2020 Fellows Class

jean-huy tran
Controller, Clearly Amazing Outlook

jean-huy is an immigrant who migrated to US in 1990. He graduated from UCLA and was the first in his family to earn a college degree. Although his studies concentrated in Psychology & Sociology, his career path took him to the field of Accounting where he’s been for over two decades. Currently, he serves as Controller for a private company with multi-state branches.

Outside of work, he has been a volunteer community organizer working with many different organizations, including Indivisible SD Persist, Viet Vote, the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Democratic Club, San Diego Progressive Democratic Club, and We The People San Diego. His volunteer work focuses mainly on the issues of Criminal Justice Reform, Racial Justice, Income Inequality, Social Equity, Rent Stabilization, Voter Education, Affordable Housing and other issues affecting the homeless population. He has worked to successfully make change at the local government level as well as in State legislation.

Currently, he is devoting most of his attention to increasing more AAPI voting and civic engagement on issues that are important to their communities. Recognizing the lack of AAPI representation in our government, he also wants to create a stronger AAPI political network to provide support for progressive AAPI candidates running for office.

jean-huy also serves on the steering committee of the TRUST SD Coalition - a coalition of over 30 community groups organizing around the issue of Mass Surveillance Technology. Trust SD works to increase awareness of surveillance technology currently being used here in San Diego, how that technology affects the public, and advocates for more transparency in our government and creation and adoption of a surveillance technology oversight policy.

Barbarah Torres
Grants Coordinator, Port of San Diego

Barbarah is a leader deeply involved in her community, pushing for alternative transportation policies that inch us closer to meeting the climate action plan goals for the City of San Diego as well as State goals. She is the Grants Manager for the Clairemont Town Council Foundation and has secured over $30,000 in grant funds and donations in 2018-2019 to advance community programs and projects aimed at neighborhood improvement, economic development, and public art in Clairemont--all to bolster quality of life for residents. Under the Clairemont Town Council Foundation, she founded a program to push for alternative transportation initiatives called BIKE CLAIREMONT and secured over $10,000 in funding in 2018-2019 to advance alternative transportation infrastructure, conduct projects to empower riders with mechanical skills and bike safety, and bring awareness of current bicycle routes. In addition, she served on the Clairemont Community Planning Group and advocated for affordable housing projects, alternative transportation, Transit Oriented Development, and safe routes to schools.

Alex Southard
Promise Zone Coordinator, City of San Diego


Alex Southard currently serves as the Promise Zone Coordinator with the City of San Diego’s Economic Development Department. The San Diego Promise Zone is a federal initiative that brings together nonprofits, government agencies, businesses, and community members to reduce poverty in some of the City’s most underserved neighborhoods. She works with a small team to convene working group meetings, bring committed stakeholders together to collaborate on projects, and direct partners to relevant federal financial resources.

Prior to her current role, Alex held fundraising positions at the San Diego Natural History Museum and the San Diego Museum of Man. Her interest in the museum field developed after a volunteer experience at the Florida Holocaust Museum, where she subsequently believed that museums could be a vehicle for social change by cultivating empathy among people to better understand differences. After several years in the museum field, she transitioned to a career that’s directly focused on her passion to advance economic justice and equity. She holds a B.A. in Women’s Studies and History with a minor in Africana Studies from the University of South Florida and a M.A. in Museum Studies with an emphasis on nonprofit management and fundraising from San Francisco State University. She also holds a certificate in Business Intelligence from UCSD Extension.

Alex is originally from St. Petersburg, Florida and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012. She has been in San Diego since 2014 and has enjoyed putting down roots in this city with her partner, Kelly. Alex is eager to get more involved with organizations that focus on climate change, immigration, racial equality, and LGBTQ rights.

Margaret Rattanachane
Executive Assistant to the Chair, Department of Medicine, UC San Diego

Margaret Mimie Rattanachane is passionate about connecting people with shared goals and a vision for an inclusive future. She is a dedicated UC San Diego alumnae and employee, engaged with stakeholders to understand the needs of a diverse group of students, researchers and employees. Margaret is the Executive Assistant to the Chair of the Department of Medicine. In 2018, she received a prestigious honor as the Principal Exemplary Staff Employee. She also organizes fundraising events to advance diversity and equity in education. She founded the UCSD All Staff Mixer, a networking platform for university professionals from different areas of expertise. Previously, she worked in the Department of Education Studies as the Program and Faculty Assistant, focused on community engagement.

