New Class of Gen-Zers Named as Civic Spring Fellows
33 Young People Address Local Need
February 7, 2023
Gen Z is the most diverse generation in history, growing up with greater awareness and acceptance of differences than previous generations. They embody a spirit that change is possible. They’re not just the leaders of tomorrow; they are driving positive change now on urgent issues affecting us all, from climate change to community violence.
The new class of Civic Spring Fellows is a snapshot of their generation.
The 33 young people in the winter 2023 class of Fellows are diverse in numerous ways. More than 60% of the class identifies as people of color. They range in age from 15 to 24 years old and come from urban, rural, and suburban areas across five states. Each Fellow is at a different stage with their project—some have established organizations while others are just hatching their big ideas.
Their projects are working to bridge divides across socioeconomic and racial divides, with a majority focused on education and community health related issues. A number of Fellows are tapping technology to drive their projects and distribute their resources.
One group of Fellows is creating a live translation app to address the inequity caused by language barriers between immigrant families and English-speaking families. Tino Karakousis, 16, Queena Chen, 17, and Tahsin Zaman, 17, are working together in Philadelphia on their project titled, Phonetic.
“I applied to this program because I wanted to have the means to make a bigger difference in my community,” said Tino. “I am looking forward to starting!”
Other Fellows are building websites and databases to help peers access sexual and mental health resources, identify programs and opportunities following high school graduation, and learn more about the legal system.
One of these projects, Access New Horizons, aims to fight the education and economic equality gap in Harlem through events that provide resources to residents.
“Success, to me, would look like having community members having more access to opportunities to advance their own educational and career goals and a tighter knit community that isn’t unified by our racial makeup but instead by our humanity,” says C&S Fellow and Access New Horizons leader Lina Lin, 17.
Each Fellow in this class is awarded a $1,800 grant to put towards their project. During the 10-week Fellowship period, Fellows will work with dedicated coaches. Coaches are adult mentors who will help Fellows sharpen their projects through weekly sessions. Many of the coaches come from the larger Citizens & Scholars network, including some former Civic Spring Fellows.
“Today’s young people are not only eager to engage civically, they’re also particularly well suited to drive significant change,” says Citizens & Scholars President Raj Vinnakota. “Civic Spring Fellows are already engaging with the urgent issues affecting us all. This opportunity will provide the additional support they need to accelerate change in their communities while also preparing them to be lifelong civic leaders.”
The new Fellows join a growing network of youth leaders driving significant change in their communities. 2022 Fellow Farhan Babur spent last summer hosting voter education events in his Scottsdale, AZ, community ahead of the midterm elections. Also in the 2022 class were a group of Philadelphia high schoolers who led a rally on gun violence at the state capitol through Community Rising. In 2020, Fellows in Minnesota successfully fought to extend unemployment benefits to high schoolers during the pandemic.Related: Former Civic Spring Fellows and Projects
The Civic Spring Fellowship, launched in collaboration with PayPal, invests in young people who are determined to tackle tough local challenges head on. By focusing on community-based projects, Civic Spring Fellows develop knowledge, skills, and dispositions to positively impact their cities, rural areas, or tribal lands for the long term. Young people gain hands-on experience by engaging in important issues while learning about government, influencing systems, building coalitions, and working collaboratively across traditional divides.
Meet the new class of Civic Spring Fellows and Coaches
Civic Spring Fellows, Winter 2023
Sophia Awuzie | Chicago, Illinois | 18 | Education & Environmental Justice
Sophia is a high school senior interested in the arts. She leads her school production club and creates and manages content for her personal YouTube channel. Her additional hobbies are directing, singing, and dancing. The purpose of her project is to teach young people about history and historical events through film and theatre. Her project, History Books on Broadway, aims to make historical content engaging and relevant to a younger audience by writing, producing, and performing a Broadway-style show about historical topics.
“If we are educated enough about our history, we will be able to recognize patterns and prevent mistakes from happening again.”
Quinesha Barrow | Bronx, New York | 18 | Education & Economic Opportunity
Quinesha is working on a project to increase awareness of education opportunities for low-income high school students of color. Through her project, Awareness for Free, she plans to make a free database of available opportunities and programs that can assist high school students with navigating the college application process and finding internships, scholarships, and civic programs. Once she has created this resource, she’ll use social media and other platforms to distribute it.
Morgan Caswell | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 24 | Education
Morgan is interested in creating ways to make STEM fun and accessible to people of all ages. Her additional hobbies are taking ballet classes and spending time with her three dogs. Her project, Museum Student Access Program, aims to expand experiential learning opportunities for low-income students by creating connections between museums and the surrounding low-income communities.
