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New Leaders Council

Governing Board

Eric DeSobe, President, NLC LA 2010 Fellow

Eric Desobe

Eric DeSobe currently works Director of Talent at Great Public Schools Now. In his role he supports initiatives that bring diverse teachers to the profession, retain irreplaceables in classroom, and train the next great set of amazing school principals. Prior to that Eric was Associate Director for Teaching and Leadership Development for KIPP LA Schools, a network of free, public charter elementary and middle schools in Los Angeles. A former fourth and fifth grade teacher in Compton Unified School District and a Teach For America alum, he’s incredibly proud to be involved with several of the highest performing schools in the state serving students in communities that traditionally send low numbers of kids to and through college.

A 2010 New Leaders Council Los Angeles Fellow DeSobe used his NLC training to successfully run for political office that year. He recently completed his second and final term as President of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council. During his tenure DeSobe helped launch several lasting programs including the Del Rey Cup soccer tournament for teen youth, the Del Rey Farmer’s Market, and the Del Rey Community Jazz Band.

DeSobe served as NLC LA Co-Director from 2011-2013 and in 2016. He looks forward to continuing his role managing the NLC LA Governing Board. Originally from Houston DeSobe has a deep passion for progressive rock music and Smoothie King.


Melinda Amato, Vice President and Mentorship Chair

Melinda Amato

Melinda Amato, a returning NLC LA Board Member, engages in activism around social justice issues - particularly educational access and immigrant rights. She serves as an Assembly District Delegate for the 59th Assembly District, volunteers with Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, and works to keep her Huntington Park neighborhood a safe place for immigrants and their allies. She is President of the newly formed USC College Democrats Alumni Club and works to engage alumni across the country in democratic causes and campaigns. Additionally, Melinda is on the board of the recently re-chartered South LA Democratic Club.

She previously worked at the Children's Burn Foundation helping child burn survivors from around the globe access life saving resources. Before that she was a Trainer and Organizer at NationBuilder where she helped NationBuilder's customers harness the power of the internet to further their causes and movements.

Ever since middle school she has been passionate about helping others obtain equal access to quality education. While at USC, where she majored in Political Science and Sociology, she organized students and parents in the fight for quality education through Chicanos for Progressive Education, The Joint Educational Project, and Teach for Los Angeles.

She spent a semester studying abroad in Chile during the national student education reform movement, where she witnessed the power of social media in movement building. Melinda is an advisory board member of Latina Public Service Academy where she works with young latinas to help them achieve a rewarding career of public service. She looks forward to continue working with NLC to help progressive leaders best organize their communities.

When she isn't empowering leaders she enjoys cooking and sharing her recipes.


Tamika Butler, Advisory Board Member, NLC LA 2014 Fellow


Tamika Butler serves as the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, a non-profit organization that addresses social and racial equity, and wellness, by building parks and gardens in park-poor communities across Greater Los Angeles.

Tamika has a diverse background in law, community organizing and nonprofit leadership. Recently she was the Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Prior to leading LACBC, Tamika was the Director
of Social Change Strategies at Liberty Hill Foundation, and worked at Young Invincibles as the California Director. She transitioned to policy work after litigating for three years as an employment lawyer at Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center.

Tamika previously served as the co-chair of the National Center for Lesbian Rights Board of Directors, serves as the Institute Co-Director of the New Leaders Council - Los Angeles, is a board member of both Lambda Literary Foundation and T.R.U.S.T. South LA, and is an advisory board member for the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center’s Fair Play for Girls in Sports program.

Tamika received her J.D. from Stanford Law School, and received her B.A. in Psychology and B.S. in Sociology in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.


Marisa Ramirez, Advisory Board Member, NLC LA 2014 Fellow

Marisa Ramirez

Marisa Ramirez is a proud Southern Californian growing up in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and Redlands, CA. She is excited to be the founding Site Director for College Track Watts, College Track’s eighth location nationally. College Track is a national nonprofit whose mission is to empower students from underserved communities to graduate from college. Marisa began at College Track in 2014 as the founding Student Life Director for the College Track team in Boyle Heights. In this role she was the Student Life PLC leader and developed robust Student Life programming at the Boyle Heights site.

