Interview with Lisa Sockett, C'84, W'84

Lisa Sockett, C'84, W'84
Major: English and Economics
Location: Arlington, Virginia 

Share a brief summary of your career. 

I received a dual degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984: a Bachelor of Arts in English from the College of Arts and Sciences and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton Undergraduate School of Business.  I went on to receive a law degree in 1987 from the Harvard Law School. 

After a career in telecommunications law in the government, I currently work at the George Mason University School of Law (GMU Law) in Arlington, Virginia as an Adjunct Professor, where I teach Communications Law and Legal Writing.  I live in Arlington, Virginia with my husband, Andrew Joskow, and two daughters, Melissa (18) and Rebecca (15). 

How has your liberal arts degree been influential throughout your career?

My University of Pennsylvania degrees have been extremely beneficial to me throughout my career.  Majoring in English gave me a solid foundation for my career as a lawyer, which has involved a lot of writing and analysis. I feel so passionate about good writing that I have been teaching Legal Writing for over ten years! 

As important as writing and analyzing skills are for a variety of careers, I encourage students to use their time at college to read great literature from many cultures and eras, as I had the opportunity to do.  Being an English major at Penn cultivated in me a love for reading that has lasted a lifetime and brought me great happiness in many spheres of my life, not just in my career.  My husband and I have emphasized a love of literature with our own children, and take great pleasure in their avid reading interests.  In fact, my older daughter, who is a freshman at a different university, just told me about a summer internship interview she was doing where she and the interviewer bonded over their love of science fiction novels (and she subsequently received an offer)!

What is the value of the Penn network, and how has it played a role in your career?

The Penn network has been valuable to me both in my career and my outside interests.  Obviously, a Penn degree is a prestigious one and signals to employers that you are a skilled, intelligent person capable of learning on the job and bringing a confident, fresh perspective to new situations.  No doubt having the Penn name on your resume will open up doors in your career, as it did for mine. 

More significantly for me, though, has been connecting with Penn alumni on a personal and friendship basis over the years, both by being involved in Penn alumni organizations and by happening to meet people who went to Penn in other spheres of life (my religious institution, my daughters’ schools).  As most people know, college is so much more than just the courses you take or even the degree you receive – it’s a unique, shared social experience that resonates across generations.  Whenever I meet someone from Penn – young or old -- we always have something to talk about and take delight in comparing our experiences. 

How do you stay connected to Penn Arts and Sciences, and why is it a priority for you?

My connection with CAS has ebbed and flowed over the years.  I was very involved with the Washington, D.C. Penn Alumni Club when I first moved to the area as a young attorney in the late 1980’s.  I was treasurer of the club for a few years, served as an alumni interviewer, and worked to start a summer scholarship for Penn students interning in public interest jobs in Washington, D.C.  When my children were younger I pulled back from those commitments, but once they grew older I started to get involved in Penn activities again.  I credit the Penn Alumni Office for reaching out to me about interesting educational and social opportunities sponsored by Penn in the Washington, D.C. area.     

What advice would you give students at the College who are trying to decide what career path to pursue?

My advice for students at Penn CAS is what I tell my own daughters – seek out the great professors and take courses with them.  A great professor can make any subject interesting and ultimately life-enhancing.  My favorite course at Penn was taught by Thomas Childers, one of Penn’s most esteemed history professors; in that course, we studied 19th century history through reading the great writers of that time (Austen, Dickens, Flaubert, Zola, Stendhal).  It’s amazing to me that, thirty years later, I still think about that course and discuss points made in those books on a regular basis.    

Taking courses outside of your comfort zone is another way to enlarge your perspectives on what is possible, and what you might be good at.  My older daughter, for example, who has long believed she would be a studio arts major took an astronomy course with a great professor her first semester and now wants to work at NASA!  I know it sounds trite, but college really is a time to broaden your horizons and lay the basis for life-time learning in a wide variety of subjects.     

My other piece of advice would be not to worry so much about your career (if that’s possible).  Focus on doing well in your courses, making connections with your professors and fellow students, and looking for ways to give back to the community – everything else will follow.  The world is changing so quickly that it is hard to pin down exactly what skills or jobs will be in demand in any given year.  Focusing on the fundamentals that have always been in demand – good writing, analytical, and quantitative skills – will always serve you well.

Go Penn and never forget, hurrah for the Red and the Blue!