Past MINN Fellows

The MINN Fellowship program seeks to foster diverse viewpoints in our community, provide professional enrichment and networking opportunities, and build a long-lasting relationship between traditionally underrepresented communities and the Minnesota International NGO Network (MINN). Learn more about the Fellows program.

Ever Mkonyi is a PhD student in Evaluation Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on Evaluation Capacity Building with a focus on sexual health. She holds two masters degrees; (MA Demography and MA Evaluation Studies). She worked at PSI-Tanzania as a Research Manager and Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator for four years, before she moved to the US where she worked for another four years as data management and handling expert at the Minnesota Population Center (MPC) of the University of Minnesota. While in Tanzania, she was intensively engaged in a variety of health projects which ignited her passion for researching and evaluating public health issues. She is currently coordinating a five-year grant project which focuses on the promotion of sexual health in Tanzania. This is a collaborative project between the University of Minnesota and Muhimbili University of Allied Sciences (MUHAS) in Tanzania. She likes swimming, dancing, and exercising.

Halimo Ismail is a public health specialist with Ramsey County. She recently received her Master of Public Health from St. Catherine University and received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Minnesota. Over the years Halimo has been involved in working with humanitarian organizations such as ALIGHT, American Red Cross, and Minnesota Council of Churches. Halimo hopes to continue working with refugees globally and being an advocate for immigrant communities.


Maakwe Cumanzala is an Economics Research Specialist in the Economics and Political Sciences Department at St. Catherine’s University and has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Mathematics. She is passionate about dismantling inequalities perpetuated by the inefficient distribution of power and natural resources, particularly in developing countries. She is currently in the process of setting up a non-governmental organization that focuses on empowering tribal minority women in Zimbabwe, her home country, to claim their voices, find professional networks and be proud of their cultural identity.

Mai Sia Yang is a bilingual Hmong American woman who graduated from Augsburg College with a Bachelors of Arts in International Relations. Her experience studying and traveling abroad has aided in her investment and involvement in International Development. She has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the country of Mongolia where she taught English and organized community building projects. She worked alongside community members and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers on creating a platform for the disabled community. Most recently, Mai Sia has been a successful Government Affairs Coordinator for Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of Minnesota. 


Sylvie Guezeon worked as an attorney in an International Law Firm based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast from 2008 to 2017. Sylvie also worked for the Ivorian Refugee and Stateless Persons Aid and Assistance Office (SAARA) in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) as one of their on-site representatives for activities related to the resettlement of refugees in the United States. Following her graduation from the University of Pittsburgh, PA in 2014 with a Master of Laws (LL.M.), Sylvie interned with the international Institute of Minnesota in their immigration services. Upon her return to the U.S in 2017, Sylvie was a French Interpreter/Translator for the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and she is currently an Immigration Court Observer with the James H Binger Center For New Americans, University of Minnesota. Sylvie will be taking the Bar Exam in the U.S. and plans on working in the Healthcare Industry and/or immigration employment-based field. She is currently contracting as a Bilingual Business Analyst at UnitedHealthCare.


Sagal Hussein holds a Master's Degree in Comparative International Development Education from the University of Minnesota and a Bachelor’s Degree in Global Politics from Washington State University. Her experiences include working and volunteering in organizations focused on community outreach, education, educational technology, youth empowerment and immigrant services. Sagal is passionate about inclusive policy and development; and strives to create effective, efficient and equitable social policies and programs. She believes that opportunity and access are imperative; and envisions a world where organizations are responsive to the needs of all people. With experience in both the private sector and public, she is working toward a career in international development and hopes to work overseas empowering and developing organizations in advancing their work in removing barriers for marginalized communities.

Nishank Varshney was born and raised in India, where he pursued a degree in Engineering and Mathematics from BITS Pilani. An internship project on decriminalization of Indian politics, and master’s thesis on implementation of Right to Education (RTE) Act, got him interested in the development field. After briefly working as a Business Analyst with Dell International Services, he went on to work full-time as a Research Associate at IIM Ahmedabad on the implementation and evaluation of the RTE Act in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan for which he was selected as one of the ‘30 under 30 leaders’ under ‘Community Service & Social Entrepreneurship’ category. Nishank joined the Humphrey School to pursue a master’s degree in Public Policy in 2016 and subsequently joined the Ph.D. program in 2018. He currently works at the Human Capital Research Collaborative on interventions in early childhood education.

