Fellow Friday: Meet the 2023-24 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 eighth cohort of 23 fellows (the largest to date). The Public Service Fellows started their year on Aug. 1, 2023.

We are pleased to announce the 2023-24 Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellows:

Samia Azizuddin, City of Cleveland – Planning

Samia is a recent graduate from Cleveland State University, studying Urban and Regional Studies and Political Science, with minors in French and Women’s and Gender Studies. Following their summer internship with Slavic Village Development, Samia is excited to serve as a fellow with the City Planning Commission and learning more about urban planning initiatives of Cleveland.

Jaden Baxter, City of Cleveland – Government Affairs

Jaden is a 2023 graduate of Walsh University earning two bachelor’s degrees in government and foreign affairs and international relations with a minor in communications. As a fellow, Jaden is thrilled to work within the Cleveland department of Government Affairs providing support in renters protection, city hall as a model employer, and opportunities for criminal justice reform. During the duration of the Cleveland fellowship Jaden is hopeful to create significant change for the residents of Cleveland as well as effectively supporting and growing the community he now calls home.

Akshay Kalra, City of Cleveland – Community Development

Akshay graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2023 with a bachelor of science degree in community and nonprofit leadership and political science with minors in leadership and South Asian studies. In undergraduate, he worked as the community partner support intern for the Morgridge Center for Public Service at UW as well as the lead peer navigator in the Center for Educational Opportunity, a program for low-income and first-generation students. Along with these areas, he is passionate about racial and economic equity and is excited to create community and learn more about the City of Cleveland as the Community Development Fellow.

Brian Knott, City of Cleveland – Urban AI

Brian is a recent graduate from The Ohio State University with bachelor’s degrees in public policy analysis and economics. He is excited to be working as a public service fellow for the Office of Urban Analytics and Innovation in Cleveland City Hall, where he will be organizing and managing data to ensure that is consistent, reliable, and available.

Mary Sessions, City of Cleveland – Law

Mary is a 2022 graduate from John Carroll University where she studied Psychology with a minor in Peace, Justice and Human Rights. After graduation, Mary completed a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, in Houston, Texas. She worked with low income families to provide consistent access to food, nutrition programing, financial assistance, and case management services. As a fellow, she will work for the City of Cleveland Law Department, working under the chief ethics officer for Cleveland City Hall, assisting with police reform initiatives for the city of Cleveland and furthering the implementation of the city charter section 115. 

Essence Deras, CMSD – Schools Division

Essence Deras, a Brooklyn native, received a bachelor’s degree in Education and Africana Studies from Smith College. Essence is passionate about youth development and equity within the current education system. She spent her undergraduate career working for college and career-focused initiatives dedicated to eliminating inequities so youth can thrive in their personal and professional development. As a fellow, Essence will support Cleveland Metropolitan Schools District’s Schools Division dynamic programming!

Rachel Halpchuk, CMSD – Organizational Learning

Rachel is a 2023 graduate of John Carroll University, where she studied Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Leadership Development. Rachel is pursuing a degree in Nonprofit Administration at John Carroll University. As a fellow, Rachel will be working in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Department of Organizational Learning and with the Chief of Staff. She is excited to grow and build connections through this fellowship and learn more about the Greater Cleveland community.

Julia Kovatch, CMSD – IT

Julia graduated from Santa Clara University in March 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in history and minors in political science and urban education. She will work with the Department of Learning Technology and Training Services at Cleveland Metropolitan School District as a fellow. She is excited to learn more about working in public education and to return to the Cleveland area after living in the California Bay Area for many years.

Aaron Skubby, CMSD – IT

Aaron graduated in 2023 from Denison University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and economics with a minor in journalism. During his undergraduate career, Aaron was active in journalism on campus, serving as editor-in-chief of The Denisonian and as manager of the campus writing center. Aaron will be working as a fellow in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s division of information technology. As a native to the Cleveland area, he is excited to learn more about the city and help promote opportunities for the city’s youth.

Cole Thompson, CMSD – Strategic Implementation

Cole, a native of Oberlin, OH, is a recent graduate from Baldwin Wallace University where he double majored in Management and Human Resources. During his undergraduate career, he was an active leader, volunteer, and mentor to first-year students. Cole plans to support various planning and development initiatives to achieve CMSDs Vision for Learning in a Post-Pandemic World. As a fellow, he’ll work alongside the CMSD Strategic Implementation team to assist and further enhance implementation plans for major impacts within the district. Cole’s passionate about learning, growing with others, and excited to be of service to the Greater Cleveland community.

Quinn Williams, CMSD – Finance

Quinn is a 2023 graduate of John Carroll University, where she earned her bachelor’s of arts degree in history, and a double minor in french and catholic studies. As a fellow, she will be working to assist the Cleveland Metropolitan School District in their finance department. Quinn will be providing research and support in the implementation of the district’s pandemic relief grants, monitor long-term financial planning, and develop budgeting program strategies. She is delighted to have been given the opportunity to provide significant change and service to the community of Cleveland.

Emma Wilton, CMSD – Talent & Equity

Emma is a 2020 graduate of Central Michigan University where she earned her Bachelor of Science in anthropology and psychology. She has spent the last two years serving as an AmeriCorps member with City Year Cleveland. In this role she has worked to promote educational equity as a near-peer mentor in 5th and 6th grade classrooms. As a fellow, Emma will be working with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District in the Talent and Equity Division. She looks forward to continuing her work with Cleveland schools.