“Learning happens beyond the school walls, and museums need to serve the communities that they exist in.”
Naimisha Chakravadhanula | Scottsdale, Arizona | 17 | Education
Naimisha is a high school junior interested in law and politics. Her additional hobbies are art, volunteering in her local community, and learning new things. She is working with Sruti Peddi on their project, Government of Youth. The project aims to address the lack of adequate civic education and increase civic engagement. The pair plan to host speaker and leadership events at local high schools, record and disseminate interviews with local activists and leaders, and plan a field trip opportunity for underprivileged students to visit the Arizona State Capitol.
“I believe that there is a major deficiency in civic education among our general population, but this problem is intensified in areas that don’t invest a significant portion of their budget into education. This issue is particularly important because our country is a democracy, and those without proper knowledge of its functioning are not able to participate to the fullest extent.”
Jerry Chen | Brooklyn, New York | 18 | Education
Jerry is a freshman at Boston University who is interested in law. His additional hobbies are street photography, chess, and recreational basketball. His project, Legal Studies Institute, aims to address the lack of legal education, especially for middle and high school students. He plans to pilot a program for young people between the ages of 14 and 17 to learn their civil rights, get introduced to the law, and connect with attorneys and law students who can serve as mentors.
Queena Chen | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 17 | Community Health & Wellness
Queena is a high school junior interested in business, marketing, and STEM. Her additional hobbies are piano, badminton, and a good book. She is partnering with Tino Karakousis and Tahsin Zaman on their project, Phonetic. They plan to create a translation app that address the inequity caused by language barriers between immigrant families and English-speaking families.
Miles Diggs | Austin, Texas | 20 | Education
Miles is a sophomore at Huston-Tillotson University interested in politics, religion, and advocacy. His additional hobbies are cooking, fishing, and building master Lego sets. His project, G.E.M.S. (General Educational Minority Support), aims to address the failures in the education system, specifically for students of color, by conducting workshops and surveys with students, administrators, and educators. He hopes to facilitate shared problem solving in the local education system.
“I’ve seen people my age with so much potential and fall off due to the lack of support of the educational pillars in the community.”
Amira Haynesworth | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 16 | Education
Amira is a high school sophomore interested in helping young people and learning from new experiences. Her additional hobbies are cooking, dancing, and making content for her followers. Her project, Flip Over Philly, aims to address the lack of school funding. She plans to record interview with students and teachers, using the qualitative data and videos to advocate for a new budget system.
Viktor Kagan | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 21 | Economic Opportunity, Community Health & Wellness
Viktor is a college junior at Yale University interested in environmental studies and education. His additional hobbies are being out in nature, exploring different restaurants, and spending time with his pets. His project, Connecting the Dots, aims to make Philadelphia more accessible to people without access to a personal vehicle. He plans to survey and map communities that lack sidewalks, propose environmentally conscious plans, and advocate for funding and implementation at the city, state, and federal level.
“Poor city planning harms the lowest income demographics, disabled communities, the elderly, and anyone who is unable to afford or own their own vehicle.”
Tino Karakousis | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 16 | Community Health & Wellness
Tino is a high school junior interested in science, math, music, and culture. His additional hobbies include solving physics problems, gardening, piano, and running along the Schuylkill River. He is partnering with Queena Chen and Tahsin Zaman on their project, Phonetic. They plan to create a translation app that address the inequity caused by language barriers between immigrant families and English-speaking families.
“I applied to this program because I wanted to have the means to make a bigger difference in my community, and I am looking forward to starting!”
Jaisveen Kaur | Parker, Arizona | 17 | Education
Jaisveen is a high school junior interested in pursuing a career in healthcare. Her additional hobbies are swimming, listening to music, and getting involved with the community. Her project, Education in Crisis, aims to address the lack of motivation in students by seeking new ways to encourage them to work hard and achieve long-term success.
Lina Lin | New York, New York | 17 | Education & Economic Opportunity
Lina is a high school senior interested in the intersectionality of economics, socially driven entrepreneurship, and education equity in urban areas. Her additional hobbies are meeting new people, watching and engaging in debates, and exploring the city on her bike. Her project, Access New Horizons, aims to fight the education and economic equality gap in Harlem through events that provide resources to residents.
“Success, to me, would look like having community members having more access to opportunities to advance their own educational and career goals and a tighter knit community.”
