Advocate for Justice Scholar Profiles:
Kathryn Blevins is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. in International Studies. While an undergraduate she was volunteer head of the Campus Chapters Program for a local nonprofit organization and served as President of the Arabic Club. After graduation Ms. Blevins adjudicated disability claims for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability
Insurance (SSDI) at the Disability Determination Services office in
northern Virginia. Ms. Blevins then became SOAR Disability Coordinator for the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services. Ms. Blevins sees the cracks in the system that allow
homelessness to persist: the program entrance requirements that are
impossible to meet without a stable residence, limited political
will to support homeless programs, and policies that fail to address the root causes of poverty, and hopes to use her law degree to advocate for substantive social and legislative change in the mental health and homeless services areas.
Emily Citkowski, 36, earned a BA in Peace and Global Studies in 1997 from Earlham College in Indiana and has worked since that time within the labor movement and for the Green Party. A native of Detroit, Michigan, she witnessed modern urban de-industrialization and segregation while growing up. After college, as a student-labor activist she traveled to post Suharto Indonesia in the tumultuous run up to the country's first free elections. Seeing green politics as a solution to many of the nation's problems, she worked for five years as the Operations Director of the Green Party of the United States. Ms. Citkowski has said, "I want to become a lawyer so that I can help a local farmers' market navigate through the system to get a business permit. I want to help a local green jobs program draft a contract. I want to assist a community organization secure city-owned property for affordable housing. I want to become a lawyer so that I can help strengthen communities. While not always glamorous, it is important, world-changing work that must be done.”
Michael Ewall is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University-University Park, where he majored in sociology. Michael is the founder and director of the Energy Justice Network, a national support network for grassroots community groups fighting dirty energy and waste industry facilities, such as coal power plants, incinerators and ethanol refineries. He is also the founder and director of a related state-wide group called ActionPA, leading the grassroots environmental movement against waste and toxics in Pennsylvania. In 2004, Michael co-founded the Energy Action Coalition, a youth-led coalition of 48 organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada working together to fight for a clean, just and renewable energy future. Michael has developed networks to stop proposed coal power plants, ethanol biorefineries, incinerators and numerous other damaging energy industries. He has also developed the nation's strongest mercury and dioxin air pollution ordinances and has used these local-level laws to stop proposed polluters in small towns in Pennsylvania. With a special focus on environmental issues, Michael plans to use his law degree to further his non-profit activist work.
Leandra Goedvolk Carrasco is a graduate of McMaster University, where she majored in Political Science. Leandra was a student coordinator for the Peer Helper Program and a board member for McMaster University's chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. She also completed an internship with the City of Hamilton's Waste Management Department, acting as an outreach worker during the roll-out of the city's household organic waste collection program, the Green Cart Program. Here, she realized her passion for community outreach and development. After college, Leandra worked at a local organic, fair-trade, vegetarian bakery and founded Don't Sweat It, a not-for-profit company that works to make sweat-free living possible by offering ethical apparel to consumers at low cost. Leandra then became Membership Coordinator of the National Arboretum, where she was charged with bringing the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) into the "green" age, reaching out to the public, and increasing the grassroots support for the Arboretum during potentially devastating cuts to its budget. She currently serves on the Membership Committee of FONA and is organizing their participation in alternative gift fairs. She is also exploring opportunities to work with a local attorney on national Indian law and the Takoma Park Committee on the Environment. Mostly, however, she is savoring the gift of being here at UDC-DCSL to study law in a way that will give her the tools to make real change.
Danielle Grabiel is a 2000 graduate of UCLA with a B.A. in Environmental Studies. Danielle obtained her M.A. in Environmental Science from the UC Santa Barbara in 2003. While still an undergraduate, Danielle was involved in a campaign to improve labeling of toxic materials in consumer products. She obtained a meeting with her Congressman, which resulted in him championing the issue in Congress. In graduate school, Danielle was selected to intern with the United States Environmental Protection Agency Program in Nairobi, Kenya. She drafted a training manual of best practices and success stories to improve compliance with and enforcement of international environmental treaties. The manual has since been amended, translated and used at a series of meetings in Africa, Asia, South America, and West Asia.
Danielle was deeply affected by the choking air pollution, devastating poverty, disease and failures of international policies and national corporate governance she witnessed in Kenya. After graduate school, she accepted a Research Assistant position with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). She was ultimately appointed Managing Director/Campaigner of EIA’s U.S. Office, where she led initiatives that helped increase protection of wildlife, communities, and the global environment through a combination of corporate campaigning and strategic media outreach. She researched and co-authored a report on the scientific and political links between ozone layer depletion and climate change that was used as the basis for the development and communication of policy messages that played a key role in raising awareness with the public and decision makers about the climate benefits of actions taken under the ozone layer treaty. She wrote and delivered speeches at UN meetings and served as the lead EIA representative at meetings with expert ozone layer and climate stakeholders. As effective as her advocacy has been thus far, Danielle decided that a law degree will take her to another level in working for Environmental Justice.
