APPAM Equity & Inclusion Student Fellowship 2021 Student

In an effort to encourage participation by underrepresented students in APPAM and its activities, the AAPAM Policy Council and APPAM’s Diversity Committee created the APPAM Equity & Inclusion Student Fellowship in April 2016. The fellowship supports the travel and participation of up to 40 students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds at the APPAM Fall Research Conference. To date, APPAM has awarded over 150 Student Fellowships. The recipients will be recognized for their accomplishments and will also have opportunities to formally network with each other, Young Professional Equity and Inclusion Fellowship recipients and with members of the Policy Council and Diversity Committee. They will also have many opportunities to informally network with other students and professionals during the conference.

Congratulations to the 2021 Equity & Inclusion Student Fellowship recipients!


Alexander AdamesUniversity of Pennsylvania

Umair Ali, Arizona State University

Monica Bustinza, Florida International University

Maria F. Casas EnriquezUniversity of Central Florida

Nicholas (Nick) ChanCarnegie Mellon University

Fangda Ding, Rutgers University, Newark

Bassel El MrawedUniversity of Minnesota

Wallace GraceUniversity of Wisconsin, Madison

Vishal Jamkar, University of Minnesota

Adrienne JonesDuke University

Danyao LiIndiana University

Sarah Lieff, New York University

Jazmyne McNeese, Rutgers University, Camden

Carmen MitchellUniversity of Louisville

David Mitre Becerril, University of Pennsylvania

N'dea Moore-Petinak, University of Michigan

Arzana Myderrizi, State University of New York at Albany

Maria NagawaDuke University

Samsun NaherUniversity of New Mexico

Ann Obadan, University of Missouri, Columbia

Cynthia PandoUniversity of Minnesota

Urbashee PaulNortheastern University

Dianna Ruberto, University of Delaware

Becca ScharfUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County

Saurabh ShahSaurabh Shah

Briana StarksUniversity of Michigan

Hourie TafechRutgers University, Newark

Nicole TelferUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County

Sonia Torres RodríguezJohn Hopkins University

Melissa Villarreal, University of Colorado, Boulder

Durrell WashingtonUniversity of Chicago

Arielle WeaverUniversity of Washington

Carla WellbornVanderbilt University

W. Jesse Wood, Michigan State University

Yiwen ZhangStanford University

Iris Zhang, Pennsylvania State University


Alexander Adames

Alexander_AdamesMy names is Alexander Adames, and I am a doctoral student in sociology  and an IES Pre-doctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Generally, I am interested in the study of social stratification and social mobility across racial and ethnic groups. In particular, I am motivated by questions pertaining to how childhood disadvantage (e.g., social class, school funding, neighborhood poverty, etc.) influences socioeconomic attainment (i.e., income, education, wealth). In addition, I am also interested in understanding factors (e.g., school sector) that produce racial and classed outcomes even among the college-educated.


Umair Ali

Umair_AliUmair is a PhD candidate for the public administration & policy program at the School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University. His research interests lie at the intersection of education/health policy and economics. Primary areas of his research interests include early childhood care and education, K-12 demographics, and immigration. Prior to joining ASU as a doctoral student in 2017, Umair has worked in a practitioner role as an monitoring & evaluation resource as well as a research resource on different health & social projects.



Monica Bustinza

MonicaBustinza_HSMonica A. Bustinza is a Ph.D. candidate at Florida International University in the Department of Public Policy and Administration. Her research uses qualitative and quantitative approaches to examine the impact of local administrative actions on voter participation in the United States. Currently, she serves as an active member of the League of Women Voters and the American Society for Public Administration. She previously served as an intern at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department and as an advisory board member of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. Throughout the 2020 presidential election season, Monica was selected by the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County to serve as their Voter Services and Elections fellow. In 2019, she was awarded the Warren E. Miller Scholarship to attend the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) Summer Program at the University of Michigan.

Prior to beginning her graduate degree, Monica earned her Associate of Arts from Miami Dade Honors College (2015) and her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Miami (2017). In 2020, she was awarded her Master’s degree in Public Administration en route to her doctorate.


Maria F. Casas Enriquez

Maria_F._Casas_EnriquezMaria Casas (she/her) is a master’s student at the University of Central Florida pursuing a degree in Public Administration with a certificate in Social Justice in Public Service. Her research explores equitable education and zoning laws, and the deep-rooted racial inequalities that are entwined within their policies.