Sophia Lin | Scottsdale, Arizona | 15 | Education, Community Health & Wellness
Sophia is a high school sophomore interested in bettering her community through volunteering, activism, and arts. Her additional hobbies are dance, speech and debate, painting, and writing. Her project, Arizona S.M.A.R.T. (Success Magnified by Assessing, Reaching, Teaching), aims to address the need to bridge education gaps in Arizona among economically, socially, racially, and physically diverse groups. She plans to design free and high-quality programs, like FASFA training and information campaigns, so students can be informed of their post-high school options. This work builds on the non-profit organization, iReach, that she co-founded.
Arnold W. Ludd | Brooklyn, New York | 20 | Education, Community Health & Wellness
Arnold is a college sophomore at City Tech College interested in public speaking, giving back to the community, and electrical engineering. His additional hobbies include involvement with youth organizations and entrepreneurship. The purpose of his project is to prevent and counteract gun violence and provide a safe space for teens to unpack issues, learn from experts, and receive fitness training from professional trainers. He co-founded Jiggabite Gloves Up, Guns Down, and hopes to expand beyond the 5 NYC Public Schools where the program is already operating.
Nyarai Masoni | Brooklyn, New York | 18 | Education & Economic Opportunity
Nyarai is a high school senior interested in social justice and equity, especially in the education system. Her additional hobbies are reading, writing, dancing, and cooking. Her project, Education Transformation, aims is to address racial and economic inequalities in the education system. She plans to conduct qualitative and quantitative research around student attitudes related to schools. She’ll then use this data to inform the development of new educational programming and in advocacy presentations to local politicians.
Punarvash Mitta | Phoenix, Arizona | 17 Education, Community Health & Wellness
Punarvash is a high school junior interested in sports medicine and orthopaedics. His additional hobbies are martial arts and volunteering at various non-profit organisations and hospitals. His project, KidsTae, aims to provide virtual and in-person martial arts classes that focus on stretching, meditation, and mental relief to combat the mental health strain of COVID-19.
“Martial arts changed my life. I realized that it wasn’t just about kicking and punching, but enjoying the process, staying disciplined to your goals, and balancing your mind, body, and spirit. This project will use martial arts as a tool to help today’s youth better alleviate the post-pandemic mental health struggles.”
Farah Mohamed | Tucson, Arizona | 21 | Community Health & Wellness
Farah is a youth outreach and engagement specialist at the Goodwill REC Youth Program. He is working with Samuel Turner and Myleigha Truitt on their project, MIA (Mental Health Awareness). His project aims to address mental health struggles stemming from previous untreated trauma that influence young people’s abilities to stay in school, get a job or keep a job. The team plans to host an event for local Opportunity Youth that will serve as a forum in which to discuss their mental health challenges and access resources and tools to help cope.
Nigel Ousey | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 21 | Education & Economic Opportunity
Nigel started a non-profit called See Beyond My Skin when he was twelve years old. Now 21, his additional hobbies include video games and science fiction. His project will continue the work of the non-profit by collecting personal stories from people of color. He plans to produce and disseminate these stories on the internet, radio, and as a traveling exhibit in an effort to break down racist perspectives.
Sruti Peddi | Scottsdale, Arizona | 17 | Education, Community Health & Wellness
Sruti is a high school junior interested in universal education. Her additional hobbies are reading, music, and movies. She is working with Naimisha Chakravadhanula on their project, Government of Youth. The project aims to address the lack of adequate civic education and increase civic engagement. The pair plan to host speaker and leadership events at local high schools, record and disseminate interviews with local activists and leaders, and plan a field trip opportunity for underprivileged students to visit the Arizona State Capitol.
Maritza Roberts-Padilla | Tucson, Arizona | 18 Education, Community Health & Wellness
Maritza is a high school junior interested in politics, policy, educational advocacy, and environmental science. Her additional hobbies are debating and wastewater remediation research. Her project, ISL Matters (Increasing Sexual Literacy Matters), aims to bridge the sexual health knowledge gap among teenagers from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. She plans to create a website for teens to enhancing their knowledge and access to information about sexual health, basic anatomy, and proper hygienic care.
Daniella Sanchez Barillas | Brooklyn, New York | 17 | Environmental Justice, Community Health & Wellness
Daniella is a high school senior interested in sustainability. Her additional hobbies include creative non-fiction writing, reading, and foil fencing. Her project, Butterbeans Food Distribution, aims to redistribute leftover food to reduce the overwhelming food waste currently taking place at her school.
