Meet the 2017 WI - Madison Fellows
(back to NLC 2017 Fellows)
Sofia Ascorbe is a current third-year law student at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she serves as President of the Student Bar Association (SBA), an organization that represents and supports law students in regard to community engagement, public service, and academic life. She also serves on the executive board of the Latino/a Law student Association (LLSA), where she participates in workshops that help eligible Wisconsin residents become U.S. citizens. She is a former advocate for the Wisconsin Innocence Project, where she represented wrongfully convicted incarcerated individuals. In her last year of law school, she volunteers for the pro bono program “Street Law” where she educates local high schoolers on the law and their rights, and works part-time in the legal division of American Family Insurance. She is also exploring her interests in critical race theory and employment discrimination through her work as a research assistant to UW law professor Gwendolyn Leachman, and through an externship with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sofia was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, the first of six military moves that she and her family made while she was growing up. Their last move was to Miami, Florida, where she was surrounded by a rich Latin American culture that mirrored her own Puerto Rican and Panamanian roots. After high school, she chose to move across the country to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to attend Marquette University, where she learned the value of thick scarves and good winter boots. She hopes to continue serving the Wisconsin community, which she has grown to know and love, with the hopes of introducing better Latin food in the Midwest."
Joseph Brydges, Associate Attorney, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Joe Brydges was born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He fell in love with Madison when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin, and was thrilled to return and make his undergrad alma matter his home after graduating from the Marquette University Law School. Joe began his work as a commercial litigator in 2011, and is currently a senior associate at the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP. Joe is dedicated to ensuring that the most vulnerable members of our society can access vital services that allow them to thrive. Joe has always had a passion for advocating for the rights of individuals with special needs, a passion that has grown much stronger after his daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome the day she was born. He is proud to serve on the Board of the Madison Area Down Syndrome Society and has recently helped to form the Wisconsin Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition to advance progressive legislation for the rights of individuals with Down syndrome and, more broadly, for the benefit of all people with disabilities. In his spare time, Joe loves spending time with his witty wife and spunky daughter. He enjoys traveling, running half marathons, watching movies, and listening to Tom Petty.
Valerie Chesnik, Communications & Development Manager, Foundation for Madison's Public Schools
"Valerie Chesnik joined the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools in September 2014 in time for a new school year. She brings with her a deep knowledge of the Madison area and strong non-profit background having worked at Monona Terrace and Madison Children’s Museum. She initially became involved with the Foundation while working as the Community Relations Associate at Madison Magazine. While there, Valerie oversaw all sponsorship efforts and non-profit involvement for the magazine. Valerie’s focus includes public relations and event management. She works to make sure the Foundation’s message and goal in the community are clear, as well as build engagement amongst donors and the community. She is excited to be a part of making Madison’s schools great and ensure that all children have the opportunity to succeed. Valerie is a Madison native and graduate of West High School. She attended UW-Madison where she graduated with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. She is involved in several community non-profits including Shelley Glover Fund, Lily’s Fund and Junior League of Madison. In her free time, Valerie coaches a local swim club and enjoys traveling and trying new restaurants."