Maria’s passion for community building began at an early age, learning a lot from her Mexican culture and her family on uplifting others and inviting everyone to the table. She joined various community groups while in college, including the Orientation Team for UCF. She also served Feeding Children Everywhere as an intern in their Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement department. During her time there, she coordinated and developed several projects that packaged over 9.5 million meals distributed all over the world. Maria is also the Vice President for Programming of the American Society for Public Administration Central Florida chapter and serves in the Volunteer Committee for PathLight Home for which she was able to plan various food and gift donation drives to serve over 800 previously homeless Orlando residents.

In her free time, you will find Maria painting, reading, or traveling to new places while spending time with her loved ones.


Nicholas (Nick) Chan

NicholasChan_HeadshotNick (he/him) is a dual degree JD and master's in Public Policy and Management student at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon's Heinz College. He received his BA in Government and Asian Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Previously as a Department of State intern, Nick helped pioneer a distance learning pilot program that utilized technology to bridge communication between language instructors and U.S. diplomats preparing to be deployed abroad. Drawing from this experience, his research interests focus on how innovations in data-driven tools can be leveraged to better inform policy making decisions, specifically addressing bias and equity issues that disproportionately impact underrepresented communities. Nick is passionate about using personal narratives and storytelling to center those who exist on the margins.


Fangda Ding

Fangda_DingFangda Ding is a PhD student in Public Administration in School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark. His research interests include public management, social equity, institutional theory, and computation social science. Fangda’s current research focuses on the institutional impacts on bureaucratic response to social inequity with the assistance of big data methods. In specific, he explores the contextuality of the relationship between bureaucratic representation and public organizational performance, the multidimensionality of diversity-performance relationships in the public sector, the effects of institutional pressures on representation of diversity in public organizations, the path-dependence in the governmental use of social media to promote social policy, and the impacts of institutional uncertainty on the state-citizen interactions. His works have been published in Public Administration review, Administrative Theory & Praxis, and other academic journals. Prior to his doctoral studies, Fangda earned master degrees in public administration and policy analysis from Peking University and the London School of Economics and Political Science and bachelor degrees in finance and translation and interpretation from Wuhan University.


Bassel El Mrawed

Bassel_El_MrawedBassel is a Lebanese-Venezuelan Fulbright scholar completing his Master of Human Rights at the University of Minnesota. He is passionate about advancing human rights and equality for marginalized communities, striving to incorporate his passion into the work he does. Academically, he created the self-designed concentration on LGBTQ+ Rights and NGO Management which has allowed him to focus his professional research on community organization within affinity groups. He has also been an active member of leadership across many student organizations that tackle topics of gender and sexuality, race, and art. Professionally, his work has been centered around various topics in human rights across various organizational levels. He has worked with ALEF, a local Lebanese NGO, on the creation of a protection framework for migrant workers. On a national level, he has worked with Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ organization in the US, to help advance LGBTQ+ rights in the deep South. On a global level, he worked with Amnesty International to research and campaign against human rights abuses happening in Lebanon and regionally. Ultimately, Bassel aspires to open an NGO that promotes the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals in Lebanon.


Wallace Grace

Wallace-Grace-08-EDIT-555x832Wallace is a Ph.D. student in the Educational Policy Studies program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. His research interests are in child development, early childhood education, public policy, and how race, gender, and socioeconomic status impact child development within and across developmental contexts. In particular, Wallace is interested in examining how developmental contexts and processes affect marginalized children’s cognitive, academic social and emotional developmental experiences and outcomes, and the role of social and public policy and programs in fostering positive development. Advised by Dr. Amy Claessens, Wallace is currently working on a project that examines the effect of kindergarten classroom factors on Black boys’ math and reading learning growth throughout elementary school. Prior to his Ph.D. work, Wallace worked in a variety of school, district, and educational nonprofit settings around the country in teaching, research, policy and program design capacities.


Vishal Jamkar

Vishal_JamkarVishal was born and brought up in a picturesque coastal town in western India. With an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering, followed by a brief stint in the corporate sector, he switched gears to join an Indian nonprofit, PRADAN working in various capacities ranging from a community organizer to an advisor to the Government of India. For over a decade, he worked with Dalit and Adivasi communities on issues of livelihoods, governance, and social justice.  He completed his Master’s in Development Practice and continued his doctoral studies from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, USA. His research interests lie in the public policy analysis of development programs in the global south through the vantage point of the caste. In his free time, he likes to watch movies, cook and travel.


