Welcome to the Class of 2017! We have selected 32 outstanding fellows from across Washington state representing nearly every corner of the state and rich collection of backgrounds and experiences. The classmates are busily updating their bios so please check back often.
Akua Asare-Konadu was born and raised in Beaverton, Oregon and has lived in Tacoma, Washington since her collegiate years. She earned her bachelor’s in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from University of Washington Tacoma, and she enjoys performing in the theatre and playing tennis. Her passion for politics stems from her early college years as the Legislative Affairs Chair, and she aspires to work in public office one day. Akua has worked in multiple legislative offices, and most recently finished working for U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s reelection campaign. One interesting fact about her is the name Akua comes from Ghana and means “girl born on Wednesday.
Dominic Barrera was first drawn to activism through public transit issues well before he’d reached voting-age. After graduating from the University of Washington in 2012, he put down roots buying a fixer-upper house in the unincorporated North Highline area. He currently serves as an elected commissioner for the North Highline Fire District and a volunteer staff member with Northwest Progressive Institute. He works in accounting for Alaska Airlines by day, but looks forward to diverse, statewide perspective-sharing in IDF to guide him as he transitions his full-time career to the public policy realm.
Natalie Bonanno starts classes at the University of Washington – Tacoma in January where she is pursuing her Bachelor’s in Political Science. She’s is passionate about immigration and criminal justice reform, racial & social justice issues, and voting rights. She moved to Washington from North Carolina just two years ago but already feels at home in the Pacific Northwest. She got her start in the local political scene earlier this year by volunteering for Hillary Clinton in Tacoma and later managing a Pierce County Council race. She was the youngest woman of color to be elected as a Delegate to the DNC this past July. Natalie is currently Chair of the Pierce County Young Democrats and wants to continue engaging young people in Pierce County around issues that matter most to them. When she isn’t doing political things, Natalie likes to go on hikes, read, and travel. Natalie multi-lingual and loves to visit her family back home in Mexico and Uruguay. She currently lives in Tacoma and loves every minute she’s doesn’t have to be stuck in traffic
Omar Contreras is a third-year student at the University of Washington School of Law. He recently completed his summer associate position with the firm of Schwabe, Williamson, & Wyatt. He is the student chair of the Admissions Subcommittee of the Diversity Committee, where he has helped develop inclusive programming to inspire the next generation of attorneys to attend law school. Prior to attending law school, Omar owned and managed a risk management business, and previously worked for the Office of U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Kayla DeMonte is the Senior Manager of Programs & Partnerships at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce where she manages such programs as the Chamber’s Young Professionals Network, Women in Business & Leadership Initiative, and more. Her passion for bringing communities and ideas together is what led her to Seattle, where prior to her role at the Chamber, Kayla worked for local non-profit One Reel, producer of events like Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival and the Family 4th. She remains involved in the arts & events community through volunteer and freelance work with Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, The Vera Project, and numerous festivals and events around the city and country. Originally from Southern California, Kayla currently lives on Capitol Hill and can often be found in one of Seattle’s many theaters or bookstores.
Derrick De Vera
Derrick De Vera is a born and raised Seattleite working as a lawyer at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt. Having attended Seattle Public Schools, and the University of Washington for undergrad and law school, he is dedicated to shaping the future of his hometown and region. Driven by his Filipino immigrant parents to provide a better life for others, Derrick is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in education, the private sector and government. He worked for former King County Councilmember Larry Phillips and for Washington Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu. Derrick collaborates with others as a general civil litigator and as a board member for organizations serving Asian Pacific Islander populations and other communities of color. He enjoys sharing food and beverages with others and cheering on his favorite Seattle sports teams.
Josie Ellison hails from Mead, WA. They recently graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in Political Science, and are currently working in Olympia as the Legislative Assistant for Representative Drew Hansen. Before graduating they represented WWU students as a lobbyist during the 2016 session, in this position they focused on student support services in higher education, voting rights, and progressive tax reform. Josie has served on the Board of Directors for the Washington Student Association, the Young Democrats of Washington, and the Associated Students of WWU. They were brought into politics by a love for others and hope to show that through organizing and advocacy work. In their spare time they enjoy reading, cheesy sci-fi, and hanging out outdoors.
Vanesa was born in Medellin, Colombia. She has a diverse work background from being an English as a Second Language instructor to working with non-profits, community based organizations and local government. She interned at NGO CSW/NY, a non-profit that supports the work of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and UN Women. After her work with international organizations, embassies and activists, women’s rights, and immigration policies became her top interests. She has previously contributed efforts to the Youth Olympic Games Committee to bring the games to her hometown. Additionally, she has been a TV presenter for a regional channel supported by the Governor’s Office and the Department of Education, where she interacted with well-known political, social and cultural figures and representatives. Vanesa currently works for the City of Seattle, Department of Neighborhoods, where she supports the work of the Public Outreach and Engagement Liaisons Program, which seeks to bring City resources and services to underserved communities throughout Seattle. Vanesa is passionate about traveling, trying new foods and learning languages. She is fluent in Spanish, English and French. Italian and Russian are her new challenges. She will soon get her Law degree from Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellin, Colombia.