Margaret is Laotian American and a first generation college graduate. As a transplant from Sacramento, CA, she moved to San Diego and began planting her roots in 2009. Margaret is grateful for the community that has given her inspiration and opportunities to develop and grow. This motivates her to stay involved with her passion by creating and advocating for space that celebrates diversity and challenges inequity.

Paula Perez Costas
Teaching Artist and Independent Contractor, transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project and self-employed

Born in Galicia, Northwest of Spain, 40 minutes from the border with Portugal, Paula has always lived a life in between cultures. She lived in different countries in Europe before moving to the US 8 years ago, where she first lived in Portland, OR. All the places she lived have helped her explore and better understand the meaning of community, belonging, identity, power, and love.

Paula speaks 5 languages and holds 2 master’s degrees. She is extremely passionate about cultural diversity, dance, education, social entrepreneurship, and social justice.

From an early age, Paula committed to address injustice. She volunteered with various organizations to improve the communities she called home, and worked as a member recruiter for Doctors Without Borders, as well as Greenpeace.
Since Paula moved to San Diego 4 years ago, she has been involved with different local organizations that support and empower vulnerable youth. She created the Spanish program at the Waldorf School of San Diego in City Heights, and taught Spanish and dance there for 3 years.

Currently, Paula is building her new journey full of passion and creativity. She is extremely excited to be a member of the 2020 SDLA cohort, and looks forward to meeting and learning from other young local Movers and Shakers.

Melissa Padilla
Collaboration and Special Initiatives Coordinator, San Diego Grantmakers

Melissa Padilla is the Collaboration and Special Initiatives Coordinator for San Diego Grantmakers, where she supports the organization’s seven funder and cross-sector, issue-based, collaboratives. Prior to her time working in the philanthropic sector, Melissa served as the Deputy Finance Director for the Passons for Supervisor 2018 campaign in San Diego’s fourth supervisor district. Passionate about advancing gender justice and human rights in our community and abroad, in a volunteer capacity, Melissa serves as the Legislative Research & Advocacy Coordinator for the United Nations Association – San Diego chapter where she oversees legislative research and advocacy efforts on various issues such as migration, housing, women’s rights, and climate justice. Melissa also sits on the Steering Committee for the San Diego chapter of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP).

Melissa graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of San Diego in 2017 with a BA in Political Science and double minor in Philosophy and Gender Studies. There she also served as the Campaign Director for USD Votes, Outreach Chair for Pi Sigma Alpha, and member of Phi Beta Kappa. Originally from the Inland Empire, in her free time, Melissa enjoys spending time exploring San Diego’s food scene, hiking trails, and beaches.

Rebecca Lieberman
Policy Advisor, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce


Rebecca Lieberman is a Policy Advisor at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. At the Chamber, she oversees the Chamber’s Transportation & Land Development Committee, Education and Workforce Roundtable, and the Small Business Roundtable, among other policy responsibilities. With a background in economic research, Rebecca rounds out the policy department’s ability to produce formal research reflecting the region’s priorities and pressing questions. Rebecca is a native New Yorker and prior to joining the Chamber, Rebecca lived in New York City and worked for the Times Square Alliance, where she oversaw the Alliance’s research, public policy, and government affairs agendas. Rebecca received her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, where she double majored in urban studies and economics and minored in applied mathematics. Outside the office, Rebecca is an avid marathon runner and the proud mom a sheepadoodle puppy named Woody.

Joe Fejeran
Conference Specialist, UC San Diego

Joe Fejeran (he/him/his) was born and raised on the island of Guam in the South Pacific. In 2004, his family relocated to San Diego County, where he has lived since.

Upon graduating high school, Joe began his higher education journey at Grossmont College, where he was a member of the speech and debate team and won two Gold Medal awards from the Phi Rho Pi National Forensics Tournament. He is a proud transfer student and finished his degree program at UC San Diego (TMC, Class of 2011) with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

In 2010, Joe began working with a local theater company to produce The Vagina Monologues and the MENding Monologues as a fundraising effort for local, San Diego-based social organizations. He believes in the power of Artivism (art as activism) and storytelling as an effective tool to win over hearts and minds.

