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New Leaders Council

2012 NLC Fellows: New Jersey


New Jersey

Matthew Bonasia, Outreach Director, New Jersey Democratic State Committee

Matthew Bonasia currently works for the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. He has been with the NJDSC for a year and works extensively on political and outreach efforts. Matthew has used his background in political science to foster a career in Democratic politics. His first job in politics was as a field organizer for the Linda Stender for Congress campaign in New Jersey's 7th congressional district in 2008. In 2009, he worked as a field organizer for Jon Corzine's reelection campaign, and later as the Deputy Campaign Manager for the Monmouth County Democrats. Matthew traveled to New Hampshire in 2010 to work for the New Hampshire Democratic Party as the Field Director for the Carol Shea-Porter for Congress campaign in New Hampshire's 1st congressional district. Matthew was born in Hawthorne, NJ and raised in Scotch Plains, NJ. He graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Political Science and History. While at Rutgers, Matthew began his involvement in Democratic politics when he took a leave of absence to work on his first campaign in 2008.

Kim Case, Vice-President, CN Communications International Inc.

Kim Case, Esq. is Vice President of CN Communications International Inc., a Newark-based strategic communications firm where she oversees the company’s operations and serves as Executive Director of CN's nonprofit client, the Research & Development Council of New Jersey. Prior to her work at CN, Kim served as a middle-school social studies teacher in the South Bronx as part of the national movement, Teach for America (TFA), and received her Masters in Teaching from Pace University. Subsequent to teaching, Kim attended Rutgers School of Law-Newark and served as an intern in the United States Attorney’s Office in Newark, the Office of the New Jersey Public Advocate, and upon graduating, Kim was a litigation associate practicing family law. Kim received her B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers College in 2003. While at Rutgers College, Kim served as the Student Representative to the Board of Governors and Undergraduate Student Representative to the Board of Trustees. In 2009, Kim was a fellow in TFA’s Emerging Political Leaders Fellowship Program. Kim is also a Board member of the Women’s Fund of New Jersey and lives in Green Brook, New Jersey with her husband, Chris, and their dog, Brady.

Jesse Chen, Consultant, Deloitte Consulting, LLP

Jesse Chen currently works as a Management Consultant with Deloitte Consulting, LLP where he has served both Fortune 500 and state government clients. He has worked with Deloitte since he graduated from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business in 2008. During his time at Smith, he double-majored in Operations Management and Information Systems, and concentrated in quality management. Jesse also served as president of the business school student government for two, full-year terms while at Maryland. Jesse was born and raised in Ocean Township, NJ but now lives full-time in Hoboken, NJ after having commuted to Huntington Beach, CA 24 days a month for two years for business. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Move for Hunger, a growing national hunger-relief not-for-profit, and is active in the alumni community at Maryland. He recently joined Twitter and created a blog, both of which he uses regularly to share his political positions with friends. In his free time, Jesse enjoys going to the beach, working out, and spending time with friends and family.

Steve Cordova, Financial Manager, DJ Networks

Steve Cordova is a Financial Manager at DJNetworks, a leading urban e-commerce company. Prior to joining DJNetworks, Steve founded a Digital Media startup that created a platform and distribution network for independent video. Previously, Steve worked as an Analyst in the Fixed Income group at Goldman Sachs. A recent Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) fellow graduate, Steve is also a CORO Leadership in New York Fellow, a civic leadership development program focused on public policy issues that provides participants with the skills to effect positive change within organizations. Steve currently tutors math in The Fathers Now program, part of the Newark Comprehensive Center for Fathers that serves fathers in transition who are re-entering the workforce following incarceration. An active community member, Steve serves as a Co-Director in the Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce helping small Hispanic businesses procure funding and contracts. Steve earned his B.A. from Boston College in Economics and is currently pursuing his M.A. from Rutgers University in Economics with a focus on immigration. When not catching up on schoolwork or boasting about Newark, you can catch Steve building robots on weekends.