Cinthia Illan Vazquez
Cinthia Illan Vazquez is a community organizer best known for her work in immigrant rights and her advocacy for undocumented immigrants in particular. She represents Washington Dream Coalition at the National Leadership Committee of United We Dream, the nation’s largest immigrant youth-led organization. Cinthia was born in Guerrero, Mexico, but raised in Lakewood where she currently resides. She’s steeped in policy and legislative analysis in her position as the legislative assistant to Washington State Representative Laurie Jinkins . Cinthia graduated from Whitworth University with a degree in Political Science and Pre-Law.
Ayla Kadah is a senior at the University of Washington pursuing degrees in Psychology and Political Communication. At UW, she is an active student senator, sits on the student government’s Legislative Steering Committee, and serves as the legislative liaison for the UW Arabic Culture Student Association. Having been raised in Syria, she is passionate about immigration reform and refugee resettlement, and volunteered for multiple non-profit organizations and schools in Damascus that support displaced children. In 2016, Ayla also volunteered for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and was elected a Sanders delegate representing Washington state at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. During the General Election, she was a field organizing intern for the Pramila Jayapal for Congress campaign and a director of Huskies for Pramila. Ayla currently resides in Seattle and is a big fan of dogs, deep-dish pizza, and democracy.
Alexey Kuznetsov works as a teacher at Renton High School in Renton, Washington, teaching English to groups consisting predominantly of immigrants. His advocacy for the issues of immigrants and equality in education brought him to the Seattle Immigrant and Refugee Commission, the position he holds through the Get Engaged program of the City of Seattle. Originally from Moscow, Russia, where he graduated from the Moscow State Pedagogical University with a master’s degree in linguistics, Alexey has a unique perspective on many issues he cares about, such as LGBTQ+ rights, social services and urban living. His passion for exploring new cultures and his travel experience in over 20 countries contribute to his worldview and inspire him. The initiatives Alexey is currently working on encompass expanding bilingual programs in public schools to include Russian and other community languages, starting a CTE interpreter training program in high schools in Renton and starting a comprehensive after-school music program for talented youth.
Matt Landers is originally from Connecticut and has gradually worked his way West via New York, Minnesota, and Oregon. With degrees in political geography from Macalester College and the University of Oregon, he has always been interested in how policy shapes social landscapes. After working as a cartographer in Oregon and then at PepsiCo headquarters in New York, Matt moved to Washington State in 2011. He worked with the World Affairs Council to expand global citizenship in Seattle and served on the Board of Directors of Out for Sustainability. For the last five years Matt has worked on LGBT civil rights and small business issues at GSBA, the country’s largest LGBT and allied business organization. He currently lives in Seattle and serves on the Northwest organizing committee of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
Ben Mitchell works at Social Venture Partners (SVP) where he oversees SVP’s grantmaking program and facilitates the selection of nonprofit organizations for multi-year funding. Ben moved to Seattle in 2014 by way of Washington, DC where he spent three plus years working in international development and foreign aid program management. His work included extended field assignments in the Philippines and in Kyrgyzstan where he spent 18 months working on an economic development program. Prior to his work in DC, Ben was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania, and also worked for a nonprofit consulting firm in Philadelphia. Ben grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, attended college in Ohio, and earned a Master’s degree in International Policy Studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. In his free time Ben enjoys running, enjoying the outdoors, beer, and volunteers with the Greenwood Community Council and FareStart in Seattle.
Joshua Newman is an Industrial Engineer for the Boeing Company, solving resource constraint problems and improving working conditions, while passionately advocating for progressive causes outside of work. Raised in California and Nevada, he moved to Seattle in 1999, graduated from the UW, and has worked as an engineering consultant, early childhood educator, research assistant, and pizza delivery driver. He has been involved with numerous local causes, serving as a Democratic PCO in the 46th District, leading Seattle Subway, founding Maple Leaf Greenways, and volunteering with his neighborhood community council. He coaches his son’s baseball team, is an education leader at his synagogue, and lives in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood with his wife and their three children.
Michael Padilla Ocampo
Michael Padilla currently works at the Washington Bus devoted to engaging young people in politics. He has worked at the grassroots level for the last five years in Seattle, and Western Washington helping create strong communities through campus organizing, community organizing and advocating for progressive policies. He was born in Cuernavaca, Mexico but was raised in the great state of Washington, and graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His studies focused on how government policies can best foster sustainable social, economic and political progress for marginalized communities in an inclusive manner. He hopes to continue using his knowledge and experience in a way that elevates the voice and leaders of the state’s marginalized communities.
