Professor Michele R. Pistone, Founder and Faculty Director, VIISTA

Professor Pistone is a Professor of Law and directs and teaches the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES) at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. She founded the Law School’s in-house Clinical Program in 1999. Through the CARES clinic, Professor Pistone and her students provide free legal services to asylum seekers and represent them in immigration court and before the Department of Homeland Security. Over the last 20 years, she and her students have helped hundreds of asylum seekers and their families gain asylum protection in the United States.

Professor Pistone is a regular speaker. Her research focus on technological innovations in the practice of law and in legal education, asylum and refugee law, immigration law, migration, clinical education, and Catholic social thought.  She co-authored Disrupting Law School: how disruptive innovation is revolutionizing the legal world, a whitepaper for the Christensen Institute as well as many papers on technology, legal education and the practice of law.

She is also co-author of a groundbreaking book entitled, Stepping Out of the Brain Drain: Applying Catholic Social Teaching in a New Era of Migration (Lexington Books 2007).  Professor Pistone has also written numerous articles and book chapters on migration. She is a Fellow at the Center for Migration Studies, an immigration think tank, the co-Associate Editor of the Journal on Migration and Human Security, and serves as an advisor on migration to the Holy See Mission to the United Nations.

Module 1 Design Team


Candace Centeno
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
Professor of Law, Director of Duane Morris LLP Legal Writing Program
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


Lori Corso
Librarian and Legal Research Instructor
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


Lynne Hartnett
Chair, Graduate History, Associate Professor
Villanova University


Ed Hastings
Assistant Professor, Theology
Villanova University


Karyn Hollis
Chair, Department of Cultural Studies, Associate Professor
Villanova University


Steve Schultz
Writing Specialist
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


Catherine Wilson
Chair, Department of Public Administration, Associate Professor
Villanova University  

Modules 2 and 3 Design Team


Juli Bildhauer
Senior Director of Legal Training and Teaching Assistance
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)


Kris Clerkin
Managing Partner
Volta Learning


Erin Corcoran
Executive Director, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and Concurrent Faculty, Keough School of Global Affairs
University of Notre Dame


Lori Corso
Librarian and Legal Research Instructor
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


Rebecca Feldmann
Visiting Assistant Professor
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


Ayodele Gansallo
Co-author, Understanding Immigration Law
HIAS PA and Adjunct Professor University of Pennsylvania School of Law


Cathrael Kazin
Managing Partner
Volta Learning


JC Lore
Author, Modern Trial Advocacy
Professor, Rutgers Law and National Institute of Trial Advocacy


Rena Cutlip-Mason
Chief of Programs
Tahirih Justice Center


Shannon McKinnon
Managing Attorney
Immigrant Justice Corps


Michele Pistone
Professor of Law, Director, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES)
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


Shea Rhodes
Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


Judge Paul W. Schmidt
Former Chairperson of Board of Immigration Appeals
Retired Immigration Judge


Susan Schmidt
Assistant Professor of Social Work and Field Director
Luther College


Steve Schultz
Writing Specialist
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


Wendy Wylegala
Deputy Director for Legal Technical Assistance
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)

Design Faculty Advisors


Mary Gentile
Professor of Practice, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
Creator and Director of Giving Voice to Values

Marcy Gonzalez
Chief Operating Officer and DOJ accredited representative
Latinos Progresando, Chicago

Saulo Padilla
Immigration Education National Program
Mennonite Central Committee

Mary Studziniski
Executive Director
Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center

Pope Francis recently called on Catholic universities worldwide to contribute to research and teaching about refugees and migrants. As a Catholic and Augustinian institution with a deep and long-standing commitment to community service and founded to educate immigrants, Villanova is answering Pope Francis’ call.

Michele R. Pistone

Professor of Law & Director, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES)
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


  • Villanova Offers Online Certificate Program to Train Immigrant Advocates
    IN THE NEWS: DIVERSE ISSUES IN HIGHER EDUCATION. Michele Pistone, a professor of law at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and an immigration lawyer for nearly 30 years, has founded the first university-based online certificate program that trains immigrant advocates to serve migrants and refugees.

  • New program trains non-lawyers to assist asylum seekers who have no legal counsel
    IN THE NEWS | THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH. After 20 years of teaching law students to defend asylum seekers and even more time defending them herself, Michele Pistone was distressed that many immigrants still have to face the complicated United States asylum system without an advocate — or even any understanding of the process. So, she designed a program to train more people to represent asylum seekers and immigrants.

  • WATCH: First Person Interview - Michele Pistone and VIISTA
    IN THE NEWS | REFUGEE, MIGRANT AND EDUCATION NETWORK. Villanova Immigration Studies Training Program founder, Michele Pistone, was interviewed by Refugee and Migrant Education Network.

  • Most Asylum Seekers Have No Legal Counsel. This Villanova Program Trains Non-Lawyers to Step In.
    IN THE NEWS | THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION. After a successful pilot that ended in May, she started a program this fall to certify students to become legal advocates for migrants and refugees. “Villanova Interdisciplinary Immigration Studies Training for Advocates,” offered through the university’s College of Professional Studies, is described as the first university-based, fully online program to train immigrant advocates. That format, planned before the pandemic forced most courses online, allows easier access for working professionals, including those in rural areas, and keeps costs low.

  • New Villanova program tackles ‘justice gap’ for immigrants
    IN THE NEWS | CATHOLICPHILLY.COM A new program at Villanova University is helping migrants and refugees by equipping advocates to provide desperately needed legal aid. Launched in August, the Villanova Interdisciplinary Immigrations Studies Training for Advocates (VIISTA) consists of a one-year, fully online curriculum that enables graduates to become U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) accredited representatives.


MacArthur Foundation


j.m. kaplan fund logo



“Immigrant advocates model a new way forward to revolutionize the provision of legal services, akin to nurse practitioners in healthcare.”
-Professor Michele Pistone
Founder, VIISTA


"I want to make a difference in the lives of immigrants but lacked the proper skills. VIISTA addresses a real need and gives me the tools necessary to step up and provide valuable support to immigrants in my community."
-Adam Vincent
VIISTA pilot student


"I joined VIISTA to deepen my commitment as an immigrant advocate. At the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, I have the honor of standing alongside asylum-seeking families seeking the right to protection and safety in the U.S. My day to day work has shown me the huge gaps in access to legal representation across the country and the drastic disparity in outcome, when asylum-seeking families do not have access to an attorney. VIISTA is an innovative model that removes traditional barriers to law school through its’ remote, self-paced classroom model, allowing people like me to gain a comprehensive understanding of immigration law and advocacy. I truly believe VIISTA is the future direction of the immigrant rights movement, to respond to the huge need for legal representation and to give every immigrant family their day in court."
-Nicole Tan
VIISTA Pilot Student


"VIISTA provides the education and tools to turn my concern and passion into effective compassion. Along with the law, you will learn the history, spiritual and truly human aspects of immigration.

VIISTA’s interdisciplinary focus will challenge you to grow as a person, ally and companion. I have gained a deeper appreciation of the legal and human issues facing our immigrant families. Knowledge of the law gives you the tools to be effective, VIISTA’s other components provides you the means to be compassionate."
-John Marshall Kingery
VIISTA Pilot Student