Everett Falt, Special Projects Coordinator, Middlesex County Democratic Organization

Everett Falt is currently the Special Projects Coordinator for the Middlesex County Democratic Organization. He became involved in politics in 2008 as an intern with the Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign. After completing his internship, he was asked to stay on with the MCDO, where he has remained since. He is also a member of the Executive Board for Democrats2000, a group that encourages Democratic candidates under 40 to run for office. Everett was born and raised in New Jersey. He grew up in Park Ridge located in Northern Bergen County. At age 15, his family moved out to Frenchtown in Hunterdon County following his parent’s divorce. He was the first student is his high school to “come out.” He graduated from Delaware Valley Regional High School in 2001. While pursuing his degree, he worked full time in banking. He graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in political science & history from Rutgers University. He has completed several marathons and is in training for his first Ironman triathalon. Everett currently resides in Highland Park, Middlesex County.

Elissa Grodd Schragger, Secretary of the Board, Women Advocating for Good Government-NJ

An attorney by training, Elissa has become involved in New Jersey politics, working towards electing more progressive women to office. She is the Secretary of the Board for Women Advocating for Good Government-NJ. Additionally, she is a Board member for SEEDS Supports: The Rwanda Project which hopes to provide mental health services to survivors of the Genocide. She first practiced law in Miami, where she represented a corporate client under federal criminal indictment arising from the ValuJet crash of 1996 and later represented the cruise lines in civil litigation. She graduated Vassar College in 1993 with distinction on her Senior Thesis concerning the cultural identity and legal rights of American women and minorities. After, she attended University of Miami School of Law. There she was Certified Legal Intern at the Public Defender's Office of Miami-Dade County, was the President of Miami Law Women and was tapped for the Society of Bar & Gavel, an honorary leadership and service organization. In her free time, Elissa has performed at Carnegie Hall over a dozen times and has sung many choral masterpieces over the years. She is very happily married and is blessed with two young and healthy children.

Adam Guziejewski, Director of Government Affairs, New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association

Adam Guziejewski is the Director of Government Affairs for the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association (NJSFDA). Adam joined the NJSFDA in October of 2006, a few months after graduating from Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Prior to joining the NJSFDA, Adam spent nearly two years as the Business Development and Membership Coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP-NJ). While at Rutgers, Adam earned his BA in Political Science and History, and was elected as a member of both the Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society and the Alpha Phi Theta Honor Society. Currently, Adam serves on the NEW JOBS PAC Board of Trustees and is a member of the Rutgers University Alumni Association and the New Jersey Young Professionals. When he is not working, Adam enjoys being involved in his local community, meeting new people, hanging out with friends, reading, discovering new music and any number of physical/outdoor activities (running, hiking, camping, rowing, cross training). Amongst his friends, Adam is known as a history buff, sports fanatic, stand-up comedy aficionado and craft-beer enthusiast. Adam is from, and currently resides in, Hudson County, New Jersey.

Althea Jack, Higher Education Administrator, Teachers College, Columbia University

Althea Jack is a results-oriented professional who has been active in higher education since 2008, serving students and faculty in the Human Development Department at Teachers College, Columbia University. Ms. Jack has worked on the Tennessee Capitol Hill as the Executive Administrative Assistant to Speaker Pro Tem, Rosalind Kurita, State Senator and Chair of the Commission on Civic Education. In 2007, Ms. Jack graduated with honors and received a degree in Human and Organizational Development from Vanderbilt University. In 2010, Althea completed her Master’s Degree in Politics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Ms. Jack is a native of Plainfield, NJ and enjoys lending her skill set to her local church and civic organizations. She also has a passion for youth and has hosted several workshops on resume building and college preparation as a way to use her experience and knowledge to train the next generation of leaders.

Denalerie Johnson, CEO & Principal, 3D Management Consulting, LLC

Dr. Johnson's background is with civic organizations and as a disabled person she became a pioneer as the youngest, the only person of color, first woman and only out lesbian to hold various leadership roles. She is now an entrepreneur providing strategic planning consulting and event management for non-profits. Denalerie has testified before the Senate and spoken on challenges of LGBT community, those in poverty and women of color. She has provided policy research for the U.S. Dept. of Labor, is a NAACP and National Urban League member sitting on non-profit boards. She's a 2010 Network Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 Business Professionals and was selected as a 2011 NJ Global Women’s honoree. Some of her studies were at Howard University and Columbia University; a cum laude graduate with a B.S.-Psychology/Business and B.A.-Black Studies/Political Science, Denalerie holds a M.A.-Organizational Development, Ed.M.-Counseling, and certificates in HR/Accounting/Fundraising/Project Management. Her doctorate's in Human Services Public Leadership Management. Her Avon proceeds benefit cancer research and she's a veteran's daughter working with Service Women’s Action Network and beginning professorship soon. Dr. Johnson, a Texas native, values amateur painting and being a fashionista/image consultant that published Womyn Working It Out!, focused on discrimination via

