2023 SDLA Fellows Class

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.

Samantha Schwimmer
Community Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator, The San Diego LGBT Community Center

Samantha Schwimmer is an LGBTQ+ activist and artist with roots in the Reproductive Justice movement. She is currently the Community Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator at The San Diego LGBT Community Center, one of the largest LGBTQ+ centers in the nation. In this role, she supports The Center’s public policy and advocacy work, serves as a liaison to community advisory committees, and represents The Center at coalition tables and community events. They also serve on the Board of the San Diego Coalition for Reproductive Justice and as a volunteer crisis counselor. In 2021, they graduated from Bowdoin College where they studied Religion, Anthropology, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and Theater. While in college, Samantha interned with Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund and served as the President of Bowdoin Hillel and the Bowdoin Reproductive Justice Coalition. She is also an abortion doula, writer, and performer. 

Rachel Lozano Castro
Senior Officer, San Diego Regional Policy Innovation Center

Rachel Lozano Castro is a San Diego business owner, speaker, consultant and a senior officer at the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center. Her work includes equitable green transitions, cross-sectoral work and bi-national/regional inclusive economy building. Formerly, Rachel directed the Brink Small Business Development Center at the University of San Diego where she led an effort to be named one of 10 “Inclusive Innovation Hubs” nationwide. Prior to this, she ran a global social entrepreneurship program at USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce and lived and worked in Latin America. Recently, she was honored as the 2022 Citizen Diplomat of the Year by the San Diego Diplomacy Council, a “40 Under 40” leader by America’s Small Business Development Center and as a TedX speaker.

Nic Zinter
Program Coordinator, County of San Diego

Nic Zinter has worked in government since 2019, and is currently serving as a Program Coordinator with the Public Safety Group of the County of San Diego, where he is working to help the County identify alternatives to incarceration and reduce recidivism for justice-involved individuals. Prior to joining PSG, Nic worked with USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, where he contributed to the Bureau's international humanitarian reporting efforts as a Senior Information Officer in Washington, D.C., and various parts of sub-Saharan Africa. He also worked with Supervisor Nathan Fletcher as a Community Representative and Communications Manager from late 2019 to 2020, in addition to supporting the San Diego County Democratic Party's organizing efforts during the 2016, 2018, and 2020 elections. Nic holds a bachelor's degree in Politics from UC Santa Cruz (go slugs!) and a master's degree in International Affairs from UC San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy, where he served as president of the school's graduate organization. A third-generation San Diego native, Nic enjoys meandering around Balboa Park, attempting to cook, learning new languages, reading Tolstoy, and petting cats.

Nam Nguyen
Lead Mechanical Engineer, NIWC-Pacific

Nam Nguyen is a Lead Mechanical Engineer at the Naval Information Warfare Center, Pacific division with interests and goals that extend beyond technological solutions for America's fleet. His deep passion for the arts, culture, and history bears out his goal of building a thriving future for all.  

As a long-time member, and current Vice-President, of Hillcrest Indivisible, he has supported and led the ongoing efforts of the organization to galvanize Progressive members of the Hillcrest and Uptown communities, by way of education and actions, to protest and actively contact their elected officials as advocates on Progressive issues. Among the collaborative actions taken have been marches for reproductive rights, immigration and justice reform, lobbying elected officials, and public endorsements for elected offices in 2022. 

Currently, as the Vice-President of Viet Vote, he bolsters the efforts of the organization in engaging with the under-served Vietnamese community of San Diego, with the goal of empowering them to use their voices to command their government to answer their needs. Considering the plethora of said needs, Nam Nguyen advocates for improving every aspect of life for the Vietnamese people, from access to housing, transportation, representation in public policy, economic opportunities, and climate resilience. 

Nam’s goals for joining the SDLA Cohort of 2023 is to connect with current and future leaders of the community, and, together, solve the myriad of issues and problems they face in the long journey of serving society at large. 

Miki Holmes
Field Representative, California State Assembly - Assemblymember Chris Ward

Miki grew up in Lemon Grove with a love for music and performed in her first professional production at Lyric Opera San Diego at 14 years old. She graduated from UCLA with a BA in theater and performed in several professional musical productions in LA. Miki has always been passionate about increasing youth access to the arts, and while at UCLA, she served on the executive board of YOUTHphonics a Capella, which provides music lessons to underfunded high schools. After her family became a resource family for children in foster care, she witnessed the catastrophic consequences of a broken child welfare system and she became determined to improve the system to empower families and prioritize children’s well-being. She started volunteering on political campaigns in 2020 with the hopes of someday advocating for children in the system. Last March, she accepted a position in the Office of Assemblymember Chris Ward. As a District Representative, Miki serves as a liaison between her communities and the Assemblymember and performs constituent services. Her policy areas include education, childcare, foster care and youth services, arts and culture, and animal rights. Miki is a Court Appointed Special Advocate for a child in foster care, mentoring the child as well as serving as oversight on the entire case. Miki is studying child development at Grossmont College and plans to pursue a Master's in CD. Miki was born in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese. She enjoys singing, practicing yoga, and spending time with her silly rescue pup Shachi.

