  • Meeting One (In-person–Atlanta): 
    • September 25-27, 2024
  • Meeting Two (Virtual): 
    • November 12, 2024
  • Meeting Three (Virtual):
    • December 17, 2024
  • Meeting Four (In-person–Fellow team host):
    • February 26-28, 2025
  • Meeting Five (Virtual):
    • April 15, 2025
  • Meeting Six (In-person–Fellow team host):
    • May 21-23, 2025 
  • Meeting Seven (Virtual):
    • July 15, 2025
  • Meeting Eight (In-person–Fellow team host):
    • September 24-26, 2025
  • Meeting Nine (In-person–TBD):
    • November 2025

Ongoing Capstone support and coaching.

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Fellowship Eligibility

The Fellowship cohort will be comprised of up to three teams of two Fellows each, made up of experienced law school administrators, faculty members, or other similarly situated professionals. 

Criteria for Fellowship team composition: 

Required:

  • Two people
  • At least one member who helps set relevant policies within their institution
  • At least one member with access to a pool of study subjects and relevant data
  • At least one member with extensive insight and expertise in an area that is relevant to the topical strand on which the proposed Capstone focuses

Encouraged:

  • PLEDGE Bootcamp participation by both team members
  • At least one member who is employed by an ABA-approved law school that serves large numbers of underrepresented students or is actively seeking to increase student diversity
  • At least one member with knowledge of empirical research methods and/or program evaluation
  • Team members representing different departments within law school and/or central university
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Criteria for each member of a Fellowship team: 

Required: 

  • Commitment and ability to participate for length of Fellowship, including attendance at required in-person meetings

Encouraged:

  • PLEDGE Bootcamp participation
  • Experience working with students from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Ability to host one two-day, in-person Fellowship meeting at home institution
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Fellowship Application Process

All required application materials must be submitted by July 14, 2024. The selection process will seek to identify 1) Fellowship teams with demonstrated commitments to inclusive student success and 2) Capstone proposals that are relevant, substantive, and feasible. Capstones should be able to be completed in no more than 12 months.

The ideal Capstone project will be tightly focused, centering on a single program, preferably that is already being undertaken by members of the Fellowship team. For instance, a team of admission and academic support professionals may want to study the effects of their law school prep program on student grades. A team of academic and bar success faculty may want to study the effects of a bar prep program on graduate bar exam performance. Proposals based on new projects will be considered and may be selected if their feasibility is clear. In general, proposals that are narrow, targeted, and feasible in the timeframe of the fellowship are viewed most favorably.

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Application components: 

  1. Application form 
  2. Statement of Interest and Contributions to Inclusive Student Success
    The strongest statements will be no more than four pages long and will provide details pertaining to the following areas: 
    • Explanation of team interest in Fellowship and extent to which the team collectively and individually meets Fellowship eligibility criteria, including any experience conducting program assessments. 
    • A track record of engagement and activity by team members related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Specific details about these activities should be provided. 
  3. Capstone proposal
    The proposal should respond to the following prompts. Responses should be as specific and concise as possible: 
    • Description of the problems or issues that the program you will be assessing is seeking (or will seek) to address.  
    • Description of program, including its components, duration, and the students it serves. Please also indicate if the program is preexisting or would be launched for the first time as part of the Capstone.  
    • List the primary research questions your Capstone will seek to answer. 
    • List any hypotheses or assumptions related to your research questions. 
    • Describe the primary research methods you will be using (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods) and explain why the methods are appropriate. 
    • List and describe each data source that would be used to carry out the Capstone. Describe the degree of availability, access, and permissions that the Fellowship team has to each data source. 
  4. Letter of recommendation and support for each team member from a Dean or other relevant administrator. Each letter should communicate approval and support of team members’ participation in the PLEDGE Fellowship. Team members who report to a common administrator may submit a joint letter. 
  5. Team member CVs/resumes highlighting relevant experiences and qualifications (no more than three pages each). 

Please refer to the template PLEDGE Fellowship Participation Agreement for additional details and terms associated with participation in this program. 

Please note that by uploading your application, you agree to be bound by the terms of the AccessLex Privacy Policy

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Fellowship Application Form

Thank you for your interest in the Professionals in Legal Education Developing Greater Equity (PLEDGE) Fellowship. The selection process will seek to identify 1) Fellowship teams with demonstrated commitments to inclusive student success and 2) Capstone proposals that are relevant, substantive, and feasible. Capstones should be able to be completed in no more than 12 months. All required application materials must be submitted by July 14, 2024. Questions about the Fellowship or this application should be directed to PLEDGE@accesslex.org.

About the PLEDGE Initiative

The Professionals in Legal Education Developing Greater Equity (PLEDGE) Initiative is a partnership between AccessLex Institute and the Southern Education Foundation, two organizations committed to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in education.  

The initiative seeks to achieve the following goals: 

  • Cultivate evidence-based experimentation and assessment in legal education 
  • Contribute to the development of best practices for fostering access and success among aspiring lawyers from underrepresented backgrounds 
  • Increase the law school enrollment and academic success of people from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds 
  • Expose Fellows to principles and concepts underlying DEI, statistical methods, experimental design, and evidence-based decision making  
  • Build partnerships with and among legal education stakeholders, particularly law schools that enroll disproportionate numbers of underrepresented students and those that seek to increase the enrollment of these students 

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) was originally founded in 1867 to educate Black children and children from low-income families in the South. SEF also has a long history of developing leaders in education and was a pivotal source of research and data to support legislation and litigation aimed at fighting inequity in education during the civil rights era. The organization today conducts leadership development, research, and advocacy to improve educational opportunities for Black students, other students of color, and students from low-income families and achieve educational equity in the Southern U.S. SEF is based in Atlanta, Georgia. 

 

Planning Committee 

Aaron N. Taylor
Executive Director
AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence® 

Raymond Pierce
President and CEO
Southern Education Foundation 

Tiffane Cochran
Vice President, Research 
AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence® 

Kenita Williams
Chief Operating Officer
Southern Education Foundation 

Danielle Harris
Manager of Development and Donor Relations
Southern Education Foundation 

Kent Lollis
Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law 

Curriculum Team 

Marybeth Gasman
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education
Distinguished Professor
Rutgers University 

Alice Ginsberg
Educational Consultant
Director of Programs, Partnerships and Strategy
The Collective Success Network 

Andrés Castro Samayoa
Assistant Professor
Boston College School of Education and Human Development 

Raquel Muñiz
Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership & Higher Education
Assistant Professor (by courtesy), School of Law
Boston College 

Leah Hollis
Associate Professor
Morgan State University 

 

Planning Committee 

Aaron N. Taylor
Executive Director
AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence® 

Raymond Pierce
President and CEO
Southern Education Foundation 

Tiffane Cochran
Vice President, Research 
AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence® 

Kenita Williams
Chief Operating Officer
Southern Education Foundation 

Danielle Harris
Manager of Development and Donor Relations
Southern Education Foundation 

Kent Lollis
Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law 

 

Curriculum Team 

Marybeth Gasman
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education
Distinguished Professor
Rutgers University 

Alice Ginsberg
Educational Consultant
Director of Programs, Partnerships and Strategy
The Collective Success Network 

Andrés Castro Samayoa
Assistant Professor
Boston College School of Education and Human Development 

Raquel Muñiz
Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership & Higher Education
Assistant Professor (by courtesy), School of Law
Boston College 

Leah Hollis
Associate Professor
Morgan State University