2021 Summer Interns
The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is pleased to announce the Summer Internship Program Class of 2021.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 concerns, the Summer Internship Program looks different from any other since its beginning 19 years ago. AAPD is proud to offer its first ever virtual Summer Internship Program. The 2021 cohort is a blended cohort of interns from 2020 and 2021. Since the internship aspect of the program could not be executed last year, AAPD is welcoming back many of the Disability Advocacy Certificate Program Class of 2020 as well as a new class.
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Dr. Karen Arcos was raised in southern California and is of Colombian and Mauritian background. She is a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow researching memory at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She earned her Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience and an emphasis in Chicano Latino Studies from the University of California, Irvine. As a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, her doctoral research focused on how your senses – or lack of them – impact your ability to remember information.
Thanks to those who have helped her be where she is today, Karen is passionate about giving back to her community. She mentors students on undergraduate and graduate admissions processes, as well as on conducting experimental procedures. As an alumna and volunteer at Blind Children’s Center, she has experience working with children whose disabilities range from blindness to intellectual, along with sharing her insights with parents using her Spanish bilingual and bicultural fluency. She also co-founded a regional support group by and for youth with disabilities and their families called Survive or Thrive.
Bruno Matthew Arnold
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)
Matthew Arnold is a rising senior at the University of West Florida working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in English with a specification on Creative and Legislative Writing. During his time at the University Matthew has served four years as a Senator for Student Government wherein he was the Senator of the Year 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. He started a non-profit organization in the State of Florida targeted at assisting the disparities in the disability community known as Trident Disabilities Inc. Matthew enjoys participating in undergrad research in various fields including American History and English Education. He also participates in many local and state initiatives such as the Equal Justice Initiative, Southeastern Guide Dogs Walkathons, and Rally in Tally just to name a few. Matthew Arnold works with state legislators to bring together a more inclusive and accessible Florida. Matthew wants to dedicate his life to disability advocacy regardless of career and believes our stories, advocacy, and triumphs over adversity are the most empowering tools we have.
Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Katy Brennan is a rising Junior at Columbia University studying Human Rights and Hispanic Studies. She is an activist and a writer, and has worked extensively on issues of gender-based violence, disability rights, and climate justice. Her writing, which often focuses on disability and chronic illness, has been published in Al Jazeera, Yahoo News, and NYAToday. Katy previously served as Digital Content Director to Diversability for three years where she fostered inclusive spaces online to discuss disability-related issues. In the future, she hopes to pursue a JD/PhD in disability rights law, in order to address pervasive inaccessibility in domestic and international legal systems.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Community Planning and Development
Jonas Bryson is a recent graduate of North Carolina State University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and minored in History. A native of Wilmington, NC, Jonas has dedicated his life to standing up for the marginalized and learning more about the world around him. From his first job where he taught children with disabilities how to surf at a charity where he used to be a student, to writing stories for his local newspaper, to interning at the New Hanover County Public Defender’s Office, to even working in the halls of Congress and in the Office of the Governor of North Carolina, Jonas has always sought to challenge the status quo and bring people together around a program of liberty and justice for all.
At the end of the day, he believes, there is little that cannot be accomplished when regular people stand together and recognize their common humanity. Compassion, he maintains, ought to be at the center of policymaking and to him that means that everybody, regardless of the cards that they were dealt at birth, should be able to live the American Dream of having a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. When he’s not applying to graduate school or volunteering on political campaigns, Jonas can be found playing piano or his beloved Fender Stratocaster, gushing about Star Wars, or re-watching old stand-up comedy specials, oftentimes simultaneously.
World Institute on Disability
Gusti Budiarta completed his master’s degree in Global Development at Cornell University in May 2021. He is passionate about international disability rights and global mental health. During his time at Cornell, he was able to conduct several independent studies in some topics such as disability in the workplace, comorbidity of learning disability, and disability-inclusive development program for people with mental health issues. He wants to be a researcher in the field of Global Mental Health and also aspires to be an international advocate for people with mental health issues and psychiatric disabilities. He likes to go hiking and enjoys oil-painting.