Hayley Chesnik, Director of Strategic Collaborations, United Way of Dane County
"Hayley Chesnik currently serves as the Director of Strategic Collaborations in the Community Impact Department at United Way of Dane County. In this position, she researches and identifies funding opportunities and writes grant proposals to build the capacity of community programs in the specific areas of early childhood development and safe and healthy aging. She also coordinates with partner agency staff to conduct ongoing monitoring and evaluation of community programs to review outcomes data and to determine whether program enhancements are needed to achieve results. Previously, Hayley worked in the public education system in a small town in Spain and recommends anyone who asks her to visit her second home if they can. Hayley has also worked at several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International USA and Girl Rising. She is an active volunteer for Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), a nonprofit in Dane County, Wisconsin committed to empowering individuals affected by domestic violence and advocating for social change through support, education and outreach. A human rights advocate meets passionate writer meets global citizen, Hayley was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She studied English and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she served as a Writing Fellow for undergraduate courses. Hayley later earned her Masters of Science in Global Affairs with a concentration in International Law and Human Rights at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. During her time at NYU, Hayley completed extensive research and graduate coursework in the field of gender in development and international affairs. She participated in a field intensive to South Africa, where she carried out on-the-ground, original research with grassroots and regional organizations working to combat sexual and gender-based violence in the country. Outside of her nonprofit work, Hayley thoroughly loves traveling and is a hardcore sports enthusiast. She enjoys running and coaches swimming for a local club team. In her daily life, Hayley strives to embody the following motto: ""How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."" "
Drew Curtis, Research Specialist, Wisconsin Center for Education Research
Born into a long line of passionate teachers and professors, Drew was raised with a deep respect for politics and education. After leaving Waupaca, WI for UW-Madison, Drew studied political science while working at the UW Office of Student Financial Aid, The Center for Media and Democracy, and the office of Wisconsin State Senator Jennifer Shilling. After graduating, he joined the WI Department of Public Instruction, working on the ESEA Title I team. Seeking to cultivate the skills to become a more effective actor in policy, Drew was accepted to the La Follette School of Public Affairs, where he was elected La Follette Student Association president. While pursuing his master’s, Drew worked on several client projects investigating the City of Madison’s sustainability program, the La Follette School’s program evaluation system, and the State of Wisconsin’s systems to track and assist students in foster care. Outside of his coursework, Drew held a project assistantship working on equitable assessments at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, and a UW Network Fellowship, working to create an evaluation system for a K-12 critical-thinking program being piloted in western Wisconsin. Graduating with a focus in program evaluation and education policy, Drew is now working as a research specialist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, leading national recruitment and piloting of equitable digital assessments funded by a Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences grant. Although Drew is not an educator himself, he holds the same determination to recognize value and foster growth in those around him.
Nathan DauSchmidt, National Product Data & Analytics Manager, American Family Mutual Insurance Company
"Nathan DauSchmidt enjoys working on complex problems and has done just that since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he majored in mathematics and economics. Nathan started his professional career at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington D.C. where he was part of a team which ran a model to forecast the net contribution to GDP growth from imports and exports. He also helped to prepare International Finance Division briefings for the Chairman and Board of Governors in the aftermath of the financial crisis. After leaving the Federal Reserve, Nathan went to work with organizations of all sizes—from startups, to global NGOs and businesses as large as Fortune 10 companies. He’s brought quantitative methods to these organizations working on problems from quantifying the societal effect of hydroelectric dams on the Mekong River, to product concept validation in the small business lending space, to estimating the impact of IT security breaches. A year and a half ago, Nathan was offered an opportunity to start and lead a data & analytics product management team at American Family Insurance. Nathan enjoys spending time with his friends ice boating, cross-country skiing, sailing, playing music, and renovating houses. He’s active as a board member of the Brittingham Viking Organization—a study abroad scholarship organization with ties to the University of Wisconsin."
Brian Evans, Deputy Candidate Services Director, Democratic Party of Wisconsin
"Though originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Brian moved to Wisconsin to attend the UW and now calls Madison home. While pursuing a double major in Sociology and Political Science, Brian was co-president of a student organization dedicated to creating a welcoming and inclusive space for LGBTQ students. Brian also pursued internships at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the US Senate, and in the State Capitol throughout his college years. After graduating, Brian spent time working for the state party as the 2015 Convention Assistant as well as the Democratic Leadership Institute Coordinator. Following his work with the party, Brian bartended at the Rigby Pub and Grill while interning for One Wisconsin Now and running a campaign for the Dane County Board of Supervisors. It was there he developed a liking for the fast-paced and dynamic nature of political campaigns. After winning his first race, the DPW hired Brian to run their Red to Blue Program and act as a consultant for a dozen Wisconsin State Assembly campaigns. He currently works in candidate services at the state party. In his free time, Brian enjoys reading political non-fiction books, listening to podcasts, and writing music. He’s also the biggest Star Wars buff this side of Tatooine."
Anna Gouker, Employment Counselor, Employment Resources, Inc.