Layla Lester, Law Student, Rutgers School of Law - Newark

Layla is currently a 2nd-year law student at Rutgers School of Law –Newark. During the summer of 2011 she worked as a judicial intern for the Superior Court of New Jersey in Hudson County and this year has the honor of serving as Vice President of the Student Bar Association. In January 2012 Layla will begin an internship in the New Jersey Governor's Office of Chris Christie. Born in Louisiana, Layla later moved to Georgia where she eventually attended the University of Georgia obtaining a B.B.A. in Business Management with minors in Environmental Law and Spanish. Prior to her attendance at Rutgers, she worked as an intern for New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in her Washington, D.C. and New York City offices. During her undergraduate studies, Layla took an opportunity to work for a local political campaign in an assistant managerial position. With an avid love for the outdoors, Layla hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and plans to hike future portions within the Northeast. She continually strives to merge her interests in the law, business, environmental policy, and politics both within her personal and professional life.

Michael J Makarski, Account Executive, Vision Media Marketing Inc.

Michael Makarski is an Account Executive at Vision Media Marketing Inc., one of New Jersey’s premier public relations and political consulting firms. He has been the architect of successful, dynamic media strategies for public and private sector clients and countless political campaigns across New Jersey. He utilizes a broad spectrum of delivery methods within both traditional and new media to convey powerful, winning messages. A veteran political operative, Makarski has also worked in both state and federal government, serving as a Legislative Aide to New Jersey Assemblyman Vincent Prieto and Assistant to the District Director for United States Senator John Kerry in Springfield, MA. Additionally he has served on countless campaigns in roles including Campaign Manager, Field Director and Spokesman. Makarski has also put his experience to the test as a candidate for political office himself. In 2008 he was elected to his local Board of Education as the youngest member ever to serve the community. As a Board Trustee Michael served on the Technology Committee, spearheading the district's green energy initiatives to cut down on waste, improve efficiency and power the district using its own renewable energy resources. Additionally he championed efforts to improve standardize test scores and to offer courses for students not on a college career path. Makarski is a 2007 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Journalism.

Emily Manz, City & Regional Planning Graduate Student, The Edward J. Bloustein School, Rutgers University

Emily Manz is a graduate student in City and Regional Planning at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Her graduate work focuses on economic development strategies in post-industrial cities. She is also Research Assistant at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development where she is researching community college programs for dislocated workers. In the past, Emily interned in Congressman Frank Pallone Jr.'s District Office and served as a Special Projects intern with New Brunswick's Unity Square neighborhood organizing community events and mapping crime. Earlier, she served as an intern with the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, and in various economic development roles in Willimantic, Connecticut. Emily received a Fellowship from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary in 2010 and graduated fourth in her class with a Masters in International Relations. Concentrating in International Political Economy, Emily's thesis centered on industrial policy in the steel industry, and her book review on privatization in Eastern Europe was published in Europe-Asia Studies. Earlier, she graduated with Honors from the University of Delaware with Bachelor degrees in Economics and Political Science. Emily is from East Woodstock, Connecticut but enjoys her new home in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Vithya Murugan, Prevention Coordinator, SAFE in Hunterdon

Vithya Murugan works as the Prevention Coordinator for SAFE in Hunterdon, Hunterdon County’s lead domestic violence and sexual assault agency. As the Prevention Coordinator, she develops, implements, and evaluates programs and workshops that increase domestic violence and sexual assault awareness throughout Hunterdon County. Ms. Murugan graduated with a Master’s in Social Work from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in May of 2010 with a specialization in violence against women and children. As an MSW student, she worked as a project coordinator and graduate research assistant at the Rutgers School of Social Work and at the Center on Violence against Women and Children. Through these experiences, Ms. Murugan had the unique opportunity to critically engage with state, national, and international social justice issues, including substance abuse and domestic violence. She has co-authored manuscripts that have been submitted for review in peer-reviewed journals and has traveled to state and national conferences where she has presented her research. She credits these experiences for inspiring her to pursue a doctoral degree in social welfare. Ms. Murugan is a native Monmouth County resident, and currently resides in Howell. She enjoys spending time with friends and family and practicing yoga and Pilates.

