HARRISBURG, Pa. (Jan. 12, 2024) — The Pennsylvania Bar Foundation has named Alejandra Edwards, second-year student at Penn State Dickinson Law, Carlisle; Muhammad Ali Ilahi, second-year student at Penn State Law, University Park; and Victoria Peña-Parr, second-year student at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, Villanova, as 2023 James W. Stoudt Memorial Scholarship Fund winners. Each recipient will receive $3,000.
The scholarship was named to memorialize a steadfast supporter of the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation, James W. “Jim” Stoudt, who was instrumental in the creation of the Pennsylvania Bar Trust, where he served in various capacities for more than 40 years. Awarded annually, the fund offers up to three $3,000 scholarships, two of which are specifically designated to support minority law students, to candidates attending any of the nine accredited law schools serving Pennsylvania.
Edwards' journey to law school was ignited by her own life experiences and those of individuals who share her identity. Seeing the disparities within the justice system inspired her to pursue a law degree. Edwards is driven to address social injustices and promote diversity and inclusion through the legal profession.
Since age 14, volunteering has been a major part of Edwards’ life and something she views as a “sense of duty.” Whether teaching English as a second language, mentoring first-generation students or fundraising to provide books for incarcerated individuals, Edwards strives to make a meaningful impact on marginalized communities. In 2018 she founded Peas in a Pod to help students excel through education, mentorship and financial literacy. In 2019, Edwards co-founded Black Millennials in Academia to highlight success stories of people of color from diverse professions who serve as role models for younger generations. In 2020, she co-founded First Gen Youth to guide first-generation students through the university application process because of her struggles navigating the complex world of academia as a first-generation student. She also started Project Genz Finance to provide financial literacy and personal finance education to the Generation Z population.
At law school, Edwards is active in the Business Law and International Law societies. She served as a summer associate at Eckert Seamans, Harrisburg; a research analyst at Cobalt Lawyers, Toronto, Ontario; and statistical analyst at the Department of Justice, Ottawa, Ontario. Her current interests lie in estate planning intellectual property, international criminal law and tax.
Edwards received her bachelor's degree in criminology and psychology from Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario.
After graduating, she plans to represent underserved communities and bridge the gap between law and technology to create positive change within the legal profession.
Muhammad Ali Ilahi
Originally from Pakistan, Ilahi is a first-generation immigrant and law school student. Overcoming numerous obstacles, including not having a family support system in the United States and going through the U.S. immigration process, Ilahi has excelled academically at Penn State Law and ranks in the top 10% of his class.
Active in Penn State Law co-curricular activities, Ilahi serves as treasurer of the Immigration Law Society and volunteers for the school’s Wills for Heroes events. In addition, he works with the Penn State Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, where he assists Afghan asylum applicants, detainees at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility at Moshannon Valley Processing Center in Philipsburg and undocumented Mauritian immigrants in deportation proceedings. He is a student member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which granted him a scholarship to attend its 2023 conference.
In summer 2023, Ilahi, through the Allegheny County Bar Association Summer Clerkship Program, secured as a summer associate position at Littler Mendelson in Pittsburgh. In summer 2024, he anticipates entering the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Martin Luther King Jr. Summer Internship Program and working at Summit Legal Aid in the Pittsburgh area.
Ilahi received his master’s degree in public administration from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and his bachelor's degree in accounting and finance from Lahore University of Management Services, Lahore, Pakistan. His accolades include receiving the Barb Currie Diversity Scholarship, Frost Brown Todd Zenobia Harris Bivens Diversity Scholarship and the Asian Pacific Bar Association Education Fund First Generation Law Student Scholarship.
Building on his passion for immigration law and experiences as a nontraditional law student, Ilahi plans to serve clients in underrepresented communities following graduation.
Peña-Parr’s motivation for pursuing a law degree stems from her heritage as a Latina who witnessed the inequities of marginalized communities while growing up in New Mexico. After a positive college experience in her home state, she faced a culture shift upon transitioning to law school in Pennsylvania. Connecting with a Latina mentor in her spring semester strengthened her sense of community in the law school environment and a summer internship within Latinx mentors further developed her confidence.
Within law school, Peña-Parr sits on the Latin American Law Students Association Executive Board and the Murphy Family Endowed Moot Court Executive Board. She was a semifinalist in the 64th Annual Theodore L. Reimel Moot Court Competition and participated in the Harvard Law-Howard Law Justice Initiative.
During summer 2023, Peña-Parr served as a legal intern for the Public Interest Law Center, where she helped clients develop strategies to address housing, public education and voting disparities. In fall 2023, she was a legal intern for the Supervision to Aid Reentry Program, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where she helped previously incarcerated prisoners overcome barriers to employment, challenging traffic violations and child support payment concerns. Peña-Parr’s 2024 internships will be with the Women’s Law Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
Peña-Parr received her master’s degree in Spanish and bachelor's degree in political science and Spanish from The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico. She participated in the Conexiones Satellite Program, Cáceres, Spain.
After law school, Peña-Parr plans to use her law degree to create effective advocacy, transparency and trust in the legal profession for clients with diverse cultural backgrounds.
The James W. Stoudt Memorial Scholarship Fund is administered by the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation, the charitable affiliate of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. For more information on this and other scholarships, visit www.pabarfoundation.org.