The Russlynn Ali Fellowship program, named in honor of the founding executive director of The Education Trust–West, aims to support people of color entering policy and advocacy leadership by laying the foundation for current and future policymakers, researchers, advocates, and African American, Latinx, Asian American, Pacific Islander and Indigenous communities to become lifelong leaders within California’s P-16 education ecosystem.
The cohort of 2020 Russlynn Ali Fellows is a group of teachers, education policy researchers and advocates who represent the diversity and vision of California’s P-12, higher education, and racial justice communities.
The five Fellows, who were selected from a highly competitive field of more than 200 applicants, will work on projects to advance educational equity and racial justice issues statewide over the course of the summer. During the 8 week summer experience, Fellows will gain exposure to the issues, policies, and politics of the current California landscape and work on projects to advance educational equity and racial justice issues.
The 2020 Russlynn Ali Summer Fellows
Christa Koppuzha, School District Engagement Fellow
Christa Koppuzha was raised by Indian immigrants who instilled the value and power of an education in her from a young age. Throughout her academic career, she became aware of the potential of literature as a tool for social justice, and later sought to create spaces for her students to explore their identities and challenge dominant structures as an English and English Language Development Teacher in Richmond, California. While she was a teacher, Christa saw the glaring inequities present in the education system and worked with a local education policy non-profit to explore the disparities in A-G achievement among English Language Learners and propose a policy change to the West Contra Costa School Board. Her interest in the intersection between education and policy led her to the Education Trust–West, where she served as the School District Engagement Intern under the Educator Engagement Team. Christa will continue to explore systemic practices that further education equity while attending the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley beginning the fall of 2020. She earned her B.A. in English and International Development from the University of Florida.
As The School District Engagement Fellow, Christa will research common recommendations, strategies for success, and challenges that districts face when making systemic changes to advance equity in their schools and districts.
Marianna McMurdock, Digital Storytelling Fellow
Originally from San Diego, Marianna began her career in education as a youth organizer at Youth in Action (YIA) in Providence, RI while attending Brown University. Until graduating in 2019, she co-led the Writing Fellow program, an anti-racist peer advising network for undergraduates, and mentored high school youth as a Program Coordinator at YIA. In the summers she supported youth organizing in New England as an adult ally and facilitator fellow at the Youth Leadership Institute with Roger Williams University’s Center for Youth & Community Leadership in Education. She tries to incorporate her ever-growing loves for photography, laughter, storytelling and music in everything she does, and is dedicated to supporting students grow – specifically low-income, multilingual students of color. In the future she hopes to earn a graduate degree in education policy to support community-led education reform.
As a Digital Storytelling Fellow, Marianna will scaffold a storytelling platform to share and honor the experiences of unhoused and/or parenting students attending California State Universities. She is excited to support student-centered change through conversation, information, and support.
Elvira Covarrubias, Pathways to College Fellow
Elvira Covarrubias was born and raised in Southern California in a small desert town by the name of Littlerock. After graduating high school, Elvira moved to Davis to attend UC Davis in pursuit of becoming a veterinarian. Once at UC Davis, she majored in Human Development and minored in Spanish and joined a student-run non-profit organization by the name of Mujeres Ayudando la Raza (MAR) that focuses on the promotion of higher education, career development, and healthy living to historically underrepresented populations. It was during her time spent with MAR and her own experiences as a first-generation student that she decided to pursue a career that would allow her to continue serving students. Elvira’s primary professional goal is to highlight blind spots and inequities within the higher education system to bring historically underrepresented students the justice and quality education they are entitled to.
As the Pathways to College Summer Fellow, Elvira will support Ed Trust–West to better understand the resources, opportunities, and challenges that arise for district leaders considering dual enrollment partnerships.
Steven Garcia, STEM Education Fellow
Steven is originally from Sun Valley, CA. After completing his undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara, he spent three years teaching in the Pine Ridge Reservation located in South Dakota. There, he developed his passion for education advocacy. His previous work in the Pine Ridge Reservation includes college outreach, grant writing, trauma-informed school training, and improving STEM curriculum. He is excited to work with The Education Trust–West and apply what he has learned to tangible policy reform. Steven is a current Master of Public Policy student at the University of Michigan, with a concentration in policy analysis methods. He aspires to work as an education policy analyst to eventually bring systematic changes to marginalized communities, like the reservation and his hometown. Steven is a sports enthusiast and in his free time likes to watch the Raiders, Lakers, and Yankees. He also enjoys working out, playing basketball and soccer, and exploring the outdoors.
As the STEM Education Fellow, Steven will help develop Math Equity Principles that will serve as a resource to districts, advocates, and school leaders to make equitable and rigorous math education opportunities accessible to all students, especially students of color and low-income students.
Varsha Sarveshwar, Early Learning Summer Fellow
Varsha Sarveshwar (she/her) is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, where she received a bachelor’s degree in political science in May 2020. She is the outgoing president of the UC Student Association, the official voice of more than 275,000 students. Varsha has also served as the External Affairs Vice President of her campus’s student body, worked as an intern for Assemblymember Rob Bonta, and managed a successful Berkeley City Council campaign that elected the city’s youngest councilmember. She is deeply passionate about education equity, and she is excited to be a part of the Education Trust–West team.
As the Early Learning Summer Fellow, Varsha will review Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) and help to identify how districts use LCFF funds to support state-funded preschool programs.