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Meet the 2016 Miami Fellows
Benjamin Abo, Physician, Mount Sinai Medical Center
Dr. Benjamin N. Abo is a veteran paramedic who became a physician specializing in Emergency Medicine and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Dr. Abo studied medicine and public health at Touro University California and graduated with multiple honors. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Emergency Medicine from the University of Pittsburgh and the Center for Emergency Medicine, where he was later a faculty member. Besides being an accomplished physician, Dr. Abo is best known as a humanitarian and educator well-renowned for his enthusiasm, mentorship, and use of puns. Dr. Abo will complete his Emergency Medicine residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Ryder Trauma Center at the end of June 2016. With over 19 years of international emergency medicine, EMS, and disaster experience, Dr. Abo remains active in research, education, lecturing, and clinical work with federal and state disaster medical assistance teams while fostering the next generation of emergency medicine and EMS leaders. To solidify his passion for international Emergency Medicine advancement and leadership, Dr. Abo founded and is president of U.R.G.E.N.T., a not-for-profit organization charged with developing emergency care and access to emergency care in developing countries in a culturally sensitive and needs-appropriate manner. In addition, Dr. Abo serves on the board of directors for the International Institute for Sustainability in Emergency Services (iiSES), an international cohort that addresses clinical sustainability in emergency services as well as environmental, economic, and workforce sustainability. While lecturing and mentoring at each of the medical schools in south Florida, Ben noticed an unmet need and subsequently co-founded the Florida Wilderness Medical Association (FLoWMA) with a group of mentees and fellow outdoor enthusiasts. As a maturing EMS/Fire Rescue Medical Director and EMS physician, Dr. Abo is also well known for multiple high profile rescues and disaster responses. He actively seeks innovative team approaches for prevention, education and response for disasters, public health issues, rescues, and urban planning for bicycle and child safety. Dr. Abo is an enthusiastic leader, proud member of the greater Miami community, and looks forward to the day that Dr. 305 becomes friends with Mr. 305.
I'Tita Alexander, Curriculum Support Specialist & Director of Operations & Programming, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and DIBIA Dream, Inc.
I'Tita N. Alexander is a dedicated educator and Instructional Coach with M-DCPS. As a Curriculum Support Specialist and Peer-Reviewer she provides creative and engaging professional development, assisting teachers in implementing inventive instructional strategies in their daily instruction. As an organizer and facilitator of district-wide professional development she helps usher educators to a place of researched based high-yield instructional innovation. Her passion for education and adolescent literacy extend far beyond the classroom. Throughout her eight year career in education she has also co-founded service clubs for minority students; which focus on academic and personal achievement, and mentored with Take Stock in Children mentoring program, and 100 Black Men of South Florida. She currently sits on the Professionalization of Teaching Task Force, and Young Educators Committee of United Teachers of Dade. I’Tita understands teachers are often the first line of defense in making a positive impact on our youth, and she has made it one of her mission to empower them. She is also currently pursuing personal educational passions through her work with non-profit organizations CLOAK Inc. and DIBIA Dream Inc. She is currently the Director of Operations and Programming with DIBIA Dream Inc. I’Tita has developed relevant and meaningful academic enrichment curricula, which focuses on financial literacy, health and wellness, STEAM education, leadership, and sex trafficking awareness.