Madison Coleman
Policy Advocate, Climate Action Campaign

Madison Coleman was born and raised in Oakland, California. She has a B.A. in Political Science from UC Davis. Madison is a Policy Advocate with Climate Action Campaign (CAC), a non-profit watchdog organization that fights to stop the climate crisis through equitable policy action. Madison leads CAC’s affordable housing and land use advocacy. She works to ensure the region develops equitable policies that prioritize and incentivize sustainable, inclusive, and affordable communities. Madison is also currently a policy committee member of the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee (SFWPC) and a policy advocacy volunteer for California YIMBY. Prior to joining CAC, Madison advocated for social and environmental issues affecting college students with the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG). She also advocated for making global poverty and hunger legislation a top priority of U.S. foreign policy with the Borgen Project. As a native of Northern California, she interned for Oakland City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Konnor McMillen

Konnor (he/him) is an educator focused on addressing the holistic needs of students. He has worked for multiple social emotional development organizations where he has had the opportunity to interact with a diverse range of young people across the United States, ages 8-22 years old. Through these positions, he has gained experience facilitating experiential learning, teaching “soft skills” to students, writing curriculum, training staff, and developing program policy and procedures. Konnor received his Master’s Degree in Education from the University of California, Santa Barbara where he served as Legislative Liaison for the Graduate Student Association while conducting research on education policy topics such as social emotional learning, behavioral health program implementation, and student wellness. After graduation, Konnor was selected to participate in the Urban Leaders Fellowship where he conducted policy research on school choice for Colorado State Assemblymember Jennifer Bacon, as well as presented findings and made policy recommendations to the House Education Committee. Konnor is deeply passionate about implementing progressive policy to create lasting change in the San Diego community. In his free time, Konnor enjoys camping and backpacking, going to the beach, taking his dog, Hermie, on adventures, and playing adult league softball. 

Kip Eischen
Senior Arts and Culture Funding Manager, City of San Diego

Kip is the City of San Diego’s Senior Arts and Culture Funding Manager. He manages the City’s annual grant program for arts and culture community groups, nonprofits and festivals. Kip grew up in San Diego and is the fourth generation of his family to work here. He currently is the Secretary of the Point Loma/ Ocean Beach Democratic Club. He recently completed his MBA at the University of California San Diego’s Rady School of Management where he researched UBI programs for artists and helped to teach a course about the value of diversity in business. Kip first volunteered for Democratic political campaigns when he was 13 and eventually attended Vassar College in New York where he studied Art History and International Economics while acquiring work experience at the New York City Department of City Planning. Kip has worked for several years in the arts in New York, Spain and Los Angeles where he was a magazine contributor, a business analyst and a specialist in works on paper for a large Manhattan auction house. Kip is passionate about the arts as a vehicle for economic development, progressive policy, improved outcomes, equity and as a tool for solving municipal challenges. He is a proud union member and believes in the power of organizing and collectivity.  

Keara O’Laughlin 
Researcher & Policy Advocate, Center on Policy Initiatives

Keara O'Laughlin is a Researcher & Policy Advocate at the Center on Policy Initiatives. She leads organizational research on economic justice, good governance, housing justice, public benefits, climate justice, transportation equity, worker rights, and local budgeting issues. Passionate about translating policy research into action, Keara provides research guidance to the Community Budget Alliance (CBA) and represents CPI in multiple progressive coalitions. She is also a San Diego County Social Services Advisory Board member. Keara's varied policy experience centers on the main themes of advocating for gender, racial, and economic equity, while ensuring those most impacted by policy changes are centered in decision-making. Before joining CPI, Keara provided program support for the Hope Street Margolis Family Center in Downtown Los Angeles, helping the center meet the needs of low-income families in the community. In addition, during her time in graduate school, Keara was the Legislative Director at the UCLA Graduate Student Association where she advocated for student housing and other basic needs on behalf of all UCLA graduate students in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. She also spent her early career working on expanding healthcare access at UnitedHealthcare. She earned her Master of Public Policy from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and holds a B.A. in Public Health from UC Berkeley. In her free time, Keara loves reading, spending time with friends and family, surfing, hiking, and planning new travel adventures. 