Adrienne Jones

Adrienne_JonesAdrienne is a 4th year student in the joint Public Policy and Sociology program at Duke University. She is originally from a small, rural town in North Carolina that greatly influenced her research interests. The shifting demand for skills in the modern workplace has left many in Adrienne’s hometown without jobs and unable to secure work in the current economic landscape.

Inspired by the changing nature of work, particularly in towns like hers, Adrienne’s research agenda seeks to understand the relationship between workforce/career education, employment and inequality. In particular, she’s interested in better understanding the training and employment experiences of Black workers in the rural South. As an extension of these interests, Adrienne’s current projects explore how Black community college students select their credentials in preparation for work, how license revocation structures employment decisions and how historical implementation of workforce development programs served to advantage/disadvantage Black workers.

Before pursuing a PhD, Adrienne worked as a senior programmer analyst with Mathematica Policy Research. She received a BA in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011 and a MPP from the Sanford School of Public Policy in 2014.


Danyao Li

DanyaoLiDanyao Li is a PhD Candidate at The Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University Bloomington. She is interested in questions that concern issues of social equity and justice. Her research focuses on representation and diversity, bureaucratic decision-making, and the performance of public organizations, typically with a specific application to law enforcement.




Sarah Lieff

Sarah_LieffSarah is a Research Fellow and doctoral candidate in Social and Behavioral Sciences at New York University's School of Global Public Health. She earned a BA in Psychology from Columbia University and an MPH in Health Behavior from UNC Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her research focuses on mental health access and treatment among underserved and vulnerable populations. She evaluates innovative programs and policies to reduce mental illness stigma, increase access to care, and improve the quality and cultural competency of mental health services. To that end, her dissertation explores whether ACA Medicaid expansion and Dependent Coverage Expansion affected access, utilization, and quality of mental health treatment; barriers to care; and racial/ethnic disparities in mental health treatment for low-income adults and young adults. Other work focuses on state and local policies that impact health outcomes, such as preemption of firearm laws and paid sick leave.


Jazmyne McNeese

Jazmyne_McNeeseJazmyne is a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University-Camden studying race, wealth, and business ownership. Originally, from Los Angeles California, she obtained her BA in Sociology, with a minor in African American studies from the UC-Irvine. Jazmyne’s passion for advocacy reflects in her on and off-campus experiences, where she developed an identity as a community organizer and researcher. Since relocating to NJ, Jazmyne has worked with various organizations and state agencies including, NJ Policy Perspective, NJ Community Capital, and the Department of Community Affairs. More recently she has acquired her Master of Public Policy from the Bloustein School and a Master of Science from Rutgers University Camden. Her ability to understand complex problems and unwavering desire to aid those in need has expanded her opportunities both within academia and practice. Jazmyne identifies as a researcher, unapologetic advocate, and a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. As she looks to the future, she is both excited and ready for what lies ahead.


Carmen Mitchell

Carmen_Mitchell_HeadshotCarmen Mitchell is a criminal justice policy analyst the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and a health policy doctoral candidate in the Department of Health Management and Systems Sciences at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences. Her research interests include criminal justice policy and health outcomes, as well as the effects of racism on community health. She is also affiliated with The Afya Project within the University of Louisville Department of Health Promotion, which is focused on promoting HIV education and PrEP usage among young Black-Americans. She completed her Master’s in Public Health at the University in Louisville and previously worked as a researcher with the Envirome Institute, the UofL Department of Infectious Diseases and the Center for Health Organization Transformation.


David Mitre Becerril

David_Mitre_BecerrilDavid Mitre Becerril is a doctoral student in Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, born and raised in Mexico City. He received an MS in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University (highest distinction), a BA in Economics from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (award-winning thesis), and a BA in Political Science from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Before graduate school, David worked over five years as a data analyst at the Mexican census bureau’s public safety and justice unit and as an economist at a government research agency. He is driven to conduct crime research and provide policy recommendations using evidence-based decision-making.

David’s research interests lie in understanding the causes and consequences of crime and violence, mainly how place-based interventions affect public safety and the role of income in deterring criminal behaviors. His broad research question is how local private and public investments can encourage (if any) safer neighborhoods. His work has appeared in Criminology & Public Policy.