LaShawn Huey, Cuyahoga County – Health and Human Services

LaShawn graduated from Miami University in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. After recently serving two years as an AmeriCorps member, he hopes to give back to CMSD, inspire scholars to persevere despite their challenges, and show them how to be their best selves. He also works as a shift leader at a local grocery store to better understand the presenting community. The experience he has gained throughout his life will enable him to bring positive changes to his hometown. During his fellowship, he will report to the Chief over Health and Human Services at Cuyahoga County. 

Elizabeth Katavich, Cuyahoga County – Development

Elizabeth is a 2023 graduate of Cleveland State University, where she majored in Organizational Leadership and minored in Nonprofit Administration. While completing her degree, Elizabeth was accepted as an intern with the Cleveland Foundation, a position which galvanized her passion for philanthropy as well as advocacy. She is particularly invested in matters of urban policy and seeks to support projects and programs that will improve the lives of Cuyahoga County residents for years to come. As a Development Fellow, Elizabeth is thrilled to continue working within the lively and diverse neighborhoods of Greater Cleveland. She will be assisting the Department of Development and the new Department of Housing with the workforce and housing projects stewarded by Cuyahoga County and the Office of the County Executive.

Rachel Mancuso, Cuyahoga County – Chief of Staff

Rachel graduated cum laude from Miami University in May 2023 where she earned a bachelor’s in history and minored in political science. While at Miami, she interned with the Office of ASPIRE, participated on the Dean of Students’ Advisory Board, and was a resident assistant for two years. She studied abroad in Spain for a semester and credits a large portion of her personal and professional growth to that experience. As a fellow, Rachel will support the Chief of Staff for the Cuyahoga County Executive.

Olivia Sontag, Cuyahoga County – Operations and Community Innovation

Olivia, originally from Cleveland Heights, graduated from American University in 2022 earning two bachelor’s degrees in Justice, Law, Criminology and Literature. She spent her first year after undergrad working as a civic educator in Washington, D.C where she taught students leadership skills in democracy and civic engagement. As a Public Service Fellow, Liv will be working with Cuyahoga County’s Operation and Community Innovation Department, where she will work to research, develop, and advocate for community initiatives that serve all Cuyahoga residents. She is incredibly excited to come home and work on local legislation that impacts her community.

Liam Watters, Cuyahoga County – Communications and Strategy

Liam is originally from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. He is a 2023 graduate of Denison University where he earned his bachelors degree in political science while minoring in philosophy. Throughout college he worked, interned, and volunteered with political campaigns and nonprofits in Ohio and Pennsylvania. As a fellow, Liam will be working with Cuyahoga County as a Communications and Strategy Fellow.

Luke Ols, Cuyahoga County Planning Commission

Luke Ols is a 2023 graduate of Cleveland State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning. He looks forward to achieving a master’s degree in urban planning and development from Cleveland State in the coming years. He will be working with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission and is looking forward to making a positive impact in all cities within the county through planning.

Nicole Coury, Cleveland Foundation – Arts & Culture

Nicole is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University with an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Theatre Arts and master’s degrees in Social Work and Business Administration.  She is excited to be working with the Cleveland Foundation in the Arts and Culture department combining her passions for the arts, community development, and research. In her free time, Nicole loves to explore everything Cleveland has to offer especially the city’s great theaters, restaurants, small businesses, parks, and trails.

Renee Senft, Cleveland Metroparks

Renee is a 2023 graduate of the Levin College of Public Affairs and Education at Cleveland State University. She is an Environmental Studies major with an interest in equitable access to greenspace and sustainable planning. As a fellow, Renee will be working with the Cleveland Metroparks in their Information Technology Services department and she looks forward to the projects that she will be participating in. She is excited for the opportunity to connect with her cohort at the Cleveland Foundation and with the Cleveland Metroparks staff!

Tait Ferguson, Trust for Public Land

Tait Ferguson, originally from Oak Park, IL, is a 2023 graduate of Denison University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, concentrating on politics and decision making. As an undergraduate, Tait facilitated Denison’s nonpartisan voter engagement initiative, and has experience working in partisan campaigns and environmental nonprofits across Ohio. As a fellow, Tait will be working in the Trust for Public Land’s Ohio office helping coordinate the Cleveland Parks and Greenspace Coalition to support equitable greenspaces across the city. 

Kenneth Pope, NewBridge

Kenneth Pope is 2023 graduate of Miami University, where he majored in public health. Kenneth is thrilled to be a fellow at NewBridge, which is a trauma informed Social Emotional Learning center assisting their students to identify and pursue educational and career pathways that lead to fulfilled lives and a sense of purpose

Tyree Sewell, Jumpstart, Inc.

Tyree Sewell is a 2023 graduate of the Leadership in Higher Education program at Baldwin Wallace University, where he obtained his master’s degree. Through the LHE program, Tyree was an intern in the Center for Inclusion, and the David and Frances Brain Center for Community Engagement.  He also earned his bachelor’s degree in sports management in 2021 from Lake Erie College. As a fellow, Tyree will be working with Jumpstart Inc., where he will be supporting program implementations, program designs, and social responsibility management.

Learn more about the Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellowship