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Since 2009, the High Road Fellowship Program has placed 235 Cornell students in the co-laboratory of Buffalo, N.Y. to learn, explore, and help revitalize the historic Rust Belt city. Take a look at the fellows below to learn more about previous High Road years and placements.

2020 Fellows

Daniel James II

Work Highlights

Documented stories of community-led advocacy that led to policy wins for Partnership for the Public Good including implementing restorative justice in Buffalo schools, ending money bail in Buffalo, reducing arrests for low level marijuana, creating the Living Wage Commission and legislation, and enhancing community policing.

Compiled research reports on bills passed by the New York State Assembly.

Completed briefings of Buffalo Common Council meetings and Resolutions Hearings.

 

Summer Takeaway

Over policing and incarceration are merely the fruit of a larger problem of racial inequity in Buffalo.

 

Supervisor Quote

Daniel brought a wonderful curiosity to his time at PPG. Driven by his longterm goal of working for justice and fairness, Daniel is thoughtful and inquisitive; he is determined to learn how real community change happens. His desire to bring tried and tested advocacy tools back to his own community in South Carolina was the perfect fit for our project of documenting how policy changes have been won here in Buffalo. We are so grateful to Daniel for his work, as well as his kind and bright presence on our team this summer! 

–Andrea Ó Súilleabháin

 

Daniel James Headshot
Daniel James II

Tyler Pearce

Work Highlights

Conducted in-depth research on for profit nursing homes and their ownership structures.

Compiled data into a report describing such ownership structures and their impacts on labor relations in Western New York.

Gained experience with labor management interactions through the union.

 

Summer Takeaway

The High Road is a way to help a community with rich history and diversity in a variety of different forms with the idea that collectivism will make Buffalo stronger and even better.

 

Supervisor Quote

Tyler has shown he's got the most important asset to succeed in union work - heart. In the times we had conversations with workers, he displayed empathy and solidarity with workers in terrible situation. He was thrown into a chaotic time in the nursing home industry, let alone society. He worked through the challenges of being remote and an ever-changing project, lowered his head and plowed through. He's an incredibly self-driven individual. In a matter of weeks, he picked up on nuances in the regulations on nursing homes in NYS that take some people years. We were so happy to have Tyler aboard and hoping it's only his first stint in the labor movement (let alone 1199). Thanks for all your hard, and continuing, work! 

- Marshall Bertram and Hannah Lorenc

Tyler Pearce Headshot
Tyler Pearce

Leanna Zilles

Work Highlights

Conducted secondary and primary research to document and analyze the history of cooperative movements in Buffalo, NY.

Curated research for the purpose of creating an informational display on Cooperation Buffalo’s website.

Assisted in developing and presenting at Cooperation Buffalo’s community education webinars.

 

Summer Takeaway

There's a lot to be done in our current political moment, and it's up to all of us to take on responsibility in building a society and economy that works for everyone.

 

Supervisor Quote

Leanna is a wonderful and thoughtful human, who is going to be one among many that through their combined strength and leadership will change the world. Through her passion, precision, hard work, empathy, and the courage that allows her to bring her personal story to her work, she inspires others to do the same. We have learned much from Leanna during our two months together, and we hope this experience has given her more tools to do her part. 

–Andrew Delmonte

 

Leanna Zilles Headshot
Leanna Zilles

Emiliano Cardoza

Researched food procurement policies affecting Erie County, Buffalo, and Buffalo Public Schools and examined how values-based procurement as per the Good Food Purchasing Program can be implemented locally.

Created a fact sheet, op-ed, and policy brief to share research findings and policy recommendations internally and externally to MAP.

Engaged in various meetings with Buffalo community groups including Seeding Resilience and Good Food Buffalo Coalition to discuss improvement needs in the local food system.

Headshot Leo Cardoza
Emiliano Cardoza

Melissa Lau

Work Highlights

Conducted research on the design of current nursing homes and possible alternatives to the traditional methods.

Learned about the inequality that is embedded within the structure of nursing homes.

Wrote a paper based on my research in support of legislation proposed by Center for Elder Law and Justice.

 

Summer Takeaway

The ability to implement the values I guard as an individual into the work that I do for the community.

 

Supervisor Quote

Melissa has excellent written and verbal communication skills. She never hesitated to ask questions and proactively reached out to others in the long-term care field to improve her insight into nursing homes and further develop her research into alternative models of nursing home care. In addition, Melissa was an active participant in CELJ meetings and meetings with CELJ partners. Melissa was a wonderful addition to the CELJ team!