Joe began his professional career in the hospitality industry at the iconic Hotel del Coronado, serving briefly on the board of the San Diego Concierge Association. Seeking a change, he left the hotel in 2015 to return to UC San Diego, where he works as a Conference Specialist in the Housing Dining and Hospitality division. Joe also serves on the board of the LGBT Staff & Faculty Association.

Joe remains passionate about issues around gender-based violence, the LGBTQIA+ community, inclusion, and the CHamoru diasporic identity.

Outside of his professional commitments, Joe is an accomplished podcaster and bar trivia host.

Tori Gould
Account Manager, Kamiab Solutions

Tori Gould joined Kamiab Solutions in 2019. In her role she fundraises for political campaigns, local and statewide ballot initiatives and nonprofit organizations. Her work includes strategizing fundraising efforts, facilitating donor outreach, developing messaging and marketing strategies, and event planning. Prior to her current position, Tori owned and operated a multi-conceptual restaurant and catering group. Her expertise lies in hospitality, business development, project management, event coordination and team building.

After selling her business, Tori hopes to apply her experience as a small-business owner to be a driver of progressive policies for issues she is passionate about-- women’s rights, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, voting rights, immigration and justice reform.

Tori was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She graduated from Temple University with a BA in Strategic Communications, specializing in Public Relations. She moved to San Diego in 2013 with her husband.

Leah Firebaugh
Content Marketing Specialist, San Diego Theaters

With a lifelong passion for the arts, Leah Firebaugh has dedicated her personal and professional time to working with leading arts organizations. An East-Coast native, Leah is excited to call San Diego home and is thrilled to be a part of this vibrant community. In her current role, Leah is the Content Marketing Specialist for San Diego Theatres, the nonprofit organization that manages the San Diego Civic Theatre and historic Balboa Theatre. Leah is a member of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network San Diego, San Diego Leadership Alliance, and serves on the Steering Committee of Rising Arts Leaders San Diego. In her free time, Leah can be found playing the piano and ukulele, practicing Spanish, visiting a museum, cooking, and hiking San Diego's beautiful scenery.

Meredith Fear
Associate Director, Foundation Relations, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Meredith is a dedicated advocate for children and is passionate about social services and policymaking that support their health, development, education, and security. She lives this passion every day as the Associate Director of Foundation Relations at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. As the lead fundraiser for Salk Education Outreach, Meredith dedicates the majority of her time to building and maintaining partnerships that allow Salk to bring inspiring science learning experiences into classrooms and to build science literacy in the community.

Prior to joining the Salk Institute, Meredith was the Sustainability Manager for Nurse-Family Partnership’s national network of nurse home visiting agencies, where she was responsible for consulting with program managers on their funding and sustainability strategies to ensure their longevity. Prior to specializing in fundraising, Meredith held operations and communications positions at Education Synergy Alliance, Bridgepoint Education, and ABC News. She received a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California.

In addition to her professional endeavors, Meredith loves to connect to her community through volunteer work. She is currently a board member for the Blindspot Collective and volunteers with Sierra Club San Diego, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and The Animal Pad. When she’s not volunteering, you can almost definitely find Meredith outside (check the nearest hiking trail or crag).

Ryan Fallica
Assistant Resident Engineer, Caltrans

Ryan Fallica is an Assistant Resident Engineer with Caltrans District 11. He currently oversees the construction of State Route 11, the new State Highway leading to the future Otay Mesa East Land Port-of-Entry. After a 1-year internship in the agency’s Legal Division studying construction claims, Ryan joined Caltrans as a full-time Transportation Engineer in January, 2018. Prior to his current assignment, Ryan contributed to the design and development of several Port-of-Entry improvement projects, including State Route 11, as a member of the Trade Corridor Division at the District Office in Old Town.

