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 2023 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 pool of 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 2023 Russlynn Ali Summer Fellows
Jamila Espinosa, Educator Engagement Impact Fellow
Jamila is interested in how social discrimination affects the development of children from marginalized communities and, by extension, their academic trajectories and social mobility. Her research interests include contextualizing the psychological and academic experiences of Latinx students within the developmental and socio-cultural frameworks that shape their understanding of identity. She is obtaining a Master of Science at the University of California, Davis. In her spare time, Jamila enjoys running and venturing into her backyard as a novice gardener.
Jeffrey Yo, Diverse & Effective Educators Research Fellow
Jeffrey is a former secondary school teacher and education professional passionate about educational equity. As a current doctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles, his research focuses on teacher-child interactions, explicitly examining how teachers’ racial-ethnic identity influences their students’ academic and social development. Furthermore, as a teacher of color, Jeffrey is particularly dedicated to supporting and retaining teachers of color and promoting diversity within the United States K-12 teaching workforce. In addition to his expertise in both quantitative and qualitative education research, Jeffrey actively collaborates with schools and non-profits to serve students from historically marginalized backgrounds and foster educational equity. He received his Bachelor’s in Sociology from the University of Chicago and his Master’s in Human Development and Psychology from the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies.
Michelle Estrada, Policy & Government Relations Fellow
Michelle is a University of California, Davis student pursuing a degree in Political Science and Chicanx Studies. As a first-generation student and immigrant, Michelle brings a unique perspective to her academic journey. Her experiences navigating the U.S. educational system as a first-generation immigrant have driven her passion for reforming the system, advocating for educational equity, and promoting diversity in schools.
During her undergraduate studies, Michelle actively engaged in various advocacy organizations, contributing her efforts to provide free legal counseling and serving as a spokesperson for equitable access to educational resources. She dedicated her last summer to interning with the Policy Research team for the Community Colleges of California, focusing on researching teacher diversity in K-12 schools across the state.
Currently, Michelle is gaining valuable in-field experience at an elementary school in Davis, California, where she has spent over 450 hours observing and participating in implementing an ethnic studies curriculum for students ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade.
With a clear vision for her future, Michelle Estrada aspires to pursue a Ph.D. in Education Policy and ultimately become a professor, combining her expertise and passion to drive positive change in education.
Elias Nepa, Development Fellow
Elias is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. While at the university, he focused on exploring the relationship between education, gender, and colonialism from various perspectives. With an honors degree in Sociology, Elias actively taught, worked, and participated in multiple student organizations and campus groups.
As a member of Ed Trust–West’s development team, Elias will leverage his experience and skills in university fundraising to advance more targeted goals and interests centered around equity.
Diana Balbuena, LA Financial Aid Completion Fellow
Diana Balbuena is a graduate of USC, where she pursued American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. As a first-generation college graduate, she holds a deep passion for educational equity, workforce development, and assisting students in achieving their academic and personal aspirations.
Diana is excited about her upcoming role as a Fellow at Ed Trust–West, where she will collaborate with local education agencies to help them reach their financial aid completion objectives. After completing her fellowship, she aims to pursue a career as a program coordinator. In Los Angeles, Diana’s favorite destination is Vista Hermosa Natural Park.
Jada Mylan Smith, Multilingual Learners Fellow
Jada Smith holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Mathematics, and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from California State University, East Bay. She is a solutionist, strategist, and passionate youth advocate. Jada enjoys utilizing data analysis, research, and communication to change social justice issues within her community and enhance positive vocational and educational experiences for youth in underserved communities.
Currently, Jada serves as the CFO and Co-Founder of Jasiri Coder LLC, an organization that focuses on teaching students the fundamentals of coding. This initiative aims to empower students, ensuring they don’t feel overwhelmed if they pursue STEM careers. Jada possesses an intense thirst for knowledge and has experience in curriculum development, delivering project-based learning activities, managing professional development projects, and collecting and analyzing data to generate reports that enhance business processes.
Jada prides herself on being a problem solver and consistently seeks opportunities to become a highly sought-after resource for the youth in her community.