–Lindsay Heckler

Melissa Lau Headshot
Melissa Lau

Ethan Rubin

Work Highlights

Established a public relations strategy through creation of a brand new Frontline Arts Buffalo website and social media outreach plan.

Created tangible goals with FAB member organizations that will be accomplished beyond the High Road.

Edited community relations letters on social justice principles true to FAB’s values.

 

Summer Takeaway

Working at FAB helped me understand how important arts-based programs are to the economic success and wellbeing of the community members in that region.

 

Supervisor Quote

Ethan has been a blessing for us at Ujima and by extension the Frontline Arts Buffalo family. He brought in such great energy and thoughtfulness when it came to what we needed to do as a team to push the important work of FAB forward. We particularly enjoyed Ethan's humor and his ability to not only do his work well but with great joy. Ethan will be hugely missed but we wish him well in his future endeavors. He is set to do incredible things so watch for him! 

–Maria Ta

Ethan Rubin headshot
Ethan Rubin

James Granata

If instances of collective action aren't being criticized by those in power, it probably is not radical enough.
James Granata Headshot
James Granata

Asher Lipman

Work Highlights

Conducted interviews with a wide range of community organizations, municipal agencies, and individuals about how people use data in Buffalo.

Created an inventory of open data sources for Buffalo community members.

Learned how to create data visualizations to show disparities across geographic and other demographic boundaries.

Planned and hosted data education events meant to increase community librarians' understanding of and comfort using open data.

 

Summer Takeaway

Opportunities for collaboration exist almost everywhere, between industries I never would have expected and organizations I never would have thought of. The trick is to expect and think of them.

 

Supervisor Quote

Asher has been such an invaluable asset to our work related to libraries and their role regarding open data - he has been so focused, organized and supportive with incredible acumen and insight into the topic we asked him to explore! Asher has also been so approachable and accessible to our staff and members. He is so intelligent and personable beyond his years (is he really just entering his sophomore year?!), it is likely he will be visibly recognized as an expert in data and information systems before you know it! 

–Heidi Ziemer

Asher Lipman and dog
Asher Lipman

Libby Willkomm

Work Highlights

Researched paid internship programs around the country to accumulate best practices for inclusion.

Interviewed forty program constituents to discern areas of program success and improvement.

Developed a report with research findings to guide Say Yes Buffalo’s Internship and Career Pathways program.

 

Summer Takeaway

My greatest takeaway from the summer is the need for greater resources and equitable hiring practices for students pursuing transformative workforce development opportunities, especially for students of color.

 

Supervisor Quote

Libby is truly an answered prayer. She jumped right into the work and not only enthusiastically took on projects, but made suggestions to elevate every single task. She was a joy to work with and her work ethic is amazing - we often forgot that she's only a rising sophomore. Libby is officially the Princess of Workforce Development and we hope that she can return to Say Yes in some capacity in the future! 

–Johanna Caplan and Stephanie Peete

Libby Willkomm Headshot
Libby Willkomm

Aliyah Kilpatrick

Work Highlights

Conducted and arranged interviews attorneys in Maryland and Cleveland discussing Clean Hands Eviction Policy.

Researched principles of “Right to know who owns your building” for possible inclusion in a regional Tenants Bill of Rights.

Aided in the planning process of a WNY Town Hall featuring Senator Tim Kennedy and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Participated in bi-weekly Tenants Bill of Rights research and planning coalition.

 

Summer Takeaway

I learned a lot about housing and how much of an impact certain laws can have on people’s lives.

 

Supervisor Quote

Aliyah’s enthusiasm, diligence, and sunny disposition made her an invaluable addition to our team this summer. Despite the remote work set up, Aliyah became an integral part of our work on tenants’ rights; she researched projects independently with ease, and she was always eager to dive into new tasks. I wish Aliyah’s time with us was longer, but we wish her all the best in her future endeavors. 

–Sarah Wooton

 

 

Aliyah Kilpatrick Headshot
Aliyah Kilpatrick

Nate Reilly

Work Highlights

Worked with Art Services Initiative to uphold their mission to keep the arts sector apparent and powerful in response to COVID-19.

Enhanced the Arts Access program to keep arts accessible to low-income WNY residents by developing programming resources for art events and opportunities around the region.

Engaged with local arts patrons around Buffalo through informing them about community arts events, managing Arts Access social media, and promoting newly developed resources.