N'dea Moore-Petinak

Ndea_Moore-PetinakN’dea Moore-Petinak is a doctoral candidate in Health Services Organization & Policy and Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan. Her research examines the impact of federalism on health access and health disparities. She uses mixed methods to study how policy design results in state variation.  Her dissertation focuses on policy flexibility afforded to states through the Children’s Health Insurance Program. She has recently been published in JAMA Pediatrics and the Journal of Adolescent Health.

N’dea holds a MSc in Global Health from Trinity College Dublin. She completed her B.S. degrees in Political Science and Public Health at Santa Clara University. She has previously interned with the Panetta Congressional Internship Program and the Government Accountability Office.


So'Phelia Morrow

SoPhelia_MorrowSo'Phelia Morrow is a PhD candidate in the joint Social Work and Sociology program at the University of Michigan. She holds an MSW in Social Policy and Evaluation from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and an MPH in Health Behavior Health Education with a specialization in health disparities from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Her research interests include exploring and understanding the association between wealth and health among Black women (e.g., the stress from a heavy debt burden leading to negative health outcomes). Her research has expanded to include understanding how systems such as racial capitalism influence wealth accumulation and health among Black women. She is also interested in understanding the social conditions and factors that contribute to and exacerbate racial and gender health disparities that affect Black women’s health (e.g., experiences of gendered racism, intimate partner violence). Her research lies at the intersection of Social Work, Public Policy, Public Health, and Sociology.


Arzana Myderrizi

Arzana_MyderriziArzana Myderrizi is a PhD student in the Public Administration and Policy Department at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany, where she also serves as a teaching and research assistant. She holds a master’s degree in economics from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor’s degree in economics and public policy from Rochester Institute of Technology in Kosovo.

Her research interests are in education policy and its impact on educational access and outcomes for students with disabilities. She uses quantitative methods and administrative data to examine existing educational inequities for students with disabilities in the US. Prior to her to doctoral studies, Arzana worked in several research and evaluation international development projects in her home country, Kosovo. She also served as an instructor and teaching assistant in public policy and analysis courses in Kazakhstan and Kosovo. During the last summer, she worked as a research associate for Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, where she used survey data to examine questions around workplace accommodation and disclosure for individuals with disabilities.


Maria Nagawa

MariaNagawa_pictureMaria Nagawa is a joint PhD Candidate in the Public Policy and Political Science departments. Her research focuses on governance and development. Previously, Maria has worked as a Lecturer at Makerere University and conducted research on trade, labor, state capacity and development assistance with Ugandan, Brazilian, Canadian and French organizations.



Samsun Naher

Samsun_NaherSamsun Naher is a doctoral candidate in Health Economics at the University of New Mexico (UNM). Her research interests focus on health issues in the United States and Bangladesh.  Specifically, her research aims to find the effect of ACA Marketplace plans on disability claiming in the United States, the relationship between GDP, Life Expectancy, and Public Health Expenditure in Bangladesh, and the impact of natural disasters on child health and investments in Bangladesh. Samsun currently works as a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Economics at UNM and previously worked as a graduate research assistant and project assistant for several projects funded by Retirement & Disability Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at UNM, and research fellow at the American Economic Association Summer Program (AEASP), hosted at Michigan State University.

She has contributed as a first author (co-authored) to a research project which explicates how the impact of the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion affects health insurance, health care utilization, and health-related outcomes for the Mexican American population in the United States. Samsun is a first-generation college student and outside of formal study.


Ann Obadan

Ann_ObadanAnn Obadan is a doctoral candidate in the Harry S. Truman School of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she is also pursuing a graduate certificate in Non-profit management. Ann received a master’s degree in Public and International Affairs from the University of Lagos, Nigeria and a has a bachelor’s degree in French Language from the University of Benin, Nigeria. Her research focuses on evaluating policies and programs affecting immigrants and underserved population. In her dissertation, Ann quantitatively examines how policies and programs like school finance reforms, financial aid and immigration enforcement policies impacts immigrants’ secondary education outcomes as well as college choice. A key component of her research agenda apart from outcome evaluation is using new data and tools like text analysis to demystify program and policy implementation.


Cynthia Pando

cynthiapandoCynthia Pando is a doctoral student in Health Services Research at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include the impact of immigration-related policies and events on access to services for children born to immigrants. She uses social construction and intersectionality to explain how immigration policy is formed and the life course perspective to explain how policies targeted towards immigrants may impact the health of children born to immigrants. Her dissertation will focus on the impact of public charge rule changes on access to services for children of immigrants. She is currently a population health trainee at the Minnesota Population Center.