Prior to joining College Track, Marisa was a founding member of the KIPP Through College team for KIPP LA Schools where she was instrumental in shaping the vision of the program to ensure KIPP alumni were successful in going to and through college. Through her work in advising KIPP alumni through the college application process and supporting KIPP alumni in college she was able to ensure that over 75% of KIPP LA middle school graduates continued to persist in college. 

Her passion for service and social justice was inspired by her Jesuit education at Boston College where she studied Sociology and Latin American Studies. It was through tutoring and mentoring Boston area high school students, and reflecting on her own educational experience that lead to her interest in working to eradicate inequity in historically marginalized communities. After graduating, Marisa joined Teach for America where she spent two years teaching 7th and 8th grade Language Arts in Phoenix, AZ while pursuing her Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from Arizona State University. After TFA, Marisa worked for the Talented and Gifted Latino Youth program at UMass-Boston as a counselor and teacher, and served as Residential Advisor for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer program in Santa Cruz, CA.

Outside of work, Marisa is a member of the New Leaders Council (NLC) Governing Board. NLC is a national organization committed to supporting the next generation of progressive leaders. She was a fellow of the program in 2014 and served as the Instituted Co-Director in 2015. Marisa also loves to practice Muy Thai kick-boxing and traditional Western boxing to stay active, she loves to read, travel, and try new restaurants.


David Azevedo, Vice President of Special Projects, NLC LA 2014 Fellow

David Azevedo

A native Californian with roots in the Central Valley and Los Angeles, David brings to the NLC Board policymaking, project management, and community organizing experience, all gained from a fierce dedication to turning progressive talk into meaningful action.

As a senior campaign and advocacy specialist with AARP California, he is fighting in the trenches to defend the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and other vital health protections for older adults, people with disabilities, and their families. As part of AARP’s Livability Community work, David manages campaigns in Los Angeles County—most recently, AARP’s full-scale support campaign for Measure M in November 2016—that educate and motivate residents to reconsider their “cities of cars” and make our streets, sidewalks, transit options, and public spaces more age and ability-friendly.

Prior to AARP, he spent four years in the public sector, with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the City of Los Angeles, and Metro. At LAUSD, he managed a critical modernization project for the country’s largest student information system, shepherded a districtwide initiative expanding access to computer science education, and organized parent/school leader coalitions to secure millions of dollars in long-overdue classroom technology, school renovation, and ADA-accessibility upgrades. While obtaining his graduate degree in public administration, he spent time deep in the bureaucratic weeds in the LA’s City Administrative Office, and Metro’s Inspector General Office, gaining invaluable budget and oversight experience.

Active and passionate about improving the quality of life in his Pasadena community, David serves on the steering committee of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, and in July 2017, was appointed to serve as his council district’s representative on the city’s Accessibility and Disability Commission.


Dr. Aixle AmanAdvisory Board MemberNLC LA 2013 Fellow

Aixle Aman

Aixle has been a champion for educational equity since her days teaching in the public and private sectors, and being confronted with the reality of disparities in resources, support, and parent engagement at each school. After teaching, she became inspired to tackle inequity issues through systems change at the local level.

Aixle (pronounced ACE-EL) serves as the Chief of Staff for the L.A. Unified Board District 5 office. She proudly leads the Board District 5 team to ensure the successful implementation of the board member’s vision through grassroots policy making, parent organizing, and coalition building.

Aixle holds a B.A. in Political Science from UC San Diego, a Master of Science in Teaching from Pace University in New York City, and a Master of Public Policy from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. She most recently received her Doctorate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University in 2017. Her published dissertation was a cross-site case study that examined the impact two LAUSD “community schools” had on students and schools through the presence of shared decision-making, holistic and integrated services, and intentional community partnerships.