Advanced in becoming a more apparent frontline artist by assisting in public art projects and initiating my own mural to be installed in the months after the High Road ends.

 

Summer Takeaway

Civic participation and community involvement is crucial to social justice and progress and can create significant momentum to shape a High Road society.

 

Supervisor Quote

We couldn't have asked for a better team member than Nate. Nate's passion and experience in the arts really helped us think creatively and out of the box when it came to planning our next season of the Arts Access program and the COVID-19 changes we face. He brought knowledge and compassion to what ASI does for the arts field in a time when so many are struggling. BEST OF LUCK to him, he's an asset to any team, and we can't wait to see what else he does for WNY and Niagara Falls in the future! 

- Jen Swan and Jess Trainor

Nate Reilly Headshot
Nate Reilly

Ketchel Carey

Work Highlights

Researched housing policies readily available to address issues in Buffalo, NY.

Conducted stakeholder interviews to assess the advocacy space attached to those policies.

Created reports detailing pertinent policies including suggestions on organizing strategy for Habitat.

Developed timelines and budgets for suggested initiatives.

 

Summer Takeaway

I don't think I can have a career in which I’m not serving the public good. The High Road meant so much to me in part because I got to get up every day and feel like I was doing something meaningful.

 

Supervisor Quote

Ketchel’s passion, tenacity, thoughtfulness, and sense of justice has made her not just a great fit with our organization or the perfect person to help develop our advocacy platform, but an inspiration. Ketchel was a breath of fresh air to everyone who has had the great fortune to work with her. She has represented Habitat Buffalo and our mission with grace, compassion, and wisdom. Her ability to identify and research complex issues and then contextualize and synthesize them while making practical recommendations for our affiliate has been remarkable. We appreciate everything she has done to help teach us and to help Habitat Buffalo continue to grow and serve more people in our community. THANK YOU KETCHEL! 

–Barry Weiss

Ketchel Carey Photo
Ketchel Carey

Ivana Letayf Lazo de la Vega

Work Highlights

Proposed and designed new site content and scheme for Frontline Arts Buffalo website redesign.

Successfully created, implemented, and developed new look and style for notable web presence.

Performed routine updates, upgrades, and overall maintenance of the website, adding new content to support the BLM movement.

Attended Frontline Arts Buffalo meetings to further the arts and engage in conversation with essential community members.

 

Summer Takeaway

As best said by my supervisor, Maria Ta, the arts are the vehicle for change and are vital in giving a voice to the underserved and underrepresented.

 

Supervisor Quote

Ivana was a dream come true. From the beginning we could tell that she meant business. Throughout this fellowship experience Ivana has been focused, organized and highly motivated to get the job done. She has a maturity and passion for the work beyond her years. We are so thankful to have her with us this summer in which she has helped us truly propel our social justice work forward. We wish Ivana tremendous luck that she undoubtedly will not need and look forward to all the great work she will do in the future! 

–Maria Ta

Ivana Letayf Lazo de la Vega Headshot
Ivana Letayf Lazo de la Vega

Milena Saakyan

Work Highlights

Analyzed how historical policies such as redlining impact present-day economically disadvantaged communities, especially as it relates to their ability to participate in the financial mainstream.

Researched predatory lending in the city of Buffalo and nationwide, focusing on reasons for their prevalence and tactics used to trap borrowers into cycles of debt.

Conducted interviews with CDFIs in Buffalo and peer cities to understand their work, future goals, and how they can improve to best serve marginalized communities.

Developed a guide detailing predatory lending warning signs and offering recommendations on how CDFIs can combat predatory lending in their communities, both with individual clients and through long-term policy goals.

 

Summer Takeaway

Local community organizations are incredibly impactful both in the areas they serve directly and in advocating for policy change broadly.

 

Supervisor Quote

Milena has jumped right in to the research of CDFIs and predatory lending and has shared so much helpful information for WEDI's team who are working directly with microenterprises. It has been wonderful to have had such an efficient researcher support our work these past couple months and we are truly impressed with the resources she has provided our team with. 

–Bob Doyle and Yanush Sanmugaraja

Milena Saakyan photo
Milena Saakyan

Rachel Hidek

Work Highlights

Collaborated to create an asynchronous online training about organizing around health and safety during COVID-19.

Compiled a toolkit to accompany this online training, including sample social media posts, call scripts, letters to management, and information about legal rights in the workplace.

Completed a small research project to identify key resources used by local organizations to safely adapt to COVID-19 , and made recommendations about gaps that WNYCOSH might fill.

 

Summer Takeaway

Being from Syracuse, I appreciated this opportunity to learn from the powerful work being done in Buffalo – another small city in upstate NY!

 

Supervisor Quote

Rachel has been a wonderful addition to WNYCOSH this summer! She has brought new perspectives, ideas, and experiences to our work and has made contributions that will have a lasting impact. Rachel adapting to the remote environment while still fully engaging and participating in WNYCOSH's work and that of community partners was amazing. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with her this summer and look forward to seeing what she does in the future! 

–Susanne Donovan

Rachel Hidek
Rachel Hidek

Ashton O'Connor

Work Highlights

Researched sustainable funding and land protection strategies for community gardening through a competitive analysis on twelve cities across the nation. The analysis included existing research reports, financial statements, and interviews with key community gardening figures.

Constructed and mapped an equitable,  sliding-scale membership fee model using ArcGIS software to increase annual revenue $30K for Grassroots Gardens.

Pioneered zoning changes and recommended key partnerships to strengthen land protection for community gardens in Buffalo.

Summarized key findings and case studies in a 60-page research report and presented my recommendations to the Board of Directors.

 

Summer Takeaway

Throughout the summer, I have gained a glimpse into the tools and strategies community organizations deploy to address the disparities that plague our cities. I have realized how possible it is to create a tangible impact through this line of work. My research has played a small but important role in allowing Grassroots Gardens to combat food apartheid in the Buffalo-Niagara region.

 

Supervisor Quote

We've been so appreciative of all of Ashton's efforts. His dedication to the cause, detailed research, and willingness to go above and beyond has given us a treasure trove of information to help our organization center itself in the national movement of community gardening. It will also provide us a pathway forward as we fight for land justice and equal access for all community members to green space. We've needed this research for years and now we have it. Thank you Ashton! 

- Jeanette Koncikowski

Ashton O'Connor Headshot
Ashton O'Connor

Helen Zhou

Work Highlights

Researched and closely examined the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Community Schools program and the Buffalo community at large.

Conducted interviews on trauma-informed practices and responsiveness, a hybrid model, tracking engagement, and more.

Developed multiple needs assessment surveys for students and parents with post-crisis questions/considerations.

Wrote a Community Schools guide for reopening schools through trauma-informed and racial equity lenses that has new logic model considerations, steps for conducting a needs assessment, and more.

 

Summer Takeaway

Nonprofit work is vital.

 

Supervisor Quote

Helen was a perfect fit to advance this project with Say Yes. Helen is self directed, resourceful, a visionary thinker, and a great thought partner. Helen demonstrated her thoughtfulness in addressing the tasks of her project, focusing on impact and results of programming on children and families and stressing the importance of using a trauma-informed and equity lens. Helen developed two amazing documents that are critical to the post COVID-19 work we will do in Community Schools and Parent Centers. Helen has been a valuable member of the Say Yes Buffalo Team. We are truly appreciative and thankful for her and her work. 

–Tanya Staples and Gellenia Smallwood

Helen Zhou headshot
Helen Zhou

Ryan A. Aguilar

Work Highlights

•Spearheaded a four-year business development program for incoming vendors outlining business planning, credit management, income statement forecasting, and strategies for navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.
•Devised four comprehensive reports detailing predatory lending and systemic inequality in Buffalo to educate local entrepreneurs.
•Conducted interviews with Community Development Financial Institutions, predatory lending organizations, and a former Congressman to carry out a thorough analysis of the landscape of predatory lending as it applies to historically disadvantaged small business owners.
Headshot of Ryan Aguilar
Ryan A. Aguilar

Nathan Lamm

Work Highlights

Conducted multiple interviews of current and former Buffalo Police Department officers and Police Benevolent Association leadership regarding the labor relations of police.

Drafted and disseminated a survey about the labor relations of police to the membership of the PBA.

Quantified and analyzed the responses of the PBA members and used the context from free response answers and interviews to demonstrate trends in the labor relations of Buffalo police.

 

Summer Takeaway

When organized labor wants to, it can be the most effective tool of the working class in struggles for justice, but wanting to is half the battle.

 

Supervisor Quote

I have been involved with the High Road since its inception, but this is the first time I had a Fellow. I was lucky to get Nate. Together we collaborated on a long term project.  Nate decided to conduct a survey of police officers working for the Buffalo Police Department. More particularly, Nate researched how officers viewed their police union's representation. Also, how officers viewed their role within the City of Buffalo.  Nate found some interesting disparity based on race. This was a timely research. Nate was excellent. 