Lacy Myrman has a range of international experience rooted in her upbringing in Brooklyn Park, MN. As a student, Lacy planned events with the Alliance Française, catalogued New Tactics in Human Rights for the Center for Victims of Torture, and assisted the American Refugee Committee with its I Am a Star Campaign for Somalia, in addition to promoting global citizenship amongst youth via Model UN programs. Lacy received her Bachelors in Africana Studies and International Affairs, concentrating in Conflict Resolution at The George Washington University. She has given motivational talks across Western Kenya, taught French literacy classes to immigrants in Marseille, France, and interviewed Burundian refugees living in Kigali, Rwanda. Most recently, Lacy was a Fulbright Scholar serving as an English Teaching Assistant in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire. She currently works as a ConnectZ Program Coordinator at Girl Scouts, providing culturally relevant, in-school Girl Scouts programming to girls with a variety of access barriers. 

Jennifer Bubke has worked in the international development sector for seven years with the UN Migration Agency - International Organization for Migration (IOM). She has experience in both South Asia and Africa and focused on both migration development and political/transitional development. While she has worked in different positions, her specialty is in grants management and compliance. She has a MA from American University in International Relations with a focus in International Organizations. Jennifer recently relocated to the Twin Cities and is excited to engage with the international development sector in the area.

Christina (Tina) Rucci is a peacebuilder & human rights activist, with a professional background in immigration services and refugee resettlement. She recently graduated from the Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego with an MA in Peace & Justice. While working toward her degree, she focused on immigrant and refugee rights, gender equity, and social innovation. She attended the 63rd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and took a course in Rwanda called Social Innovation in a Post-Conflict Setting. This course ignited her passion for finding new and creative ways to influence social impact and address the world's most pressing issues, and she is especially passionate about furthering international development initiatives through cross-sector peacebuilding efforts.



2018 Fellows

Taiwo Aremu is a physician and researcher from Nigeria. With six years of experience in the nonprofit sector, he is a Co-founder of the Global Young Must Grow Health Initiative, a non-governmental organization that caters for the holistic wellbeing of the young and old under-served populations. He is a Master of Public Health candidate of the Administration and Policy track in the University Of Minnesota (class of 2019). He has served and currently serves in several capacities in the University of Minnesota, some of which include, as a Community Health Initiative Consultant; Commission Chair & Project Coordinator of the All Campus Elections Commission; Graduate Research Assistant; and International Students’ Representative on the 2019-2020 Student Health Plans Selection Committee. He also bore a state-wide portfolio as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Minnesota Department of Health. He anticipates a world where peace, unity, equity, and justice prevail.


Seah recently graduated from UW Madison with a Bachelor’s degree in History, History of Science in Biology with honors while also completing a certificate in Global Health. This upcoming Fall, Seah will begin her Masters of Public Health Administration and Policy at the University of Minnesota. She is incredibly excited to see how this opportunity will help her better understand the impact and workings that running successful international NGOs can have on not only reducing disparities faced by communities in an international setting, but by also bringing back their stories of strength, innovation, compassion, and resilience. For Seah, being a MINN fellow means exposure to practical work within the field of nonprofit management and international development, while also allowing her to build relationships with amazing and passionate individuals.

Sarah Haas is the Development Associate at OneVillage Partners, a Minneapolis based organization catalyzing community-led transformation in Sierra Leone, West Africa. She specializes in gender equity and public health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sarah graduated from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University with a degree in Political Science with a focus in International Relations, along with Art and Design. Sarah finds value in communication and marketing in order to best share stories and impact with others through design.

Fatoumata Jaiteh, a native Minnesotan with roots in The Gambia has been involved and engaged in the healthcare field. She is in her final year of studying Biology of Global Health at the University of St. Thomas and is the founder of the nonprofit organization From Mother To You, which helps provide necessary supplies to mothers and newborns in The Gambia, West Africa.

Mat has been involved with international development sector for more than 20 years. In those years, he has held a number of management roles but the common thread is change management. Mat's international journey has been about starting, restructuring, or closing out projects or programs. He's particularly enjoyed working in leadership roles as country director for humanitarian organizations in the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia. Asia region is his primary geographic focus and his ethnic background. Mat's past employers have varied from USAID, as program lead with the Quakers, and to management adviser for Habitat for Humanity International. International perspectives and being in an entrepreneurial environment is what he craves and he has been fortunate to have landed a role with Hmong farmers in Minnesota under Hmong American Farmers Association. With Hmong farmers he assists in keeping a steady hand on a start-up organization as their Operations Director. Mat is also a board volunteer with the Southeast Asia Online Advocacy Network. Mat's passion is in creation of interactive services, design thinking, and programs to empower communities and individuals to chart their own path.

