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60 Leaders to Watch

This year's class of Presidential Leadership Scholars includes 60 impressive leaders from varied backgrounds who share a commitment to facing society's greatest challenges.

Article by Sarah Gibbons July 13, 2017 //   23 minute read

Today, the 2017 class of the Presidential Leadership Scholars (PLS) will graduate from the program. The graduation will be broadcast live on bushcenter.org.

The PLS program is a unique leadership development initiative that draws upon the resources of the presidential centers of Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton and George W. Bush. Since its inception in 2015, over 95 percent of past Scholars have reported significant growth in their inspiration and sense of purpose as leaders, most of which they attribute to PLS. The third class of 60 scholars was selected during a rigorous process that began with more than 400 applications. Scholars were selected based on their leadership growth potential and the strength of their personal leadership projects aimed at improving the civic or social good by addressing a problem or need in a community, profession or organization.

Here are this year's graduates:

Michael Addis is developing a national program to connect an annual corps of highly qualified lawyers, who are at the beginning of their careers, with experienced public-interest attorneys to work on important pro bono cases for one year. His program seeks to connect need with talent and to contribute to the new lawyers' career-long engagement as citizens.

Chike Aguh, CEO of EveryoneOn, is creating a unique public-private partnership that will connect 100,000 rural Americans to the internet by the end of 2020 through increasing broadband infrastructure and consumer options. This will provide access to empowering online economic opportunities such as job search, homework completion, and new technology development that can transform rural communities across the country.

Gabriel Albornoz’s TechConnect initiative partners with local senior centers and organizations, youth development agencies, and technology service organizations to develop a youth-led technology-training program for senior citizens. To date, more than 600 seniors have learned to access county services and resources online, creating a stronger social support network for participants and more employment training opportunities for the youth.

Lisa Atherton is working to eradicate homelessness among veterans in the city of Fort Worth, Texas through a coordination of efforts between nonprofit and defense-industry employees to service their physical, emotional, and employment needs. This effort will provide veterans a path forward, but also create a sustainable model to prevent homelessness among veterans going forward.

Vidya Ayyr is working to help health care providers identify homeless patients within hospital systems by introducing an electronic medical record screening function that measures housing stability. This tool will allow staff to track the homeless throughout their care and prompt connection to local shelters and/or community-based resources at the time of discharge. Overall, the process will serve to reduce readmission rates, lower hospital costs, and enhance continuity of care for this vulnerable population.

Hazami Barmada is leading an “empathy revolution” to inspire global citizens to play an active role in contributing to social good in their communities and around the world. In a world of increased negativity in the media, social divides and tension, and growing humanitarian needs, the movement will use innovative campaigns to inspire and track acts of kindness, creating shared value, social responsibility, and a more prosperous future for all.

Brian Barnes is leading TandemEd to refine a process that supports African-American communities by designing and delivering positive identity campaigns throughout their neighborhoods. These campaigns promote constructive messaging and shared narratives that advance ongoing efforts for progress in these communities.

Anurima Bhargava is implementing an assessment tool and set of school-based interventions to address the trauma that students are experiencing directly after incidents of racial violence.

Dana Bolden is creating a web portal to identify and develop high-potential minorities for service on Fortune 500 Boards of Directors. The portal will aggregate available resources with input from active minority board members on how to stand out and be better prepared for corporate board service.

Zachary Bongiovanni is developing a broadband accelerator to help communities in the United States who lack internet access get connected. The accelerator harnesses the power and opportunity of the internet by bringing together funding sources and deployment partners to build infrastructure, connect households, and equip homes with the necessary devices.

Sheila Colclasure has developed Data 4 Good, which provides social change programs with access to the commercial tools necessary to become more data-driven. Applying big data to the small and large needs of various social challenges can substantially improve the speed and the impact of these change efforts.

Marta Michelle Colon is developing Gradum, a re-entry platform for Latinas. Gradum drives entrepreneurship in technology and social innovation through education and mentoring, which increases financial, emotional, and social possibilities and helps eradicate ineffective lifestyles and cycles of poverty.

Rory Diamond is the CEO of K9s For Warriors, the nation's largest provider of service dogs for American veterans with post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and/or military sexual trauma. K9s For Warriors is scaling and expanding across the nation to combat America's veteran suicide crisis.

Renee DiResta is working on mitigating the increasing prevalence of disinformation campaigns and computational propaganda on social networks. She works with teams of researchers and partner organizations to help legislators and tech companies understand the impact of these campaigns on policy and politics.