–Cathy Creighton

Nathan Lamm Portrait
Nathan Lamm

Jackson Ross-Pilkington

Work Highlights

Assisted staff with constituent casework and policy research.

Completed a research project on the economic integration of new Americans.

Interviewed community advocates working with refugees and immigrants.

 

Summer Takeaway

In Buffalo (and in communities across the country), local advocates and organizations are on the front lines of creating real political change.

 

Supervisor Quote

Jack has been an absolute pleasure to work with. He has taken so much initiative throughout this project, especially working remotely due to COVID-19. He has reached out to and interviewed community leaders and conducted strong research on his subject topic. He is engaged with the office, eager to assist with other projects as needed, and very professional. His verbal and writing skills are superb and everything that has been asked of him has been excellently done and without issue. I know that Jack's professionalism, thoughtfulness, intelligence, and kindness will serve him well as he moves on to do great things. 

–Gabby Harrington

Jackson Ross-Pilkington photo
Jackson Ross-Pilkington

Elijah Emery

Work Highlights

Updated prior research utilized for PUSH Buffalo’s program funding applications to secure new affordable housing.

Shadowed meetings with PUSH and stakeholders to strengthen my direct knowledge of sustainable housing policy and development.

Produced a memo on the possibility of developing a Permanent Real Estate Cooperative.

 

Summer Takeaway

There are a lot of people working very hard in each of our communities to make them the vibrant, creative, and kind places they are or could become: we must give them the tools to do the best work possible so that we might all thrive.

 

Supervisor Quote

We're so excited we got to meet and work with Elijah this summer and wish he was in the office with us, instead of on zoom. He brought great energy and excitement to the work, rolled with changes made to the project, asked good questions, and dug deep into the necessary research for our housing development work. 

–Jen Kaminsky

Elijah Emery headshot
Elijah Emery

Eric Lee

Work Highlights

Compiled and analyzed FOIL property data collected from the City of Buffalo’s mortgage default registry database.

Conducted interviews to gather additional contextual and anecdotal information on the registry’s key shortcomings.

Drafted a report on the adverse economic effects of the city’s mortgage default registration system and made relevant policy recommendations.

 

Summer Takeaway

I was able to enhance my quantitative analytical and communication skills as well as gain valuable insight into local politics and socioeconomic issues.

 

Supervisor Quote

For starters, I genuinely don't know when or if Eric slept at all this summer. Every day that we interacted, no matter what time I sent something, he responded promptly and thoughtfully. Eric was very patient when we ran into a few delays with data from the City and was very flexible as we adjusted our time frames and shifted portions of the project. He was absolutely great to work with. He did excellent research and writing and took initiative. The report Eric completed is going to be incredibly helpful to us as we advocate for statewide legislation around Mortgage in Default Registries. We would not have been able to do this work without Eric and we are very grateful for his time with us this summer. 

–Kate Lockhart

Eric Lee Headshot
Eric Lee

Joanna Sowa

Work Highlights

Authored a report which analyzed survey data of 90 respondents on how COVID-19 has impacted Buffalo residents' abilities to continue making payments on their payment plans.

Submitted and received a FOIL data request from the Erie County Comptroller on surplus funds from tax foreclosure auctions from the past 5 years.

Compiled property class data on tax foreclosed properties for Erie County.

Attended meetings with the City, County, and Distressed Properties Task Force.

 

Summer Takeaway

This summer, I learned how important it is for community members and organizations to fight for equity in whatever avenue of advocacy that they are called to. It was incredible to hear from community organizers through our Friday programming who were all making significant change in Buffalo through poetry, art, union organizing, and so many different ways.

 

Supervisor Quote

Joanna was an absolute pleasure to work with this summer. From the very first day she showed initiative and started asking insightful questions about the work assigned to her. I was impressed with how well she carried herself in meetings and her interactions with staff. Working in a new environment, especially with attorneys, can be intimidating but Joanna did a great job jumping right in with our group meetings to accomplish our goals. She completed every task assigned to her early and always had questions or suggestions about her next steps. We are so grateful for all she did this summer and the work that she did has already had an impact on our conversations with both the City and the County regarding tax foreclosures this year. 

–Kate Lockhart

Joanna Sowa Photo
Joanna Sowa