Smithsonian Institution, Arts + Industries Building
Sarit Cahana (she/her) graduated from Lewis & Clark College in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Gender Studies minor. She started her disability advocacy work in High School after not getting the support she needed for her disability in the classroom. Since then, she has continued to promote accessibility and educate about the disability community. In college, she founded and led the Disabled Student Union. There, she built a community for and advocated on behalf of disabled students. She has worked in politics, nonprofits, and as a community organizer. She is interested in working to make the educational system and museums accessible for people with disabilities. She also enjoys knitting and reading.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
Danny Charney is a rising senior at the University of Puget Sound working towards a bachelor’s degree in Politics and Government and Communications. Danny has previously worked with GLSEN, a national LGBTQ nonprofit, working with students across the country in ensuring respect and kindness in school. Through his coursework at Puget Sound, he became increasingly interested in advancing self-advocacy and accessibility for students with learning disabilities. While at Puget Sound, Danny has served as a student senator, advocating for students with disabilities in roundtables and meetings to ensure students got the accommodations and respect they deserve on campus. Danny’s extracurricular interests revolve around student engagement: He is currently a resident assistant on campus, supporting first year students with the transition into college. He is also the Lectures Coordinator for the university, bringing speakers from diverse backgrounds to give important lessons to the campus community. After he graduates, Danny plans to enter the journalism/media relations field with the goal of highlighting stories and experiences that often don’t get shared.
Senator John Ossoff (D-GA)
Rasheera Dopson is a Disability Justice Activist, Author, Speaker, and philanthropist. Born with two rare diseases GoldenHar syndrome and Vater syndrome these two medical conditions have caused her to have over 103 surgeries. She lives at the intersection of having both physical disabilities and chronic illness. She is currently a 1st-year student at Morehouse School of Medicine studying Public Health. Her main areas of focus are health policy and research. She hopes to one day explore concepts of intersectionality that include disability in the field of academia and how they can be bridged together through further disability research.
Alongside her academic path, Rasheera has also served as a fierce advocate for the Disability community at large. She has been called upon to share her personal and professional experiences in living with a disability and chronic health conditions from organizations across the country. Her most recent work has been a guest panelist for Texas Children’s Hospital at Baylor Medical College and their panel discussion on Psychosocial care and experiences for individuals with craniofacial conditions. Her collaboration initiatives can also be seen among patient-focused organizations and initiatives such as; The Children Craniofacial Association(CCA), FACES National Association of Craniofacial Conditions, The Georgia Council of Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), NORD, Global Genes network, The Every life Foundation, Rare Advocacy Movement, and many others.
National Council on Disability
Jaelyn Evans of Chicago, Illinois is a member of the class of 2022 at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is pursuing a Political Science major and a Chinese minor. Her academic honors include Dean’s List, membership in Omicron Delta Kappa – a national leadership honor society, and membership in Pi Sigma Alpha – a national political science honor society. During the fall of 2019, she studied abroad in Beijing, China as a recipient of the Chinese government scholarship. Jaelyn began her advocacy for marginalized people in high school and has continued to remain passionate about this cause. She currently serves on her school’s Black Student Alliance, and as a senator and the chair of the Academic Affairs committee for Student Government. After graduating, Jaelyn plans on attending law school and eventually working in the federal government, continuing to advocate for the rights of marginalized people.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Community Living
Courtney Felle (she/they) recently graduated from Kenyon College. Within their American Studies major, they developed a focus on Health, Illness, and Disability Studies, and they have an English minor and Public Policy concentration. They aim to combine disability and chronic illness advocacy with healthcare policy, improving healthcare access and outcomes for all, especially underserved populations. Previously, they have interned with the Anthem, Inc. Disability Policy Engagement Team, the Museum of Disability History, and the Knox CountyHealth Department, and they co-led Kenyon’s LGBTQ+ women and gender-nonconforming students’ affinity group. In their free time, they enjoy crocheting, drinking tea, making overly specific Spotify playlists, and taking long road trips.
Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD)
Originally from Clarksville, Maryland, Naomi Hess is a rising senior at Princeton University, where she is majoring in the School of Public & International Affairs with minors in Journalism and Gender & Sexuality Studies. On campus, Naomi is an Associate News Editor for The Daily Princetonian and a peer academic adviser for her residential college. She is a Community Engagement Intern at the Princeton Center for Jewish Life, where she initiated and leads annual Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month Shabbats. As a Student Fellow for the AccessAbility Center, she plans events supporting Princeton students with disabilities and runs communications channels for the Center.
Naomi got her start in disability activism at a young age through her position as the Maryland State Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association for two consecutive years. She served as a Public Policy Intern for the Center for Disability Rights in Summer 2019, with one of her main projects being a position paper about increasing the political engagement of people with disabilities. In 2020, she participated in the AAPD Disability Advocacy Certificate Program and worked as a Communications and Engagement Intern for Global Fund for Women. Naomi hopes to combine her passions for politics and writing in her future career in disability advocacy. In her spare time, Naomi likes to read, watch TV, and spend time with friends.
National Council on Disability
Kristin Kumagawa is a rising junior at Chapman University studying communication, disability studies, and public relations. She was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in seventh grade, which has largely impacted her desire to increase disability awareness and accessibility in the media. Kristin was a recipient of the 2020 NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship, and works two campus jobs. In her free time, she makes content for the non-profit PPE4ALL (a non-profit which distributes personal protective equipment), is a member of Chapman’s Bateman team (a national public relations competition), as well as Greek Life as a Tri Delta. Her creativity and passion for inclusivity are what drive her to do as much as she can to impact others and her surroundings. Her service dog, Mailie, and her family are also large contributors to her success.
Nahyun (Jennifer) Lee
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Jennifer Lee is a rising junior at Princeton University, majoring in the School of Public and International Affairs with certificates in Italian and Asian American Studies. Hailing from northern New Jersey, Jennifer is incredibly passionate about civic engagement and disability advocacy, with a vested interest in public policy and law as a future career. A proud Korean-American immigrant, Jennifer cares very deeply about exploring the intersection between culture and service. At Princeton, Jennifer serves as the co-president of the Asian American Students Association, the largest cultural advocacy group for Asian Pacific Islanders and Desi Americans on campus. She also acts as the co-chair of the Pace Civic Leadership Council, a campus organization that connects students to service opportunities while incubating professional leadership development. Furthermore, Jennifer is a Project Manager with Princeton University Nonprofit Consulting, a chair for the Program in Law and Public Affairs, and an Undergraduate Associate with the Liechtenstein Institute for Self-Determination. Last summer, Jennifer partook in the inaugural Vote100 Fellowship, a campus campaign aspiring for 100% of the Princeton undergraduate student body to engage civically.
Jennifer was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in June 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. As such, she became incredibly involved with her collegiate disability community her sophomore fall, particularly through her Undergraduate Student Government’s Disability Task Force and the Disability Collective, a student-run support network. As a newfound disability advocate for chronic illness, Jennifer is a 2021 International Fellow with the Crohn’s and Colitis Young Adult Network (CCYAN) and serves on the National Council for College Leaders in partnership with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
Jake Linn is an artist and action oriented-advocate who focuses on using creative tools to drive public policy changes at all/any system. This is executed through the arts such as film and graphic design. Jake loves to work with anyone and everyone to reduce stigma and discrimination while improve inclusive opportunities. You can often hear him say, “while policy can be made into law, art is what shifts perspective and culture.” Jake is most passionate working on LGBT+, Jewish, disability, and brain health initiatives, as those are the communities he identifies with.