Brandon Alfred, Dean of Culture, Jose de Diego MS
Born and raised by teenage parents in New York City, Brandon was exposed early to the injustices that plague many education systems and large cities. As a second grader, Brandon was mislabeled and placed in a special education class. Brandon’s mother, who became an educator herself, noticed that Brandon wasn’t being challenged by his work. After meeting with an administration that was initially dismissive of her, she was able to have Brandon properly screened and moved into the gifted program. It has been that kind of perseverance, awareness, and advocacy that Brandon attributes his success to. By all accounts, Brandon’s mother “overcame the odds” as a teen parent, and founded an alternative high school for at-risk students. It was her ability to be a trailblazer in the family, an advocate for her children’s education, and a model of what advocacy needs to look like to create more equitable opportunities for others that has motivated Brandon in the work that he does. After attending Yale University, Brandon joined Teach for America in Miami-Dade. As a high school history teacher, Brandon leveraged social justice to make US history more relevant for students, and to empower them with tools necessary to make changes in their communities. As a history lover, Brandon views History as the playbook to life and tried to instill in his students that there is much to be learned from history that can be applied to today. Despite his love for history, however, Brandon became frustrated when he realized how many of his students had been passed along through the system without any real support. It became difficult to speak with eleventh graders filled with grand college goals, but wholly unprepared, uninformed, and many unqualified for the college process. Consequently, Brandon has shifted from being a high school teacher to a Dean of Culture at a middle school. Brandon’s hope is that he can have a broader impact on students at an earlier age, and serve as the kind of activist for students that his mother served for him and many others. Brandon has become enamored with Miami, while becoming frustrated with the systemic inequalities that he believes is stifling Miami’s potential. In joining the New Leaders Council, Brandon hopes to network with other individuals seeking to unlock Miami’s potential, and gain the tools needed to engage politically to make it a more equitable place for all of its residents.
Kilan Bishop, PhD Candidate, University of Miami
Kilan Bishop is currently a fourth year PhD candidate at the University of Miami, where she is completing her dissertation research studying genetic factors that influence triple negative breast cancer development and progression. She earned her BS in Biology from Morgan State University prior to relocating to Miami in 2012. Kilan has over eight years of biomedical research experience and has awarded three federally funded fellowship programs dedicated to increasing diversity in the scientific workforce. Kilan is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Pi Delta Omega chapter and serves as the Vice President of the Black Graduate Student Association at the University of Miami and the Community Service Director of the Miami Dade Young Democrats. In 2014, she founded Health Noir, a nonprofit organization with the mission of reducing health disparities in communities of color by addressing lifestyle and environmental factors that influence chronic disease. Kilan is joining New Leaders Council to combine her interests in policy, politics, and health. She is a health enthusiast and in her spare time, Kilan likes to cook (& eat), travel, and continually practice her Spanish.
Charlotte Cassel, Equal Justice Works Fellow, Florida Legal Services
Charlotte Joseph Cassel is an Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by Greenberg Traurig and the Florida Bar Foundation, at Florida Legal Services. Her project is focused on ensuring that low-income Floridians receive access to health care under the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. Charlotte has worked at VIDA, an organization that provides legal services to immigrant women who have been victims of domestic violence, Planned Parenthood’s Latin American Regional Office, and in the Health and Reproductive Rights unit at the National Women’s Law Center, in Washington, D.C. While in law school, she was a student attorney in the Human Rights Clinic, and had the opportunity to testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee. For her work in the clinic she received The Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Outstanding Clinical Student Award and the National Association of Women Lawyer’s Outstanding Student Award. She holds a Juris Doctorate, magna cum laude, from the University of Miami School of Law, 2014; a Master of Public Health from Columbia University, 2011; and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Barnard College, 2007. In her spare time, Charlotte enjoys volunteering at Lotus House, snuggling with her English bulldog Henry, and discovering new restaurants in Miami with her husband and friends.
Johanna Cervone, Communications Director, Office of Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava
Johanna Cervone currently serves as the Communications Director for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. As Communications Director, Johanna focuses on delivering the Commissioner’s message and initiatives through a variety of traditional and digital platforms. Johanna is also part of Commissioner Levine Cava’s unique community engagement team, helping to increase civic participation across all the neighborhoods and populations of South Miami-Dade. Prior to her role in public service, Johanna taught Spanish and Portuguese at the university level before starting a successful language services business. Her career in politics and government began with President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 and she has since been involved with several local and international electoral campaigns, focusing on community organizing, institutional outreach and Hispanic communications. A native of Argentina, Johanna was raised in Miami. She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish from Florida State University and went on to pursue a M.A. in Hispanic Literature from FSU. Johanna also taught Translation Studies at the Universidad de Montevideo in Uruguay. She is a native Spanish speaker and speaks Portuguese and French. Johanna’s true passion lies in using policy, government and electoral work to drive progress. She is particularly interested in increasing civic participation in Miami, especially among minority and historically disengaged communities.