Yetunde Odugbesan, CEO & Founder, Yetunde Global Consulting LLC

Yetunde is currently a Ph.D (ABD) candidate at Division of Global Affairs Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she is working towards obtaining her doctoral degree in Global Affairs. She is a graduate of the United Nations Worldview Institute, an executive training program for business executives and professionals in the field of Global Business and International Affairs. She is also a graduate of the Eagleton Institute of Politics. She received her master's degree in Global Affairs with a concentration in International Law from Rutgers University. She received her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Media Studies with a double minor in Organizational Leadership and Africana Studies from Rutgers University. Yetunde's doctoral research focuses on political corruption and its effects on governmental trust and performance in both local and state government. Her research interests include government transparency, public trust, ethical leadership, human rights, economic development, public policy and social entrepreneurship. During her first year in her graduate program, she was integral in bringing the first seminar to Rutgers Institute on Corruption Studies (RICS). The seminar entitled, "Challenging Corruption: Proactive Responses to Criminal Conduct," which brought together leading experts from FBI, World Bank, United Nations, Transparency International, and various universities, to discuss ways to create preventative programs that would stem the growth of corruption in state government. Yetunde has worked on creating various conferences, lectures and symposiums on counter-corruption and ethical leadership. Yetunde is a Board of Trustee for Red Thread Foundation for Women, Board Member for New York Needs You (NYNY) Young Leaders Board and Board Member of Friends of Teboho, Inc., (FoT) an organization who works to support programs and activities worldwide, with a particular focus in Africa, aimed at assisting vulnerable, at-risk, and orphaned children and adolescents. Yetunde is currently a New Leaders Council Fellow. She served as a distinguished Eagleton Institute of Politics Fellow at the New Jersey State Ethics Commission. She is a member of the 101% Society, Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, United Nations Association of New York, Young Professionals for International Cooperation, Global Women Leadership Collaborative and a mentor coach for various organizations. Yetunde is a search commitee member for Rutgers University Presidential Search. She was the Assistant Editor for Public Performance and Management Review (PPMR), a leading peer-review academic journal that addresses a broad array of influential factors on the performance of public and non-profit organizations.Yetunde was the President of Rutgers University Student Association of Global Affairs and Vice-President of Rutgers Graduate Student Government Association. She is involved in the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual & University Meetings. Before her involvement with CGI, Yetunde was selected to attend a meeting for Young Leaders in Miami, Florida where she personally met President Bill Clinton. Yetunde is the recipient of numerous academic, leadership and public service awards. Born and raised in New Jersey, Yetunde A. Odugbesan, is the CEO and Founder of Yetunde Global Consulting LLC., a management consulting firm which specializes in leadership development and training, organizational management and global business strategies. She is also the founder of Putting Your Best Self Forward created to empower people especially young people all over the world to be great leaders. To live a life of purpose, power and public service. Recently, Yetunde was chosen as one out of 30 Most Intriguing Africans in New York by Applause Africa Magazine. She was also chosen by Eminent Leaders Magazine as #1 on a top 20 list of the Most Outstanding Nigerian and was also selected as Eminent Leader's-Emerging Personality of the Year. She is an international motivational speaker, entrepreneur, TV/Radio personality, educator, author, writer, humanitarian and philanthropist. As a member of Global Women Leadership Collaborative (GWLC), Yetunde traveled to Nigeria with a distinguished delegation of New Jersey city and state government officials to foster partnerships with women government officials in Nigeria and throughout Africa. She was hosted by the 1st Lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan and Chair of Diaspora Affairs Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa. Yetunde met and spoke with various top government women leaders in Nigeria to advocate for youth development and leadership empowerment. Also during Yetunde's past trip to South Africa, Yetunde taught 7th graders life skills and emotional development at Amstelhof Primary School in Capetown, South Africa. Yetunde's passion as a young humanitarian is to promote human welfare and social reform that will empower the youth. She has traveled to many other countries and continues to be an ambassador for change here in America and throughout the world. During her undergraduate years, she was the President of Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences Chi Alpha Epsilon National Academic Honor Society, a Ronald E. McNair and Minority Academic Career Fellow and Scholar, Rutgers Emerging Leader Scholar, and interned at league of distinguished places including the Office of Mayor Bloomberg Commission to the United Nations, Global Partners Project. Yetunde's passion for change, leadership and politics started at a young age. As the past President of Student Government, Student Ambassador, Captain of Varsity Cheerleading, and Founder of the Poetry Club of her high school, she developed and honed the skills of becoming a leader, activist and public servant. She was featured in Who's Who Amongst High School Students in 2005.

