Twin Cities 2018 Fellows

Meet the 2018 Twin Cities Fellows
(back to NLC 2018 Fellows)

Biiftuu Adam

Crime Victim Liaison, The City of Bloomington


Biiftuu Ibrahim Adam is an Oromo American woman. Her parents originate from Ethiopia. Biiftuu was born and raised in Minnesota. She attended Hamline University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice. At Hamline, Biiftuu conducted grant-funded research pertaining to the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act and its impact on the federal prison population. The research focused on the racial disparities that the crack cocaine mandatory minimums birthed. She presented the findings at the annual conference for the American Society of Criminology in Washington D.C.

Upon completion of her degree, she accepted a position at Cornerstone Advocacy Service where she served as a Criminal Justice Intervention Advocate. At Cornerstone, she worked with individuals who experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Biiftuu currently works as the Crime Victim Liaison for the City Attorney’s Office of Bloomington. She also work as a relief staff for Alexandra House, which is a domestic violence shelter. She is passionate about social and racial justice. Biiftuu has organized several fundraisers for victim service agencies in the community and has trained criminal justice professionals, educators, health care professionals, etc. Biiftuu volunteers as an Oromo interpreter for individuals seeking asylum and as a serves on Standpoints Board of Directors.

Tolu Ajibewa

Price Analyst, 3M


Tolu Ajibewa currently works at 3M as a Price Analyst. Before he took on this role at 3M, he worked as a Financial Analyst and a Fund Accountant for six years in the financial industry. Tolu was born and raised in Ibadan, Nigeria. At the age of nine, his family moved to the United States for a better life.

His father always told him and his two brothers that “It takes a village to raise a child,” and through his experiences in the Nigerian community, he has seen that statement in action. He uses that perspective to give back to his community. Due to a belief in creating a strong community, he has found ways to give back by volunteering at a local shelter and raising funds for the National Society of Multiple Sclerosis.

Although there are many people in his life that motivate and inspire him, his parents have consistently been at the top of the list. He is thankful to his parents for their hard work and perseverance since moving to the United States so that he and his siblings can experience a better life. He will forever be grateful for their sacrifice and unwavering support. His parents took on many jobs, went back to school, and worked hard so that he and his siblings could live a comfortable life in their new environment.

When he is not working, he enjoys working on public speaking in Toastmasters - an organization that enhances communication and public speaking skills of its members, performing different meeting roles or listening to other speeches. He also enjoys biking, watching professional sports, and participating in obstacle course races. He attended Minnesota State University – Mankato, where he earned his bachelor's degree in Finance. He later earned another bachelor's degree in Accounting at Metropolitan State University – Saint Paul, Minnesota. He currently resides on the east side of Saint Paul.

Adrian Benjamin

Legislative Assistant, Minnesota House of Representatives


Adrian Benjamin graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with completion of the Public Affairs Conversation Program. He has been applauded for his leadership in reforming St. Olaf’s sexual assault and Title IX policies by notable media publications including Time Magazine and Teen Vogue.

Upon graduation, Adrian was hosted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and their government affairs team during his time with the Urban Scholars Program. He is currently forging a career at the Minnesota State Capitol as a Legislative Assistant for the DFL Caucus in the Minnesota House of Representatives. At the State Capitol, he aids the DFL Representative policy lead for education and immigration reform. As one of the few Latino Representatives and Legislative Assistants in the Minnesota House, Adrian shares the same inclination in focusing efforts on issues affecting communities of color involving education, immigration, civil rights, housing and economic development. Adrian supports and extends the Representative’s governmental influence of educational equity for students of color and immigrant students with the creation of statewide networks in the nonprofit and public sector. Adrian’s life work is invested in those policy areas with a heavy emphasis on racial equity and empowering marginalized communities.

In his spare time, he is a consultant for Minneapolis Public Schools’ human resources department and he volunteers as an assistant coach and judge for Minnesota public high school debate and speech teams.