Ryan graduated from San Diego State University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, and is currently a graduate student in San Jose State University’s Masters of Science in Transportation Management program. In his recent studies, Ryan has explored topics in Transportation Funding and Finance, Environmental Sustainability, Organizational Leadership and Planning/Project Development. Ryan was selected as a Council of University Transportation Centers Outstanding Student of the Year Award Winner and was recognized at the 99th Annual Transportation Research Board Meeting in Washington D.C. in January, 2020.

A proud San Diego native, Ryan is actively involved in several groups driving policy on a local level. He is an active member of the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County and works on both the Policy and M.O.R.E. Committees. As a voting member of the San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club, Ryan serves on the Political Committee and has helped to interview and select candidates for endorsement.

Monica Eslamian
Council Representative and Policy Advisor, City of San Diego

Monica Eslamian currently works as a Council Representative and Policy Advisor for Councilmember Jennifer Campbell in the city of San Diego. In this role, she provides valuable knowledge to the community about the city's activities. As a policy advisor, Monica advises the Councilmember on issues of great importance to San Diego such as transportation, economic development and neighborhood projects. Prior to her current position, Monica worked with several local campaigns including Scott Peters for Congress, and a campaign to pass Proposition I, which increased the minimum wage in the city of San Diego.

Monica graduated from University of California, San Diego with bachelor's degrees in Political Science and Communications as well as a minor in Public Service. While in college, she participated in the UCDC program where she served as a legislative intern on Capitol Hill. She also led the Speech and Debate club as co-founder, president, and coach. Post-graduation, Monica dedicates her free time to coaching students in the arts of public speaking, argumentation, and policy formatting.

Monica is a member of the Iranian-American Democrats of San Diego and the San Diego County Young Democrats. Through these groups and independent connections, she actively participates in voter outreach, community workshops, and clean-ups throughout San Diego County. She is passionate about environmental issues, transportation, foreign relations, and helping minority and low-income groups succeed. Monica's hobbies include visiting the beach, hiking and playing video games.

Christie Davis
Program Manager, American Specialty Health

Christie Davis grew up in a small town on the front range of Colorado. Post-college, she relocated to San Diego and ultimately decided to make this city her home. She is currently a Program Manager for a specialty healthcare and fitness company, handling business development and Requests for Proposals (RFPs), with a focus on providing and expanding programs to Medicare and Special Needs populations. Prior to this, Christie managed and wrote RFPs for a technology company, specializing in K-12 education projects funded through bonds, and federal, state, and local government bids.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in History from the University of Colorado Boulder. While in college, she interned for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in the Legislative Management department’s Center for Ethics in Government. There, she conducted policy research and reported on existing and pending state legislation concerning lobbying, gifts, bribes, and anything ethics related.

Christie is the President of the Pacific Beach Democratic Club, and was formerly the Vice President and Membership Chair of the Club. She sits on the Metro West caucus of the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee as an Associate member, voting on candidate and ballot endorsements. She is passionate about policy advocacy and community service, and spends much of her free time volunteering for campaigns and candidates that align with her values. She also enjoys hot yoga, quality time with friends, anything with caffeine, and tweeting too much.

Irene Bwayo
Microinterprise business counselor, International Rescue Committee

Irene Bwayo is originally from Uganda but currently residing in San Diego with her two children. She came to San Diego in the winter of 2007 as a refugee. She holds a Bachelor's of Science in Health Care Administration from University of Phoenix. She is pursuing a Master's degree in Applied Leadership Management online from Arizona State University. She also works at IRC as a Microenterprise Business Counselor. In this role, she works with entrepreneurs to start and expand their businesses in greater San Diego. When not working or studying, Irene likes to visit Balboa park with her children.

Zachary Bunshaft
San Diego Regional Coordinator, External Affairs, Office of Governor Gavin Newsom

Zach Bunshaft (he/him/his) grew up in San Diego and is committed to making the region an even better place to live for all. After graduating from Grossmont College he transferred to San Diego State University, where he received a B.A. in Social Science. After graduation, Zach moved to Washington DC to work in the legislative office of Congresswoman Susan A. Davis as a Staff Assistant/Legislative Correspondent. Following a year on Capitol Hill, Zach moved back to San Diego to work as a Community Representative in the Congresswoman’s district office. In this role, he assisted the Congresswoman with issues surrounding housing, transportation, and the environment, among others, and helped constituents navigate through issues with the federal government. Zach was recently appointed to serve as the San Diego Regional Coordinator of External Affairs for the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom. Zach is an elected member of the Uptown Community Planning Group, where he serves as Secretary. He also serves as Co-Chair of the Young Professionals Council - A Program of the San Diego LGBT Center, dedicated to uplifting the next generation of LGBTQ+ and allied San Diegans. In his spare time, which he has very little of, Zach enjoys dogs, doggies, and doggos.