"Anna is an employment counselor at Employment Resources, Inc. (ERI), a non-profit organization located in Madison that serves people with disabilities. In her role at ERI, Anna is dedicated to assisting adults with physical disabilities as they move toward their identified personal and professional goals. Anna holds a Master’s of Science degree in Rehabilitation Psychology from UW-Madison. Over the years, Anna has gained experience in counseling and developed a broad knowledge base related to community resources in Dane County. Her passion for disability advocacy has led her to join Disability Pride Madison and serve one term as Co-vice chair of the City of Madison Disability Rights Commission. In her free time, Anna enjoys watching Netflix, staying up on current events, drinking coffee, and buying over-priced facial moisturizer."
Angela Holecko, Public Affairs Organizer, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin
Angela Holecko is a Public Affairs Organizer with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. As an organizer for Planned Parenthood, she advocates for access to high quality reproductive and sexual healthcare in her community. In this role, volunteers and supporters frequently share stories that remind her every day how important it is to strive for reproductive justice for all women and men. Growing up in a union household in Cleveland, Ohio, Angela has been involved in organizing for about as long as she can remember, volunteering to elect Democrats in 2008 and defeat anti-union legislation in 2011. She moved to Wisconsin to attend UW-Madison and graduated in 2015 with a BA in Political Science, Sociology, and Gender & Women's Studies. While attending UW, she interned for Congressman Mark Pocan's campaign as well as the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and volunteered regularly for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in 2014. Angela is passionate about the future of organizing as a way to translate our collective stories, passions, and ideas into collective power to shape a better future for all of us.
Angela Janis, Interim Co-Director of Mental Health, Director of Psychiatry, University Health Services University of Wisconsin - Madison
"Dr. Angela Janis is a board-certified psychiatrist and Director of Psychiatry and Interim Co-Director of Mental Health at University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Dr. Janis is originally from Illinois and graduated from Washington University and the University of Illinois College of Medicine before completing a psychiatry residency at UW-Madison. Dr. Janis previously worked at Dean Clinic, providing outpatient services in Janesville, WI, and at St. Mary’s Hospital - Madison, where she served as Joint Medical Director of Consult Liaison Psychiatry. In her current role, Dr. Janis oversees mental health services at University Health Services, which serves the University’s 43,000 students. Dr. Janis has been involved in organized medicine at many levels. She currently serves on the Wisconsin Medical Society Board of Directors as well as on the Council on Legislation and Membership Committee. She serves on the Executive Council of the Wisconsin Psychiatric Association and is President of the Southern Chapter. Dr. Janis has been on the Dane County Medical Society Board of Directors since 2012 and is Past President of the Board. Additionally, Dr. Janis is very passionate about women’s health, and is past President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. She is also a member of the Board of Directors for Physicians for Reproductive Health, a national organization of physicians promoting evidenced based reproductive health policies. Last, but not least, Angela enjoys spending her free time with her husband Dougal and their dog Buddy. "
"Layla Kaiksow was raised in Madison and recently returned after 17 years away, 12 of which were spent living in Palestine. She has extensive experience working in fair trade in Palestine and is currently a World Fair Trade Organization certified Fair Trade Auditor. She has other professional experience working in various fields of international development, including agriculture, women, children and media. Layla was one of the founding members of the Palestine Fair Trade Association. Layla also founded the Bethlehem Children’s Museum, the first ever children’s museum in Palestine. She previously worked for SOS Children’s Villages- Palestine and Dalia Association, the first ever Community Foundation in Palestine. She holds a BA in Women & Gender Studies from the University of California- Davis and a Masters in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Layla serves on the Board of Directors for Working Capital for Community Needs, an impact investment fund whose mission is to create opportunities for access to microfinance, services, and markets to improve the lives and communities of the working poor in Latin America. She is also part of the Leadership Team for Open Doors for Refugees, a Madison based collective of volunteers who want to create an open and welcoming community for refugees being resettled here. In addition, Layla serves on the Leadership Team for the Madison Rafah Sister City Project, a group that seeks to promote awareness about Palestine generally and more specifically about the dire humanitarian situation in Rafah located in the Gaza Strip. Layla is fluent in Arabic, loves to read and spend time with her children. Her favorite winter activity is sitting by the fire place! Her favorite summer activity is biking everywhere and going to the pool. She is passionate about racial and social justice and believes firmly in walking the walk, not just talking the talk. She is the mother of Nishan (7) and Zayna (5) and wife of Mohammed Ghanayem, a journalist and documentary filmmaker. Layla recently worked as a Loaned Executive with United Way of Dane County. This proved to be a great opportunity to reconnect with Madison and learn more intimately about the toughest challenges facing our community and what we are doing about them. Layla is excited about the opportunities for personal and professional growth that the New Leaders Council has to offer."
