Meet the 2017 Columbus Fellows
(back to NLC 2017 Fellows)
Syruk Bechir, Site Coordinator, ETSS Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services
Syruk Bechir is an activist, minority advocate, organizer, and after school program site coordinator born in Columbus, Ohio to immigrant parents from Somali. At a pristine age of adolescence, Syruk understood the complexities of civic engagement. Given the privilege to sprout in a communal atmosphere, Syruk quickly understood the importance of connecting and service. Syruk attended the Ohio State University and graduated with a major in Sociology and a specialization in Inequality and Equity. Syruk is a highly motivated individual who believes that civic engagement and servitude is the rent you pay to live on this Earth. Syruk serves on the Executive Board of the Central Ohio Young Black Democrats as Co-chair of Community Engagement and Co-chair of Cultural Relations. Syruk also serves as a member of the New American Advocacy Forum and is one of the founders of S.E.L.F of Ohio (Sisters Effectively Lifting Families) a nonprofit agency that assists new Americans transitioning to America. When Syruk is not out attempting to save the world, she spends her free time watching documentaries and spending time with her loved ones.
Dylan Borchers, Attorney, Bricker & Eckler LLP
Dylan is an attorney with the law firm Bricker & Eckler, specializing in energy and public utility law. He regularly practices before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio Power Siting Board, where he works on natural gas, wind, and solar projects. Dylan earned his law degree from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. His undergraduate degree is from Wright State University, where he was an Army ROTC Distinguished Military Graduate and commissioned as a U.S. Army officer. After receiving his honorable discharge from the Army, Dylan worked as a business consultant with Accenture. Dylan lives in the Harrison West neighborhood with his fiance and two dogs. Dylan cares deeply about pro bono legal service, environmental stewardship, and social entrepreneurship.
Puja Datta, Administrative Organizer, SEIU 1199
Puja Datta, an Administrative Organizer with SEIU 1199, became extremely passionate about the fight for justice after becoming involved with the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. She spent 2 years knocking on doors, making phone calls and organizing for Democrats up and down the ticket for the 2016 election and discovered a true love for the art of organizing working people. Prior to SEIU, she worked for Equifax Workforce Solutions for 9 years, focused on corporate development and Human Resource solutions. She founded an organization called Ohio Revolution with a colleague, which centers on bridging gaps between progressive people and organizations all over Ohio. Puja also organizes for Yes We Can Columbus, which is focused on getting progressive Democrats into City Council and School Board positions. She is driven by the desire to open the political process to everyday people, getting big money out of politics and the fight for economic, social, racial, and environmental justice. She has been educated in organizing through several organizations including Working Families Party, Democracy for America, and through her union. In her free time, when she can find some, she enjoys powerlifting, reading every book she can get her hands on, electronic music, traveling the world and snuggling with her cat.
Aaron Fisher, Executive Director, Ohio House Democratic Caucus
A native of Ohio, Aaron Fisher grew up in New Philadelphia and moved to Columbus to attend The Ohio State University, where he studied Political Science and Sexuality Studies while working and volunteering on numerous political campaigns. Upon graduation, Aaron returned to New Philadelphia to run a state house campaign in the 98th Ohio House District, losing by a mere eight votes in a district that heavily favored the Republican incumbent, and leading to an unprecedented contest of election. Later, Aaron worked for the Human Rights Campaign as a field organizer for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act Campaign, which successfully lobbied Republican Senator Rob Portman to support workplace equality. Aaron then worked as a legislative aide to State Representative Stephen D. Slesnick and began his current role as the Ohio House Democratic Caucus' Executive Director during the 2014 election cycle. As E.D., he oversees the fundraising and political operation for the Ohio House Democrats and works to protect and pickup seats in the ninety-nine house races throughout the state. In his spare time, Aaron is an avid tennis player and a member of the Short North Civic Association, the Ohio Young Democrats, the Franklin County Young Democrats, and mentors high school students through the Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone Mentoring Program. Aaron is also a devoted Ohio State Buckeye & Cleveland sports fan.