Emma grew up in Chelan, Washington and currently lives in Bellingham. She recently graduated from Western Washington University where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Sociology. Currently, Emma is working at the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement where she is a Certified Navigator, learning the intricacies of our healthcare system and significantly more about health insurance than she had ever anticipated knowing. Through her role she helps individuals enroll in insurance plans and connects them with different health resources in the region. Emma is incredibly excited to be joining the IDF Class of 2017.
Samara Parra is a native of Bogotá, Colombia. She came to the US as a teenager and lived in Florida for 11 years. She moved to Massachusetts in 2010 to pursue her education in Political Science and International Relations, and moved to Washington State in 2014. Samara worked in the private sector for most of her career and transitioned to the non-profit sector in 2015 when she joined OneAmerica, Washington State’s largest immigrant rights organization, as the Youth Organizer. Currently she works as the Civic Engagement Associate of the organization and continues her passion to empower communities to create change. During her free time Samara loves to read, travel, swim, dance, and challenge herself to learn new things.
Tyler Quillin is a currently a third-year law student at the University of Washington School of Law. Originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, Tyler’s journey has taken him across the country and afforded him experience in government, law, education, music, and technology start-ups. After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of of Arizona, Tyler joined Teach For America and taught special education on the Big Island of Hawaii and then high school English in San Jose, CA. Growing up the son of a campaign manager and gubernatorial staffer, political and civic activity was ingrained as an expectation of all citizens. This passion led him to pursue various civic leadership opportunities, among them were internships with U.S. Senator Harry Reid in Washington, D.C. and U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, AZ. Tyler currently lives in Kirkland, WA with his wife and three daughters and serves the Hispanic National Bar Association’s Law Student Division as the National Vice President.
Maggie Rich grew up in Bremerton, Washington and now calls Bremerton home as a working professional with experience in education, advocacy, writing/editing, and non-profit management. Maggie is passionate about community organizing, centering social justice and talking about how incredible Kitsap County is. They worked as Kitsap County’s Planned Parenthood sexuality educator and advocate for five years, bringing comprehensive sexuality education and political advocacy to Kitsap County schools and community agencies. As board President of Kitsap County’s only LGBTQ youth serving agency, Maggie leads a small but mighty volunteer run non-profit. Maggie has worn a variety of hats a variety for local, state and federal campaigns and progressive causes and cares deeply about effective policy that does as much good as it possibly can for all of Washington state.
Camlynne Scott works in marketing at etailz, a leader in the e-commerce industry. Her commitment to community engagement prompted her to join the board of directors for the Spokane Edible Tree Project, which works to provide healthy food to hungry people and reduce food waste. Particularly interested in education policy, Cami is a member of the Superintendent’s committee on intercultural equity in restorative practices for Spokane Public Schools. Originally from Pennsylvania, Cami came to Washington to study at Walla Walla University and now lives in Spokane with her husband Alex and Westie Kingsley. She loves podcasts, reading and drinking tea. Cami currently serves as the Treasurer for Spokane County Young Democrats.
Alexander Scott is currently the Campaign Manager at Ben Stuckart for Congress in the 5th. Before that, he worked in the Spokane City Council office as a legislative aide. Alex is originally from the Walla Walla Valley, where he was elected to serve on the College Place City Council while he was in college. While studying at Gonzaga University School of Law, Alex focused on environmental law and legislative policy, and interned in the State Senate and with the WSBA Moderate Means Program. In his free time, Alex enjoys playing basketball and making music at local venues in Spokane, where he lives with his wife Cami and their dog Kingsley.
Evan Smith is happy to be back in the Pacific Northwest. He got his start in regional advocacy after meeting former State Senator Derek Kilmer at a Gig Harbor town hall, then working on his re-election campaign and eventual successful run for Congress. When Evan was an undergraduate at the University of Washington in Seattle, he served actively in the student government including as president his senior year. Two days after graduation, Evan was on his way to Chicago after accepting an offer from Teach For America. For three years he taught a cohort of students from 2nd to 4th grade while organizing with parents around educational inequity. Since returning home this August, Evan worked in the South Sound for the successful Regional Proposition 1 campaign and now looks forward to his time in the office of Sen. Marko Liias this coming legislative session.