David Dixon helps military families overcome the stresses of overseas deployments by facilitating the bonding experience of reading out loud together. David works with the nonprofit, United Through Reading, to encourage his fellow service members to record themselves reading books, so that their kids can watch and stay connected during their long-term separation from their mother and father.

Tom Dolan is creating an online marketplace to connect borrowers, lenders, investors, foundations, and philanthropists who are interested in investing in federal New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) in low-income communities throughout the United States. The mission of the NMTC Marketplace is to have a greater percentage of the federal subsidy inure to the benefit of those persons who live in low income communities.

Rudy Fernandez is working with the county government, universities, and other nonprofits in Miami-Dade to develop an online platform that will help immigrants access existing community resources, so that they can live healthy and productive lives. As part of this project, Rudy is spearheading a comprehensive needs analysis focused on recent immigrants to Miami-Dade.

Josh Goldberg is leading an effort to revolutionize mental health treatment for combat veterans and their family members by scaling a posttraumatic growth-based approach to PTSD and combat-related stress. Success will ensure that all the 2.1 million combat veterans and family members battling PTSD and combat-related stress have the opportunity to live great lives – full of passion, purpose, and service.

Carlos Gutierrez, Jr. is developing an executable framework to expand the programs and activities of Cuba Skate, an organization that uses skateboarding as a tool to promote sports diplomacy and cultural exchange between the United States and Cuba. With new strategic corporate partners, Cuba Skate will continue to supply skateboarding and sports equipment to disadvantaged Cuban youth, renovate skate parks, and create and expand opportunities for two-way cultural exchange between the United States and Cuba.

Yasaman Hadjibashi is developing a digital platform to help children thrive through consistent and effective mentorship.

Tracey Henry is developing a cost-effective, team-based approach to fully integrate mental health and substance abuse services for the patients of her local primary care clinic in Atlanta who are medically underserved and lack resources. Tracey’s ongoing evaluative effort will help bring about sustainable changes and create a culture of health for her patient population.

Jane Henzerling is forming a statewide coalition to identify and address the root causes of California’s debilitating teacher shortage and to ensure all students, especially those in the most underserved communities, have the talented teachers they so deserve. One strategy Jane is pursuing is developing and distributing stories through mainstream media that will inspire talented people to enter the education profession.

Wade Hinton is working on Restore My Rights – an online platform that provides tools and resources to help individuals better understand their eligibility, and the steps required, for restoring their voting rights or clearing their criminal record. The platform is available in Chattanooga and will be scaled for larger cities in Tennessee to help remove barriers to employment opportunities and active participation in the democratic process.

Gerardo Interiano partnered with the Austin Community Foundation to create a Hispanic Impact Fund that will invest in nonprofit and social enterprises. This fund has already raised $500,000 and will take a data-informed approach towards eliminating the opportunity gaps that exist around early childhood education, healthy communities, and entrepreneurship within the Hispanic community in Central Texas.

Brad Israel is working with Alabama's first tuition-free public charter school, ACCEL Day & Evening Academy, to establish a leadership curriculum for the at-risk, disengaged youth so that they can better understand leadership attributes, actualize their potential, and become force multipliers in their communities.

Kristin Ito is working to transform health care delivery for adolescents in Durham, North Carolina. In partnership with local community organizations and health systems, Kristin is working to promote prevention and treatment oriented toward adolescents' unique health issues and risk-taking behaviors, which can make a lifelong difference in health outcomes.

Kristin Judge founded the Cybercrime Support Network and is working with federal, state, and local law enforcement, victim service organizations, and the private sector to create a national referral source for cybercrime victims. Utilizing the existing United Way Worldwide National 211 system, the Cybercrime Support Network will bring together resources for victims so they can be served in a coordinated manner by calling one simple number.

Lenore Karafa is developing a program with a local health care system to encourage economically disadvantaged high school students to become nurses through mentorship and education. The program will provide opportunities for meaningful careers in health care, while combatting a national nursing shortage and improving overall quality of care.

Hannibal Kemerer co-founded a Baltimore-based nonprofit to serve individuals coming home from Maryland prisons through workforce training and mentorship. The objective is to reduce recidivism, encourage returning citizens to obtain gainful employment with a living wage, reunite families, and ultimately help make communities safer.

Basim Khan works with Neighborhood Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that provides access to primary care, dental care, and mental health services for low-income people in Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. Basim’s goal is to significantly increase the number of low-income or underinsured patients receiving services from Neighborhood Health by the end of 2018.

