The SDLA posts profiles of our Fellows at the time they are admitted to the SDLA Institute. After graduation, many Fellows change advance in their careers or have other accomplishments, which are not reflected here. Accomplishments of SDLA Institute alumni can be found here.
Katie Altobello-Czescik is a San Diego native committed to progressing the region towards a sustainable future. She works as a professional assistant for the City of Oceanside’s Zero Waste team and for Certain Solar as a data consultant. She is dedicated to public service as a form of protecting the environment and the people that live, work, and play in it for generations to come.
Katie received her MPA in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs where she gained knowledge and skills to become an effective public servant and sustainability professional. She received her BA in Political Science with minors in environmental studies and archaeology from Loyola Marymount University. As a student, she spent time interning for WE ACT for Environmental Justice combining her passions for the natural world and social justice. Throughout college she also interned with multiple government agencies and political offices including the Office of Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, The City of Del Mar’s City Manager Department, and the California Democratic Party.
After graduating, Katie spent a summer launching a community-scale energy project with Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps with the City of Fresno and was awarded the 2016 EDF Climate Corps Collaboration Award. She returned to San Diego in August 2016 and joined Barbara Bry’s San Diego City Council campaign prior to obtaining her current positions. Katie enjoys crafting, learning about and interacting with animals, and finding the best San Diego eats.
Susannah Bankhead is a senior claims representative for Zenith Insurance Company. She has progressively worked her way from an entry-level clerical job to a senior-level position over the past decade. Susannah’s expertise ranges from the analysis of California’s complex labor code and workers’ compensation case law to engagement with state and national government agencies.
Susannah graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in Language Studies and concentrations in both Italian and Linguistics of Romance Languages. Susannah co-founded the Bellezza Arte Cultura Intelligenza (BACI) club, which linked local Italian immigrants to UCSC students studying Italian. Susannah also participated in the Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz an organization dedicated to the study and promotion of Italian culture and language.
After graduation, Susannah worked abroad in Italy, where she taught English and served as a translator for Peace Reporter, an online nonprofit newspaper highlighting the stories of refugees and migrants fleeing war zones around the world.
Susannah enjoys reading (alternating between SCOTUS rulings, dystopian fiction, and stories of the empowerment of women and children), watching bad sci-fi, and cooking (primarily foods grown by her husband in their backyard garden). Her culinary blog explores the trials and tribulations of maintaining a seasonal diet in San Diego, a city without seasons. Susannah dreams of one day combining her passion for food and her call to social justice by opening a farm-to-table soup kitchen/restaurant staffed entirely by members of society’s most marginalized groups.
Zaheen Chowdhury is a project manager with Trestle Development, a San Diego-based housing development firm. Zaheen manages all aspects of the development life-cycle, from project conception to completion, and has extensive experience in leveraging public financing to build housing for low-income families and individuals. Through his current role, he is focusing on the development of micro apartments in urban centers with high cost of living.
With an interest in urbanism, housing and sustainability, he began his career working on the revitalization of public housing sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. Zaheen moved to San Diego in 2011 and has been involved in the development of hundreds of affordable housing units throughout California.
Zaheen received a bachelor's in Politics from UC Santa Cruz and a master's in Urban Planning with a concentration in Community Design and Development from San Jose State University.
Josh Coyne serves as an assistant director in the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement at the University of San Diego. Josh’s primary responsibilities include advising and supervising all operations of the student government.
Josh also volunteers with The Trevor Project as a digital crisis counselor and is co-chair of the San Diego chapter. Josh leads the group in coordinating fundraising efforts and community outreach. Josh also serves as the Youth Programs Coordinator for San Diego LGBT Pride.
Josh graduated with a Master of Science degree in College Student Personnel Administration from Canisius College and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Niagara University, both located in New York.
When practicing self care, Josh enjoys a glass of wine, a magazine, and sometimes a solo trip to the movie theater.
Tony Cruz currently serves as the senior council aide for Councilman Steve Padilla in Chula Vista, where he provides policy advice, constituent services, and staff support among other duties. Previously, he worked for the South County Economic Development Council, the 51st Congressional District, and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.
Born in Chula Vista but raised in Tijuana, he’s always been interested in working to further the collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico. Tony is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego where he earned a degree in Political Science with a focus on International Relations.