She has contributed to projects that focus on the geographic variation of uninsurance across Minnesota and created products geared towards supporting health insurance navigators’ outreach and enrollment strategies. Additionally, she has worked on a project that analyzed health insurance advertisements with a focus on marketing appeals used to promote health insurance enrollment. Before pursuing a PhD, Cynthia earned a Bachelor of Arts in Behavioral Neuroscience and Sociology and a Master of Arts in Sociology at Lehigh University.


Urbashee Paul

Urbashee_PaulUrbashee is a fourth year Economics PhD student at Northeastern University. Prior to joining Northeastern, Urbashee worked at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank, and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington, DC. This summer, Urbashee interned as a summer associate at Analysis Group, where she was able to put her empirical training to practice in a litigation consulting setting. Urbashee’s research lies at the intersection of labor economics and public policy.

Specifically, she is researching the effect of private sector employment on high school students’ academic outcomes with her advisor, Dr. Alicia Sasser Modestino. In addition, for her job market paper, she is examining the effect of former President Trump’s high-skilled immigration policies on multinational firms’ productivity and profits.  When she is not researching, Urbashee is either training in Indian classical vocal or taking long walks in nature.


Dianna Ruberto

Dianna_RubertoDianna Ruberto is a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Affairs and Public Policy at the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration. Her research interest includes arts and cultural policies, racial politics, urban development, and community engagement. As an Afro-Latina and first-generation college student from a low-socioeconomic background she actively seeks opportunities to leverage her experiential knowledge to amplify the knowledge and expertise of marginalized communities in public policy and related decision-making processes.

Her research uses community-engaged scholarship to have a critical dialogue with several publics, including public policy and practitioner audiences, around racial justice issues through the arts. Her dissertation, entitled “Black Agency Within Creative Placemaking Practices” uses interpretive and participatory research approaches to investigate the racial politics of market-driven creative placemaking practices in Wilmington, Delaware. Dianna has an M.A. in Urban Affairs in Public Policy from the University of Delaware (’18) and a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Women’s and Gender studies from The College of New Jersey (’16). She was a Publicly Active Graduate Education Fellow for Imagining America from 2018-2019 and is a Graduate Community Engagement School.


Becca Scharf

Becca_Scharf_HeadshotBecca Scharf is a researcher and EMS data analyst at the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services in Maryland. Her work centers around emergency medical services policy, system performance, and program evaluation. Her previous research has focused on Mobile Integrated Health Programs, EMS opioid overdose response programs, harm reduction policy, and other EMS-related community initiatives.

Becca is a PhD student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County School of Public Policy with a concentration in emergency health services policy. She received a master’s degree in emergency health services epidemiology and preventive medicine research in 2017. Becca has previously worked as a graduate assistant analyst in the Office of the Medical Director at Howard County Fire and Rescue and served as a research assistant in the UMBC Department of Emergency Health Services. She is passionate about finding new ways to use data to improve EMS performance measurement and policy. When she isn’t at the library or working on school work, she enjoys spending time with her family, hiking with her dog George, and going to Orioles games.


Saurabh Shah

Saurabh_ShahSaurabh is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy from American University, with a focus on quantitative analysis and science and technology policy. His research interests are wide and include transportation, urban economics, technology, and institutions. After graduating, he aspires to work for either a think-tank or in state/local government where he would focus on conducting research and policy analysis.

Prior to graduate school, he earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley, where he double majored in political science and legal studies. After several years working in recruiting, marketing, and operations in the tech industry, he wants to combine his love for policy and experience in business and transition to the public sector.


Briana Starks

briana.nicole.starksBriana Starks is a PhD candidate in the Joint Program in Social Work and Sociology a the University of Michigan. Broadly, her research interests include poverty and inequality for low-income families with a specific focus on access to postsecondary education as a two-generation intervention for mothers in college. She received her MSW degree from the University of Michigan with a focus in Social Policy and Evaluation and Community and Social Systems. She has experience as a project manager for the Center for Assets, Education, and Inclusion (AEDI) and worked previously as an Academic Counselor for student parents at the University of California, Berkeley.