Amani Berry

Academic adviser, McNair Scholars


Amani prides himself on being a lifelong learner and a pursuer of a better well-being for all people. Motivated by a need to construct his vocation around his passions, Amani’s vision became clearer following his first job out of college. At St. Joseph’s Home for children, he worked with high-school aged teens faced with some of life’s greatest challenges. After watching these youth struggle, battle and succeed to overcome their obstacles, Amani was humbled and inspired to take action. This journey began as Amani completed a dual master’s degree in public policy and social work where he enhanced his understanding of the systematic barriers that have routinely oppressed various communities.

Presently, Amani works as an advisor and advocate for the federally funded McNair scholars program at the University of Minnesota where he helps to further McNair’s mission to increase graduate application, matriculation, and degree attainment of traditionally underserved populations. Outside of his academic and professional pursuits, Amani is also a member of the Global Shapers Minneapolis hub, which is an initiative of the World Economic Forum that seeks to engage young leaders globally in forum activities and create local impact worldwide. Additionally, in his free time, Amani enjoys reading, watching sports and traveling.


Bryan Boyce

Founder and Director, Cow Tipping Press


Bryan Boyce is Founder and Director of Cow Tipping Press, a social venture that creates writing by people with developmental disabilities. A graduate of Grinnell College, he taught high school English in Lesotho and the Rosebud Lakota Reservation before serving as Assistant Director of Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano in California, which he led to the highest student reading and math growth in the nationwide Collaborative.

As the sibling of a brother with developmental disabilities, Bryan knows firsthand the value and richness of exchange across neurological difference. He seeks to give others this opportunity - an alternative to presuming deficit and pity - through the often inventive, radically self-representative writing of Cow Tipping authors. In his spare time, Bryan enjoys every single menu item at Taco John's and strives to preserve a streak of having swum in outdoor bodies of water each of the past consecutive 130 months.


Brinda Desai

Resident Physician, University Of Minnesota

PHOTOBrinda Desai grew up in the east coast before moving to the Midwest for medical school. She received her Doctorate of Medicine in Wisconsin and is now a training physician in Internal Medicine-Pediatrics. Her passion in medicine is focused on low socioeconomic and immigrant populations. Specifically, helping to connect immigrant/refugee populations with prevention care within our healthcare system. In addition, humanities in medicine is another big focus in her career. She helped to establish an organization called Heart of Medicine which focuses on understanding the stories of patients and understanding them beyond their disease. She hopes to take the skills she's received through her training and learn through this fellowship on how to apply them towards the local community.


Jokho Farah

Director of Quality/Population Health, People's Center Clinics & Services

PHOTODr. Jokho Farah is the Director of Quality/Population Health at People’s Center Clinics & Services, a nationally recognized community health center based in Minneapolis. She trained as a general surgeon, but developed a passion for primary care and quality improvement. Jokho have over six years experience in healthcare management, policy, and public health. Her passion and collaborative efforts are focused on helping improve the overall health of uninsured and underserved populations. Jokho is responsible for providing direction and leadership for continuous quality improvement efforts, access, utilization management, and transition of care processes across People’s Center’s network of clinics, Affordable Care Organization partnership (FUHN) and the community. She develops, implements, and evaluates strategic initiatives focused on population health management. Jokho uses data to establish integrated approaches to care management to support the alignment and delivery of services across the continuum of care for priority populations. She collaborates with organizations and state health leaders in identifying, prioritizing, and establishing health care models/programs that are equitable for all. Jokho has worked closely with University of Minnesota, Dartmouth College, and Minnesota Department of Health addressing social determinants of health and health disparities using data analytics and predictive modeling capabilities at both the aggregate population level and the patient-specific level to guide disease management program development, evaluation of return on investment, speed of implementation, and necessary care management tools required for success of the organization and its patients.

Aside from that, Jokho also manages several grants, totaling close to $1 million dollars, aimed at reducing health disparities in vulnerable communities. She sits on several committees such as Twin Cities Board of American Heart Association, Somali Public Health Advisors Committee through Minnesota Department of Health, and Cedar Riverside Neighborhood Leadership Development Committee.