Mansi Kotwal is working to decrease the use of the ER by patients with low-acuity health needs living in Southeast Washington, D.C. through an interdisciplinary effort within the local health care community. The goal is to increase patients’ use of their medical homes in order to develop a strong rapport with their primary physicians, get the preventative services they need, and ultimately have better health outcomes.

SreyRam Kuy, as Chief Medical Officer for Louisiana Medicaid, tackled the opioid crisis by working with patients, providers, legislators and community members to develop a cohesive opioid strategy. She developed a naloxone standing order to empower individuals to intervene during an overdose, implemented Medicaid opioid policies, supported the creation & successful passage of legislation limiting opioid prescriptions, and developed educational webinars, symposiums and a website to assist patients and doctors.

Lucy Lang is developing a semester-long liberal arts style seminar for prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and soon-to-be-released inmates at Queensboro Correctional Facility. The participants will study and discuss criminal justice issues and together generate ideas for policy reform. All participants will conclude the semester with a deepened understanding of one another, countering the tension between law enforcement and the community it serves.

Francisco Martin-Rayo co-founded ThinkBLUE, which provides pro bono consulting services to organizations dedicated to advancing a "more perfect union". In this capacity, Francisco is leading the strategic engagement for She Should Run, a non-partisan digital incubator that helps women run for state and local office and is committed to getting 250,000 women to run for office by the year 2030.  

Katie McNerney is developing a career coaching program called Purpose Path to inspire and prepare veterans and transitioning military service members for senior leadership roles across the nonprofit sector. The program’s customized curriculum specifically helps veterans translate their unique knowledge, skills, and experiences to meet the growing demand for nonprofit leadership talent.

Mariam Memarsadeghi has been working to provide civic education to individuals living in Iran and other parts of the Middle East through live e-learning and open access educational resources delivered through social media, satellite TV, and a mobile application. Mariam is now scaling up this secure provision of civic education and civil society capacity-building to Russia and China.

Hollis Meminger founded Bridgebuilder Cinematic Arts, a film program focused on teaching high school students in underserved communities the basics of filmmaking with the assistance of established members in the industry. Hollis created this program to bring more diverse voices in film by targeting young women and men of color in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the United States.       

Neha Misra is scaling Solar Sister's work to bring light and livelihoods to rural women and their off-grid communities across Sub-Saharan Africa. She is creating Light for Life, a new maternal health initiative to deliver solar lights, connectivity, and an income generation opportunity to midwives and community health workers. This will provide light, hope, and opportunity to dedicated healthcare workers who operate under difficult conditions to bring new life into our world, and create a safe birthing environment for mother and child. 

Michael Monroe is working with construction unions, developers, contractors, investors, training providers, nonprofits, community colleges, foundations, and elected officials to develop a sustainable model of workforce development for the construction industry. By leveraging public and private infrastructure investments, this model will establish a diverse pool of qualified and productive workers to meet the demands of the industry and create meaningful and rewarding careers for traditionally underserved communities such as women, minorities, and veterans.

Griffin Myers and his team at Oak Street Health, a network of primary care centers in medically-underserved neighborhoods in Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis, are developing a program to help patients gain access to end-of-life care and advanced care planning as a part of their primary care experience.

Nitika Nautiyal is developing a post-incubation growth strategy for CASE - Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy initiative of World Business Chicago. CASE is focused on creating inclusive economic growth by leveraging procurement and workforce development opportunities at large institutions (Anchors) within Chicagoland. The goal of the strategic roadmap is to provide key stakeholders an understanding of the barriers and opportunities for CASE to grow into a sustainable economic development initiative over the next 3-5 years.

Sarah Cotton Nelson is engaging nonprofits and civic organizations in Dallas, Texas in a community-based and non-partisan effort to nurture real conversations about diverse racial experiences; educate people about unconscious bias; and from there, create short- and long-term strategies to address racial disparities across the city. In partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation engagement in Dallas, this effort strives to co-create a welcoming and thriving community where opportunities abound for all.

Scott Nolen is developing and supporting a local coalition to advocate for a safe consumption space in Baltimore City, in response to a threefold increase in fatal drug overdoses. This project provides a harm-reduction based solution that will connect people who use drugs with a protected and clean location where they can also receive overdose prevention education and appropriate medical care.

Liz Northcutt is scaling City Living NY (CLNY), an organization that assists youth aging out of foster care to set up their first homes and achieve lasting stability with the help of social workers and trained volunteers. By providing support to youth during their transition with direct goods, links to services, and mentorship programs hosted by caring adults, CLNY aims to end the high rates of homelessness encountered by young people after leaving the foster care system. 