Kathleen Boyd
Associate Financial Planner, Illumination Wealth

A recent transplant to San Diego from Long Beach, CA, Kathleen Boyd is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional with a specialty in financial therapy at Illumination Wealth in University City. She best describes her work as “Iyanla Vanzant… but for your finances.” She’s earned national recognition as a Top 40 Under 40 Advisor by Investment News, a Top 10 Young Financial Advisor to Watch by FA Magazine, and was spotlighted as a “rising star” in Forbes.

Outside of work, Kathleen is involved in financial services advocacy, traveling to the state and national capitals to discuss consumer protection with federal and state legislators. Passionate about social justice, her life’s goal is fighting to eliminate the inequality caused by the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy.

Kathleen is a high school dropout turned first-generation college graduate. She earned a BS in economics and MS in finance from the University of Utah, and also pursued doctoral studies in financial planning and therapy at Kansas State University. Her preferred pronouns are she/her.

Maria Bojórquez-Gómez
Scheduler and Community Representative, Congresswoman Susan Davis

Maria is the scheduler for Congresswoman Susan A. Davis in San Diego. At the district office, she represents various communities in meetings and events, handles casework, and manages the internship program.

Maria completed her two-year Masters in China Studies at Zhejiang University International College in 2018. In Zhejiang, Maria was part of the founding team to create the first legal and independent foreign-only student government in the country. She worked as a consultant for the university, in addition to serving in the Virtual Student Federal Service of the USA Department of State.

Maria graduated from Haverford College with a B.A. in Political Science, minor in Chinese, and concentration in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. At Haverford, she worked with the Office of Multicultural Affairs for four years and was part of student government for two years. In both positions, she coordinated with student organizations, implemented programs, and collaborated with administration for campus-wide projects.

Omar Baza
Student Life Advisor, San Diego State University

Originally from Pismo Beach, CA, Omar is proud to say he is a two-time alumni of San Diego State University. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. During his undergrad, he was a part of EOP Summer bridge, a multicultural fraternity, and worked many on-campus jobs. He originally planned to work for the government which is what lead him to internships in Juvenile Probation and Adult Parole. He soon realized life had a different path for him. He went on to work for SAY San Diego overseeing a youth empowerment program at O’farrell Charter School. Currently, he works at San Diego State University in Student Life & Leadership as a Student Life, Advisor for Commuter Life. He truly loves the impact Commuter Life has on local San Diego students. Throughout his time in higher education, he has predominately worked with low-income, first-generation students as he has first hand understand the difficulties of navigating uncharted waters.

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.

Evlyn Andrade
Director of Development, Climate Action Campaign

Evlyn graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Chicano Studies and is currently the Development Director for Climate Action Campaign. Prior to that, she was Manager of the Center for Public Health Practice and the Office of Diversity at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Evlyn has volunteered with many organizations supporting low-income families on topics ranging from college admissions to substance abuse and addiction. She has volunteered with the Teach in Prison Program helping inmates attain their GED and now volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for youth in the foster care and juvenile justice system.

Most recently Evlyn was awarded the New American Leaders Fellowship. In 2018 she was a candidate for Santee City Council and has been a passionate proponent of social, economic, and environmental justice. She is an elected Delegate for the California Democratic Party representing the 71st Assembly District and has been a vocal advocate of Community Choice Energy and the San Diego Green New Deal. She is on the Executive Committee of Sierra Club San Diego and sits on the executive boards of the San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action, the San Diego Democrats for Equality, the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club and is the East Area Representative on the Administration Committee of the San Diego County Democratic Party’s Central Committee.

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  • Erin Hogeboom
    published this page in Fellows Classes 2020-02-02 15:31:47 -0800

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