Elizabeth Fernandez, Managing Editor, The New Tropic
As managing editor, Elizabeth Fernandez leads editorial strategy, content, and newsletters for The New Tropic. She has been writing, editing, and managing publications for fun and profit for far longer than seems reasonable, specializing in everything from books and magazines to the web.
Delphine is a licensed clinical social worker with experience in education, health, social welfare, community development, and individual/family/group intervention services. Her professional background emphasizes a special focus on community involvement and service; utilizing social networking for the purpose of bridging the gap between those with established needs and those with access to the resources to meet those needs. Her experiences includes adolescent mental health counseling, elderly community based intervention, employment referrals services, non-profit program coordination and management, provision of intervention/prevention services in faith-based, education, medical settings, with emphasis on at-risk groups and immigrant populations. Her professional and social associations include First Lady at Community Christian Church; Executive Director of Association of Haitian Social Workers (2011-2012); member of Miami Dade County Association of School Social Workers; member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.; member of Board of Directors for Gang Alternative Inc. (2005-2012); member of Toastmasters International; Scholarship Committee Chairperson for Little Haiti Optimist Club.
Daphne Jean-Pierre, District Policy Assistant, U.S. House of Representatives
Daphne Jean-Pierre serves as the District Policy Assistant to Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson. In her current role, she is responsible for providing research support pertaining to pending and passed legislation as well as issues of broad public concern including education, gun violence and job creation. Her career and commitment to public interest work began in 2010 as an assistant public defender in Broward County. There, she embraced the importance of zealous advocacy for all people despite indigence. Daphne is a Miami native and two time graduate of the University of Florida. She holds a Bachelor in Business Management and Juris Doctor. Driven by experiences that enable her to support and uplift her community, Daphne also sits on the board of Girl Power Rocks, an organization that supports at-risk girls in Miami Dade County Public Schools. In her free time, Daphne enjoys travelling, good food and spending time with friends and family.
Virginia Lora, Field Interviewer, NORC at the University of Chicago
Virginia Lora is a skilled interviewer, writer, and communicator with 6+ years of experience dedicated to storytelling and relationship building within the nonprofit field and community radio. In 2009 she packed her bags and left her hometown of Miami to become a Mobile Facilitator/Field Producer for StoryCorps, the oral history project associated with National Public Radio and the Library of Congress. She conducted hundreds of interviews in English and Spanish (resulting in five national radio broadcasts on NPR, and one animated short on PBS) and lived for a month at a time in a different town or city as she traveled all over the U.S. Thanks to her interest in journalism and social justice, Virginia saw each interview as a way to bring to to the forefront life experiences that are often ignored in more traditional media, and this unique line of work planted in her head (and heart) the idea that storytelling could be a tool for empowerment, human connection and even social and political transformation. As a Miami returnee, Virginia has used her writing and storytelling skills to support the work and mission of various nonprofit organizations on issues that range from immigration to homelessness. By day, she conducts social science research interviews in the public interest for the NORC at the University of Chicago, and by night she pursues writing, radio other storytelling projects in her own backyard. Born in Lima, Peru, Virginia came to Miami with her family at the age of 14 and attended Miami Coral Park High School. She graduated from Amherst College in 2008, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and French, and a Certificate in Latino and Latin American Studies.
Jeremy Mason, Assistant to the Mayor and Council, City of Homestead
Jeremy Mason is the Assistant to Mayor and Council for the City of Homestead where he leads special projects and manages constituent relations. He is a recent recipient of the National Park Service Director’s Partnership Award for outstanding innovation and achievement in establishing and promoting the Homestead Trolley to South Florida’s National Parks. He earned his BA in International Relations from Tulane University and a Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems from the University of West Florida. He previously worked in education, teaching a variety of subjects and age groups in both Seoul and Miami. Jeremy’s main policy interest is LGBT advocacy. He is the Special Events Chair of the Leadership Council of the OUT Miami Foundation, though which he works to build an engaged, philanthropic LGBT community in the Greater Miami area. Above all, he works to lead and inspire those around him to see possibilities, generate concrete ideas, and manifest them in a way that builds culture and promotes inclusiveness.