Along the way of his artistic and advocacy journey, Jake became a California Art Scholar with work showcased in numerous galleries in Midtown Sacramento, California as well as Arts of Life’s Circle Contemporary Gallery in Chicago, Illinois. His writing was published in The Sacramento Bee and School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fnewsmagazine. Jake was also featured in The New York Times’ Upfront Magazine. His upcoming projects include writing a book alongside AAPD’s 2020 and 2021 cohort, creating a film interviewing prominent figures with disabilities regarding Hollywood’s disability depiction, and a panel debunking conversion therapy.
Association of People Supporting Employment First
Fermina knew at an early age she would have challenges in life due to her disability but she has not allowed her disability to stop her from her career goals. Born with a rare genetic disorder Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CDLS) which causes cognitive and physical development delays, Fermina has faced many barriers in life. Even though Fermina continues to deal with medical challenges, she has not allowed her condition to keep her from success.
Fermina graduated in 2020, from the IDEAL Program at Lipscomb University and is seeking a career as an Event Planner or in the Entertainment Industry. While attending Lipscomb, Fermina enrolled in college courses such as Public speaking, event planning, and on camera delivery to gain skills for her desired career. Fermina’s most recent accomplishments are serving as a discussion panelist at the MNPS Exceptional Ed Teacher Conference, collaborating with several State departments and local agencies to be a motivational speaker at the 2019 Youth Advisory Conference, being a Peer Mentor at the Summer Youth Leadership Academy 2019/20, which earned her an EmpowerTN Peer Mentor Award. Fermina has participated as an intern at EmpowerTN and served as an intern at the Frist Museum in Spring 2020. Recently Fermina has participated in a live radio podcast on the West Coast celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote. Fermina plans to continue to advocate for people with disabilities and seek opportunities in the Entertainment Industry.
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Elizabeth McCormick received her B.A. in Public Policy and Management from SUNY Albany in May 2021. Elizabeth was born with cerebral palsy and grew up in Niagara Falls, New York. Throughout her childhood she realized the struggles disabled people face and became passionate about disability justice and advocacy. She is specifically interested in societal attitudes about disability, reforming the social insurance system, the experiences of disabled people in higher education and transition services, as well as accessibility of housing and transportation. On her college campus she advocated for disabled students and was President of Delta Alpha Pi, the honor society for disabled students. In Spring 2021, she participated in her school’s Semester in Washington program where she lived in Washington, D.C. and was an intern for the D.C. Office of Disability Rights. Previously, she interned for Disability Rights New York. In the future, she would like to receive her Master of Public Administration and advocate for systems-level change in her professional career. When not engaging in activism, Elizabeth loves musical theatre and all things Disney.
Monica Mesecar is attending her final semester at the University of Notre Dame. She graduated in May 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience and Behavior, as well as a minor in Compassionate Care in Medicine. Monica is the founder and president of the student club “Access-ABLE”—a group made up of students with disabilities and allies that seeks to promote advocacy, spread disability awareness, and build community at Notre Dame.
Her time in college and experience with Access-ABLE ignited her passion for disability advocacy, and she hopes to further develop these skills through this program. Currently, her aspirations are to pursue post-baccalaureate neuroscience research before applying to an MD-PhD program. This dual-degree program would allow her to become a physician while also pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience. Eventually, she hopes to become a neurologist or psychiatrist, conduct neuroscience research, teach the next generation of students, and advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities, especially in both STEM-fields and medicine. In pursuit of these goals, she has already completed multiple summers of research, including the University of Delaware’s specific program for students with disabilities in STEM (SELI-REU program). In addition to her AAPD internship, Monica has also been selected as a Disability:IN Next Generation Leader for the Summer of 2021.
