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New Leaders Council

2016 Fellows


2016 NLC Sacramento Fellows

Ryan Alward - California Professional Geologist and Certified Hydrogeologist, GEI Consultants


Ryan Alward is a California Professional Geologist and Certified Hydrogeologist currently working for GEI Consultants, Inc., one of the nation’s leading geotechnical, environmental, water resources, and ecological science and engineering firms, in their Rancho Cordova office. He specializes in groundwater well design, well construction and well rehabilitation, and has overseen the construction of multiple water supply wells and municipal well rehabilitations. As a groundwater resources hydrogeologist Ryan assists his clients on projects from the grant writing/proposal phase through the design, construction oversight and regulatory compliance for groundwater supply, groundwater substitution transfers and groundwater banking and storage projects. In the last three years, Ryan has managed the successful rehabilitation of more than 10 water supply wells in Northern California.

 A member of GEI for over 10 years, Ryan is currently one of the youngest Junior Associate employee owners of GEI. The firm is ranked number 107 on Engineering News Record’s (ENR) 2015 Top 500 Design Firms list, having risen 15 positions since 2014, and 163 positions since 2007. The firm was also ranked No. 79 on ENR’s 2015 Top 100 Pure Designers list, up 10 positions from No. 89 in 2014. In addition, Ryan is also a member of the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, as well as a member of the Groundwater Resources Association (GRA) of California, an organization dedicated to resource management that protects and improves groundwater supply and quality through education and technical leadership. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Geology at California State University, Chico in 2004.

Ryan enjoys motorcycle rides with his wife Christine, abalone diving, hunting, rock climbing, playing guitar, singing and cooking homemade meals for his friends.

Belinda Beeks-Malone - Local President, AFSCME Local 146

Belinda currently serves as the president of AFSCME Local 146 for the past 5 years. She is the Co-chair of the Local Political Action Committee, an Executive Board member of the Sacramento Central Labor Council and the Treasurer of AFSCME Council 57. Belinda is very active in the community from serving meals at homeless shelters, to spending her time participating on many community boards.

She is a graduate of the prestigious AFSCME's Women Leadership Academy, she was one of only a handful of members invited back to serve as a mentor for last year's Academy. Belinda is an advocate for women's rights. She spearheaded the reestablishment of the Coalition of Labor Union Capitol Chapter, and serves as the acting president. Belinda is looking to advance her education and attain a law degree to focus on social justice issues.

In her free time, she likes to read and write poetry.

Joshua Bohannan - Legislative Aide, AFSCME

Josh.jpgJoshua Bohannan works for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) here in Sacramento. AFSCME is the nation’s largest public services employees union and represents more than 1.6 million nurses, child care providers, EMT’s, Sanitation workers, and a hundred other occupations. Not only does AFSCME advocate for its members, but also promotes fairness in the workplace, excellence in public services and prosperity and opportunity for all working families. At AFSCME Joshua works in the legislative department tracking bills, writing policy analysis, and helping to establish a strong relationship between the union and the Capitol.

Prior to AFSCME Joshua attended The University of Pacific McGeorge School of Law with a focus on Labor, Employment, and Capitol Politics. While studying at McGeorge, Joshua wrote policy as a Law Clerk for the California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber) on issues related to employment and labor. In addition to his work at CalChamber, Joshua was formally recognized for his commitment to diversity in the legal community by the Sacramento County Bar Association and presented with the Unity Bar Award and scholarship.

Joshua grew up in Sacramento and received his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Sacramento State University. In his spare time Joshua enjoys playing rugby, exploring California, and swimming open water races.

Debra Cooper, PhD - Policy Consultant, California State Senate

Debra_Cooper.jpgDebra Cooper was born and raised in Houston, TX. She received her B.S. in psychology from Duke University and later received her PhD in Neuroscience from Emory University. Her graduate research focused on studying treatments for drug addiction. After receiving her doctorate, she continued doing research in drug addiction as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Dr. Cooper’s experiences participating in science outreach at K-12 schools and community events made her realize she enjoyed talking about science and wanted to transfer into a career that applied her scientific background more directly. She applied for and was accepted to the Science & Technology Policy Fellowship through the California Council on Science and Technology. The fellowship introduces scientists into the California Capitol to work on state policies.

Debra was placed in the California State Senate Office of Research, where she was soon hired on as a policy consultant. She still works for the Senate Office of Research were she provides research and consults for the State Senate on human services, mental health, and veterans affairs issues.