Thaddeus “Tip” McGuire is a Talking Heads fan and third-year law student at the Wisconsin Law School. Born and raised in historic Kenosha, WI, he has long had an interest in the power of state and local government to improve people’s lives. After graduating from Marquette University where he was active in student government, he spent five years working in the State Capitol for Rep. Peter Barca, taking the occasional leave of absence to work on state and local political campaigns. Eventually, Tip left the legislature to attend law school in pursuit of all the glitz and glamour of criminal law. Since then, he has participated in the Wisconsin Innocence Project (WIP), interned in the La Crosse District Attorney’s office, was a research assistant to Professor Cecelia Klingele, and recently completed a directed research with the Wisconsin Parole Commission. In his free time, he founded and presides over a student organization dedicated to supporting the Wisconsin Innocence Project and he enjoys watching sitcoms. He is an enthusiastic promoter of his hometown of Kenosha, and eagerly donates his energy to the Kenosha Public Library Foundation.
Molly Murray, Program Manager, Health Information and Quality Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association
"Originally from the small town of Savoy, Massachusetts, Molly O’Grady Murray moved to Madison in 2010. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst as a Political Science major, Molly focused her coursework and research on underserved and under-represented populations, with a focus on women and refugees. Molly spent the majority of her undergraduate time working on local, state, and national campaigns, including Governor Deval Patrick’s and President Obama’s. She was in a leadership position in the UMass Democrats and a member of the College Dems, as well as a founding member of UMass for Barack Obama and a delegate at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Since moving to Madison, Molly has worked in the healthcare industry, first as an Implementation Specialist and Team Lead at Epic, and currently works at the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association, a non-profit working with FQHCs throughout the state. Her passions are women's health, healthcare policy, and process improvement, and believes healthcare is a right and not a privilege. She enjoys working with organizations that provide healthcare to all, and that work to utilize community resources to their fullest extent. Molly volunteers with a local refugee-resettlement organization, and plays violin in the Madison Community Orchestra. She is excited to find additional and deeper ways to be involved in the progressive community."
Anne Readel, Associate General Counsel, Promega Corporation
"Anne Readel is Associate General Counsel at Promega Corporation, a global biotechnology company. In that capacity, she provides advice, guidance, and strategic counsel on a wide variety of contractual, intellectual property, employment, and regulatory issues confronting the day-to-day operations of the company. Anne also coordinates representation by outside counsel in litigation. Prior to joining Promega, Anne was a patent litigator at Perkins Coie LLP, one of the largest patent litigation practices in the country. As a registered patent attorney with a doctorate in biology, Anne brought a strong scientific background to high-stakes patent litigation. Anne has experience with cases in the United States District Courts, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court. Anne’s experience in federal law and policy has been further enhanced by the numerous positions she has held in federal government agencies. As a John A. Knauss Fellow at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C., Anne helped transfer government science and technology to companies involved in the commercialization of offshore wind energy. In the Patent and Licensing Program of the U.S. Forest Service in Madison, Wisconsin, Anne advised federal scientists on the commercialization of novel technologies related to forest products. Anne was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Village of Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin in 2015. She was appointed by the Village President as Chair of the Parks Committee, Chair of the Recreation Committee, and Member of the Personnel Committee. Anne holds a B.S. in Animal Sciences and a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a J.D. from the University of Wisconsin. "
Liz Smulian, Researcher and Communications Specialist, University of Wisconsin
Liz Smulian grew up in central New Jersey. Her family instilled in her a love of learning both inside and outside of school. Liz pursued multiple concentrations during her undergraduate studies at Emory University, studying Neuroscience and Art History. She also attended a Mind-Body Science study abroad program in Dharamsala, India and spent a semester studying French and Art History in Paris. At Emory, Liz worked to build a Challah for Hunger chapter that raised both awareness of food insecurity and funds for non-profits focused on hunger relief globally and locally. Much to her excitement, Liz discovered that she could combine her passions for science, advocacy, art, and women’s health into one career in public health. Liz continued on at Emory University to pursue her Master’s in Public Health in Behavioral Science and Health Education with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health. While in graduate school, she worked for several public health organizations that promoted quality mental, reproductive, and sexual health for all women, including Mental Health America of Georgia, the Georgia Maternal and Infant Health Research Group (GMIHRG), and the Global Elimination of Maternal Mortality from Abortion (GEMMA) Fund. Liz also served as interim CEO of Challah for Hunger and joined the Board of Directors in 2013, where she currently serves as Board Chair. After graduating with her MPH, Liz completed a fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, where she worked on the CDC’s strategic effort to increase HPV vaccination and prevent HPV-related diseases and cancers. Her latest adventure has been moving cross-country to Madison, Wisconsin. Liz now works at the University of Wisconsin’s Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families, a community-academic partnership to reduce racial disparities in infant mortality and achieve equitable birth outcomes in Wisconsin. Her dual role as a researcher and communications specialist allow her to continue to combine her loves of science, art, and women’s health.