Center for American Progress
Kelly is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Psychology and minoring in Urban Education. On campus, she is the President of Penn’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national community service fraternity; on the executive board of Disability Advocacy at Penn; and volunteers in West Philadelphia schools and at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. As a result of her personal and volunteer experiences that she has been fortunate to become involved with, she hopes to go into occupational therapy or special education after graduation.
Elayne Otstot is a recent graduate and aspiring attorney/public health policy professional from the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. She is passionate about emergency management and disaster preparedness; disability access and inclusion; and health disparities affecting rural, disabled, and other vulnerable and marginalized communities. Currently, Elayne is the communications and member engagement coordinator at The Alliance for Citizen Directed Supports, and former newsfeed researcher for the Disability and Abuse Project. She is an alumnus of the inaugural law fellowship cohort at the Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy, and Innovation at Loyola Law School. Elayne holds a graduate certificate in disability policy through Loyola, and a bachelor’s degree in public health from the University of Texas at Arlington. As an undergraduate student, she served for two years as the Office for Disability Services’ representative to the President’s Diversity Roundtable and led a community health education project on HPV prevention.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Office of Federal Operations
Louis Paniccioli is a recent graduate of the College Of Staten Island, where he majored in Political Science with a dual minor in legal studies and philosophy. His interest in politics began when he first took a political science course in his sophomore year at the College Of Staten Island. He learned about the dynamics of politics and how it could bring about social justice; having experienced discrimination as a brown man with disabilities, he saw politics as a way to secure equal opportunity and true justice for all. He developed as a leader through participation in various student organizations. He became avidly involved with the Staten Island and New York State Young Democrats, the New York State Democratic Committee’s youth divisions. Louis interned with Nonviolence International, an International NGO, researching and analyzing International small arms trafficking in addition to interning with the Office of now Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer. Given his diligence, persistence, and determination to overcome all odds, Louis is confident he can succeed in whatever he puts his mind to. Louis aspires to become a lawyer, pursue legal and electoral political careers and write both legislation and policy. When he is not busy watching the news about current events, he enjoys reading books about civil and human rights and binge-watching movies.
U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environment, Health, Safety, and Security
Vraj Patel is a rising junior at Rutgers University pursuing a major in Computer Science and a minor in Mathematics. At a young age, he developed a passion for discovering new uses for technology and understanding how it positively impacts people’s lives. His curiosity has led him to conduct independent research centered on credit card fraud detection and predicting heart disease in patients. At present, he possesses several certifications, including Microsoft Software Development Fundamentals, Microsoft Mobility and Device Fundamentals, and CompTIA IT Fundamentals. While he continues to feed his passion for learning, Vraj also remains committed to paying it forward. He has volunteered at a local library to teach coding to young students and is now a leader in the Computer Science Developer club at his university. He has contributed his knowledge in software engineering, finance data science, web development, and IT while volunteering and interning at several local businesses and nonprofits. Outside of work and studies, Vraj enjoys traveling and the thrill of exploring new destinations.
Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network
Mariah “Riah” Person has been a student of Metropolitan Community College & University of Nebraska at Nebraska. In 2019, the same year they began to experience autistic burnout that led to their autism diagnosis, Riah was accepted into an art fellowship at the Union for Contemporary Arts. The end of the year project was a Autistic space event that involved applying accessibility from a social lense. Since then, Riah has been introduced to frameworks such as disability justice, abolition, healing justice, restorative/transformative justice, and more. The frameworks have given them a better perspective on how to participate in building liberation within their community. They’re excited to learn how to better play a part in building community centered solutions.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Catalina Romero is a 21 years old southern Californian. She graduated in May 2021 with a major in Social Work from Gallaudet University. Growing up as a deaf Latina has helped her find a spark in social work and advocacy. She has been on a debate team at Gallaudet for a semester. Catalina hopes to work closely with reforming the criminal justice system, and she is passionate about giving back to the community. Majoring in social work has helped her grow as a person along with her life experiences. She loves to travel whenever she can, and she enjoys nature photography.
