Fellow Friday: Meet the 2021-22 Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellows

Launched in 2016, the Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellowship immerses talented, emerging leaders from across the country in the work of Cleveland’s public sector, providing them an opportunity to develop their skills, enhance their networks, and jumpstart a career in public service. With the goals of attracting and retaining emerging talent in Cleveland and fostering a commitment to public service, partnerships with local organizations have aligned with national recruitment efforts to build a sixth cohort of 13 fellows (the largest to date). The Public Service Fellows will start at the same time as a Digital Innovation Fellow in September 2021.

We are pleased to announce the 2021-22 Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellows:

Elizabeth Bagley, Cleveland Metroparks

Bagley is a 2020 graduate of Xavier University, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in philosophy, politics and the public as well as computer science. After graduating, Elizabeth spent a year as an AmeriCorps member serving with City Year Cleveland. As a fellow, she will be working with the Cleveland Metroparks to analyze and validate requirements for a variety of projects related to virtual reality, augmented reality and virtual education. Elizabeth is a Northeast Ohio native, originally from Chagrin Falls.

Melinda Dang, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress

Melinda, a native Clevelander, graduated from The Ohio State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health in 2020 and 2021. Melinda will support Cleveland Neighborhood Progress in working with Cleveland’s 26 community development corporations and neighborhood ambassadors to advance digital access and racial equity. She is excited for the opportunities to build relationships and communities.

Hannah Downing, Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland

Hannah is a 2020 graduate of the Dual BA Program between Columbia University and Sciences Po with a joint bachelor’s degree in economics and political science. She recently completed a year-long AmeriCorps program in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and is excited to begin her fellowship year. As a fellow, Hannah will be joining the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland in their commitment to increasing high school graduation, college enrollment and college completion rates among Cleveland students. 

Aliah Lawson, College Now Greater Cleveland

Aliah Lawson is a Cleveland native and a 2021 graduate of Case Western Reserve University. She acquired bachelor’s degrees in psychology and political science with a minor in sociology. As a fellow, Aliah will be working under the chief program officer of College Now Greater Cleveland and the director of the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland, assisting in college access and readiness initiatives for residents of Greater Cleveland through programming and legislative advocacy.

Lidia Garcia, Fatima Family Center

Lidia is a 2021 graduate of The Ohio State University, earning two bachelor’s degrees in women’s, gender and sexuality studies as well as public management, leadership and policy, with a minor in Latino/a/x studies. As a fellow, Lidia will be working directly with the community – furthering the implementation of technology, including the accessibility of technology for seniors, creating a database of residents who visit, and expanding the variety of technology resources available through Fatima Family Center. Lidia has resided in Columbus, Ohio, since her family moved to the U.S.

Sinegugu Gasa, Cleveland Foundation – Marketing and Communications

Sinegugu Gasa is a 2021 graduate of Hiram College with a bachelor’s degree in business management. “Sne’” will work with the Cleveland Foundation as a community narrative and engagement fellow. In her role, she will collaborate and play an essential role in the planning and execution of all sixth annual Common Ground events. Sne’ was born and raised in Durban, South Africa and is proud to call Cleveland home.

Mary Halm, Cleveland Municipal School District Cleveland Transformation Alliance

Mary Halm is a Cleveland native and recent graduate of the University of Rochester, earning a bachelor’s degree in public health with a focus on health, behavior, and society. As a fellow, Mary will work with the Cleveland Transformation Alliance (CTA), individual schools and local partners. A key priority of her fellowship will focus on 2020 survey results from parents and caregivers that capture the resources they wish they had when considering schools. Halm will work with CTA staff to develop new survey tools to get more in-depth information for families, allowing CTA to be as responsive as possible.

Samantha Montanez, Cleveland Foundation – Strategic Planning

Samantha Montanez is a current graduate student at Ohio University and will be graduating with a Master of Arts in Law, Justice & Culture in May 2022. She will be serving as a fellow with the Cleveland Foundation to help further and facilitate the implementation of the new strategic plan.

Ngoc Nguyen, Cleveland Public Library

Ngoc is a 2021 graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, earning bachelor’s degrees in Asian American studies, sociology, and international development studies. During her undergraduate career, she was heavily involved in legal advocacy and grassroots organizing to support low-income immigrant communities of color. As a fellow, Ngoc will support Cleveland Public Library with advancing its new strategic plan to streamline equity efforts and heighten community impacts in Cleveland.  

Fatima Rahman, Global Cleveland

Fatima is a recent graduate of Case Western Reserve University, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a master’s degree in nonprofit management. Her previous experience serving and advocating for the immigrant and refugee community both in New Orleans and Cleveland, combined with her education, has prepared her for her role as a fellow with Global Cleveland. Through work with local institutional partners, Fatima will be responsible for applying immigrant integration policy to practice within institutions in Greater Cleveland.

Paul Rochford, Cleveland Documenters – Neighborhood Connections

Paul is a native of Frederick, Maryland, and a 2020 graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, DC, where he studied history with a focus on human rights and the collective memory of human rights violations. He recently worked in Cleveland schools with AmeriCorps’ City Year and has done some freelance journalism locally. As a fellow, Paul will be working with the Cleveland Documenters team to bring community-based journalism to communities not being served by traditional news outlets.

Ava Schmidt, Famicos Foundation

Ava Schmidt, a Cleveland native, graduated from Ohio University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in urban planning and sustainability and a certificate in environmental studies. She previously studied urban planning abroad at the University of Edinburgh and served as an AmeriCorps member with the Cleveland City Planning Department. As a fellow, Ava will work with the Famicos Foundation to serve the Glenville, Hough, and St. Clair-Superior neighborhoods. She will analyze the impact of the organization’s many programs and strategize ways to increase efficiency and better serve the community.

Asia Smith, MyCom

Asia attended Kalamazoo College, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and sociology. Born and raised in South Florida, Asia has worked closely with various youth organizations throughout her undergraduate years, promoting sustainable pathways for students to achieve their goals. As a fellow, Asia will act as communication coordinator with MyCom Cleveland, providing informational support across MyCom’s neighborhoods and assisting in reporting the organization’s mission to the larger Cleveland community.

Raghav Rao, Cleveland Foundation – Digital Equity

Raghav is a recent graduate of the Master of Science in Computer Engineering program at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), having also acquired a B.A. in psychology in 2018. Raghav’s recent work has focused on Smart Cities and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) with the Institute of Smart Secure and Connected Systems (ISSACS) at CWRU. This has included a variety of projects, including developing an IoT workshop with the Great Lakes Science Center and working on sensors to monitor road quality in the city of Lakewood. In September, Raghav will also join the Cleveland Foundation as a Digital Innovation Fellow to help improve digital equity in Cleveland.