Meet the 2022 Russlynn Ali Summer Fellows

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 2022 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 six Fellows, who were selected from a highly competitive field of more than 250 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 2022 Russlynn Ali Summer Fellows

Community Partnership Learning Fellow

Aimee Vaquera, Community Partnership Learning Fellow

Aimee Vaquera is a Latina, daughter of immigrants, first-generation doctoral student, and higher education professional. Aimee’s higher education journey began at Long Beach City College (LBCC) where she earned her Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice Administration. Her transfer journey took her to California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) where she earned both her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration and Master of Science in College Counseling. During her undergraduate career, Aimee was on the Executive Board for ENF-Immigrant Student Alliance and Co-Chair of the Undocumented Student Ally Coalition (USAC), which supported and promoted college access for undocumented students and mixed-status families. She additionally played an integral role in bringing a Dream Center to CSUDH and launching CSUDH’s first transfer first-year experience program – Dominguez Hills, Transfer Learning Community (DHTLC). During her graduate studies, Aimee returned to her Community College roots and lent her expertise to support the establishment of LBCC’s Undocumented Student Ally Network. Upon completing her undergraduate career, Aimee found herself in the realm of advising and student services as an Academic Advisor and eventually a Peer Coach Coordinator at CSUDH where she supported an array of students with a focus on the transfer and undocumented students and led a team of 22 student leaders who mentored first-year students through their first-year experience. She now serves as the Confidential Aide to the Vice President for Student Affairs at CSU, San Bernardino, and as a counselor at both Long Beach City College and Saddleback College where she has the opportunity to support students directly and indirectly. She is a strong advocate for student success, equity, and access and utilizes her platform and experience to support students navigate system inequities and institutional red tape.

She believes in leading with a social justice lens and that maintaining her integrity is the key to truly living life authentically. She continues her education at California State University, Long Beach where she is entering her third and final year of her Educational Doctorate in Educational Leadership in hopes of further providing guidance and access to education for those who wish to embark the journey.

Indigenous Education Engagement Fellow

Alexis Atsilvsgi, Indigenous Education Engagement Fellow

Alexis Atsilvsgi is a passionate Cherokee and Chicana activist in Higher Education, having served on multiple boards during the entirety of her college career. First as a Board Member on the California Community College’s Board of Governors and next as the 2020-22 Student Regent for the University of California Board of Regents. Alexis’ priorities for being a Regent were diversity in admission, transfer reform, taking away barriers in Cal Grant, and bettering the campus climate for Native students. Alexis graduated from UC Berkeley with BA’s in geography and political science and plans on continuing her research, “Understanding the spatial imagination of rural California and the implications of physical place in access to higher education for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC)” in graduate school in the near future.

Math Equity Research Fellow

Jose R. Aguilar Jr., Educator Diversity Fellow

Jose R. Aguilar Jr. is a first-generation Mexican-American, who is passionate about equity in education. He is currently a math, and computer science teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Jose completed his undergraduate degree in Computer Science, Government, and Mexican American & Latina/o Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. During his undergraduate education, Jose joined Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), to combat the disproportionate number of Latinos not graduating high school through critical mentoring. Additionally, he served as a leader and mentor to increase the advancement of Hispanics in STEM through the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Jose was also a participant in the Bill Archer Fellowship program with The University of Texas Systems, where he worked for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to empower the next generation of activists in D.C. Recently before teaching, Jose served as a congressional intern with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institue (CHCI), where he advocated for humane immigration policies and equitable federal education policies.

As an educator, Jose has partnered with tech companies to provide support, coaching, and curriculum to better provide equitable, rigorous computer science education to all students, with a focus on dismantling gender disparities in STEM. Apart from teaching, Jose serves on the School Side Council for his school site, where he acts as an essential voice for the community in allocating Title I to achieve equity for all students Jose recently received his Master’s Degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University in Education Policy & Administration through the Teach For America Los Angeles Corps Partnership. During his graduate education, Jose studied the narrative intersectional experiences of BIPOC women pursuing STEM and unveiled the main motivating factors in their educational journey. He hopes to use this experience as an educator, researcher, and advocate to make a difference in the education system and inspire others to be civically engaged.

Student Parent Success Fellow

Mahagoney Borrayo-Gilchriest, Student Parent Success Fellow

Mahagoney is a former secondary Social Studies educator and seasoned postsecondary professional, whose professional passion and focus is centered in educational equity. Currently, a doctoral student at the University of Southern California and a proud first-gen student, her research surrounds the dismantling of racist societal structures to create avenues of access for marginalized and minoritized students toward educational and career success. Mahagoney’s expertise includes servicing At-Promise youth, equitable educational administration, program management, and compliance. With 10+ years of educational professional experience, Mahagoney is excited to guide and support the 2022 Russlynn Ali Summer Fellowship for parenting students.

Educator Diversity Fellow

Savana Doudar, Educator Diversity Fellow

Savana Doudar is a first-generation Muslim American who was born and raised in San Diego, California. Coming from a family of immigrants and refugees, she had to quickly learn the governing systems and politics that ultimately decided her family’s safety and peace. Throughout her journey in public education, she realized the vastly different treatment and disciplinary measures she received as a young brown woman compared to her white peers. This mistreatment was her awakening- she wanted to ensure that Black students and students of color are treated equitably and provided the necessary resources and support systems to succeed.

During her time at California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM) she held several different leadership roles. By her senior year, she was elected by students to serve as the student body President. She worked closely with state and federal education policies and legislators to ensure that college is affordable and equitable. Upon graduating in 2019, Savana was offered a full-time role with the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLU) as a Policy Associate. At the ACLU, she specialized in local and state education, housing & homelessness, and economic justice work. She researched, advocated, and supported several different policies to ensure that San Diegans were supported in a racially equitable manner. Her time at the ACLU encouraged her to deepen her professional policy experience. She is a current Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, concentrating on education and social policy. Most recently, she was a Policy Fellow with the Campaign for College Opportunity working on higher education policy issues.

Savana is looking forward to joining the Education Trust-West as the Educator Diversity Fellow

Education Equity Communications Fellow

Sophie Brion Neely, Education Equity Communications Fellow

Sophie Brion Neely is a playwright and educator from Southern California who earned her bachelor’s degree in Ethnicity, Race, & Migration from Yale University. While an undergraduate, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Elm City Echo, an advocacy-oriented literary magazine that develops the work of unhoused community members, and spent summers guiding high school students at the Stanford Humanities Institute. Supported by the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, a Richard U. Light Fellowship for Chinese language study, and the Yale University-New Asia College Undergraduate Exchange, Sophie’s experiences studying lingual, cultural, and racial formations across Asia and Europe sparked her interest in intercultural research and transnational collaboration. Subsequently, she earned a research award from the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration to write her thesis play, Blessed Art Thou Among Women. Her poetry has been performed on the main stage of Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and her sophomore play, DYNAMIC, was named a semifinalist in the Playwrights’ Realm 21/22 Scratchpad Series. Having close ties with the Bay Area, Sophie worked as a fellow at the Othering & Belonging Institute of the University of California, Berkeley, and wrote and directed her short play, No Bad in Us, in Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture festival. After receiving development and workshops from Los Angeles-based theater company, Moving Arts, her most recent work, Los Pobladores, was recognized in the Eugene O’Neill 2022 National Playwrights Conference.