By employing mixed methods, using both secondary and primary data, Briana hopes that her research will illuminate the challenges that mothers face while pursuing higher education while also highlighting their resilience and strengths. As an interdisciplinary scholar, she investigates how individual’s and families’ interactions with structures and systems affect their quality of life and well-being with the goal of working towards socially just policies to promote educational attainment for marginalized communities.


Hourie Tafech

Hourie_TafechHourie Tafech is a doctoral candidate at the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers University, Newark. Hourie's dissertation examines the factors that impact the entrepreneurial activities of refugees in US cities. Besides her studies, she is currently assisting in administering the University Alliance for Refugee and at-Risk Migrant’s initiative and its students` division “Student Voices for Refugees Network”. Hourie is a third-generation Palestinian refugee, was one of six women from the U.S. and Canada recently awarded a prestigious Margaret McNamara Education Grant (MMEG).

The MMEG’s are given annually to women from developing countries who are committee towards improving the lives of women and kids. Before arriving in the US, Hourie lived in Malta for few years, where she co-founded Spark15, the first refugee-led organization recognized by the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As a president of Spark15, she advocated for the needs of refugee youth in Malta before the Office of the President of Malta, The Minister for European Affairs and Inclusion, The Ministry of Education, and UNHCR-Malta.


Nicole Telfer

Nicole_Telfer_-_HeadshotNicole Telfer (she/her) is a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). She previously earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in Psychology at Penn State University, as well as a Master of Arts in Applied Developmental Psychology at UMBC. Her research focuses on policy-focused areas such as the retention of Black women in STEM programs, intersectionality, and on examining ways to improve the educational experiences of Black youth to inform preventive interventions in inner-city areas.

Nicole believes that understanding the role of socio-cultural factors, like neighborhood disadvantage, systematic racism, and poverty, can help improve the academic success of Black adolescents, and close the educational achievement gap that exists in the United States. Outside of academia and research, Nicole advocates for Black youth by volunteering at local public schools and mentoring through organizations that serve at-risk youth. Lastly, Nicole is the author and co-author of three books: "Freed,'' "A Black Woman's Guide to Earning a Ph.D," and “Phoenix Phenomenon.”


Sonia Torres Rodríguez

Sonia_Torres_RodríguezSonia Torres Rodríguez is a research assistant in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center and a Master's Student in Applied Economics at John Hopkins University. She conducts research on racial equity, COVID-19 equitable recovery, community engaged methods, equitable development, immigration, and integrated data systems for impact. She supports the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a network working to advance the effective and equitable use of data and technology across government, civil society groups, and academia. Before joining Urban, Torres Rodríguez conducted ethnographic field research of economic inequality with predominantly Black and Latine families, and graduated from Rice University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economic analysis.


Melissa Villarreal

Melissa_VillarrealMelissa is a PhD Candidate at the University of Colorado (CU), Boulder in the Department of Sociology. She is currently working on her dissertation project: an intersectional, multi-level analysis of Mexican immigrants and their disproportionate vulnerability in post-disaster recovery. This project examines the long-term housing recovery of Mexican immigrants in Houston, Texas after Hurricane Harvey. Melissa was awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) and the American Sociological Association (ASA) Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG) to continue this project.

She was also selected to be a Kinder Scholar for Rice University’s Kinder Scholar Program. In addition to her own research endeavors, Melissa works as a graduate research assistant at the Natural Hazards Center at CU Boulder. Melissa is also a William Averette Anderson Fund (BAF) Fellow, which is dedicated to advancing the success of minority professionals in the hazards and disasters field. She currently serves on the BAF Student Executive Board as the Secretary.


Durrell Washington

Durrell_Malik_WashingtonDurrell Malik Washington, Sr. is a rising third year Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago Crown School of Social Work, Policy and Practice. Originally from the Bronx New York Durrell is a Graduate Assistant at the Pozen Center Human Rights Lab at the University of Chicago and the Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative at Northwestern University. Durrell’s Research interest lies in the intersections between Neighborhoods, Juvenile Incarceration, Health, Families and Social Networks. Durrell’s dissertation tentatively titled: Doing Time Together: A Multi-Methods Study Investigating the Impact of Juvenile Incarceration on Families of Color will investigate the impact of juvenile incarceration on black families and how reentry policies effect the social life of formerly incarcerated people and their families.


