2017 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.

Katie Altobello-CzescikKatie 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 BankheadSusannah 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 ChowdhuryZaheen 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 CoyneJosh 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 CruzTony 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 EichlerEric 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.

Eric HensonA 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 HoweEmily 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 HurtadoRafael 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.

Jay EstradaAnsermio Jake Estrada
Co-Director, Office of Assemblymember Chris Ward. 

Ansermio Jake is a Co-Director with the office of Assemblymember Chris Ward. In this role, Ansermio coordinates operations at the District Office including staff management, event coordination, constituent services, local legislative initiatives among other responsibilities. 

Previously, Ansermio worked as the Communication Manager for former Councilmember Chris Ward. Ansermio has worked on and has managed several campaigns in both the City of San Diego and San Diego County. 

Ansermio obtained his bachelor’s degree in political science with a focus on international relations from the University of California, Riverside. He is originally from Bakersfield, California and made San Diego his home in 2013. He enjoys listening to podcasts, getting lost in Twitter and campaigning for progressive candidates.


Geneviéve Jones-WrightGeneviéve L. Jones-Wright serves as a deputy public defender in San Diego where she lives out her life’s passion: Serving and being a voice for our nation’s most marginalized groups. Her practice focuses on representing individuals charged with serious criminal offenses.

Beyond her advocacy work in the courtroom, Geneviéve serves on San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention, where she chairs the ad-hoc committee on gang documentation and is a member of the communications and outreach committee and youth subcommittee. Geneviéve serves on the board of David’s Harp Foundation, an organization that radically transforms the lives of “at-risk” and homeless youth through the power of music. She is a volunteer attorney with the California Innocence Project and a mock trial coach and criminal justice program advisory board member at Lincoln High School. She is also Treasurer of the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association.

A native San Diegan, Geneviéve grew up and lives in the Southeast San Diego community. She earned her bachelor's in communications from the University of San Francisco, J.D. from Howard University School of Law, and LL.M. in trial advocacy from California Western School of Law.

Her life goals are to use the law as a tool for our oppressed and most vulnerable, and to demonstrate to those groups everywhere that there are no limitations on your heights, except the ones you place on yourself. Geneviéve has an abiding love for God and sincerely desires to manifest Divine Love by way of her life.

Cody LittlefieldCody Littlefield received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of San Diego in 2011 and immediately deployed to Afghanistan. While deployed, he was responsible for the construction of two remote Afghan National Army outposts. The relationships he built with Afghan workers, village leaders, and soldiers inspired his desire to work in immigration and refugee advocacy. He currently serves as a civil affairs officer in the United States Army Reserve. As a civil affairs team leader, Cody leads a four-person team which acts as a liaison between the civilian inhabitants of a war zone or disaster area and the military presence, coordinating military operations with non-governmental organizations or directly distributing aid and supplies.

Upon returning to San Diego in 2015, he began volunteering as a teaching assistant for the citizenship classes at Jewish Family Service of San Diego, putting his years of being a history and politics nerd to good use by assisting aspiring US citizens prepare to pass the USCIS Naturalization Test.

When time permits, Cody finds himself on stage performing in musical theatre productions or improvisational comedy shows.


Carolina Rodriguez-AdjuntaIn 2016, Carolina Rodriguez-Adjunta joined the local nonprofit Climate Action Campaign as the deputy director of operations and programs, where she works relentlessly to stop climate change. Before joining Climate Action Campaign, Carolina worked in the biotech industry as an engineer and spent her free time volunteering her bilingual skills to political campaigns in San Diego’s South Bay.

Carolina transitioned from the biotech sector to nonprofit to align herself closer to her vision of a sustainable and equitable future. Carolina continues to integrate her enthusiasm for STEM into her fight for climate justice, bringing a unique voice to the local political landscape. She offers her multicultural worldview and adaptive skill set to spur political progress and political engagement in San Diego.

Carolina celebrates riding bikes, neurodiversity, women in STEM, and the great healing power of the outdoors. She dreams of a clean and equitable San Diego sprinkled with urban gardens and mobilized by protected bike lanes and mass transit.

Stephanie SánchezA native San Diegan, Stephanie D. Sánchez is a first-generation college student who earned her bachelor’s in Public Administration from San Diego State University.

Her work experience began in education and later progressed into political finance, where she gained knowledge in political fundraising and political accounting on various campaigns at the local, state, and federal level. Before working on campaigns, Stephanie interned for City of San Diego and National Latina Business Women Association. She also participated in a U.S./Mexico Border Issues seminar over the summer where she learned about various issues affecting the U.S./Mexico border. Her past volunteer experience has been with San Diego Catholic Young Adult Group, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Latinos for Fletcher Coalition, and Ford Foundation Research.

Currently Stephanie serves as Social Ministry Chair at Immaculata, where she is responsible for engaging parishioners to become more actively involved and respond to the works of charity and justice by directly serving those in need or addressing root causes of social problems. She also serves on the Parish Council, which allows her to help make decisions on policies that will make a positive impact on the Parish. Stephanie participates as a mentor for Puente, a program whose mission is to increase the number of Latino students transferring to four-year universities.