Samantha Smithingell is a Toledo, WA native and graduated from Eastern Washington University with a Bachelor’s in Applied Developmental Psychology and began her career with the State of Washington in 2007. She currently leads strategic planning, continuous improvement, risk management and workforce services for the Department of Social and Health Services’ Community Services Division where approx. 2,600 employees provide oversight, eligibility and case management for public assistance programs including TANF, Basic Food, child care and refugee assistance to one million clients per year. Samantha also staffs the Washington State Food System Roundtable – a public/private effort defining a 25-year vision and road map to achieve the ideal food system for Washingtonians. By recommendation of Governor Christine Gregoire, Samantha was selected in 2011 to represent Washington state as a National Delegate with Vision 2020, a non-profit organization committed to achieving gender equality by increasing the numbers of women on boards, running for office, and actively voting, as well as closing the wage gap and educating children to value differences. She resides in Rochester within the 35th Legislative District with her husband and three children.
Joanna Soderlund works as an HVAC – R apprentice technician for a union shop based out of Kent. She is the only female in her cohort, and one of the few in the trade. She is a member of both the Political Action Committee, and the Women in the Pipetrades Committee for her union; UA Local 32. She uses her spare time to connect with family and friends, cook, read, hang with her dog Grumpet, root for the Seahawks, and smash the patriarchy. Joanna’s intention is to keep her union strong, and to promote diversity amongst its members. She currently lives in Everett.
Stephan M. Thomas has been a King County Deputy Prosecutor for the last six years. His practice focuses on victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. Stephan is also a leader on criminal justice reform. He chairs a criminal justice reform committee within his office, volunteers with King County’s 180 program—a prefilling diversion program for at risk youth—and he is a member of the Washington State Bar Association’s Council for Public Defense. Stephan was raised on the South Side of Chicago by activists’ parents who taught him to believe that he has a responsibility to combat systemic injustice. He applied to IDF as a practical response to the recent election and to gain a deeper understanding of the nuts and bolts of campaigns, the issues that affect Washingtonians, and to provide him with the network and leadership skills that will empower him to make a positive impact in his community. In his spare time Stephan enjoys traveling, reading, and hanging out with his wife, Angeline, and their 20-month old son, Xavier.
Shavaughna Underwood is second year Human Services student at Grays Harbor college. She currently is an intern at the ARC of Grays Harbor. She is a Generation Indigenous Youth Ambassador for President Barack Obama’s Gen-I youth program. She is the current Miss Quinault Indian Nation, and her platform is to raise awareness and prevention of sexual abuse in Indigenous communities and also suicide prevention. She is passionate about environmental issues especially stopping oil companies from threatening communities. She is a traditional dancer who is very involved with culture revitalization. She believes it is vitally important to recognize Indigenous Peoples treaty rights.
Margaret Weihs comes to the Pacific Northwest by way of Austin, Texas and the San Francisco Bay Area, California. She currently works as a paralegal for the City of Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards. Previous work includes as a policy advocacy assistant at the ACLU of Washington and as a legal assistant at a plaintiff’s side employment law firm in San Francisco. Margaret strives to center race and social justice in both her professional and personal life, and is excited to join the IDF Class of 2017 to learn how to become a more effective agent for social and systems change within a highly political environment. She is an active member of Social Justice Fund Northwest, a foundation that leverages resources to foster significant, long-term social justice solutions throughout the Pacific Northwest. She lives in Seattle with her partner, her sister, her sister’s partner, and her lovely new nephew.
Malloree Weinheimer works in sustainable land management and rural community development in Jefferson County. Her interest is in working with small forest landowners and farmers to find innovative ways to keep working lands healthy and productive while providing living wages. Malloree grew up mainly in Utah, but has lived in Virginia, Maine, Idaho, Alaska, New York, and Oregon. She came to Seattle for college where she graduated with a BS in Forestry from the University of Washington and quickly realized that she wanted to make the Olympic Peninsula her home. In her free time, Malloree enjoys bike touring, backpacking, and working in the garden. She currently lives in Port Townsend where she works for the Jefferson LandWorks Collaborative and the Jefferson County Noxious Weed Control Board.
Arielle Williams grew up in University Place, Washington. She graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma with a B.A. in law and policy. During her junior year of undergrad, Arielle found a passion for public service through an internship with the Washington State House of Representatives. Following her internship, Arielle worked as a campaign manager for a Tacoma City Council candidate. Post graduation, she returned to the Washington State House of Representatives as a legislative assistant to Representative Christine Kilduff in the 28th legislative district.
Abbie Zulock currently works as a legislative assistant to Representative Mike Sells from the 38th legislative district. She is passionate about policy as a tool for supporting our ever-changing communities, and earned a Bachelor’s in Public Policy from the Evergreen State College in March 2016. She is the daughter of an Air Force veteran and spent most of her childhood overseas, but has chosen to make Washington State her home since 2010. Abbie has in-depth experience with labor policy; she worked with the Washington Public Employee Association’s lobbyist during the 2016 legislative session, and is currently working for the Chair of the Washington State House of Representatives Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. Abbie spends her free time cooking new recipes, camping in the Cascades, and taking her dog to the local dog park.