Anna Strand, Development Director, REAP Food Group
Anna Strand is fundraising professional with demonstrated experience managing development programs, corporate partnerships, and major events for nonprofit and political organizations. She currently serves as Development Director at REAP Food Group, a nonprofit working to build a local food system that is healthy, just, and sustainable in Southern Wisconsin. Prior to working at REAP, Anna was a Development Director at Special Olympics Wisconsin and a political and nonprofit fundraising consultant for progressive organizations in Washington, DC. After college, she taught 1st grade as a Teach for America Corps member in St. Louis. Anna got her start in politics as President of Indiana University College Democrats and Chapter Co-Coordinator & founding member of Students for Barack Obama. Anna is passionate about organizations improving local communities and the world through innovative programs and partnerships. Anna attended Indiana University-Bloomington (Go Hoosiers) where she majored in Political Science and Art History. She volunteers on committees and as a docent at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. She served on the Planning Committee for the first two years of YPWeek, a week-long, statewide platform for discovery, fun and meaningful conversations about the issues that matter among young professionals in Wisconsin. She loves all things food related, music, art, and television & film.
Mike VanDenHeuvel, Legislative Aide, State of Wisconsin
Mike VanDenHeuvel is a graduate of UW-Madison and has spent the past four years working as a legislative aide in the Wisconsin State Assembly. The majority of Mike's work in the State Legislature has been focused on working with the Assembly Democratic Caucus leadership team in crafting their legislative agenda. Recently, Mike has taken an interest in press communications and political messaging. Prior to beginning his work in the statehouse in 2013, Mike worked on multiple political and issue advocacy campaigns throughout Wisconsin. His roots in political and community organizing, coupled with the knowledge he has gained working in the Capitol, suit him well in both legislative and electoral politics. Mike joins NLC-Madison looking to expand his professional network in a collaborative environment where he can learn and work with forward-thinking young professionals from a wide array of backgrounds. In addition to earning a degree in Political Science at UW-Madison, Mike also earned a degree in Spanish and maintains his fluency in the Spanish language. Outside of work, Mike enjoys traveling, running, downhill skiing, and camping in Wisconsin’s state parks.
Adri Viswanatha is a citizen of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. Her interest in international politics began at a young age and continued through her time in university at UW-Madison, where she graduated with a degree in International Studies in Political Economics. Most recently, she has enjoyed her work in the world of democratic political campaigns in Wisconsin, which she finds both challenging and inspiring. In the future, Adri wants to pursue a Masters degree or attend law school, and hopes to expand her work to help disenfranchised groups of people both at home and abroad to have the resources they need to succeed and enact change.
Ja'Mel Ware, CEO and Founder, Intellectual Ratchet
Ja’Mel Ware was born and raised in Detroit, MI. He moved to Madison WI in 2006 to pursue a Bachelors degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. After many years in professional settings, he began to understand his passions for entrepreneurship, entertainment, and diversity. In 2015 he founded Intellectual Ratchet (IR) an entertainment company that seeks to diversify cities through urban experiences. With the support of his friends and team IR continues to grow its “socialution” creating community and provided new experiences for the greater Madison area. In his spare time, he likes to snuggle, workout, sleep, build models and eat at locally owned restaurants.