Matt Mawhinney, South Florida Community Manager, LaunchCode
Born and raised in South Florida, Matt is a Community Manager with LaunchCode, a non-profit working locally and nationally to create economic opportunity through education and job placements in technology. Matt holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from George Mason University and a Bachelor’s in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Over the course of his career, he has lived and worked in Washington, D.C., Austin, TX, and Rabat, Morocco, and he excited to be creating opportunity in his hometown. Outside of work, Matt likes to swim, listen to podcasts, travel, spend time with friends and family, and perform improv comedy when possible.
Jorge Perez-Gallego, Curator of Astronomy & Developer of Exhibitions,
Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science
Dr. Jorge Perez-Gallego is a multifaceted astronomer, designer, educator, and entrepreneur. As an astronomer, he has led and conducted original research about the formation and evolution of galaxies. As a designer, he has followed his passion for science outreach and education, and focused on finding useful ways to share scientific knowledge with different and diverse audiences by means of visual, exhibition, and communication design. Both his work as an astronomer and as a designer has been published in international journals and conferences. Currently, he works at the new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science where besides instigating exhibitions and programs, he is developing the upcoming Frost Planetarium. Since he got to Miami two years ago, he has been a recipient of a Knight Arts Challenge grant twice as a member of two different three-person teams, Science Art Cinema and Corpus Callosum. In the past, he has led international educational programs for high school students for institutions such as the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium and Telefónica Talentum Schools. He also acted as the director of a year-long non-for-profit initiative that celebrated and elevated the lively and local community of Gainesville, FL. He is cofounder of Open Door Design Studio, an award winning design studio in Asheville, NC. He enjoys sports, and besides practicing them, some of his free time is devoted to developing a revolutionary swimming, cycling, running, and triathlon training software.
Maudlin Pierre, Attorney
Faudlin is a South Florida native. He is an attorney whose areas of practice include Civil Rights, Consumer Rights, and Sports Law. Faudlin received a bachelor of science in business administration from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and his law degree from the University of Kentucky. He is admitted to practice law in the state of Florida, United States Southern District Court of Florida, Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Faudlin litigates and transacts on behalf of his clients. He has written legal articles for Sports Business Journal, negotiated sponsorship agreements with companies such as Nike & Adidas, and has advised various clients on the legal repercussions of their potential actions.
Megan Schmitt, Preservation Officer, City of Miami
Megan Cross Schmitt currently serves as the Preservation Officer for the City of Miami. In this role she works to promote the designation of Miami’s historic resources while regulating all of those properties that are already currently protected. She is an avid lover of cities and a firm believer in the necessity of good public transit. Megan is originally from Philadelphia and moved to Miami from New York City about 4 ½ years ago. She recently graduated with her MBA from the University of Miami, and also has an M.S. in Historic Preservation and an Advanced Certificate, both from the University of Pennsylvania.
Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director and Waterkeeper, Miami Waterkeeper
Rachel Silverstein joined Miami Waterkeeper as Executive Director & Waterkeeper in June 2014. Prior to joining MWK, Rachel was a Knauss Sea Grant Fellow and Professional Staff for the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard in Washington, DC. Rachel received a Ph.D. in the Department of Marine Biology and Fisheries from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science in 2012. Her research focused on the effect of climate change on reef corals, for which she used genetic methods to answer ecological questions. Her Ph.D. was funded in part by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Rachel graduated cum laude in 2006 from Columbia University with a B.S. degree in Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology. Rachel sits on the Alumni Board of University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and is on the Young Patrons Executive Committee for the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science.
Susana Siman, Project Manager, Spatially
Susana Siman is a creative and flexible product manager with a natural interest for human-centric technologies and programs. With experience in tech startups, urban planning and graphic design she thrives on designing strategies and products that address urban issues and empower our communities. Susana is currently a Project Manager at Spatially, a software organization that builds apps and solutions that help people and businesses make better, more informed location-based decisions. She is responsible for bringing together internal stakeholder and developing the vision for products in the organization.