In a prior life, Jokho spent time actively involved in international health, medical missions, and humanitarian work both in Dubai and Tunisia.

Isela Xitlali Gómez

Community Liaison, Hennepin County

PHOTOIsela Xitlali Gómez is an East LA/Inland Empire transplant, artist, and community organizer. A graduate of Macalester College, her work focuses on intersectional race equity through storytelling and systems change. Gómez is a 2015 Winner of the Loft Literary Center's Mentor Series in Creative Nonfiction and 2017 Beyond the Pure Fellow through Intermedia Arts. You can find her work in “How Dare We! Write,” an anthology of writers of color on the writing life and process. As a 2013 Race Equity Fellow with Minnesota Education Equity Partnership, she wrote Minnesota Prosperity Act/ MN Dream Act II: The Movement to Pass the Minnesota Dream Act and Its Impacts on Students of Color in Minnesota.


Maren Hulden

Staff Attorney, Mid-Minnesota Legalize Aid

PHOTOMaren Hulden is a staff attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid/Minnesota Disability Law Center where she represents students with disabilities on school related issues. Maren previously taught sixth grade in Rio Grande City Texas and clerked for the Hon. David F. Hamilton on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the Hon. John R. Tunheim of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Maren received her law degree from Columbia Law School, where she was Editor-In-Chief of the Columbia Law Review, and her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago.


Amal Karim

National Policy Associate, Educators for Excellence


Amal Karim is the National Policy Associate for Educators for Excellence. In her role, Amal works to elevate teacher voice on critical national policy initiatives related to educational equity. She also supports Educators for Excellence’s policy and advocacy work across six state chapters.

Originally from Bangladesh and raised in five different countries throughout her childhood, Amal identifies as a global citizen. As such, her primary policy interests include U.S. domestic education policy and international development. Amal is a former Fulbright Scholar and spent a year in Malaysia partnering with a local education non-profit to research best practices of classroom teachers and was also a former Teach for America corps member on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

She has interned with organizations like Voice of America, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and Minneapolis Public Schools. Amal received a B.A. in Politics from Pomona College in 2011 and a Master of Public Administration from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 2016. In her spare time, she enjoys hot yoga, street food from around the world, and befriending strangers’ dogs. She also serves as her ward’s representative to the City of Minneapolis’ Public Health Advisory Committee and volunteers with Pomona College’s admissions program.


Nathan Lewicki

Business Development Strategist, Thrivent Financial

PHOTONathan Lewicki’s definition of success for his life is helping as many people around him to be successful and achieve their dreams. He wants to release the untapped potential in humanity to do and contribute good. This is fueled by the stubborn belief that we are accountable for creating the world we live in, combined with a commitment to complex work that’s worth doing, and a tenacity to explore the story and voice of others.

Nathan’s strong sense of civic responsibility leads to a belief that we all must work participate to create the communities we want to live in – and invite others into. For Nathan, progress is defined as “a step forward to an envisioned, better future”. The world doesn’t happen to us – we happen to the world. Something that’s important to him is resourcing people with the tools and policies they need to make impact and, and removing barriers that prevent people from using their voice. For example, on Election Day you’ll find Nathan volunteering, usually advocating for the rights of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and providing access via ASL interpreting.

Nathan’s attraction to value-driven organizations has led him to a variety of roles in small and large nonprofits, church communities, corporate America, and even small business ownership. In these settings, he excels in roles that involve communicating the mission of that organization to customers, stakeholders, and community members. With a strong work ethic and a compulsion to make our world a more equitable place, he values solutions to problems and barriers that are people-centered and data informed.

A strong sense of curiosity defined Nathan’s upbringing. Having been adopted at birth from Vietnamese and Iranian parents, and growing up in a multicultural household, he became quite comfortable asking questions- sometimes uncomfortable ones! Everyone and every situation is an experience waiting to be learnt from. This translates to an extreme out-going nature, and causes him to self-identify as “debilitatingly extroverted”. In adulthood, this curiosity matured into a celebration of diverse perspectives and values.