National Disability Rights Network
Xuan (pronounced Sue Anne) Truong is a current Graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She currently serves the University Career Center as a Graduate Assistant, focusing on Disability Outreach. She received her undergraduate in International Studies from NC State University and her Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management at UNC Charlotte in 2019. Currently, she is pursuing her Masters of Social Work (MSW). Xuan plans to apply her education and experiences into making employment more accessible and equitable for the disabled population on both the local and global scale.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Multifamily Housing
Justin Tsang is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, where he is finishing his degree in Urban Studies this Spring. Justin has been passionate about helping others with disabilities live fulfilling lives. His interdisciplinary knowledge in public health, urban planning, psychology, and architecture has helped him bridge the connection between cities and individuals with disabilities. Justin is particularly interested in housing policy, universal design, healthcare equity, and community services to help the disabled population. Justin is part of the Spectrum Connect program at UC Berkeley and enjoys engaging in discussion groups and recreational activities with other diverse students on the Autism Spectrum. Before attending UC Berkeley, Justin has volunteered at a wide range of settings, including hospitals, homeless shelters, and disability-focused nonprofit organizations. Justin was also a participant at the Youth Organizing! Disabled and Proud program of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC) and the Raise the Roof program at The Kelsey in San Francisco. Justin aims to pursue a career in housing and community development, passionate about working either at the federal, state, or local level. In his free time, Justin enjoys hiking, watching movies, exploring new music, and surfing.
U.S. International Council on Disability
Jesica was born and raised in Northern Virginia, and she is currently a rising senior at SUNY Binghamton. At Binghamton, she is working towards a bachelor’s degree Political Science with a concentration in International Relations and a minor in History. In the Spring of 2020, Jesica studied abroad in Saint Petersburg, Russia where she was accepted into the International Relations, Political Science, and Economics faculty. At her home campus, she is a cofounder and treasurer of the national organization Leading Women of Tomorrow where she works towards closing the gender gap in civil service and government careers. In the Fall 2019 semester, Jesica interned at Congressman Anthony Brindisi’s Office in Binghamton, NY. She saw the importance of community engagement and outreach within local and national politics. Since discovering her love for international affairs, she has become an ardent world traveler and is interested in international disability rights and policy.
Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability
Deanna Parvin Yadollahi (they/them) is a disabled, neurodivergent, mad, non-binary, diasporic mixed-race Iranian and Toltec-Mexican community activist, friend, and dog parent. Deanna’s scholar-art-activism is informed by their lived experience and both with and for their communities. Deanna is passionate about collaboratively undoing ableism and intersecting oppressions, especially as it relates to collective accessibility. They hope to enact institutional change and radical reimagination that will lead to more supportive and just realities.
Deanna enjoys making connections with people and journeying with others to find creative ways to navigate a world that wasn’t made for all of us. Deanna’s work includes community-building, resource-creating, presenting, writing, being an access doula, and Deanna’s creative access consulting practice. Their work is based in deep appreciation for disability justice, which is intersectional and calls for cross-movement solidarity as well as community-advocated accessibility practices. Deanna is pursuing a Masters degree in Disability Studies, and most highly values knowledge that is co-created within their communities. Deanna acknowledges, with respect, that they are a settler on the lands of the Kizh Nation. They support the LandBack movement, Climate Justice, acknowledging historic and intergenerational oppression, and dismantling its continuations today. At this time, you can visit Deanna’s working draft website (bit.ly/D-Y-Scholarship)!
U.S. Access Board
Pearl is a rising senior studying educational studies and computer science at Swarthmore College. She first became interested in computer science after attending Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute the summer before her freshman year of college. She hopes to integrate technology into education; she cares deeply about designing for learner empowerment and for equity, especially when it comes to computer science curriculum and social computing. She is particularly interested in designing more effective accessible technology for users with disabilities. Outside of school, she enjoys reading fiction, writing poetry, and cooking with friends and family.