Neil SpearsAdvisory Board MemberNLC LA 2013 Fellow

Neil Spears

Neil Spears is the Executive Director at Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center. The mission of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center is to be a home for culture, ideas, and belonging on the east side of Los Angeles. The SIJCC provides a family education center and community gathering space based in Jewish values and tradition. The SIJCC celebrates an expression of Judaism that welcomes people of all backgrounds.

Prior to that Neil was Executive Director of CFY in Los Angeles, a national education nonprofit that helps students, teachers, and families in low- income communities harness the power of digital learning to improve educational outcomes. Neil helped guide CFY-Los Angeles during a period of transformative growth sparked by a $7.6 million federal stimulus grant. He drew on his experience as  a sixth grade teacher and Teach For America corps member at El Sereno Middle School in east Los Angeles. As a teacher, Neil was struck by the unequal education students receive based on where they live and he has since dedicated his career to ensuring that all students receive high-quality educations so they can succeed in school, college, and life. 

Neil is active in the Jewish community and is a member of the inaugural cohort of the Schusterman Fellowship, a highly selective executive leadership training program. He is on the board of JQ International, a nonprofit that promotes community and provides services for LGBTQ Jews and our allies. Neil previously served as a fellow and board member of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. 

Neil holds an Ed.M. in education policy and management from Harvard University and a B.S. in psychology with a minor in political science from the University of California, San Diego. While at Harvard, Neil won the annual case competition held by the Public Education Leadership Project. Neil also maintains a multiple subject California teaching credential. Neil grew up in San Bernardino, California and enjoys riding his road bike along the Pacific Ocean.


Jaya Bhumitra, Advisory Board Member, NLC LA 2011 Fellow 

Jaya Bhumitra

Jaya Bhumitra has more than 15 years of campaigns, public affairs, and public relations experience in both the private and nonprofit sectors. She earned bachelor’s degrees in international business and marketing from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in psychology from Pepperdine University. She currently serves as International Director of Corporate Outreach for Animal Equality, an Animal Charity Evaluators Top Charity, leading teams in Mexico, Brazil, Italy, Spain, India, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. working to effect policy changes that reduce the suffering of animals raised and killed for food. 

Jaya also serves on the advisory council of Encompass, a nonprofit seeking to increase effectiveness in the animal protection movement by fostering greater racial diversity, equity, and inclusion while empowering advocates of color. In addition, she serves on the board of Food Empowerment Project, a nonprofit supporting farmworker justice, access to healthy foods in communities of color and low-income communities, and the ethical sourcing of chocolate and other foods often implicated in slavery and child labor.

Finally, Jaya is the editor of The Enlightenment Adventures, a series of animal-protection-themed novels by Christopher Locke, her partner in life and advocacy.


Chris Alves, Board Member, NLC LA 2016 Fellow


Chris Alves is co-founder of WeAreGiants, a creative agency born in 2009 and based in Downtown Los Angeles. WeAreGiants’ highest priority is to identify the essence of a brand and to expose it in a clever, effective, and comprehendible way, and they do so by working with companies who are interested in brand building, digital marketing, and killer websites. While wearing the many hats required to run a small creative shop, Chris heads up creative strategy, general operations, and client relations at WeAreGiants. The team keeps things fun with jumping hi-fives, weekly BBQs, and ping-pong pick-ups.

Chris has worked with a range of reputable businesses such as Red Bull, Sidecar, Umami Burger as well as more civically-minded projects like the community outreach campaign for the L.A. Streetcar, marketing engagements for Jose Huizar’s Bringing Back Broadway, Pershing Square Renew, and the Los Angeles Public Library. Prior to founding WeAreGiants, Chris graduated from the Art Institute of Los Angeles in 2003 and was an art director at TBWA Chiat/Day with a focus on print, branding, and strategy. In that role he worked with many highly regarded clients like Nissan, Infiniti, Lucky Brand Jeans, and Playstation.