His mother jokes that he was “born with a suitcase, ready to move out” – and that independent energy has defined much of his path. When not working or volunteering, you’ll usually find him in one of two places: the kitchen, experimenting on a new iteration of a recipe, or at the dog park, entertaining his rescue greyhound, News.

Michelle Maryns

Chief of Strategic Initiatives, Meda


Michelle Tran Maryns serves as the Chief of Strategic Initiatives at Meda (Metropolitan Economic Development Association), a nonprofit that helps minority entrepreneurs succeed as a way to encourage thriving communities through equal economic participation. Prior to her current role, Michelle was Meda’s Director of Marketing.

Before working at Meda, Michelle led the digital team at the American Academy of Neurology, served as a Strategy Consultant at Rêve Consulting, conducted outreach as a Community Relations Specialist at the U.S. Department of Justice, and represented the United States as a Foreign Service Officer and Public Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Department of State.

In her free time, she is a Social Media Volunteer for SoCal Music Association, a program sponsored by Fractured Atlas, and co-founded the Service Design Network Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter. Michelle leverages her digital marketing and human-centered design thinking skills to advise startups like WORKSHOP, Ova Woman, Boosted Boards, and Zaarly. She has also worked as a Stitch Fix stylist on the side.

Most recently, she led a group of high school students from China on a social entrepreneurship learning trip to Panama for ThinkImpact. Michelle was born and raised in Kansas by Vietnamese refugees and was part of the first generation in her family to graduate from college. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Kansas and a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.


Ashley McCray

Research and Development Engineer, General Mills


Ashley McCray is a Chemical Engineer, Motivational Speaker, Public Servant, and Nonprofit Leader. As a Research and Development Engineer at General Mills, she is pivotal in launching, innovating, and renovating products for the multi-million dollar, Old El Paso brand.

She is President of the Twin Cities Professional Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the number of minorities in STEM fields. Ms. McCray also sits on the Regional Board of Directors for NSBE. As a motivational speaker, she has served as the University of Pittsburgh’s Commencement Speaker, Minnesota State University at Mankato’s Keynote for their Diversity Day, and held various professional development workshops at conferences all over the country.

As a public servant, Ashley is a co-founder of Krate for Karagwe, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sending medical supplies to Karagwe, Tanzania, Co-creator of STEMulating Young Minds Institute, a training program for educators and community leaders interested in successfully teaching and engaging students in STEM principles, and a Big Sister in Big Brother/Big Sister Twin Cities. With these organizations, she has developed and implemented community based engineering exposure and outreach programs across the United States.

Ashley currently serves as ITQ Development Chair for General Mills’ Black Champions Network. Through Ashley’s content creation and leadership, the ITQ Development team supports evidence-based policies and practices to increase retention and job satisfaction for the technical talent of color in the global corporation.


Christina Melander

Research Fellow, Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) | University of Minnesota


Christina Melander currently works as a Research Fellow at the Robert J. Jones Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) of the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on sex trafficking and commercial sex trading, structural inequalities, and labor rights. As a Research Fellow, Christina provides research skills and expertise to ongoing projects at UROC, including project coordination and supervision of student research staff. She is co-author on several recent research reports: Mapping the Demand: Sex Buyers in Minnesota; Workplace Perspectives on Erotic Dancing; and Young Women’s Initiative Action Research Engagement Process. Christina focuses on participatory action research with marginalized communities, so that research itself can be part of an emancipatory process toward systems change. She believes that rigorous research methodology combined with community engagement can tackle some of society’s biggest social issues.

Prior to her work at UROC, Christina has worked for over a decade in progressive movements addressing campus sustainability and clean energy, affordable housing and homelessness, immigrant rights, diversity and inclusion, labor rights, and most recently, as an advocate for victim/survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

Christina is a Scandinavian-American and is deeply passionate about connecting with Norwegian and Swedish-American communities in the U.S. around progressive causes. She dreams of using Nordic cultural values for ally development on racial justice issues. She received her Master of Social Work from the University of Minnesota and a bachlor’s in Sociology from the University of Chicago.