Simone M Portera, Campus Director, Citizen Schools

Louise A. Spencer Elementary School's Campus Director Simone M. Portera currently runs the expanded learning day program for all students in 6th-8th grades, along with managing 14 staff members. Simone comes from Washington, D.C. where she taught 9th-11th grade English for special needs and “repeater” students at Frank W. Ballou Senior High School. She is a Teach for America alumnus, who continues to support new teachers. Simone graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a M.A. in Teaching for Secondary Education and a B.A. in English Literature. She also enjoyed completing her student teaching in England and Morristown H.S. in New Jersey. She is currently pursuing her Ed. S. in Educational Administration, Policy, and Supervision at Seton Hall University. Simone expects to graduate in May 2013, and return back to Washington, D.C., to become a school administrator. Simone shares her passion for reading and writing with Citizen Schools students and staff in Newark. In the future, Simone plans to use her experience with the NLC to bridge citizens with educational causes and link them to the larger school community.

Shaun Ragin, Student, Rowan University

Shaun Ragin is currently seeking to find work on a political campaign or government office. Most recently Shaun interned on the State Assembly race in Legislative District 7 for Democratic candidates, Troy Singleton, and Herb Conaway, and Senate Candidate Gail Cook. Prior to that in the summer of 2011; Shaun interned for the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. For 5 years Shaun worked for the New Jersey Academy of Aquatic Sciences, where he served as a mentor to Camden City high school students. He is currently a senior at Rowan University, in Glassboro, New Jersey, he plans to graduate in May 2012 with a B.S in Political Science and Philosophy. Shaun was born in Camden, New Jersey; where he currently resides. He is a poetry enthusiast and frequents poetry slams and music concerts, and considered himself a huge fan of the arts.

Jorge Santos, Graduate Student, Rutgers, The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy

Jorge Santos is a second-year graduate student at Rutgers, The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy. He is pursing two master degrees in in Public Policy as well as City and Regional Planning with a concentration in community development. Jorge was also selected by the Eagleton Institute of Politics as a 2012 Fellow and will be spending the spring working in the state Dept. of Community of Affairs. He also has a graduate assistantship and currently works as a student recruiter for the Bloustein School. Since completing his bachelor's from Rutgers in 2004 in political science, Jorge has served on campaigns and in government in a variety of roles including field, finance and as a legislative aide. Most recently, he worked for the Corzine Administration in the Office of the Governor. Jorge spent the summer of 2011 interning with the Regional Plan Association on NY-CT Sustainable Communities, a federally funded initiative to help encourage regional planning and smart growth. Jorge served as the president for the Rutgers Association of Planning and Policy Students for 2011.

Justin Shoham, Field Operative, Gordon, Wagner, Eustace

Justin Shoham is a Field Operative for progressive campaigns in the state of New Jersey. With experience in four campaigns in three different states, he has devoted his career to advance the progressive cause by developing the "ground game" in many electoral races state wide. Most recently, Justin was part of the winning Gordon, Wagner and Eustace team in New Jersey's 38th Legislative district, the most competitive race in the 2011 cycle. Justin graduated from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York with a Bachelors in Political Science, while minoring in History, Latin American Studies, and Global Studies. In 2010, Justin successfully completed the Democratic Campaign Management Program. Among his many interests, Justin enjoys travel, sports, linguistics and debate. Justin and his family often travel to Colombia, where much of his political ideology originates. Born to a Jewish father and Latin American mother, he is bi-lingual with fluency in Spanish and English. He is an avid ice hockey player, and lifelong fan of the NY Islanders, NY Mets and NY Jets. Born and raised in Central Jersey, Justin lives in Old Bridge.
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New Leaders Council is a 501 (c) (3) public charity dedicated to educating a new generation of leaders and to providing those leaders with the tools they need to succeed. NLC does not engage in political or legislative activities of any kind, does not support or oppose any candidate for public office, and serves only as an educational leadership training ground.