Chris has a deep love for community building and playing dodgeball so in 2008, he fused the two when he co-founded The Eagle Rock Yacht Club. ERYC is a non-profit adult dodgeball league with chapters in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Detroit. Through dodgeball, The Yacht Club hopes to inspire its members to pursue the common good via civic service, relationships with rec centers, and our youth.


Nora Gilbert, Board Member, NLC LA 2016 Fellow


Nora Gilbert is the Director of Strategic Projects and Partnerships at Represent.Us, a grassroots organization that brings together Americans from across the political spectrum to pass anti-corruption laws. Before joining Represent.Us, Nora focused on food and agriculture policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and as the Director of Special Projects for journalist Mark Bittman, in addition to positions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, PolicyLink, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Nora received dual Master's degrees in City and Regional Planning and Public Health from UC Berkeley, and her B.A. in Sociology from Wesleyan University.




David Radcliff, Board Member, NLC LA 2016 Fellow


David Radcliff was a fellow of the 2016 NLC LA Institute and co-directed the 2017 Institute. He is also an alumnus of the Riordan Leadership Program and of USC and UCLA.

For several years, David has worked as a content strategist, copywriter, and speechwriter for a range of clients, including Southern California Grantmakers, Nickelodeon Studios, The Milken Foundation Celebration of Science, Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles, and Innovation Protocol. He enjoys helping socially conscious businesses and non-profits perfect their messaging and share their stories.

Born with cerebral palsy, David is an active member of the Committee for Writers with Disabilities at the Writers Guild of America, West, and has spoken on issues of disability and diversity for audiences at AFI SilverDocs, HBO, the Annenberg Innovation Lab, The LA Diversity Film Festival, and the Kennedy Center. He has also taught and assistant taught writing and communications courses at high school, collegiate, and graduate levels.

In 2017, David co-produced the Writers Guild of America, West panel “Bodies of Work: Writing Characters with Disabilities in Accessible Ways,” which featured showrunners David Shore (The Good Doctor) and Robia Rashid (Atypical).

David’s writing has been directed by Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary) and has been published in the Huffington Post, Forbes, and The World Trademark Review. He received top honors at the Austin Film Festival and was one of ten writers selected for participation in the 2018 Disney-ABC Writing Program.

He currently writes for primetime television on ABC.


Conor Tucker, Board Member

Conor Tucker

Conor Tucker graduated from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in May of 2017. He is currently an associate at a law firm based in Century City.

Although new to Los Angeles, Conor has been involved in the progressive movement for most of the last decade. While abroad working on his masters degree in the U.K., Conor co-founded a charity to provide under-served students financial support for after school activities. Conor returned to the U.S. in 2012 and worked in the field for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. Conor then joined Organizing for Action as the New Jersey State Coordinator.

While in law school, Conor helped lead the campus chapter of the American Constitution Society and founded the Speakers Union to encourage free speech and debate on campus. Conor spent his last year of law school in Northwestern's Federal Criminal Appellate Clinic, where he represented two clients in their criminal appeals. Off campus, Conor served on the Associate Board of Chicago Scholars (a Chicago non-profit helping talented and ambitious students from under-resourced neighborhoods get to and through college), continued organizing, and fundraised for a political campaign.

Conor is married and has two daughters.


Rabiah Rahman, Board Member, NLC LA 2017 Fellow

Rabiah Rahman

Rabiah Rahman is a Labor and Employment Law attorney with Strauss & Strauss, APC., defending workers’ rights throughout the State of California. Rabiah is a proud Californian, raised in the Central Valley and currently lives in Ventura County. A voice for social justice since college, she revamped the UCLA Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Project, and has continued to work with incarcerated youth throughout law school and currently through Girls, Inc.

Rabiah holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from UCLA and received her law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law. While at Berkeley Law, Rabiah represented her fellow law students as the Boalt Hall Student Association Vice President, and served as the Managing Editor of the Berkeley Journal of African American Law and Policy. During law school, Rabiah represented refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia who were claiming asylum in Egypt. She also worked for a human rights consulting NGO in The Netherlands, helping Baltic Nations implement international criminal law standards into their domestic prosecution of war crimes. Rabiah remains committed to using her voice to champion social justice and progressive values on the various boards she sits on locally and throughout California.