Jesus-Martin Gallegos-Muñoz
Legal Assistant, Al Otro Lado

Jesus Martin is a Legal Assistant with Al Otro Lado, an organization dedicated to helping immigrants and asylees who seek justice and representation. His work centers around providing legal advice and research for detained asylum seekers fleeing persecution, as well as providing services for immigrants in San Diego and Tijuana. He serves as Council Member for the San Diego Community College District Trustee Advisory Council, as well as Commissioner for the San Diego Youth Commission. Within both institutions, he seeks solutions for issues pertaining to undocumented, immigrant, and asylee youth in San Diego who deserve opportunities for growth, education, careers, and well-being. Jesus Martin recently graduated from UCSD with a double major in International Politics and Latin American Studies where he wrote his undergraduate thesis in immigration and human rights and is pursuing a career in law as a human and civil rights lawyer. During his free time, he enjoys surfing, swimming, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying San Diego. 

Jehoan Espinoza 
Self Employed 

Jehoan Espinoza is a Community Organizer and Consultant with a background in public advocacy and organizing multi-cultural communities in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside Counties. Jehoan has nearly 10 years of experience in coalition building with stakeholders, non-profits, and community organizations with a focus on non- traditional outreach strategies that have allowed him  to engage and activate hard to reach communities and help them gain a seat at the table. Jehoan is trained in neighbor-to-neighbor education and leads many community outreach programming projects and campaigns which includes but is not limited to, virtual and in person policy forums, stakeholder roundtables, community events, and leadership development. Most recently, Jehoan was a consultant for multiple successful campaigns in the South Bay including Jose Preciado, Carolina Chavez, Ditas Yamane, Cesar Fernandez. 

Eamon Johnston 
Associate Planner, Transportation Management & Design, Inc.

Eamon is an Associate Planner at Transportation Management & Design, Inc. (TMD), a transit planning and consulting firm dedicated to improving public mobility for clients across the U.S. His work involves studying travel patterns, and providing detailed research and analysis of transit system performance, conducting passenger surveys, and using this information to draft service recommendations to improve the rider experience. He gets to do community outreach to gather feedback and improve transportation systems for all types of riders, making it easier for people to get around, and he also spends a lot of time making maps. Prior to TMD, he worked at the Shasta Regional Transportation Agency (SRTA), where he led a broad range of planning projects focused on improving mobility for people and reducing the environmental impact of travel in a low-density region. He managed state and federal public transit grants, planned the relaunch of a free bus service to expand access to outdoor recreation, and represented the agency at meetings and multiple regional councils. Before his time at SRTA, he spent three years in Medellín, Colombia, where he taught English through the Fulbright Program at the Universidad Nacional, completed a graduate program in GIS, and worked in bicycle advocacy. He feels lucky to work in a field that is key to encouraging regional accessibility, reducing socioeconomic disparities, and mitigating the effects of climate change. Eamon is a member of BikeSD, RideSD, YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County, and Circulate San Diego, and he grew up in Mission Beach.

Dustin Nguyen
Director of Community Engagement, City of San Diego - Councilmember Kent Lee
Servicemember, U.S. Army Reserve


Dustin Nguyen serves as the Director of Community Engagement in the Office of San Diego City Councilmember Kent Lee and as a reservist in the U.S. Army Reserve. Additionally, his background spans roles in consulting, banking, nonprofits, and higher education. The son of war refugees, Dustin first realized the importance of equity through his lived experiences growing up here in San Diego—navigating barriers like poverty, violence, language, transportation, and access to education. After graduating from Crawford High School, Dustin attended Yale University as a first-generation college student, where he was engaged in Asian American activism and won a fellowship to study abroad in South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics and has since worked and volunteered for causes he cares about, such as his family's small businesses, local events, nonprofit causes, and political campaigns. In his free time, Dustin enjoys training in mixed martial arts, traveling to visit friends in other U.S. cities, and discovering new ways to better the community.

Courtney McDonald 
Executive Coordinator, County of San Diego

Courtney recently returned to her hometown of San Diego after spending the last decade in San Francisco developing a passion for ending homelessness. Her experience includes leading housing and homelessness policy as a Legislative Aide for a San Francisco County Supervisor whose campaign she successfully ran. Later, as associate director for a non-profit housing program serving people experiencing homelessness, she had the opportunity to implement policies she crafted at the Board of Supervisors.  Her career started as a grassroots fundraiser organizing for Prop 13 reform to make corporations pay their fair share, and has also included running student organizing internship programs and launching communications campaigns for nonprofits. Courtney is thrilled to be back in sunny San Diego with her puppy and fiancé where she currently works as the Executive Coordinator for the Director of the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency. 