Reese Sanderson | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 16 | Education, Community Health & Wellness
Reese is a high school sophomore interested in dance. Her project, Teen Mental Health: Out in the Open, aims to address the decline in mental health in teenagers as a result of the pandemic. She plans to create a website and social media campaign for teens that builds awareness about mental health issues and provides access to available resources.
“Our time through the pandemic affected us each a bit differently, but we all found ourselves needing time and assistance to improve our mental health.”
Samantha Sandhaus | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 17 Environmental Justice, Community Health & Wellness
Samantha is a high school junior interested in multiple social issues including food waste and insecurity, voting rights, and climate change. Her additional hobbies include peer tutoring, playing the oboe, and performing in her school’s musical theatre and film productions. Her project, Repurpose and Distribute Excess (RADE), aims to combat the issues of food waste and insecurity in Philadelphia by repurposing unopened food to provide a supplemental resource of food security for the community at large.
Cole Shamis | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 15 | Economic Opportunity, Community Health & Wellness
Cole is a high school freshman. His additional hobbies are volunteering, learning to play new instruments, fostering animals, rowing, and cooking. His project, Bridging Philadelphia’s Inequality Gap, aims to address the lack of accessibility to resources, education, facilities, and opportunities from one neighborhood to another by uniting young people, leaders, and elected officials to enact policy changes.
Kasey Shamis | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 18 | Community Health & Wellness
Kasey is a high school senior. Her additional hobbies are photography and journalism. Her project, Combatting Violence in Philly with Photojournalism, aims to address ongoing violence issues through photojournalism. She plans to tap schools and youth communities as a way of expanding her project.
Savannah Smalley | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 18 | Environmental Justice, Community Health & Wellness
Samantha is a high school senior interested in climate change and environmental justice. Her additional hobbies are crocheting, running track, gaming, writing, and reading. She is partnering with her brother, Sultan Smalley, on their project, Treetop Philadelphia. The project aims to address the lack of trees in neighborhoods that were traditionally redlined.
Sultan Smalley | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 18 | Environmental Justice, Community Health & Wellness
Sultan is a high school senior interested in computer science. His additional hobbies are listening to music and walking his dog. He is partnering with his sister, Savannah Smalley, on their project, Treetop Philadelphia. The project aims to address the lack of trees in neighborhoods that were traditionally redlined.
Myleigha Truitt | Tucson, Arizona | 22 | Community Health & Wellness
Myleigha is an Outreach Specialist at a Youth Reengagement Center. She is interested in developing passive income streams and supporting opportunities for youth. Her additional hobbies are photography, event bartending, and roller skating. She is working with Samuel Turner and Farah Mohamed on their project, MIA (Mental Health Awareness). Their project aims to address mental health struggles stemming from previous untreated trauma that influence a young person’s ability to stay in school and get or keep a job.
Samuel Turner | Tucson, Arizona | 21 | Community Health & Wellness
Samuel is a Youth Peer Outreach & Engagement Specialist at Goodwill Metro/REC. He is interested in traveling the world to get all aspects of life. His additional hobbies are working out, automobile detailing, camping, and eating. He is working with Myleigha Truitt and Farah Mohamed on their project, MIA (Mental Health Awareness). Their project aims to address mental health struggles stemming from previous untreated trauma that influence a young person’s ability to stay in school and get or keep a job.
Liliana Vidales | Phoenix, Arizona | 18 | Community Health & Wellness
Liliana is a high school senior interested in women’s health and the environment. Her additional hobbies are being creative, going out and trying new foods, hiking, and thrift shopping. Her project, Girl Talk Female Wellness, aims to provide female hygiene products throughout bathrooms at her school and to develop a trust system among young women.
Kilan White | Phoenix, Arizona | 19 | Community Health & Wellness
Kilan is a college freshman at the University of Arizona. He is interested in economics, political science and advocating for those in need, especially children in foster care. His additional hobbies are baseball, playing the trumpet, and camping with friends. His project, Tucson Treblemakers, aims to address the challenges faced by music programs at Title 1 schools due to insufficient funding by providing high school students in the Tucson area access to free private music lessons.
Jinyu Xu | Brooklyn, New York | 16 | Community Health & Wellness
Jinyu is a high school junior interested in public health and biomedical engineering. Her additional hobbies are listening to music, traveling, and hanging out with friends. Her project, Reducing Prenatal Health Disparities in Minority Women to Ensure a Safe Community, aims to address the disparities in health education in NYC public schools by developing and disseminating prenatal educational materials for school health classes.
