Segal Fellows carry social justice torch, determined to make positive societal change

Brandeis students are often drawn to careers in social justice, in part because they’re able to follow in the footsteps of alumni who have inspired them by making tangible, societal improvements in their own right.
Nothing embodies this more than the students who are selected to participate in the Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program, a fellowship named for Eli Segal ’64, the late alumnus who was known as one of the “Fathers of AmeriCorps” and, as former President Bill Clinton puts it, “someone who could take any vision and turn it into reality.”
Segal’s colleagues established the fellowship at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management in 2007. The program places Brandeis undergraduate and graduate students with high-impact summer internships, matches them with mentors to help them develop their skills in a professional setting, and provides access to Segal’s network of associates and a monetary stipend. Former Segal fellows have gone on to have distinguished careers serving the public in both the private and public sectors. Being part of the Segal Fellowship, which is a lifelong commitment, enables the program to keep going, as former fellows continue to pioneer new initiatives to support one another’s citizen leadership work.
This year’s class included six fellows:
Aja Antoine '17
Aja Antoine, a sociology and African and Afro-American studies double-major from Pensacola, Florida, interned at Facing History and Ourselves, an educational non-profit that works with students, teachers and school districts to examine pivotal moments in U.S. history and ensure that they are taught in an ethically responsible and academically rigorous way. Antoine worked with the regional strategies department, leading a race and membership seminar and conducting research for collaboration opportunities with City Year and Teach for America. “I have never worked in a non-profit before, so this really showed me how an important idea can be turned into an action,” said Antoine, who is interested in teaching at the collegiate level.
Witney Christie '17

Witney Christie, an education studies major and African and Afro-American studies minor from Philadelphia, was an intern at America’s Promise Alliance, a non-profit focused on ensuring that all youth—regardless of their background, class, gender and race—have access to five promises: education, safety, healthcare, caring adults and opportunities to serve the community. Christie worked with Melinda Hudson, America’s Promise Alliance’s vice president, on creating a policy framework for a campaign aimed at increasing the national high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020. “This experience further confirmed the systemic issues and inequality in some communities that I had previously known about,” said Christie. “There are a lot of ways I can help. I have a talent for working well with youth and I feel like the best thing for me to do is teach and eventually get into education and information policy.”

Leah Sakala MPP MBA ‘17

Leah Sakala, who is pursuing a Masters in Public Policy and MBA at the Heller School and is from Natick, Massachusetts, interned in the Urban institute’s Justice Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Sakala worked on a variety of projects, from analyzing data on the criminal justice system to searching for the most feasible ways to reduce the number of people in prison in each state. “The Segal network, which is very strong in D.C., was a huge part of my summer in terms of getting this internship in the first place,” Sakala said. “Criminal justice policy reform has always been a passion of mine. The tide is turning in terms of the public’s reception to criminal justice reform.” 

Estela Lozano '16

Estela Lozano, a Health, Science and Social Policy and Latin American and Latino studies double major from San Jose, California, worked at the National Council of La Raza, one of the largest Latino advocacy groups in the country. Lozano, who is interested in going into law school after Brandeis, conducted research on deferred action for childhood arrivals of undocumented immigrants. “This experience made me realize even more how important it is to get the facts and not generalize about certain people,” Lozano said. “It made want to do more collaborative research and work within the community.”

Analissa Iversen '16

Analissa Iversen, a student in the dual Masters in Public Policy and MBA program at the Heller School, interned at the Annie and Casey Foundation in Baltimore. Iversen, who is from Pepperell, Massachusetts, worked in the foundation’s talent and leadership development sector, helping develop plans for a network of the program’s alumni who are now highly skilled leaders working through social change. “Working in philanthropy was amazing and something I have an interest in in the future,” said Iversen, who wants to advance her career next by working in the juvenile justice system. “This experience of working with people in the field and being challenged in really wonderful ways has helped me grow as an individual.”

Molly Pearlman '16

Molly Pearlman, a sociology major from Cooperstown, New York, worked at Hitchcock Legal Aid in Syracuse, New York, in public defense. Pearlman was assigned to represent the indigent community in Syracuse in family courts, department appeals and parole cases. Working for a parole unit, she was an investigator for attorneys who act as public defenders for those on parole. “This experience has been a life-changer,” Pearlman said. “I always dreamed of entering a world of do-gooders and social justice advocates, but it’s much about having the right opportunity arise. Knowing people within the Segal network is the most incredible opportunity.”

Each fellow will make a brief presentation about their experience on Monday, Sept. 21, 6-7:30 p.m., at the Heller School, Room G3. The application for the 2016 fellowship is available online.

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