When Rabiah isn’t fighting for workers’ rights, she enjoys doing improv, hiking, going for long distance bike rides, and karaoke.


Juan Gavida, Board Member, NLC LA 2017 Fellow

Juan Gavida

Juan Gavidia is excited to join the NLC Los Angeles fellowship and plans to combine his passion for the mental health, behavioral health, and substance abuse fields with an innovative and fresh perspective. He believes that becoming a change agent starts with knowledge, understanding, self-awareness and empathy for the experiences of people from marginalized communities.

After emigrating to the U.S. from El Salvador as a child, Juan grew up dreaming of obtaining the highest levels of education and work in a career that takes advantage his natural talents. Over the past six years, Juan has worked his way up in the field of mental health from counselor to a clinical therapist. He understands that success has as much to do with his own hard work as with the sacrifice of his family, and the people that have put their heart and soul into the progressive movement. He wants to honor those that have made this country great, continue their work, and inspire the next generation to create positive change.

Juan earned his BA in Psychology from Cal State University Long Beach (CSULB), MA in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University Los Angeles (AULA) and is currently a doctoral candidate at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles. In addition, Juan completed master’s level specialization training focusing on Applied Community Psychology (e.g., program development, program evaluation) at AULA. Over the past six years, he has provided mental health services to low-income children, families and people suffering from severe mental health conditions (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, prodromal psychosis). Furthermore, Juan hopes to advocate for access to quality mental health services for people from marginalized communities.


Lucerito Ortiz, Board Member and Selections Chair, NLC LA 2016 Fellow 

Lucerito Ortiz

Lucerito Ortiz, daughter of immigrant parents from Guatemala and Mexico, has always been passionate about issues of educational access and equity. She currently works as a Consultant at Promise54, providing support to educational organizations on the topics of talent, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Prior to joining Promse54, she served as the Senior Manager of Data and Impact for UnidosUS, the largest Latino civil rights organization in the country, developing data collection strategies to better measure and communicate UnidosUS’s work and impact. Lucerito also served as UnidosUS’s Escalera Manager, overseeing Escalera: Taking Steps to Success, a national college and career readiness program supporting Latino students across the country.

Lucerito began her career in higher education, serving as a Senior Admissions Officer at Harvard College, where she Co-Directed the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program and the Tour Guide Program. While at Harvard, Lucerito ran an educational summer camp for youth in Boston, oversaw national outreach and recruitment efforts for students of color across the country, served as a staff advisor for various student organizations, and was highly involved in issues of diversity and inclusion. Lucerito also served as an Education Pioneers Fellow and Consultant at The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, conducting research and analysis on leadership development and human capital strategy.

Lucerito holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Studies with a minor in Psychology from Harvard College, and a master’s in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


Joel Frost-Tift, Board Member, NLC LA 2014 Fellow

Clint Schaff

Joel is an immigration attorney with Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project. He represents immigrants from all over the world who are in removal proceedings, many of whom are detained. He believes passionately in fighting the horrific abuses being perpetrated against his clients and other immigrants across the country. His advocacy has also led him to become an Assembly District Delegate for the Democratic Party in the 59th Assembly District. In addition he is on the board of the South LA Democratic club and the American Constitution Society.

In his spare time Joel is a competitive marathon and ultramarathon runner. He enjoys climbing mountains and eating delicious vegan food.