Tahsin Zaman | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 17 | Economic Opportunity, Community Health & Wellness
Tahsin is a high school junior interested in technology. His additional hobbies are electric long boarding, biking, and training Karate and Muay Thai. He is partnering with Queena Chen and Tino Karakousis on their project, Phonetic. The team plans to create a user friendly and well-circulated translation app to address the lack of accessible tools and resources for immigrant populations.
Civic Spring Coaches, Winter 2023
Aukeem is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the School of Education at UC Berkeley and serves on the Board of Directors for Dream Volunteers. He is a former teacher and school leader turned researcher whose work focuses on shedding light on the seemingly intangible aspects of schooling for our most historically resilient population. He uses research to support policies and practices that center joy and justice for those in the education field who are frequently framed in discourses of inescapable deficit and destitution. Aukeem consults with education organizations on matters of mentoring, student-centered and data-driven practices, social-emotional learning, and DEIB.
Cadence is a youth advocacy organizer and peer researcher with the Kentucky Student Voice Team. She has experience in youth participatory action research, researching peer relationships, learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and race, ethnicity, and school climate. In her community, she works in her school’s youth service and family resource center and interns with the local domestic violence crisis center. She co-wrote the Co-Creation Generation case study and served as a consultant on the youth advisory team during the Civic Spring Fellowship National in 2022. Cadence is a senior at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky.
Cody is a non-binary educator living in NYC. After graduating with a B.A. and an M.Ed. from Brown University, they taught middle and high school social studies for five years. Cody also has curriculum design experience and now works as an Educational Consultant with Teaching Matters in the New York City public school system. They also serve as a tutor to young students and as a volunteer mentor to trans youth through the Sam & Devorah Foundation. Cody is passionate about elevating the voices of young people advocating for change.
Cole is an entrepreneur, organizer, and public speaker. After losing his job during the pandemic, Cole co-led a successful legislative campaign to change a discriminatory law in Minnesota that barred high school students from unemployment assistance?. This resulted in over $35 million in pandemic relief for working students. Through this work, supported by a Civic Spring Fellowship, Cole co-founded an organization called Bridgemakers which aims to develop the voice and leadership of under-resourced youth. He has since developed a fundraising track record of over $1 Million and started his own consultancy and public speaking business.
Emma is a current graduate assistant at Grand Canyon University working in the government relations department and studying public administration, government, and policy. She has a wide range of political experiences including development, campaigns, policy, and advocacy. Alongside her work in politics and government, she is on the executive board for the Western Tribune, a local newspaper, and volunteers at her church and other community organizations.
Jackie is a lawyer, executive coach, and the founder of Abloom Ventures. Abloom supports leaders and teams in dynamic environments, with an emphasis on strengthening capacity to thrive through change and uncertainty. Previously, Jackie was part of leadership teams at the Aspen Institute and the University of Chicago. For more than two decades, Jackie has been engaged civically in efforts to reform the criminal legal system, reduce gun violence and strengthen democracy. She is a member of the board of Mikva Challenge.
Lizbett is an artist, educator, and facilitator with a deep background in intersectional intergenerational feminism and theatre. Dr. Benge works with young, system-involved people, facilitating arts-based social-emotional learning projects and experiential political education. Her upcoming projects include producing queer feminist burlesque, wrestling, performance art & dance experiences around the Phoenix valley, launching Starstuff a global pop-up arts festival, and building her creative consulting and arts firm, Skeleton Key Creativity.
Natasha is an Afro-Latina and Minneapolis native who grew up in a physically and mentally abusive home after her mother’s death at age eight. Her experiences built the empathy and creativity she uses in her work driving youth participation. Natasha led the youth vaccination conversations for the Ramsey County Health Department and a community panel on technology investment for Black communities. She got involved with Changemakers by leading their 2021-22 pilot work and is now responsible for supporting and improving youth participants’ experience.
Shereka holds a degree in management information systems and operation management. For more than 23 years, she has worked in technology roles for local government. She currently leads a free coding class program through Pheonix Parks and Recreation. Shereka has been mentoring, training, and working with youth for more than 25 years. She is the founder of Future Stars, Inc., a nonprofit that serves youth in Arizona through STEM education and college readiness.
Veronica is a Restorative Practices Coordinator at Austin Independent School District. Prior to this role, she served as an AISD elementary and middle school teacher for six years. She is a recipient of the Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brother’s Fund Fellowship for Aspiring Teachers of Color (2010) from Citizens & Scholars. She received a B.S. in interdisciplinary studies from Texas State University and M.A. in elementary education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
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