Butch Frey, Organizer and Activist
Butch Frey is an advocate, activist and organizer. He has served on the senior staff of multiple statewide campaigns including for Clay Pell in Rhode Island and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. Most recently, Butch oversaw coalition engagement and coordination with the Ohio Democratic Party as the Ohio's Deputy Political Director for Hillary for America. Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was inspired to the join the Obama campaign in 2007, and worked as a field organizer on the primary and general election campaigns. From 2010-2011, Butch served as Special Assistant to the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. He joined the Department of Energy in the fall of 2011 as an advisor to the Under Secretary of Nuclear Security, before becoming a Special Assistant for Public Engagement for the Secretary of Energy. In the 2012 election, Butch returned to the Obama reelection campaign as the Regional GOTV Director for Cincinnati, OH. After leaving the Administration, he went on to establish Spark Clean Energy in 2013 with colleagues, and continues working to help young people find solutions to our generation's toughest problems. He also serves on the faculty of Institute for Compassionate Leadership and active in the national Obama Alumni Association. Butch holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Miami University of Ohio, and currently in second year at University of Cincinnati College of Law. Finally, he is passionate about good food, great music, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Dontavius Jarrells, Community Engagement and Advocacy Administrator, Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities
Growing up in Ohio, Dontavius always had a passion for helping others. An avid student leader and community volunteer, Dontavius grew up participating in organizations that empowered students to be ready for success in Cleveland. After graduating from high school, Dontavius attended Hiram College, majoring in political science with a minor in economics. During his undergraduate career at Hiram, Dontavius was afforded the opportunity to apply his advocacy to campus wide initiatives, developing impactful student programs that helped tackle on-campus issues such as inequality, race relations, and diversity. After graduation, Dontavius was selected as an Ohio Legislative Service Commission Fellow, where he worked as a staffer for Democratic House Caucus during the 129th General Assembly. At the Statehouse, Dontavius assisted in the fight against S.B. 5 and aligned community partnerships to support the diverse constituencies of each District, which he was honored to serve. After completion of the fellowship, Dontavius was hired at the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities (OACBHA). As OACBHA's Community Engagement and Advocacy Administrator, Dontavius is responsible for enhancing the levels of community participation among the Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health (ADAMH) Boards. A specialist in community relations and digital strategies, Dontavius oversees OACBHA's grant-funded campaigns, securing over $100,000 in state funding and assisting in the campaign to pass Medicaid Expansion. Understanding that mental illness and addiction impacts every part of our society, Dontavius provides ongoing training to Boards and community partners on topics including community engagement through digital strategies, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), and Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC). Outside of work, Dontavius teaches robotics to at-risk youth and is an active member of various democratic and civic organizations. Dontavius currently serves as President of the Ohio Young Black Democrats, National Committeeman for the Ohio Young Democrats, and was appointed to the Executive Committee of the Franklin County Democratic Party. With a passion to strengthen the party's outreach into diverse communities across Ohio, Dontavius is proud to lead organizations that ensures a better Ohio starts with all of us.
Zac Kramer, Campaign Manager, Friends of Joe Schiavoni
Zac Kramer is the campaign manager for Friends of Joe Schiavoni. A native of Shaker Heights, Zac attended the University of Wisconsin - Madison, where he graduated with a double major in history and political science. After graduating, he began working for the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee, holding various positions before being promoted to executive director in 2012. He led the organization during the historic recall elections of 2012 where the Democrats took over the majority in the Wisconsin State Senate. Zac moved back in Ohio in 2013 to take over as the executive director of the Ohio Senate Democrats, a role he held for the 2014 and 2016 campaign cycles. When not working, Zac is usually playing video games, listening to the Grateful Dead, or watching one of Cleveland's sports teams.
Colleen Lowry, Women's Caucus and Constituency Director, Ohio Democratic Party
Colleen Lowry is a seasoned campaign professional focused on getting more women elected at every level of government. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Colleen graduated with a degree in Sociology and Political Science from Saint Mary's College in South Bend, Indiana. After graduating college, she returned to Ohio and worked a couple of campaign cycles before moving to Washington, D.C. to work as the Cabinet Secretary Coordinator for the National Day of Service during the 57th Presidential Inaugural Committee and then in the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at The Brookings Institution. After seeing women's reproductive rights rolled back at an exponential rate in states across the country, Colleen joined the Wendy Davis campaign to do women's and constituency outreach and then worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign before returning home to Ohio to run the Ohio Democratic Women's Caucus. In her spare time, Colleen sits on the Planned Parenthood Young Professionals board, the American Heart Association Young Professionals board, the Saint Mary's College Columbus Alumnae board, and helped launch the New Leaders Council Columbus chapter.
Michael McGovern, Deputy Communications Director, Ohio Organizing Collaborative
Michael McGovern is the Deputy Communications Director with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, where he oversees campaign communications for a dozen local and statewide organizing and advocacy groups. Last year, OOC campaigns included the largest non-partisan voter registration drive in the country and the passage of universal preschool ballot initiatives in Cincinnati and Dayton. He previously led the media team at Faith in Public Life in Washington, D.C., where he provided communications support for progressive faith leaders and community organizations across the country. During the 2012 election, he worked as the Communications Director for a Democratic Congressional candidate in Southwest Ohio. Prior to that, he worked for a DC-based research consulting firm, supporting unions and labor coalitions in campaigns against anti-worker and voter suppression laws, including the 2011 Issue 2/SB 5 referendum in Ohio and the Wisconsin recall elections. A proud native of Dayton, Ohio, Michael studied public policy at George Washington University and Arabic at the American University of Beirut.