Andres Cuervo, Board Member, NLC LA 2018 Fellow

Clint Schaff

Andres Cuervo is part of leadership team of the Vice Chancellor of External Affairs at UCLA, where he serves as Director of Operations and Strategic Partnerships to help oversee the planning, budget, and execution of UCLA's Centennial. Andres formerly served as Director of UCLA Tech + Innovation, an initiative to engage the tech sector, foster innovation, address inequity in the tech talent pipeline, and communicate the latest scientific breakthroughs from the university to the public in new and compelling ways. In this role, Andres coordinated collaborations and projects such as the launch of the University's first innovation portal, the UCLA Tech Talk Series, Bruin Code Summer Academy with Urban TxT, the autonomous vehicle working group, and the Luskin Automated Robot Assistant.

Prior to UCLA Tech + Innovation, Andres managed marketing and communications for UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, where he led the rebranding of the school, as well as the launch of seven new websites, an online magazine, and a newsletter recognized by the Council for the Advancement & Support of Education. Before joining UCLA, Andres coordinated education and workforce development programs for the Riverside Chambers of Commerce, including the Small Business Resource Expo, the Business Education Partnership Council, and the Riverside College & Career Fair.

Andres earned his B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Sociology from the University of California, Riverside. There, he co-authored the Green Campus Action Plan, the University’s first student-led referendum to reduce campus waste and dependence on CO2. Andres was recently appointed as Commissioner by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to the County's Quality and Productivity Commission and was recognized by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress as one of 40 Under 40 leaders in Los Angeles. He serves on the boards of Out in Tech L.A. and New Leaders Council L.A., and recently completed his two-year term as Vice President of the Palms Neighborhood Council.


Alanna Holt, Board Member, NLC LA 2018 Fellow

Clint Schaff

Alanna Holt is an attorney who is proudly doing work disrupting systems of mass incarceration and deportation. Currently, Alanna serves as a Managing Attorney at Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef), a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to children and adults in immigration removal proceedings. Alanna oversees and trains a team of attorneys representing adults with mental illness facing deportation. Alanna has also served as a public defender and worked on criminal justice reform advocacy.

She is an Los Angeles native that has lived all over the country, but ultimately decided that California is better than not California. She was a member of the inaugural NLC Los Angeles Engaged Fellowship in 2017.



Sarah Esquivel, Board Member, NLC LA 2018 Fellow

Clint Schaff

Sarah Esquivel serves as the Associate Director of Recruitment and Admission at the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. Sarah’s life’s work and personal experiences as a woman of color cemented her strong passion for higher educational accessibility as a means to improve social justice by enabling intergenerational mobility. Sarah currently serves on the standing committee for the Price School’s Initiative for Diversity, Social Justice, and Inclusion where she oversees recruitment and retention. In this role, she conducts outreach to local organizations and public schools to create pipeline programs for underrepresented students interested in public policy and urban planning. Sarah also serves on the selection committee for the Initiative’s scholarships.

A first-generation college student, Sarah first became passionate about educational equity at Occidental College, where she majored in Sociology and Spanish Literary Studies. Her sociology background heavily influenced her progressive political views and activism. Sarah’s senior thesis on racial microaggressions and campus climate helped her to discover the importance of support systems for systemically oppressed students. As a senior, Sarah also worked for Oxy’s Office of Admission where she helped to coordinate multicultural visit programs for prospective students. Her experience working with underrepresented students and their parents led her to pursue a career in higher education. She completed her Master’s in Education in Postsecondary Administration and Student Affairs at the University of Southern California, and will begin a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program this fall.

Sarah was born in San Jose, Costa Rica but grew up in Los Angeles, California. Like the stereotypical native Angeleno, she enjoys hiking, yoga, and going to the beach (but only when it’s above 70 degrees). When she isn’t experimenting with recipes from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook, Sarah dedicates her free time to photography, food festivals, and proudly representing the inaugural NLC Palms crew.


Maria Morrisson Copolillo, NLC Institute Co-Director, NLC LA 2018 Fellow

Clint Schaff

Maria Morrisson Copolillo believes in the power of education and in great schools, teachers, and administrators. In her current role as a Blended Learning Manager at PowerMyLearning, she strives to increase teacher retention at Title I schools and help teachers create transformative educational experiences for students. Maria is a 2018 New Leaders Council Los Angeles alum and a 2017 NLC Engaged LA alum.

