This entry is by Jonathan Petts, COL ’02, LAW ’07

After graduating from Penn (‘02) and then Penn Law (‘07), I followed the traditional corporate law path, working for large firms in New York. That corporate life was interesting enough for a while. But I found my true passion in the pro bono bankruptcy cases I did helping low-income New Yorkers buried in debt. My first client was a woman from Crown Heights named Linda.  Linda was unemployed and had $40,000 in medical debt from a car accident. I helped Linda file for Chapter 7 and obtain a fresh start. She called me back a year later to share some great news. She had a job, her credit score was 100 points higher, and she was still debt free. She then told me something I’d never forget, “If I hadn’t found you, I’d still be trapped in debt because it costs $2,000 to hire a bankruptcy lawyer and if I had $2,000, I wouldn’t be filing for bankruptcy.” I realized that the people who need access to our bankruptcy courts the most in America are the least able to afford it.  

Jonathan Petts in acton

The bankruptcy process involves lots of data entry and document collection that are ripe for automation. So along with my cofounder Rohan Pavuluri, I founded a tech nonprofit called Upsolve which provides free Chapter 7 bankruptcy help to low-income Americans across the country. Last year, our website helped over 400 Americans get a fresh start, erasing over $16 million in debt from medical illness, job loss, and payday loans. We’ve been lucky to get grant funding for our work from the Robin Hood Foundation, Y Combinator, the Public Welfare Foundation, and other fantastic funders.

I see Upsolve as a small piece of a broader opportunity to democratize access to the law for low-income Americans. The internet has transformed the delivery of most professional services to consumers.  For little to no cost, consumers can use TurboTax to complete personal tax returns, use WebMD to diagnose their medical conditions, or use Khan Academy to learn a new subject. But the internet has brought very little disruption to the delivery of legal services. One lawyer researches, writes and litigates for a single client, who is charged by the hour. The result is 80% of low-income Americans with a legal problem cannot afford to hire lawyer.  In the years to come, I’m excited to see other tech solutions to help low-income Americans solve their legal problems on their own.

Public Interest Law

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Olivia Graham, COL ’17

This summer I interned at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, in the hopes that I would increase my understanding of both law and the nonprofit sector. The Public Interest Law Center is a nonprofit that uses high impact legal strategies to protect the rights of marginalized communities in the Philadelphia area.

A large part of my job consisted of policy and issue research, which was notably rewarding in that it allowed me to expand my understanding of the Law Center’s six major advocacy areas as well as the political processes of Philadelphia. This research also gave me the opportunity to work with large amounts of data and required me to find creative ways to answer questions unique to the Law Center’s endeavors. This was great practice for the senior research project that I’ll conduct this coming semester as an Urban Studies major.

Another set of my responsibilities consisted of processing consultation requests. These are the cases brought to the Law Center that they then refer out to other legal organizations, for various reasons. It allowed me to begin to understand which cases or issues may have legal solutions and which ones may not. It, and the meetings that I attended and the work I saw being done, allowed me to explore my idea of law as a unique theory of change.

During my time at the Law Center, I was exposed to many different aspects of the Law Center’s issue areas, and definitely have a better understanding of the legal practice, but would have loved the chance to see more of the nuts and bolts of the practicing component. Each legal intern was assigned a staff attorney to whom they reported for the duration of the summer. I worked for almost every staff member, at least once, and was exposed to many different issue areas, though I primarily worked under the Executive Director.

The highlight of my experience was definitely getting to work with accomplished and socially-minded staff here; I learned a lot just from starting conversations and asking questions. I also really enjoyed getting to attend board meetings and accompanying the Executive Director to various meetings – I’m very interested in pursuing law but I’m also interested in non-profit management, and the latter was much easier for me to explore here given my position as an undergraduate student.

The public interest law field is extremely varied and no two organizations in the same city do the same thing, much less approach issues in the same way. It was an invaluable experience to get to work around attorneys who have been advocating for civil rights since the seventies – who have seen landmark cases passed and kept working, both through litigation and through advocacy, because they know that changing the law is only the first step in changing any type of inequality.

Scaling Impact through New Sector Alliance

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Heena Khoja, WH ’15.

Whenever we have to complete an activity that we perceive as a chore or an obligation, we find ourselves checking the time to see when we’ll be done. In high school, I was fortunate enough to find a passion that didn’t have me running to the clock every few minutes through community service. I developed a strong volunteering relationship with a local hospice network and a youth empowerment/diversity education organization, which introduced me to some of the most inspiring individuals and sparked my interest in the social sector. Coming to Penn, I thought I wanted to run my own nonprofit in the future – which I may still like to do one day – but in the last few years, I’ve found myself drawn to opportunities where I can work with multiple nonprofits to help them with long-term planning and problem solving.

With that interest in mind, I pursued a summer fellowship with the nonprofit New Sector Alliance in Boston. New Sector’s mission is to strengthen the social sector by enriching its talent pipeline. In other words, New Sector cultivates young professionals to become effective nonprofit leaders. The summer program has four major components: capacity-building project for a host site nonprofit, trainings via the Social Impact Leadership Curriculum, one-on-one mentorship from skilled professionals, and learning teams facilitated by grad students. Given such a multifaceted opportunity, the experience is completely defined by what you make of it. The host site project, training workshops, and mentorship were the most meaningful aspects of my summer internship.