Outside of work, Debra volunteers her time tutoring and mentoring with Improve Your Tomorrow, a college prep program for young men of color in South Sacramento.

Josue Chavarin - Program Associate, Healthy California

Josue_Chavarin.jpgJosue Chavarin is a Prevention Program Associate at The California Endowment. He currently helps manage the day to day media and research activities for the #Health4All campaign. Previously, he served as a Legislative Aide in the office of Assemblymember Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles).

Most recently, he served as a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil teaching at the Universidade Federal de Goias and researching access to healthcare issues. He has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California Berkeley in Political Science. He has also participated in fellowships and programs at the Harvard Kennedy School, Berkeley Law School, Goldman School of Public Policy, and UCLA Law School. 

Julissa Delgado - Field Representative, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

JulissaDelgado.jpgJulissa Delgado is a Field Representative in the Sacramento office of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), responsible for keeping senior staff and the Senator updated of community priorities and projects in a 14 county-region within Northern California.

Prior to joining this position, Julissa worked as a Field Representative for California Assembly Member Roger Dickinson serving as a community liaison on a variety of issues pertaining to women, the LGBTQ and Latino/a community, health, higher education and immigration. Ms. Delgado is a first generation Mexican-American originally from the Los Angeles area.

She graduated from the University of California, Davis in Political Science with minors in Latin American and Hemispheric Studies, and Chicana/o Studies. During her time at UC Davis, Julissa participated in the UC Washington Program and studied abroad in Latin America. Throughout her undergraduate career, she volunteered at both non-profit and governmental organizations to pursue her interests in public service.

Vivian Ericson, PhD - Legislative Aide, California State Assembly


Vivian Ericson is a Legislative Aide for Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens). She began her time in the capitol through a fellowship with the California Council on Science and Technology in the same office. While staffing the member on the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife she gained a deeper understanding of the disparities across different communities in terms of access to clean water, open spaces and resources to create healthy communities. Additionally, she covered the issue areas of Health, Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, Aging and Long term Care, and Privacy and Consumer Protection.

Prior to coming to Sacramento Vivian completed her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University and obtained a BS in Cell and Developmental Biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She became increasingly involved in a science outreach program called Science Bus during graduate school and eventually served as a co-president. This led to her serving on various education committees while at Stanford as a student representative. Her experiences working with different communities were what brought her to Sacramento to pursue a career in public policy.

In her spare time she can usually be found outside—whether it’s climbing, learning to back-country ski, or wandering around the Sierra with a map and compass.

Jenni Gomez - Staff Attorney, Legal Services of Northern California


Jenni Gomez is a staff attorney with Legal Services of Northern California and provides advice and representation to low-income and marginalized clients statewide. Since 2012, Jenni has focused primarily on health access and insurance advocacy, but also works on housing, employment, consumer debt, and public benefits cases. In addition to her casework, Jenni provides technical assistance to the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of South Sacramento which brings innovative, culturally competent programs and services to individuals and families in that region.

Jenni is also involved with legal clinics at the Sacramento Vet Center, My Sister’s House, and Gender Health Center. Each day, Jenni strives to put her clients in a position of opportunity and empowerment. Jenni graduated summa cum laude from Pepperdine University with a B.A. in International Studies. She received her law degree and Public Service Certificate from the University of California Davis School of Law. 

Matthew Hamlett - Legislative Aide, California State Assembly

Matthew_Hamlett.jpgMatthew is a Legislative Aide with the Office of Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber (D-79). In his capacity, Matthew advises her on multiple issues including Revenue and Taxation, Banking and Finance, and Utilities and Commerce. Prior to his hiring, Matthew was a 2013-2014 Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellow for Assemblymember Weber.

He received his Bachelors Degree in Political Science from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, minoring in Economics with an emphasis in law and public policy. While a student Matthew was active in various aspects of campus life including as a student representative, as president of the political science honor society, and as captain of the Cal Lutheran Track and Field team.

He also spent time at the Federal Reserve Department of Consumer and Community Affairs. While there, he produced a report on mobile banking and how it's continued emergence could be used to include traditionally disenfranchised groups in the banking system.


Sarah Kerber - Legislative Assistant, California School Employees Association

Sarah_Kerber_Headshots.jpgSarah Kerber works in the Governmental Relations office of the California School Employees Association (CSEA), AFL-CIO, the largest classified school employees union in the United States, representing more than 220,000 school support staff throughout California who perform a wide range of essential work in California's public schools. Sarah helps coordinate committee and executive board lobbying activities on behalf of CSEA's membership in California and Washington D.C.

After receiving her Bachelor's degree in Political Economies of Industrial Societies from the University of California, Berkeley, she moved to Taiwan to teach English and improve her conversational Chinese. She then moved to New York City to work in the entertainment industry in some of New York's premiere companies before returning to California to pursue her passion for political policy.

Sarah is a passionate advocate for labor, women and families in her local community. She is an active member in several political clubs and neighborhoods associations in Sacramento including Sacramento Country Young Democrats, Preservation Sacramento, and the Feminist Democrats of Sacramento County, where she served on the board as Communications Director in 2014-15. She completed the City Management Academy (CMA) program offered by the City of Sacramento through the Neighborhood Services Division in 2015, where residents are provided an opportunity to learn how the City is managed and operated, discuss challenges facing the City of Sacramento and learn about strategies used to address them. She spends her free time attending city government meetings, volunteering with local charities, and supporting political campaigns in the Sacramento region.

Nikita Koraddi - Legislative Aide, California State Assembly

Nikita.JPGNikita Koraddi is a Legislative Aide for Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), where she oversees a number of policy areas, including natural resources and the environment, energy and utilities, agriculture, and housing. Previously, Nikita served as an Executive Fellow in the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), where she assisted in the implementation of programmatic improvements to improve DTSC’s ability to issue timely and enforceable hazardous waste permits that protect public health and the environment. She was also involved in efforts to modernize the Department’s public participation protocols to strengthen community engagement and enhance environmental justice considerations.

Nikita currently serves as the Community Affairs Director for the Asian Pacific Islander Capitol Association (APICA), a nonprofit dedicated to the recruitment, development, and retention of API staff within the Capitol community. In her first year on the board, Nikita spearheaded APICA’s inaugural college internship program; raised funds to support a local women’s shelter; and hosted a panel on domestic violence in the API community. She also serves as the Co-Director of Events for the Capital Fellows Alumni Association, which strengthens the Fellows network through personal and professional development opportunities. As a Steering Committee Member of the newly formed Sacramento Valley Water Justice Network, she is helping develop a locally focused effort to realize the human right to safe, clean and affordable water throughout the region. She is also affiliated with the Sacramento County Young Democrats and hopes to be a more engaged Sacramento resident and community leader.

Nikita graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in political science and minors in Global Poverty and Practice and Ethnic Studies. She was born in India and moved to San Diego at the age of 12. She enjoys exceptionally spicy food, Zumba, and all-things-Bollywood.

Philip Norton - Finance, Outreach, and Operations Coordinator, Bera for Congress


Philip Norton serves as the Finance, Outreach, and Operations Coordinator for the Bera for Congress campaign. In this capacity, Philip oversees political outreach, constituent relations, fundraising activities, and staffing support. He also currently serves as Treasurer of the Sacramento County Young Democrats.

In 2014, Philip served as GOTV Director and Lead Organizer with the California Democratic Party in the 7th congressional district, helping to reelect Congressman Ami Bera by 1,455 votes. Prior to Sacramento, Philip worked for Richard Roth for State Senate, Bill Hedrick for Congress, and the County of Orange in Southern California. Additionally, he is one of the co-founders of the Riverside County Progressives and previously served as its Co-Chair.

Philip earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Political Science from California State University, Fullerton. He spent a semester studying at University College Cork, Ireland and a summer in Washington, DC as part of the Cal State DC program. Beyond his college endeavors, Philip developed his political focus by serving as shop steward with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, participating in anti-war demonstrations, and interning with the AFL-CIO Orange County Central Labor Council and in U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s district office. Philip was born and raised in Riverside, California. He enjoys traveling, movies, music, and soccer.

Kriztina Palone - Area Manager and Liaison to City Council District 3, City of Sacramento – Neighborhood Services Division (NSD)

Kriztina.jpgKriztina is a Sacramento native, working for the City of Sacramento in the Neighborhood Services Division (NSD) as an Area Manager. Prior to working for the City of Sacramento, she worked for the San Francisco Mayor’s Office for the last 10-yrs. Her final role in the administration was the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (MONS), where she provided San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and his administration, insight and leadership on neighborhood-related issues, facilitated critical roundtable discussions between neighborhood stakeholders and the Mayor’s executive leadership team, and consistently promoted Mayor Lee’s policies and initiatives to San Francisco’s residents and businesses.

Her experience in the SF Mayor’s Office also includes substantial work in the (Mayor’s) Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD). She provided support and leadership on initiatives that continuously improved the public workforce system. Kriztina implemented a regional capacity building initiative for community-based workforce providers and was a Liaison to elected officials and their staff on critical workforce development efforts in their respective districts.

Kriztina has an extensive background working with neighborhood groups and business leaders to promote and enhance the on-going development of local neighborhood ecosystems. Her deep passion and commitment to improving the economic state of low-income communities through workforce development, motivated Kriztina to become an active member of Dress For Success Sacramento, where she leads development and operational efforts.

She is a graduate of San Francisco State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work.

Joie Rodolfa - Attorney, Law Offices of John Biard

Joie Rodolfa currently serves as a general liability defense attorney with the Law Offices of John Biard. In this capacity she has been exceedingly successful in trial as well as in her aggressive law and motion practice. This success has earned her the Rising Star Award a national accolade bestowed on the Travelers attorney deemed to have the most potential in litigation and trial work.

Prior to her position with Travelers, Joie attended law school at the Santa Clara University, School of law where she graduated Magna Cum Laude and became a member of the Order of the Coif. During that time she participated in two judicial internships with the Santa Clara County Superior Court and worked with the Katherine and George Alexander Community Law Clinic. In her free time Joie enjoys focusing on her interests in health and fitness.

She is currently working to obtain her Nutrition Certification through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. With that she hopes to ultimately take her career in a direction of working to affect public policy in the area of health and agriculture with the aim of creating a food industry easier to navigate for the common consumer. 

Zephanii Smith - Associate Committee Consultant, California State Assembly

Zephanii_Smith_(2).JPGZephanii has distinguished herself as a youth leader in civic engagement, who has spent her career working for the federal and state governments in California. Prior to pursuing her passion for public service, as a congressional staffer, Zephanii developed her leadership skills during a 10 year tenure with the NAACP, working alongside civil rights icons and industry leaders training activists to address unresolved issues in civil rights.

In 2009, she was elected to serve on the NAACP’s Board of Directors, where she worked to develop campaigns and development of socially-conscious and sustainable youth units; advocated for voting rights at the United Nations; and served as Vice Chair of the association’s nationally syndicated awards show.

At Claremont McKenna College, Zephanii earned her BA in Government and studied abroad in Jordan, England, and South Korea. She worked with the Kravis Leadership Institute and the People for the American Way Foundation to develop See It Through!, a social venture aimed at serving disconnected youth, inspired by her engagement with Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan national campaign comprised of 300+ cross-sector organizations working to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America.

Zephanii is a Associate Committee Consultant for the California Legislature's Joint Legislative Audit Committee, working to ensure transparency and accountability in state agencies and programs.

Her hobbies have included competing in local pageants and serving as an advisor to numerous projects, organizations, and events. 

Jenine Spotnitz - Research Assistant at Harder+Company Community Research

jspotnitz.jpgJenine brings a deep commitment to social, economic, and environmental justice to her role as research assistant at Harder+Company Community Research, a social impact consulting firm that provides data-driven analysis to help organizations understand the results of their programs and initiatives—and translate that data into actionable improvements. Jenine works to strengthen impact across sectors through strategic planning, research, evaluation, and capacity-building services.

Prior to joining Harder+Company in 2012, Jenine served as a research intern with DataCenter, where Jenine gained an understanding of the power of community research and organizing to inform strategic action that creates a more equitable, just, and healthy world. While earning a bachelor's degree in Community and Regional Development at the University of California Davis, Jenine led a collaborative research project that set the foundation for systems change work in sexual health and assault, notably the revision of UC system-wide harassment and assault policies to be gender neutral and premised on affirmative consent.

Jenine remains inspired by the brilliance of youth in the Sacramento area, dancing, and organizing for a world where Black Lives Matter.

Sheva Tabatabainejad - Executive Assistant to Judicial Appointments, Office of Governor Jerry Brown


Sheva Tabatabainejad currently serves as the Executive Assistant to Judicial Appointments in the Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. Sheva has been an integral part of the Governor's Office for three years after excelling at her internship with the Constituent Affairs Unit.

Sheva is a small business owner and manages all aspects of her restaurant from marketing and sales to staff supervision. She received her BA in International Relations and French from the University of California, Davis.

Sheva enjoys performing improv at the Sacramento Comedy Spot and running for leisure. She speaks fluent French and Persian. Her policy interests include women's health and education.