Maria has 8 years of work experience in public education and the non-profit sector. Her career in education started in 2010 as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in a rural public school in Yilan, Taiwan. She then taught sixth grade in Miami, Florida as a Teach for America corps member and founding member of the Miami Mentorship Project for fellow teachers. As a middle school math teacher in New Orleans, Maria helped pioneer and launch the first grade-wide 1-to-1 technology initiative at KIPP New Orleans Schools. In June of 2018, she presented a sold-out session at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference, one of the most influential edtech events in the world.

Maria grew up running around the woods and beaches of the rural Pacific Northwest and has lived in Los Angeles for almost three years. She holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Lewis & Clark College and a M.S. in Education and Social Change from the University of Miami. When Maria isn’t working, she performs improv comedy with her team the Involuntary Dropouts, plays guitar, gardens, and camps around Southern California with her handsome husband.


Weiss Hamid, Board Member, NLC LA 2018 Fellow

Clint Schaff

Weiss Hamid is a litigation associate at Buchalter, APC, in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Southern California, Weiss holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from UCLA. There, he served as president of the United Afghan Club, helping raise funds to build wells in rural Afghanistan, as well as serving as a mentor for local Afghan-American high school students.

While attending Loyola Law School, Weiss served as Editor-in- Chief of Production of the Los Angeles Public Interest Law Journal, a collaborative law journal that works across the Loyola, USC, UCLA, and Pepperdine campuses, focusing on producing academic and practitioner articles that promote social issues pertinent to Los Angeles, such as immigration, human trafficking, and civil rights for the LGBTQ community.

Additionally, Weiss is a coordinator for the Samovar Network, a virtual discussion group among Afghan-Americans about current events and advancing issues relevant to the Afghan community.

When Weiss isn’t lawyering, his interests are basketball and improv, in no particular order.


Armughan Syed, NLC Institute Co-Director, NLC LA 2018 Fellow

Armughan (pronounced: Ar-ma-gan) Syed grew up in Pakistan, England and moved to Switzerland at 14 (his dad has worked for the UN since the late 90s). He earned his Bachelors of Arts in Economics and English from Boston University (after spending his freshman year at Royal Holloway, University of London). It was during this time that he studied abroad for a semester in Brazil, South Africa and New Zealand as part of the International Honors Program (he met his wife through IHP!). He holds certificates of General Management from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the University of Chicago. He also got his Masters in International Business from the International University in Geneva.

Armughan has spent the last 4.5 years organizing communities in Australia, New Zealand & Canada (as part of his work at NationBuilder and as a freelance consultant). His primary area of focus has been helping progressive organizations (such as Australians for Equality, the Australian Green party, CollectiveShout Australia) digitize their community organizing efforts. He also trained the major political parties of Australia and New Zealand in the lead up to their federal elections in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Armughan is a long distance runner (having run the 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathons). He is also passionate about getting immigrant communities moving through initiatives like Fasting5K LA 2017 (which raised over $50,000 for the Muslim Youth Leadership Project, Black Youth Leadership Project, Chicano Youth Leadership Project and Asian Pacific Youth Leadership Project).

At present, Armughan’s focus is completing his MBA from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (Fight On!), where he is a Consortium Fellow. As a proud vegan and a Good Food Institute Campus Fellow at Marshall, he’s also involved in finding ways to grow the number of entrepreneurs in the plant-based food space.

Armughan and his wife, also an avid vegan, live in West LA. They have three rambunctious dogs that drive them nuts!


Cat Plein, Advisory Board Member, NLC LA 2017 Fellow 

Lucerito Ortiz

Cat Plein is a community architect, educator, and digital media pro based in the Los Angeles area. She is a co-founder of Pantsuit Nation, a 4 million member group focused on creating a more equitable and engaged democracy.