Donald Padou is a graduate of the University of San Francisco, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in History, and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Policy, where he earned a Master’s degree in Science with honors. While in graduate school, Donald interned with the Foreign Ministry of Argentina, serving in the Organization of American States planning group and Civil Societies Section. Donald also began a letter-writing campaign to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) officials regarding poor lighting conditions inside Metro stations. Donald was eventually appointed a member of the Riders’ Advisory Council (RAC) for WMATA, and authored a paper entitled "Lighting Metro," which compared lighting conditions in existing Metro stations to lighting conditions in other public spaces. Donald challenged, and continues to lobby, WMATA officials to move beyond the minimal lighting standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and establish their own standards. Donald also has a strong community focus, particularly in his Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C. For the past three years, he has served as a reporter and editor of Brookland Heartbeat, a local community paper. He also serves on the steering committee of the Brookland Small Area Plan and served as the elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for his Brookland neighborhood, where he also advised the D.C. Office of Planning on neighborhood zoning and development. Prior to law school, Donald worked for almost two decades in investment banking. The September 11th attacks influenced his decision to look for a new career with a stronger public service focus, which led him to UDC-DCSL. After graduation, Donald plans to practice disability law with a focus on visual impairments.
Katherine Piper is a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she majored in Sociology. Katherine was involved with prison activism and focused on women and their education. She received numerous awards, including the Davenport Grant for Undergraduate Research, given to support research in the field of public affairs; the Social Activist Award, given to a student who exemplifies the spirit of social activism; and the Anna Julia Cooper Prize, given for excellence in academics and the pursuit of social justice. She also wrote the "Prison Activism" entry published in Sage Publications’ Encyclopedia of Prisons and Correctional Facilities. After college, Katherine worked in New York at the Osborne Association, providing services to incarcerated mothers and their children, and, for the past few years, with prisoners and other advocates to end the abuse of prisoners at Red Onion State Prison, a Virginia supermax prison. She decided to pursue a law degree due in part to the lack of dedicated pro bono Virginia attorneys available to advocate for prisoners in the Virginia Department of Corrections. After she earns her law degree, Katherine plans to litigate on behalf of prisoners’ civil rights.
Stephanie Santiago, 24, earned a BA in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008. Since her graduation, she has provided administrative support to two nonprofit groups, the Carolina Union and the Chapel Hill Children's Clinic. While in college, as President of Latinas Promoviendo Commuidad/Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, she led in the organizing of numerous events and service activities designed to educate and empower minority and disadvantaged people. She was an active member of the Carolina Hispanic Society, the Carolina Women's Center and the Theater Justice Project. Reflecting on an incident in which she was a passenger in a car driven by an African American male which was pulled over for no apparent reason she writes, "You resolve that your story of personal injustice is only one of many that occur on a daily basis in the United States, and that the most powerful way to incite change is to pursue a career in law. Now is the time because you are ready to fight back; you are burning to start a revolution; and the law will be your most powerful weapon.”
Naomi Smoot, age 29, grew up in Virginia and graduated from Christopher Newport University in Newport News in 2003 cum laude with a BA in History and a minor in Religious Studies. After graduation she worked as a reporter and editor for several local Virginia newspapers, en route winning nine awards. During her reporting career, she developed an interest in law and legislation while covering the West Virginia Legislature and increasingly focused her writing on the financial and environmental plight of the poor. One of her stories highlighted the potential threat of a power line slated for construction near an elementary school. Another concerned a low-income community's battle against water pollution. And for another story, she spent a day with a homeless man – and a night sleeping in a garbage hopper! During this time, she experienced her own injustices, including witnessing the foreclosure of her grandmother's home. She wants to be a lawyer so that she can affect legislation and "ensure that the judicial process works as it was meant to and helps make peoples' lives brighter.”
Erika White, 37, grew up in Los Angeles, CA and earned her BA in Business Administration in 1995 from Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, GA. The daughter of a special education teacher, Erika herself spent the nine years prior to her enrollment at UDC-DCSL working as a special education and substitute special ed teacher in the Los Angles Unified School District. During this time she was an advocate that the law be followed for children under her care. Ms. White says, "…I am infuriated by out of compliance IEPs (Individualized Education Plans), separation, exclusion from school-wide events, inaccessible campuses and transportation for wheelchairs, mislabeling, overcrowding, unidentified students – and that's just the tip of the iceberg.” Attracted to UDC-DCSL by the Special Education Clinic, her goal is to become an education lawyer and an ever more effective advocate for the rights of all children to receive an appropriate education.