Gonzalo Vizcardo, Product Development Analyst, Assurant
Gonzalo Vizcardo is a Product Development Analyst on an innovation team at Assurant, a Fortune 300 financial services firm, where he is currently focused on the sharing economy space and the housing and lifestyle markets. In his role he conducts market research, product ideation, strategy formulation, financial modeling, and data analysis as part of bringing and managing new products to market. Prior to his current role he worked in enterprise software, strategy consulting, and cybersecurity, and completed internships in wealth management and economic development. He graduated from Florida Atlantic University in 2013 with bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and economics, cum laude. He was part of the 2015 cohort of Community Scholars in Affordable Housing, a community of practice organized by Catalyst Miami, the South Florida Community Development Coalition, and the University of Miami to address the region’s community development and affordable housing issues. Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, he has lived in South Florida for 14 years.
Ian Welsch, CEO, The Motivational Edge, Inc.
For nearly 15 years, Ian Welsch has been actively involved in the enrichment and education of children. Leading them in classroom instruction early on in his career, he proved to parents and peers alike that students thrive under his direction. In recent years, Ian has trained educators to use his proven methods of instruction, in order to benefit the lives of many more under-resourced youth around the nation. Ian earned his BS, as well as his Masters Degree in Education from the University of Bridgeport. Taking a position as an educator in the Miami-Dade County Public School System in 2005, and recognizing the need for additional educational resources, he started an in-home tutoring service. Increasing referrals highlighted a community-wide need, thus in May of 2007 The Motivational Edge LLC was formed. This was primarily an on-site tutoring center, but the community needed more. As a result, in June 2008, The Motivational Edge Inc. was formed. This is a tax-exempt, youth development agency which reaches many more at-risk youth, homeless youth and hundreds of youth in residential facilities. As Founder and CEO, Ian has assembled a vibrant team of experienced and caring educators. Since 2008, ME has evolved into a highly regarded not for profit organization that children and families have learned to depend on for quality educational services. Together, they are committed to excellence in education, and the success of everyone who is enriched by The Motivational Edge, Inc. In late 2013, Ian launched The Edge – Non Profit Coaching. This coaching company afforded Ian the opportunity to educate other non-profit professionals based on his years of experience. The Edge - Non Profit Coaching provides exceptional start-up and ongoing services for nonprofits. Specifically, they lead new and emerging nonprofit professionals through the process of starting, funding and managing a nonprofit, tax exempt organization. In mid-2015, The Edge – Non Profit Coaching joined forces with Agilidi, Inc. to form NPO Elite, which is a consulting agency that streamlines nonprofit organizations to reduce time and money spent on administration so more services can be delivered per funding dollar.
Leah Weston, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorp Legal Fellow, University of Miami
Leah is a public interest lawyer, a community activist, a radio DJ, and a bicyclist. She is currently in her second year of an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps post-graduate legal fellowship, through which she provides pro bono legal assistance to veterans and their families in South Florida. She is also an organizer with Emerge Miami, a group dedicated to strengthening social bonds between progressive organizations and individuals in Miami. In addition to practicing law, Leah has over a decade of experience as a radio DJ, including as student DJ at WVUM 90.5 FM at the University of Miami and as an occasional guest host at WDNA 88.9 FM in Miami. Born and raised in Miami, Leah grew up in Kendall and graduated from Coral Reef Senior High School’s magnet program for music in 2004. She went onto Tulane University in New Orleans for college. When she was a college sophomore, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The storm changed the course of her life. She moved back to her native Miami with a newfound commitment to addressing racial and economic injustice. After transferring to the University of Miami, she became active in student organizing around human rights issues, leading the school’s chapter of Amnesty International. Plugging back into Miami as an adult was no easy task, having been away for several years in New Orleans, a different community with a strong sense of identity. That all changed in the summer of 2007 when she attended her first Emerge Miami Second Saturday bicycle ride, a community bike ride that has introduced hundreds of people to Miami from a different perspective. She quickly realized that this group of people, buoyed by the power of social media, would be changing Miami for the better and wanted to be a part of shaping this nascent movement of young people. Through Emerge Miami, Leah has had the opportunity to collaborate with many different organizations and individuals addressing some of our community’s biggest challenges, from transportation and climate change, to homelessness and poverty. She returned to law school at the University of Miami in order to deepen her understanding, knowledge, and skills as an advocate. When she is not being an advocate, she enjoys collecting music and making DJ mixes, crocheting, and practicing handstands in her living room.