Hoang Murphy

Engagement Coordinator, Minnesota Asset Building Coalition

PHOTOHoang is the Civic Engagement Coordinator at the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition, where he brings experience in organizing and policy, as well as a deep­-seated passion for equity. A former high school English teacher and debate coach, he has seen the importance of amplifying community voices. Hoang has also had the honor of serving as the 2016-­2017 Public Policy Fellow with the United States Department of Education. Hoang is a native of Greater Minnesota and is a proud former foster care youth, with a B.A. from Syracuse University and a M.S., Ed. from the Johns Hopkins University. In his spare time he likes to read immigrant literary fiction, cook, and lament about the Minnesota Timberwolves.


Amy Neguse

Quality Assurance Analyst, Optum


Amy Neguse is a Quality Assurance Analyst within the Behavioral Health Provider Operations department at Optum, a business of United HealthGroup. Amy’s contributions to her team include, training new colleagues, managing the auditing of clinician’s entering the Optum Network of several high priority states, and collaboratively improving the department’s policies and procedures for efficient workflows.

Her professional career began as a direct care worker for youth with a variety of mental health disorders at a psychiatric residential treatment facility in Asheville, North Carolina. That experience led Amy to shift her professional experiences to healthcare administration roles at Amplifon Hearing Health Care, The Judge Group, and now continuing at Optum.

Amy graduated from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with a Bachelor of Science in Family Social Science, with a minor in Family Violence Prevention. During her undergraduate career, Amy was a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and had the privilege of working alongside her mentor, Dr. Ann S. Masten, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor. Amy’s leadership granted her the Sharon L. Doherty Leadership Award through the University of Minnesota Women’s Center because of her dedication to women’s empowerment on campus and within the community. Various volunteer opportunities from the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery to People Serving People to Honoring Women Worldwide continued to propel Amy’s passion for working with women and children who have faced adverse experiences throughout their lives.

As the daughter of Eritrean immigrants, Amy’s immediate and extended family experiences have inspired her to always lend a helping hand to those who are in need, to always be an active advocate in your communities, and to always seek justice where justice is due.


Jonathan Oppenheimer


Jonathan Oppenheimer graduated in 2017 from the University of Minnesota with Master of Public Policy and Master of Social Work degrees. A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, he came to the Midwest in 2000 to pursue his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin and later settled in the Midway neighborhood in St. Paul.

Jonathan has multiple and varied passions, including criminal justice reform; local politics; increasing access to mental health services; and using the arts to improve people’s lives and public spaces. Prior to graduate school, he spent six years in the reproductive and sexual health arena, including four years as a health educator in St. Paul’s public school-based health clinics. He was the recipient of a Knight Arts Challenge award in 2014 for his Midway Murals project, and he continues to lead an all-volunteer public art group focused on bringing new projects to his neighborhood.

In 2017, Jonathan co-founded criMNal, a music-film-and-fashion project, to highlight some of the many injustices of the criminal justice system. Jonathan is currently pursuing his LICSW by volunteering as a psychotherapist at Walk-In Counseling Center and working as a stay-at-home father to his two young children.

Nina Robertson

Program Manager, City of Minneapolis, Community Planning and Economic Development, STEP-UP


Nina Robertson currently manages the STEP-UP program at the City of Minneapolis. STEP-UP is an internship program for Minneapolis youth who face some of the greatest barriers to employment. In 2017, STEP-UP created nearly 1,700 internships. Nina’s role includes directly overseeing the STEP-UP Discover division of the program. She is responsible for recruiting new employers to hire STEP-UP interns, managing relationships with current agencies, ensuring all proper paperwork is completed, and facilitating supervisor trainings and orientations.