Cat got her start community organizing at age 6, when her dad offered her a Happy Meal in exchange for knocking on doors on behalf of their next door neighbor, who was running for City Council. Since then she has wielded clipboards in the summer heat for the South Carolina Democratic Party, managed large projects in aerospace, created digital communication strategy for events and campaigns, and built a 501(c) 3 and 501(c)4 from the ground up.

She co-directed New Leader's Council Los Angeles 2018 Institute, and is excited to serve as a Board member in 2019 (even if she may have Tennis Channel FOMO in January).

A South Carolina native, Cat now lives in Los Angeles with her wife and their co-dependent dogs and cat. She is an avid backpacker and amateur photographer. If she is not in Los Angeles you will likely find her chasing perfect light in the High Sierra.


Maya Paley, Board Member, NLC LA 2015 Fellow 


Maya Paley is the Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement at the National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles, where she has served in various Director roles since 2012. Maya leads NCJW | LA’s policy advocacy on a variety of social justice issues, including reproductive rights and justice, human trafficking, gender-related violence, and economic justice. Maya played a significant advocacy role in the campaigns for paid sick days in Los Angeles and for various state bills aimed at decriminalizing human trafficking survivors.

In her role at NCJW | LA, Maya co-founded and launched The Talk Project, a peer-to-peer sexual violence prevention program in high schools, the Human Trafficking Outreach Project, which helps implement an important state law to provide trafficking victims with access to help, and the Advocacy Training Project, which trains participants to be effective advocates through six annual workshops.

Before coming to NCJW | LA, Maya developed college and career preparation programs for teenage girls living in under-resourced communities of Los Angeles, researched the effects of anti-human trafficking and domestic violence legislation in Tbilisi, Georgia, and researched the lived experiences of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel.

Maya earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from UC Berkeley and her master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University, with a concentration on Economic and Political Development and a focus on gender and migration. In 2018, Maya received the Outstanding Woman Leader Award from the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Monica Commission on the Status of Women.

Above all else, Maya loves to have fun! She loves musicals, singing karaoke, and eating as much chocolate as possible.


Viviann Anguiano, Board Member, NLC LA 2017 Fellow 

Viviann Anguiano serves as Associate Director, Policy and Legislative Advocacy for the Alliance for a Better Community (ABC). In this role, Viviann leads ABC’s education policy and advocacy initiatives that support the advancement of educational equity in the region through coalition building, policy development and implementation, and creating public awareness of ABC’s education policy agenda.
Anguiano has experience increasing college access among first generation low-income students of color in Chicago, advocating for equitable K-12 policies in Los Angeles, and analyzing K-16 federal education policy. Previously, Anguiano managed the advocacy and community organizing efforts with the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to advance more equitable funding policies within the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has performed policy analysis and research for UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino nonprofit advocacy organization, on K-12 and higher education issues. At UnidosUS, Anguiano provided analyses of various proposed regulations to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act as well as the Borrower Defense to Repayment Regulations, aimed at protecting student borrowers and holding higher education institutions accountable for misrepresentation. She also performed research on family engagement models for English Learners.

Anguiano began her career in direct service at a state agency, working for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission as a college advisor. She partnered with high schools, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to counsel Black and Latino youth in Chicago Public Schools’ north and west sides. Anguiano went on to work in higher education as a multicultural admission counselor focused on increasing postsecondary access to first-generation, low-income, and students of color in Chicago. She founded the two-year college, Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago, an innovate two-year postsecondary model providing low-income students with an affordable, rigorous, accredited, and liberal arts option to complete an associate’s degree. At Arrupe, Viviann served as the Founding Assistant Director of Admission where she led the college’s recruitment and strategic partnership efforts.

Anguiano is deeply committed to improving academic outcomes and the economic mobility of historically underserved communities. Her commitment to educational justice and equity stems from her experience as a daughter of Mexican immigrants and first generation college graduate. She grew up in the Chicago region aiming to realize the dreams of her family to have access to a college education. Anguiano earned her bachelor’s degree from Loyola University Chicago and went on to earn her master’s degree in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


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