Since 2015, Tony has been the co-chair of Leaders 2020, a network of young professionals looking to advance economically and environmentally sustainable solutions for the San Diego region. In this capacity, he’s worked to expand opportunities for Leaders 2020 members to have an impact on issues affecting quality of life.
In his spare time, Tony loves dancing and taking friends on taco and brewery tours in Tijuana.
Eric Eichler is a social worker at VA San Diego Healthcare System, where he coordinates care at the Center of Recovery Education (CORE), a clinic that provides recovery-oriented mental health services to veterans with schizophrenia, PTSD, and other mental health concerns. Eric provides group and individual psychotherapy and recovery coaching, and leads wellness programming including a yoga class and and a walking club. He is passionate about advocating for equity and patient choice in health and mental health care, and in creating and implementing systems of care that prioritize health, not just remission of illness.
Eric also trains clinical social work and psychology interns and postdocs and leads several hospital committees, including the MSW Intern Training Committee and the Complementary & Integrative Health Utilization Tracking Committee. As VA San Diego's Director of Peer Support Services, Eric trains and supports veterans who have experienced mental illness to partner with mental health professionals on clinical teams throughout the hospital, to improve access and quality of care. He was a founding clinical staff member at the ASPIRE Center, VA San Diego's 40-bed residential treatment facility for homeless veterans with mental health concerns, in Old Town.
Eric grew up in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Smith College School for Social Work in 2012 and has lived in San Diego ever since. He graduated from the UC San Diego/VA San Diego Interprofessional Fellowship in Psychosocial Rehabilitation & Recovery-Oriented Services in 2013. He loves practicing yoga, hiking, rock climbing, and playing music.
A work readiness management intern for the City of San Diego and City Planning graduate student at SDSU, Eric Henson dedicates his research and work through community outreach to connect the principles of work readiness with the sub-fields of city planning, such as transportation, housing, community and economic development.
Prior to his job at the city, Eric interned at the San Diego Housing Commission Achievement Academy, where he assisted low income families with work readiness, and mentored several youth cohorts through the San Diego Workforce Partnership to create action plans addressing youth unemployment in Section 8 families. In 2013, as a UCSD Urban Studies and Planning undergrad, he was accepted for the Center on Policy Initiatives Students for Economic Justice fellowship, where he worked on Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaigns for the San Diego Organizing Project.
Recently, Eric’s volunteer work under the Bay Terrace Community Association led him to collaborate with Councilwoman Cole to increase Bus Route hours in District 4 and National City for working class residents in need of transportation access to their jobs during nights and weekends. He also advocates for Food Justice Community Planning in Southeast San Diego as a mentee under the Project New Village Food Security group. To this day, he attributes his organizing roots back to San Diego City College in 2010 under the campus organization “Education For All” that educated the student body on the community college budget, undocumented students, and the school to prison pipeline.
Emily Howe graduated from the University of San Diego School of Law, where she served as an Equal Justice Works chair of the Public Interest Law Foundation. Starting in 1998, she gained policy experience at the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and British House of Commons. For two years, she led rural community health programs with the U.S. Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa. Additionally, she worked as a judicial extern for the Honorable John S. McCann, gained mediation experience at California nonprofit, Global Majority, and promoted peacebuilding initiatives at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. Her work has focused on advocacy for low-income workers and underrepresented populations, with a specific emphasis on the African immigrant community in San Diego. She holds active law licenses in California, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.
Rafael Hurtado is a plaintiff’s employment lawyer and co-founder of Abogato, LLP, an employment law firm whose mission is to represent employees and empower workers with their legal rights.
Rafael grew up in Piru and Palmdale, California, and came to San Diego to attend the University of California, San Diego. While at UC San Diego, Rafael spent a year studying abroad in Bordeaux, France, and graduated with a degree in International Studies-Political Science and a minor in French Literature. Rafael subsequently attended California Western School of Law where he had the opportunity to study abroad in Santiago, Chile and intern for the Fiscalía Nacional. Rafael earned his JD from California Western and became a member of the State Bar of California in 2013.
Rafael wants to do his part in helping the San Diego community improve and succeed. As a consequence, Rafael has spent much of his time volunteering in a variety of ways and organizations including, interning at the San Diego Mayor’s Office, volunteering for local political campaigns, serving as a volunteer counselor at Stand-Up for Kids, assisting at the Unlawful Detainer Clinic for the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Inc., coordinating bilingual readers for Central Elementary School, and serving on the board of directors of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association and MANA de San Diego.