Angela Mentel, Communications Associate, Ohio Democratic Party
Kayla Merchant is a writer, editor, activist, community organizer, and compliance professional specializing in anti-corruption and ethics. She graduated with an associate's degree in arts education from Georgia Military College in 2007, and a degree in international studies with emphases in security and intelligence and a minor in criminology from The Ohio State University in 2009. A native of Skiatook, Oklahoma, Kayla is currently a resident of the south side of Columbus, Ohio where she serves as the president of the Schumacher Place Civic Association. In addition to her position within the legal department of DHL Supply Chain, Kayla is a freelance writer and editor. She started Paradigm Creative, LLC in 2016 - a writing and editing services company, which has recently started to branch out into the world of public relations. Becoming an outspoken advocate of the prevention of violence against women was the response Kayla had to her own sexual assault in 2010 and a physical assault in 2012. Her experience within the judicial system as a victim inspired her to delve deeper into the root causes of violence against women in her neighborhood, many of which are formulated by economic injustice. Rather than leaving the neighborhood in which she was attacked twice, Kayla decided to stay and invest in her community in terms of relationships and organizing in hopes of strengthening community ties and increasing awareness for addiction and poverty issues. Kayla is also an advocate for women’s reproductive rights, most recently speaking at Otterbein University on a panel of other women within the activist community and the women’s health care industry, as well as having spoken at the press conference in favor of the Healthcare Workers and Patients Protection ordinance which was unanimously passed by Columbus City Council thanks to the tireless efforts of the plethora of women in the reproductive justice movement in the city and across Ohio.
Kayla Merchant, Compliance Manager, DHL Supply Chain
Angela Mentel is a Communications Associate for the Ohio Democratic Party, and works to support the ODP Communications and Digital departments. Her work focuses on community organizing, media relations and events, and research. Angela received her Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College, where she studied Political Science and Italian with a minor in economics. At Vassar, she played golf for the Vassar Women's Golf Team for four years and served as captain of the team during her final two years. She still holds the record for lowest one-day score in a tournament in Vassar history. After her time at Vassar, Angela's studies led her home to Columbus, Ohio, where she jumped into the 2016 election cycle and helped to grow the ODP Truth Team, a rapid response activist organization. Through her work with the Truth Team, the Ohio Democratic Party has cultivated an activist organization both online and on the ground across the state of Ohio. The Truth Team now has organizational chapters across the state in each of Ohio's sixteen congressional districts organizing to spread the Democratic message by using social media and engaging activists on the ground locally. When she's not helping to organize a rapid response event, Angela enjoys golfing, spending time with friends, and exploring Columbus.
Lillian Morales, Human Resources, City of Columbus
Lillian Morales is a Human Resources professional for the City of Columbus, Department of Public Utilities. With over 20 years of experience in Payroll, Recruiting, Performance Appraisals, and Program Coordinating, Lillian is the go to person for HR concerns. Being in the HR field has been the perfect segway for developing Lillian's passion, which is community involvement and enriching the lives of women. Lillian has served as the Summer Youth Program Coordinator for the Department of Public Utilities for the last 10 years. In this role, she has helped to develop over 600 high school and college students for the challenges of working for a municipal government by assigning the student internships based on their field of study. Upon her start with the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), Lillian saw a need for more diversity in the workplace; she is a founding member of the Diversity and Inclusion - Workforce Development Subcommittee and has been a champion of diversity for several years. Lillian is a graduate of the Hispanic Chamber of Columbus's Latina Mentoring Academy (LMA) and is passionate about helping Latina's and other women advance in the careers. As a member of Hispanics in Philanthropy's Next Generation Latino Leadership Program (NGEN), Lillian is helping the next generation of Latino leaders to strengthen their collective voice and to fully embrace their Latin heritage. Just last year Lillian acted as the Lay Director for Chrysalis C.A.R.E.S. Chrysalis is three-day spiritual renewal retreat for young adults where they will worship, pray, fellowship, have creative expression, sing, and have open discussions. As the Coordinator of the Central Ohio event, she has scheduled monthly mentor and volunteer training, and arranged workshops for participants. Outside of her community involvement, Lillian is a huge sports fan and plays an avid role in her children's volleyball and football activities. Lillian is currently working towards her Bachelor's degree in Human Resources and Performance Management and is a member of SHRM.