Cole Reed
District Representative, California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins

Cole Reed has lived in numerous cities and states, but always considered San Diego to be his home. He is proud to have transferred from San Diego City College to UC Berkeley, where he graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and minor in Public Policy. As a student at Berkeley, Cole received the merit-based Travers Undergraduate Scholarship in Ethics and Politics.

One particular issue that Cole is concerned with and passionate about is the disappearing prospects for economic security and upward social mobility in the United States. Through public service, he aspires to dedicate his life to protect society's most vulnerable populations and help create a compassionate society where future generations have an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Cole currently serves as a District Representative for Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins. In this capacity, he acts as a liaison to the coastal communities of California’s 39th State Senate District, manages the constituent casework system, and reports on key trends and issues impacting the San Diego Region. In addition, Cole is responsible for covering a policy portfolio consisting of environmental, transportation, and veterans issues.

Cole was previously appointed as a Constituent Affairs Representative for the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom and worked as a Student Director for the Cal-in-Sacramento Fellowship. In his free time, Cole enjoys attending concerts, cooking, watching films, taking care of his plants, reading history, and learning to play the guitar.

Bernadette Butkiewicz 
Sr. Public Affairs Manager, San Diego Gas and Electric

A native San Diegan and proud resident of Clairemont, Bernadette is passionate about improving her community through volunteering. Her service as Chair of the San Diego Unified Bond Oversight Committee and board member of the Center on Policy Initiatives is centered on the interests of working-class people in the San Diego region. 

Bernadette is a first-generation college student. She earned a B.A. in Political Science from Sonoma State University while serving four years in the Associated Student Body, lobbying for student-facing issues at the state and local levels

After completing her studies, Bernadette worked as the Political Organizer for United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local #230, offering apprenticeship and training opportunities to pave the way to middle-class careers. In her role as SDG&E’s Sr. Public Affairs Manager, Bernadette works every day to support the City of San Diego on their Climate Action Plan Goals. Whether that be planting trees to reach our goals of urban canopying or combatting climate-change-enabled increased wildfire threats by coordinating fire hardening projects with impacted communities. Bernadette most recently served on the City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan Review Committee to oversee the implementation of the CAP 2.0.

Bernadette’s daily focus is to serve the people of San Diego through action, leadership, and a vision of a stronger, more equitable city where underserved communities have the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. Her dedication to these people has been further cultivated through her family, education, career, and the new people she meets every day.

Benjamin Mendoza 
Digital Communications & Engagement Manager, City of San Diego - Council President Sean Elo-Rivera

Ben Mendoza serves as the Digital Communications & Engagement Manager for San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera. They grew up in central Washington State, before moving to Seattle, Washington to pursue their Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies at Seattle University. They’ve been a resident of City Heights since August 2013, when they moved to San Diego to attend graduate school at the University of San Diego to obtain their Master of Arts in Educational Leadership.

Ben is a non-binary, queer, Latinx community builder that is passionate about leadership and community engagement work as well as advocating for an intersectional approach to justice. Their passion for this work has led them to serve as Co-Chair for the City of San Diego LGBTQ+ Employee Alliance, Board Member for the San Diego LGBT Community Center, Diversity + Inclusion Co-Chair of PRSA San Diego/Imperial Counties, Research Advisory member for the Kim Center for Social Balance, and volunteer with San Diego Pride. In their free time, they enjoy spending time with their dog (Donut), checking out art spaces in Barrio Logan, attending a HIIT class, and playing video games.

Ariel Hamburger 
Land Use and Environmental Planner III, County of San Diego

Ariel Hamburger is a Land Use and Environmental Planner with the County of San Diego’s Sustainability Planning Division. Ariel works on the intersection between climate change, environmental justice, and health equity. Prior to working as a planner, Ariel spent seven years in public health with a focus on improving the local food system and built environment. Before her tenure at the County, Ariel worked on healthy food access issues at the UC San Diego Center for Community Health and worked on cross-border issues through the County’s Office of Border Health. She graduated with honors from San Diego State University with a Master’s in Public Health and a Master’s in Latin American Studies. She also has a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from UC Berkeley.

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  • Maria Bojorquez-Gomez
    published this page in Fellows Classes 2023-02-20 16:10:14 -0800

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