March is Women’s History Month and to celebrate the inspiring women leaders in the Centre County community, Centre Foundation selected Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia as the recipient of the 2022 Mimi Barash Coppersmith Women in Leadership award. Shoba is the Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar, and Clinical Professor of Law and Penn State Law, as well as an advocate for immigration reform.

The Mimi Barash Coppersmith Women in Leadership Fund was created in 2017 by Barbara Palmer to honor her longtime friend, Mimi, when Mimi received the Oak Tree Award. The fund encourages and supports women taking strong leadership roles around community issues. To honor the fund’s awardee each year, a $2,500 grant is given to a local nonprofit of the award recipient’s choice. This year, Shoba selected Centre Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM) to receive the grant, which cares for the uninsured Centre County residents by providing free medical and dental services.

She selected CVIM because of the hard work done by the staff and volunteers to ensure everyone in the community regardless of citizenship or immigration status feels safe when accessing health-related services. Shoba was also impressed by the work that CVIM did to vaccinate the community amidst the pandemic.

“I have also witnessed the operation of CVIM during the pandemic and the instrumental role they have played in vaccinating our community with so much kindness, coordination, and timeliness.”

Shoba began her career at Penn State as a Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar Clinical Professor of Law in 2008 and has additionally started as the Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 2020. At Penn State Law, she teaches doctorate courses about immigration and asylum and refugee law.

While Shoba’s work is appreciated by many, she has a direct impact on the local community with the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (CIRC), which she founded and directs. As the director, she supervises Penn State Law students in community outreach, legal support in individual immigration cases, and policy work for institutional clients.

The CIRC provides legal support for Pennsylvanians facing deportation or other legal action, has reached hundreds of individuals and families, and advocates for the changing of immigration law and policy.

Shoba’s dedication to serving the community and ability to make a strong impact was one of the reasons that Mimi Barash Coppersmith and the Women in Leadership Committee selected Shoba to receive the award this year.

“Shoba walked the walk and talked the talk from the moment she arrived in Happy Valley. A woman with great education and training in terms of service to the underserved. She has made a measurable impact in the community with a sensitive subject,” said Mimi.

Shoba moved to State College to start the CIRC and supervised dozens of students who have played an instrumental role in giving back to the community through a core pillar of community lawyering and education.

“Over the last decade, the CIRC has partnered with the Borough of State College, State College Area School District, Centre Safe, Centre County Bar, units in the university, local churches, and more. I think it’s crucial for our work at CIRC to have a direct impact on our community and to show students how multidimensional and breathtaking the practice of immigration law can be,” said Shoba.

Moving forward, Shoba discussed some of her goals for herself as she directs the CIRC and in her role as Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

“I would love to see to the CIRC be or continue to be a model for programs across the country, as well as issues that continue to arise. [And] see how the CIRC might connect even more to the university and community, perhaps through more interdisciplinary work that involves experts outside of the immigration field.

As an immigration attorney, first generation lawyer, daughter of Indian immigrants, and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I firmly believe that issues of equity and inequity are crucial to a conversation about how to move forward. There is also so much room for improving diversity in legal profession and beyond, not just in numbers but in leadership roles in our community and across the country.”

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