New Fellowship Program Teaches Law Students How to Be Society's Leaders

Trisector Leadership Fellows

Ryan Comer, W. Andrew Lanius, Nick Reaves, Jay Jones, Szeman Lam, Danit Carrier Tal, Amber Roberts and Rhett Ricard are representing UVA Law in the university's Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows program.

October 30, 2014

Eight students from the University of Virginia School of Law will take part in a multidisciplinary leadership program aimed at giving students a new approach to addressing pressing societal challenges.

The Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows program brings together graduate students from the UVA Law School, Darden School of Business, and Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. A total of 24 students — eight from each school — were chosen to participate in the program in its first year, based on a competitive application process. The group will examine how the private, public and civil society sectors can work together to improve society.

The following third-year law students are participating in the program:

  • Ryan Comer of Saltville, Virginia;
  • Jay Jones of Norfolk, Virginia;
  • Szeman Lam of Newton, Massachusetts;
  • W. Andrew Lanius of Centennial, Colorado;
  • Nick Reaves of Bethesda, Maryland;
  • Rhett Ricard of Pomaria, South Carolina;
  • Amber Roberts of Arlington, Virginia; and
  • Danit Carrier Tal of Yorktown, Virginia.

"The Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows Program is based on the idea that many of our most difficult economic and social problems are 'tri-sector' ones that would benefit from 'tri-sector solutions,'" said UVA Law professor Julia D. Mahoney.

Faculty advisors from each school are helping with the program. Mahoney, the Law School's representative, is the John S. Battle Professor of Law.

As part of the program, students build on the skills learned in their graduate curricula through a cross-disciplinary series of events that foster discussion, encourage direct engagement with prominent practitioners and academics, and provide practical exercises for the student leaders.

Third-year law student Lanius said he wanted to be a part of the program because it would give him practical examples and lessons on the theoretical policies he has learned in classes.

"I plan to pursue a career that navigates public policy, business and law," he said. "The speakers we bring in have all been successful in doing this, so it is great to learn from their perspectives."

The students are also bringing valuable experience to the table to share.

"I can speak five languages and I have work experience across the private, public and nonprofit sectors, so I felt that I could bring a valuable and diverse perspective to the program," Lam said.

Six work sessions and three informal discussion sessions each will feature a high-level speaker and topic to cover. Prior to the sessions, the speaker provides a specific problem or issue the students should address and related materials on the subject. During the sessions, the speaker and a faculty leader from one of the three participating schools leads a discussion with the students on key lessons learned, and the group takes a deep dive investigation into the problem. The group is challenged to think critically about current practices and how they would address the problem.

In the most recent session, students met with Carlos Pascual on "Russia, Ukraine and Sanctions through the lens of energy." Pascual formerly served as the U.S. State Department's Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs and as U.S. diplomat to Ukraine and Russia.

"[The] session was eye-opening in that it became clear to me that our world's complex issues are even more delicate and complex than they might seem at first blush.  When making decisions as leaders, there are so many potential interests at stake and the entire thing is such a fine balancing act," Tal said.

The program is designed to help students develop a solid understanding of best practices for effective public-private sector interactions; give students a way to form bonds with each other, while creating links between the schools; and form the foundation for an alumni network of Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows after graduation.

"I'm confident this program will help reshape how I think about problem-solving, by reminding me to think about problems from a variety of perspectives as well as help me understand the jargon of the three different sectors," Ricard said.


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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