In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys spending time with family, friends, her “little” sister Julia, helping others, outdoors, and going across the border to Tijuana.

Krista StellmacherKrista Stellmacher believes in and strives for a balance between an open, compassionate heart and a strong, analytical mind. She is a fourth-generation Californian originally from Cupertino in the Silicon Valley. Before attending college, Krista took a gap year to work and travel abroad in countries including Poland, Sweden, Spain, and Italy. This formative experience broadened her perspective, and served as a foundation for her values and sense of community. She then returned to the United States, where she graduated from University of California, San Diego Cum Laude with a bachelor's in Literature/Writing.

Krista joined Community HousingWorks in 2010 and serves as Director of Advancement. With a strong track record securing grants, she now oversees all of CHW's fundraising and communications activities, bringing in $2.33 million of contributed revenue to support CHW's mission and serving on the organization's Senior Leadership team to inform and drive strategy. Fueled by a passion for social justice and a dedication to her community, she is grateful to find purpose in her work. She lives in Southeast San Diego and rescued a very sweet pit bull named Savannah.

Robert Weaver

Robert Weaver has worked for the U.S. Department of the Navy for the last 17 years, as both a military member and a civil servant. He currently serves as the program manager for a research and development effort, overseeing the cost, schedule, performance, and integration of several government and contractor teams. While he was active duty, Robert served as a division officer on the USS Rentz in San Diego, CA, a naval gunfire liaison with 3rd Battalion 12th Marine Regiment in Okinawa, Japan, and project officer with the National Reconnaissance Office in Chantilly, VA. Robert has recently decided to become involved in politics after observing a lack of transparency in government organizations.

Randy WildeRandy Wilde is a project associate at the nonprofit Center for Sustainable Energy, where he manages local, state and national programs to accelerate the deployment of sustainable transportation technologies. Randy also serves as coordinator of the San Diego Regional Clean Cities Coalition, a public-private partnership to facilitate clean technologies and mobility options for San Diego's local transportation network. Randy has worked with a diverse range of local governments, regulatory bodies, and businesses and had the opportunity to present at numerous events and conferences.

Randy is passionate about many areas of public policy, including land use, affordable housing, transportation access, and food justice. Randy co-founded Eat City Heights, a nonprofit produce collaborative based at the City Heights Farmers Market, and is an active member of several other volunteer groups.

Randy received two bachelor’s degrees with magna cum laude honors from San Diego State University in International Security and Conflict Resolution and Environmental Studies and Sustainability.

Jasmin ZafraJasmin Zafra developed a passion for matters of social justice at a very young age. Growing up in a multi-cultural family, witnessing situations of inequality, and learning about civil rights movements, all fueled her desire to become a voice for change.

In 2012, Jasmin moved from her hometown of Santa Cruz to study social work at San Diego State University. Through her studies, she gained an understanding of the systemic roots of racism and oppression and became interested in community organizing. As an undergraduate, Jasmin served as student coordinator for the Youth Empowerment Program, a student organization dedicated to providing support and professional development to unaccompanied child migrants in shelter care. She also worked as a tutor at Rosa Parks Elementary School, where she helped third grade students of diverse backgrounds develop reading, writing and math skills. During her senior year, she interned for the Consensus Organizing Center, where she helped to coordinate a college-access program for first-generation students and foster youth. All of these experiences further strengthened her original passion.

Currently, Jasmin is a community organizer at Mid-City Community Advocacy Network (CAN) where she works with a group of City Heights residents on a campaign to increase youth access to opportunities through no-cost transit passes. She is continuously challenged and inspired in her position and greatly enjoys the process of building connections with residents and watching them develop their leadership skills. In her spare time, Jasmin loves to paint, go on hikes, and explore new places.


Stefanie ZimmersStefanie Zimmers has over 10 years of experience in all facets of television production from initial concept development through post-production. She produced 12 popular cable television programs, each with multi-million dollar budgets, on major networks such as Bravo, HGTV, Food Network and History Channel. When not working on location across the United States, Stefanie aided the development department in creating concepts across all areas of unscripted programming including the creation of new television formats, the discovery of new talent, and the adaptation of international formats for the U.S. audience.

In addition to her work in the television industry, Stefanie volunteers as a media consultant for the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Leadership LAB, created to organize and empower communities to defeat anti-LGBT prejudices through ground campaigns across the U.S. Stefanie created, produced and edited targeted video advertisements used in multiple social justice campaigns reaching over 10,000 voters as well as coordinated the grassroots effort for voter education and mobilization in two successful campaigns in Michigan and Idaho. In 2015, she was selected to represent the Los Angeles delegation at The National LGBTQ Task Force Power Summit in Miami, Florida.

Stefanie graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in Television, Radio, and Film. A new transplant from Los Angeles, Stefanie can be found exploring San Diego, playing rugby or spending time with her family.


Showing 1 reaction

  • Wilda Wong
    published this page in Fellows Classes 2017-01-24 14:32:35 -0800

Keep in touch

Sign in with:

Twitter Facebook Email
Donate Volunteer


Alex Southard
Small Business Engagement Specialist, City of San Diego Economic Development Department

Alex Southard serves as the Small Business Engagement Specialist in the Economic Development Department at the City of San Diego. Driven by...