Meghan Ogilvie is focused on scaling Dog Tag Inc., a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that empowers veterans with service-connected disabilities, military spouses, and caregivers through a five-month Fellowship Program that fosters the entrepreneurial mindset within a small business, Dog Tag Bakery.

Manny Pelaez-Prada is developing a set of standards for municipal, county, and state first-responders, city managers, and other government agencies to interconnect and interoperate their communications and data systems. This interoperability will allow local communities to better coordinate their responses to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other crises.

Danny Presley is developing a program titled Law Enforcement Ambassadors for Dialogue (LEAD). The LEAD program consists of a curriculum that encourages healthy dialogue centered on building trust and resolving conflict between law enforcement and the minority community in urban America.            

Natasha Quiroga is developing a virtual legal consultation platform to empower parents to advocate for their child's educational needs through video appointments with pro bono attorneys. Through the Parental Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP), an initiative of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, parents will develop an action plan to address issues related to special education, school discipline, English learners, bullying, and/or discrimination.

Michael Reeves is developing Scouting's Embrace, a program to actively recruit new-to-America refugees into the Boy Scouts of America's various programs. The goal of Scouting’s Embrace is to provide a generous welcome to boys and their families to the United States, allay mutual fears while helping to rebuild shattered lives, and teach American values in order to raise great citizens.  

Christina Rosenthal developed Determined to be a Doctor Someday (DDS), a mentorship program for underrepresented students ages 14-18 to encourage them the pursue doctorate degrees in health care. The initiative was created to help diversify the health care workforce and ultimately decrease health care disparities.

Byron Sanders helped create Family University, a two-generation early childhood program that empowers families with young children to foster the highest quality early childhood experience in the impoverished community of South Dallas, Texas. This program will connect parents and caregivers to resources that address the barriers of concentrated poverty, thereby increasing kindergarten readiness in this underserved community.

Jenifer Sarver is developing 24/7 Citizen, a website and series of short videos aimed at encouraging young people to become more civically engaged. A project of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, where Sarver serves as the advisory council co-chair, 24/7 Citizen provides simple, tangible steps to create more active, involved, and politically engaged communities.

Scott Schlegel is developing a mentorship project to better support and rehabilitate offenders incarcerated at Angola prison in the Reentry Court program. By using mentors from the inside who have life sentences, developing a community to meet returning citizens at the gate, and supporting their children while they are incarcerated, the program helps reduce recidivism and protect our communities from further crime and victimization.

Jamie Scott created the Vision 2025 Leadership Institute, a program of Pulaski County Youth Services, which identifies young women, ages 13-19, who can change the trajectory and meet the unfulfilled leadership development needs of young women in Central Arkansas. The program provides tutoring, Dale Carnegie public speaking workshops, service-learning community projects, ACT prep sessions and tests, health and nutrition education, professional development workshops, self-esteem building opportunities, financial literacy, college readiness workshops, and much more.

Prabhjot Singh is focused on taking what works for better health at a lower cost and charting a strategy to bring it to every American neighborhood or town in need. Americans who live with multiple chronic conditions like diabetes, depression, or dementia often have the hardest time with complex and expensive health systems. The program’s objective is to connect those individuals to health coaches, someone who they consider a peer, but who also knows how to navigate health care to help personalize the experience for them.

Shoeb Sitafalwalla is working with health care stakeholders including insurance companies, providers, and policymakers to identify and address ethnic disparities in chronic disease diagnosis and management through the development of clinical patient identification standards and advanced data analytics.

Kate Smith is working alongside the Raphael House, the Bay Area's first and oldest family shelter to successfully break the cycle of generational poverty, to test a pilot program called Education to Employment (E2E). This initiative will be developed within the shelter’s residential program to help low-income families attain living wage employment through a three-tiered education/job training tract.

Joseph Stenger is building trade schools in Afghanistan that will empower women with English-speaking and technical skills needed to find employment. These jobs will help lift women in underserved communities out of poverty and in some areas challenge an oppressive social construct.

Brintha Vasagar is developing a leadership curriculum for family medicine residents to teach them to be better advocates for their patients in rural, underserved areas. As this is the first leadership curriculum for training physicians, the hope is that future demonstrated success will lead to implementation in other residency programs across the country.

Tony Williams is partnership with leading Civil Rights organizations to create a civil rights agenda for the digital age to identify policies that protect communities of color and promote diversity and inclusion in the tech economy. If successful, the digital equity agenda will form the foundation for the construction of a coalition of thinkers, scholars, and policymakers to advocate for technology policies that benefit communities of color.