Jennifer Teykaerts - Analyst, California Department of Developmental Services

Teykaerts_NLC_Headshot.JPGBy day, Jennifer Teykaerts is an Analyst with the California Department of Developmental Services in the Early Start and Health Services Section, providing funding and guidance to local programs that serve infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities across California. Her role includes developing contracts, managing projects, preparing the annual Federal grant application, and serving as a liaison to State councils and stakeholder committees.

By night, and in pretty much every other free moment of the day, Jennifer is a dedicated activist and advocate for women in her hometown of Sacramento. In 2010, Jennifer co-founded V-Day Sacramento, an all-volunteer local branch of the international V-Day organization, which raises funds and awareness to end violence against women and girls. She has produced four successful benefit performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” and raised over $60,000 for community organizations serving women affected by violence. Jennifer also serves as Board President for the Northern California Association for Women Take Back the Night, a non-profit organization raising awareness about domestic violence and sexual abuse through an annual “Take Back the Night” rally and march through Midtown. In early 2015, Jennifer co-founded #SacCircle to bring together fellow passionate and civic-minded women in Sacramento to leverage resources, share knowledge, and maximize their collective impact on the community.

In her ever-elusive free time, Jennifer enjoys seeking out craft beers with her husband, obsessing over Game of Thrones fan theories, and falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole for hours at a time. Her favorite sport is wine tasting, and her worst-kept secret is that she is a hardcore fan of the Harry Potter universe. 

Denise Tugade - Analyst, Cambria Solutions Inc.

Denise_Tugade.pngDenise is an Analyst for Cambria Solutions, Inc., an information technology and management consulting firm focusing on health and human services. She currently provides project management and data analysis for the California Medicaid Management Information Systems division of the Department of Health Care Services.

Denise received a bachelors degree in International Affairs: Conflict and Security and European and Eurasian studies with a minor in Russian Language and Culture from The George Washington University. She is a also graduate student at The George Washington University, where she is pursuing a Masters in Public Health in Epidemiology. She recently moved to Sacramento from Rwanda, where she trained community health workers to use smart phones to create Electronic Health Records, coordinated the delivery of water filters and high efficiency cook stoves to rural villages and evaluated public health programs.

Claire van Zuiden - Associate, California Strategies & Advocacy


Claire van Zuiden is an Associate at California Strategies & Advocacy, a state-wide governmental affairs consulting firm, where she is focused environment and energy policy. On behalf of clean technology clients, Claire develops strategies to facilitate progressive alternative transportation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency policies and programs in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

In addition to permitting, policy and regulation, Claire has extensive experience in securing public funding and incentives for key projects in California, and since joining the firm in 2009 has helped achieve unparalleled levels of grant awards to accelerate alternative transportation, renewable energy, and water conservation projects.

Prior to joining California Strategies, she managed the CPV Consortium, a global, non-profit Concentrator Photovoltaic (CPV) industry organization. She continues to advise and support the solar association, including orchestrating full-day educational workshops and media events in conjunction with worldwide solar conferences and speaking on behalf of the CPV industry at many conferences around the world.

Claire earned a Master of Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University where she was the President of her graduate program and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from University of California Davis where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She lives in Sacramento and has been a Community Tree Planting Leader for the Sacramento Tree Foundation. 

Danny Yost - Legislative Liaison, California Department of Transportation

DannyYost_profHeadShot.jpgDanny Yost is a manager with Caltrans who liases with the Legislature, State Transportation Agency, Department of Finance, and the Governor's Office. His legislative portfolio includes the environment, multimodal transportation solutions, traffic safety, commercial vehicles, pavement, signs, and property. He writes and analyzes legislation and prepares executives and experts for legislative testimony.

Danny currently co-chairs the Midtown Neighborhood Association, which he helped reactivate in late 2015. He previously served as a Transportation Commissioner for the City of Walnut Creek while working as a Transportation Engineer and Planner for Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants. He also served as a fellow for the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee on transit policy.

Danny graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2006 with a B.S. in Civil & Environmental Engineering with a Minor in City & Regional Planning and in 2012 with a Master of Public Policy. He published his thesis on greenhouse gas and energy credits for large buildings. As a graduate student, Danny led the PolicyMatters Journal as Editor-in-Chief and co-hosted the journal's policy conference-Governing California: A Discussion at the Capitol. He also assisted in teaching undergraduate courses on leadership communication, leadership theory, public policy, and statistics. Danny enjoys running, biking, movies, concrete canoes, and tutoring his nieces and nephew.


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