Arielle Weaver

Arielle_WeaverArielle Weaver is a doctoral student in Public Policy and Management at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Washington. Broadly, Arielle’s research interests are aligned with addressing issues of social equity, access, opportunity, and advancement for marginalized populations. Specifically, she looks to examine the policies, practices, and environments, that negatively impact leadership opportunities for women of color in the public sector. Arielle is working on a co-authored book chapter discussing mentoring relationships among Black women in higher education. She is also researching the career trajectories of women in leadership roles within local government.

Previously, Arielle had a career in Student Affairs and was a recipient of the Division of Student Affairs Champion of Diversity Award. She has experience in the areas of residence life, student conduct, leadership development, and mentorship for women of color. Through that work, Arielle had the opportunity to develop, advocate for, and mentor women of color student leaders and this significantly informs her current research interests. She is a first-generation college student and holds both a master’s degree in higher education and an M.B.A. in organizational leadership from the University of Toledo.


Carla Wellborn

Carla_headshotCarla P. Wellborn is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include black families, school choice, and the relationship between housing reform policies and student well-being.

Prior to pursuing her doctorate, Carla served as the Director of Programs for Winning Futures, an organization committed to empowering students in and around the city of Detroit to succeed through workforce prep and mentoring programs. Carla led all program design, implementation, and evaluation for the organization. This work earned her recognition in 2017 as an Esteemed Woman of Michigan, recognition in 2019 as one of Wheaton College’s 30 alumni under 30 who are impacting the world, and recognition in 2020 as a recipient of the Sam Cupp Legacy Award. Before entering the non-profit realm, Carla taught English Literature and Reading Enrichment in Detroit and Chicago.

Carla earned her bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Secondary Education from Wheaton College (IL) and received her M.Ed in Urban Pedagogy through a teacher-residency program in Chicago, IL.


W. Jesse Wood

jessewoodW. Jesse Wood is a doctoral candidate in Economics at Michigan State University. His research focuses on issues of equity and access in educational settings. He is completing his dissertation on understanding the causal impact of student-teacher race matches on learning skills, behavior, achievement, and learning disability identification. Jesse is currently studying how access to new public and charter schools in Michigan impacts student test scores.

His work on teacher quality gaps between students with and without disabilities has appeared in Educational Researcher. Jesse's research is motivated by his experience transitioning from an underprivileged to a top school system, where he witnessed the importance of an educator's role in introducing and realizing opportunities to their students. The stark inequity between school districts has shaped his interest in improving opportunities for disadvantaged students. Jesse received a master's degree in economics from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics from Auburn University.


Xiaoyang Xu

Xiaoyang_XuXiaoyang Xu is a PhD candidate in the Department of Public Administration and Policy, School of Public Affairs, American University. Her research interests include gender and public administration, sector preferences for public service delivery, budgeting and theories of representative bureaucracy.





Yiwen Zhang

Yiwen_ZhangYiwen Zhang is a Ph.D. candidate in Criminology at Penn State University. Her research interests encompass mass incarceration, prisoner reentry, and substance use issues. She is a graduate assistant and has worked on several projects, including random drug testing in prisons, drug take-back in rural communities, and providing certified recovery specialist assistance to reentrants with opioid use disorders. Her most recent thesis focused on the effects of the prison boom, in the beginning of the mass incarceration era, on rural employment in the United States.

Yiwen graduated from Pepperdine University with a master’s degree in Public Policy. She received her B.A. at Peking University. Prior to joining Penn State she was a research scholar at New York University’s Marron Institute. At Marron she collaborated with correctional practitioners across the country and managed pilot studies aiming to improve prison safety and management.


Iris Zhang

Iris_ZhangIris is a 4th year PhD student in Sociology at Stanford University. Her research interests are in the areas of housing and neighborhood change, urban politics, and criminal justice, with an emphasis on the consequences of racially exclusionary policies in these arena on perpetuating racial injustice. She is a graduate research assistant at the Changing Cities Research Lab, where she is currently working on collaborative projects on the consequences of gentrification, new housing and tenant protections on residential mobility, and the experiences of precarious renters in Oakland.

She is also working on other collaborative projects related to people's experiences with the criminal justice system and political agency. Iris worked at a non-profit before starting graduate school and she eager to learn more about conducting impactful, policy-oriented research. She is looking forward to attending APPAM!

For more information about the 2021 Equity & Inclusion Fellowship, please contact Leslie Ofori.


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