After being accepted into the New Sector cohort, summer fellows participate in matching interviews with several local nonprofits to establish a placement site. Initially, I was hoping to work with a larger organization on a quantitative project since the majority of my prior experience entails qualitative projects for small nonprofits. However, being placed at Tech Goes Home – a three-employee nonprofit that successfully equips thousands of Bostonians with the tools and resources for 21st century skill development – showed me how much I value a strong culture regardless of the size of the organization. My overall objective was to improve the quality and efficiency of Tech Goes Home’s technology literacy trainings. Although I tend to work better with structure, this broad project offered me the opportunity to learn how to manage ambiguity and set my own deadlines. At the end of the fellowship, I provided Tech Goes Home with detailed online learning content and a compiled list of best practices for its trainings. Over the new few months, I hope to keep in touch with my former teammates to learn whether my work was helpful and how it is being implemented.

My mentor and the New Sector training curriculum were also invaluable for personal and professional development. Every time I met with my mentor, he not only advised me on the direction of my project but also provided feedback on my work and general career support. The trainings delivered another holistic professional experience by covering topics like resumes and networking as well as social sector themes like fundraising and nonprofit finance. This industry-specific knowledge will be extremely useful for any type of nonprofit position that I may pursue. Beyond the fellowship, the city of Boston played a huge role in my summer experience and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to explore it for the first time. Based on just eleven weeks, I really hope to end up there after graduating from Penn.

My summer fellowship allowed me to understand the responsibilities of nonprofit consulting, which I intend to pursue in the long-term. After working with a number of diverse nonprofits in various capacities, I think I would enjoy the ability to learn about different social issues and work with such organizations from a strategic perspective in order to maximize their community impact. I’m also interested in other career paths that can benefit society on a larger scale, such as corporate social responsibility or impact investing. I believe the work experience I gained this summer, in addition to the New Sector community, will be fundamental to shaping my future in social impact. Thanks to Career Services for helping me fund the best summer of college by far!


Nonprofit Careers: Making a Living While Making a Difference

By Kelly Cleary

Sometimes students talk to career counselors as if they were making a confession.  We often hear “I don’t want to be a doctor (or lawyer)” in almost a whisper so their parents in Long Island or LA can’t hear them. But sometimes, instead of a whisper, it’s a confident voice accompanied by averted eyes, as if to say, “I know this is crazy but…,” coming from  a student who has made up his or her mind, but isn’t sure how friends and family will take the decision. She wants to join the Peace Corps, he wants to write a screenplay, she wants to go to culinary school, or he wants to do conservation work in Alaska.  In any case, I love meeting with these types of students because instead of committing to a future career they feel lukewarm about, almost guaranteeing themselves a future case of the Sunday evening blues, they’ve identified something they really care about and enjoy. The next step is simply (or not so simply) helping them find a way to make a living while pursuing their passion. Pursuing a career in the nonprofit sector can be one great way to pursue your passion while making a living.

Yes, you can support yourself and make a living while working for a nonprofit. It’s true salaries in nonprofits tend to be quite a bit lower than salaries in the for-profit and even government sectors, but once you’ve reassessed your budgetary needs (Netflix is probably cheaper than cable; cooking is healthier and cheaper than ordering out; having a roommate means more money in your pocket, etc.), you can quickly realize you can make ends meet. And often, once you’ve proved yourself as a competent professional in a nonprofit, especially if you work for an organization that offers tuition assistance for graduate school, your salary will increase. All the while you’ll be supporting a cause you really care about, working with people who care about the same issues, and usually having a pretty great work-life balance.

For more information about pursuing a nonprofit job, attend tomorrow’s workshop:

NONPROFIT CAREERS 101 workshop (Wednesday, November 17, 5:00-6:00pm, Civic House Living Room)

This event is designed to help you better understand the non-profit sector and assist you in navigating the job search in the public interest. The session will demystify some of the myths about careers in the public interest as well as help you better determine which job opportunities to pursue, and how best to go about attaining them. The session will also introduce you to resources both on campus and the web. (CO-SPONSORED BY CAREER SERVICES & CIVIC HOUSE)

For additional information about nonprofit careers read the The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers or  The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers. Also, keep an eye out for several nonprofit-related career fairs co-sponsored by Career Services in Spring 2011 including the Not-For-Profit Philadelphia Fair, the Not-For-Profit & Public Service Fair at Columbia, and the Philadelphia Nonprofit Fair co-sponsored by

Making a Difference: the goal behind the goal

by Sharon Fleshman

In today’s economic climate, the journey to employment can be like a winding road, where you can approach a turn and not know what to expect around the bend.  To seek fulfillment and meaning in your work is a worthy pursuit, though you may feel like you’re on a detour when goals you set when you started your academic program seem out of reach.  It is possible to look beyond dashed or delayed expectations to options that you hadn’t considered.  To become open to other opportunities requires that you consider the “goal behind the goal.”  In other words, what do you see as the overarching mission that moves you toward your specific career goals?  How can you leverage your skills to move toward that mission right now?

As you rest up and regroup during winter break, consider some of the possibilities:

The Federal Government is currently a major source of career opportunities.  You may be surprised at the variety of fields and disciplines represented. Career Services is working with the Partnership for Public Service to make students aware of the careers available with the Federal Government. Check out our Make an Impact website for more information.

Perhaps you are the enterprising type and should pursue some form of entrepreneurship. This could involve a number of short-term projects that will allow you to establish a track record that leads to permanent employment. On the other hand, you may find that owning your own business, whether part-time or full-time, is a good fit for you.  Take a look at the resource list from our previous workshop on creative self-employment.

If you are considering non-profit careers, take a look at the following excerpt from our recent alumni panel on the State of Things: The Impact of the Current Economy on Non-Profits. The panelists were Nancy Burd, Founder/President of The Burd Group, Nancy DeLucia, Regional Director at the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and Katherina Rosqueta, Director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice, who noted that her career path was “never about choosing a sector, but about making a difference.”

State of Non-Profits Panel: Issues and Trends from Penn Career Services on Vimeo.