Noorjahan Rahman, Associate, Bricker & Eckler LLP
Noor Rahman is a litigation associate at Bricker & Eckler in Columbus, Ohio. Her passion lies in the intersection of social justice, women's rights, and Islamic law. After receiving her undergraduate degrees in History and Political from the Ohio State University, Noor moved to Beirut, Lebanon to serve as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She attended the American University of Beirut and studied Arabic and Women's Studies. Noor worked with local grassroots organizations in Beirut to implement projects empowering migrant workers. Projects include: English and Arabic language courses, fundraisers, an anti-racism campaign, and a labor rights march. She also translated for Bangladeshi migrant workers who took refuge at women's safe houses operated by Lebanese and French non-profits serving abused women. Noor has lived and traveled to over 15 different countries. Her most recent trip involved a trek up to Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal. Although she enjoys international experiences, Noor believes that profound positive impacts start with local community involvement. After returning from Lebanon, Noor served as a teacher and Teach for America corps member in a Northeast neighborhood of Washington, D.C. She became involved with D.C. Town Hall Dialogue, an organization that facilitates open dialogue regarding taboo topics in the Muslim community, such as unequal treatment of women, racism, and attitudes toward mental health. After Noor earned her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center in 2016, she returned home to Columbus, Ohio. She is excited to dive back into the Columbus community and political scene. Noor is a former intern for Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Ohio Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy. While a student at Ohio State University, Noor was a University Ambassador and hosted international dignitaries and prospective students visiting campus. She now serves on the Ohio State University Honors & Scholars alumni governing board. In her free time, Noor loves exploring Columbus neighborhood haunts with friends and colleagues.
Nolan Rutschilling, Development Manager, Clean Fuels Ohio
Nolan Rutschilling is a native Buckeye, and while originally from Cincinnati, he has lived in Columbus since attending The Ohio State University in 2010. He holds a Bachelor's of Science in Environmental Policy & Decision Making, with a specialization in Climate Change. While at Ohio State, Nolan served as President of Students for a Sustainable Campus, served on the Off Campus Recycling Task Force, and played a key role in forming the Student Sustainability Council, a coalition of environmentally focused student organizations from across the Ohio State community. Nolan served as a Delegate to the Focus the Nation Recharge retreat, a gathering that brought together young environmental activists and professionals for training and networking. An accredited LEED Green Associate, Nolan has worked in sustainability and public service for a variety of organizations, including The Columbus Zoo, The City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, The Ohio State University, and Ohio Citizen Action. His experience includes carbon footprint analysis, materials management, and community engagement around environmental issues. Nolan currently serves as Development Manager of statewide nonprofit Clean Fuels Ohio, leading fundraising efforts, grants and project management, and serves as the organizational lead on Electric Vehicle infrastructure. He played a role in the City of Columbus' Smart City grant application, focusing on the decarbonization of the transportation sector through renewable energy and electric vehicle adoption. He serves as Vice President of The Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources Alumni Society, and loves running, going to the movies, and watching Columbus sports teams. Nolan remains passionate about linking environmental issues and impacts with broader social justice issues, and looks forward to working with passionate progressives across all professions and specializations.
Christopher Scott, Minority Engagement & Special Projects Manager, Ohio Democratic Party
Christopher Scott has dedicated his life to Public Service. Born in Detroit, Michigan, Christopher attended Bowling Green State University where he graduated with a BA in Film Production and a minor in Communications. Immediately following, Christopher went on to American University where he received his Master of Arts in Strategic Communication. It was in D.C., that Christopher got his start in public service/politics. Christopher began his career as an intern for Congressman John Lewis in 2012, before taking a brief leave of absence to work on former President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. Since then, he has quickly risen through the campaign ranks, having worked on a gubernatorial, congressional, mayoral, city council. In 2016, Christopher began work in his current position as the Minority Engagement & Special Projects Manager for the Ohio Democratic Party, while also serving as President of the Central Ohio Young Black Democrats. Daily, he strives and works on developing community infrastructure, improving education, and increasing diversity in the political landscape. Christopher is also a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated.
John Tannous, Associate Director, The Advisory Board Company
John Tannous recently returned to Columbus, OH after five years in Washington, D.C. to help bring the New Leaders Council to the Buckeye State. He was a 2016 Fellow of NLC D.C., then served as Recruitment/Selections chair for that chapter. By day, he works for the Education Advisory Board, helping university governing boards, presidential cabinets, and divisional leadership teams make progress against academic, economic development, enrollment, financial, and fundraising goals. He has delivered workshops and speaking engagements at 90+ institutions and supervised 140+ research projects, for clients ranging from community colleges to state flagships to elite research universities and spanning the U.S. and Canada. His passion for postsecondary education, workforce development, and economic opportunity springs from his experience as a first-generation college student at The Ohio State University, where his campus impact through Greek life, student government, and other leadership roles earned him membership on the Homecoming Court, designation as one of 20 Outstanding Seniors", and other honors. He interned for the ACLU of Ohio, the Ohio Democratic Party, and several progressive political campaigns. He has served as pro bono consultant for the Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington and the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capitol.