Nina is a North Minneapolis native with a B.S. in Family Social Science from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She has over eight years of youth development experience and is passionate about creating opportunities for youth to thrive and succeed despite adverse experiences. Nina has worked with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Movement, the Minneapolis Beacons Network, YMCA Greater Twin Cities, Plymouth Christian Youth Center and more recently the Northside Achievement Zone where she served as the Expanded Learning Coordinator.

Juana Sandoval

PHOTOJuana is a Peruvian-American woman who has focused her career on transportation planning and engineering. She has worked in both the public sector (at the city level and at a regional planning agency) and the private sector (including two companies in the Twin Cities). She most recently worked on a local political campaign, helping to push for the Minneapolis City Council to become more progressive. Juana believes that local political change is critical for progressive success and resistance to harmful state and federal policies.

Juana is a longtime STEM education advocate, and she currently serves on the boards of Our Streets Minneapolis, Women in Transportation Seminar (MN chapter), and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (Twin Cities chapter). She also volunteers her time serving on the City of Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee. In addition to her board and committee service, Juana is a mentor with the CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio) Youth in Action Program. The Youth in Action Program guides Latino and Latina high school students to achieve their hopes and dreams through group activities including college preparation, individual mentoring, and educational sessions for parents.

Juana obtained her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from M.I.T. and her dual master’s degree in City / Regional Planning and Civil Engineering from Ohio State. She was born in Lima, Peru and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Juana plans to run for public office in the future.

Samantha Sencer-Mura

Executive Director, Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute


Samantha Sencer-Mura is a Minneapolis native who became passionate about closing the educational opportunity gap after her time as a student in the Minneapolis Public Schools, where she witnessed deep inequities within the system.

Since graduating from college, she has worked as a teacher and program administrator in New York City, the Bay Area, and Boston. She is passionate about working in youth development at the nexus of schools and nonprofits because she believes multiple approaches are needed to truly serve our most vulnerable students. She earned her B.A. in Critical Theory and Social Justice from Occidental College, and recently completed her master’s in School Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Samantha recently returned to the Twin Cities this past June to take on the role of Executive Director at Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, a creative writing and tutoring center serving over 1,600 Twin Cities K-12 students annually. Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute’s mission is to empower underresourced K-12 students to think creatively, write effectively, and succeed academically alongside a community of caring volunteers. Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute is a chapter in development of 826 National, a network of creative writing centers with chapters in eight major cities and Samantha hopes to lead her team to become an official chapter through growing the nonprofit and expanding its services. Currently, she is leading the efforts on the organization’s move from St. Paul to the Cedar-Riverside community of South Minneapolis, and is ecstatic to be building a youth writing center in the community she grew up and went to school in.


Doua Yang

College Access Advisor & Project Coordinator, TRIO Upward Bound, University of Minnesota, College of Education + Human Development


Doua was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. Growing up with two clashing cultures, Doua recognized the hardships of being a first-generation low-income Hmong woman in America. She did not understand the traditional expectations to marry young or bear children; instead she challenged the norm and pursued education like her brothers. She knew education would enhance her knowledge and opportunities in navigating both worlds.

In May 2013, Doua celebrated being the first woman in her family of fifteen to obtain a bachelor’s degree. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, where she studied Family Social Science and Social Justice. During her undergrad, she dedicated two years working with immigrant/refugee families, advocating for community-based awareness programs and access to educational opportunities. She also served as a Board Member (and now Advisor) for the Hmong Minnesota Student Association, planning and facilitating academic and socio-emotional support workshops to students on campus.

After college, Doua mentored first-generation low-income students through their educational journeys from middle school to college admission. Currently, Doua is a College Access Advisor and Project Coordinator for TRIO Upward Bound at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. In her dual role, she advises high school students to ensure academic success and retention, and teaches a College Exploration and Planning class to 12th grade students. She is also the lead event coordinator in parent involvement and student leadership development.

In her spare time, Doua enjoys brunch buffets, blasting loud music while cleaning, doing solo zumba, and playing board games with her enormous family!