Seyni Mbaye is a Master of Development Practice candidate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He is the co-founder of the Senegalese School of Success, an NGO aiding Senegalese high school graduates that desire to pursue a post-secondary education find good quality institutions within their financial means. In addition, Seyni has worked in Mzuzu, Malawi where he served as a Business Management and Entrepreneurship Officer tasked with training youth in the city in entrepreneurship and assisting them in creating their own business ventures. He also worked, in collaboration with the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technologies (CAWST) and the Canadian Association for Participatory Development (CAPD), in Colombia to study the acceptability of the BioSand filter, a point-of-use water filtration system, from the users’ perspective. This study would inform the Colombian government whether to invest in the BioSand filter as a viable means to provide potable water to its rural population

Hayley Niad
Hayley Niad is an Education Advisor and Project Manager for Cambridge Education, a global education consultancy firm, where she leads the management and delivery of US government-funded mother tongue literacy activities in Mozambique and Senegal. She has co-written a series of early grade reading materials in Mozambique for Grades 1-3 in the study of the Xichangana and Xirhonga languages, along with the design and delivery of teacher training programs. She is also a PhD student in the Comparative and International Development Education program at the University of Minnesota, where she will focus on special and inclusive literacy education in developing nations.  

Arundhathi Pattathil Sasikumar
Attaining a degree in Biotechnology amplified Arundhathi's belief in utilizing innovation and technology as a major tool to alleviate social problems. Owing to the same, she recently co-founded a social start-up in India that ensures equitable outcomes for women in terms of reproductive health using technology. Enabling women with visual impairment gain access to pregnancy kit is her team’s flagship project. Her passion to mobilize people to create an impact, influenced her choice to pursue master’s in Public Health from the University of Minnesota. She believes that in a world where discussing about menstruation is still considered to be a taboo, we rarely solve the deep-rooted challenges of reproductive health. Being a young social entrepreneur, Arundhathi's dream is to shape the future of reproductive healthcare services through digitization and empower women globally.

Ana Vergara 
Ana Vergara is a Master of Human Rights candidate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. Most recently, Ana worked at the Amnesty International headquarters in Washington, DC as a refugee campaigner. Her campaign work specifically focused on asylum seekers at the southern border and family separation. Ana created story toolkits meant to empower immigrant and refugee voices. Her work was used as outreach material for Hollywood screenwriters such as those of Jane the Virgin and Queer Eye. Ana was previously an educator in South Korea and has also worked locally with refugee ESL adults. One of Ana’s passion projects is being a refugee special correspondent for a podcast meant to empower young professional women.



2017 Fellows

Diana Chaman is a Master of Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and a B.Sc. in Political Science. She has 5 years of experience in the non-profit sector. Most recently, she served as a project manager for the Rural Agroindustry Network of Peru where her job focused on sustainable rural development in Andean communities through capacity building. She co authored the Peruvian National Strategy for Family Farming and Food Security. Currently, she is a board member of Meals on Wheels. Diana is a De Sardon Glass and World Bank 2015 - Ideas for action Awardee.








Elizabeth Hang is a strategic policy and public affairs advisor with extensive government experience.

Most recently, Ms. Hang served in the Obama Administration as Congressional Liaison Officer at USAID, managing Congressional oversight and advocating for the Global Development Lab. Prior to USAID, Ms. Hang worked as Human Resources Project Manager at Volunteers of America and served as Legislative Counsel to Congressman David Cicilline.

A Minnesota native and a first-generation American, Ms. Hang holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in Commerce, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship from Brown University.








Binta Kanteh is a Policy Research and Outreach Intern for the Office of Representative Ilhan Omar at the State Office Building.  Binta is also an Education Policy Fellow for The Center of Policy Design and in addition, serves as the communication coordinator for the Saint Paul youth leadership and employment program called Right Track. Binta graduated from DePaul University in 2017 with a B.A in International Studies concentrating on Immigration and Refugee Studies along with a minor in International Politics. Her family is originally from Gambia and she resides in East Saint Paul. Binta hopes to help illuminate the voices and narratives of individuals and communities of the African diaspora in Minnesota by cultivating empowerment through legislative advocacy and providing open channels of access and communication between historically marginalized communities and relevant stakeholders.








Mohamed Malim is currently a senior at the University of St. Thomas, studying Marketing. He is the founder of Dream Refugee, helping refugees connect to their broader communities through the power of storytelling. Before coming to the U.S. Mohamed was a former refugee from Kenya, feeling the civil war in Somalia. He has been invited to numerous summit workshops, including the United Nation youth summit. He has been awarded numerous scholarships, including Promise Prize Award for his Innovation initiative. He is also running track at St. Thomas, 2x track, and Field Conference Champion. Overall, he is a big advocate for refugees.








Hailing from Kathmandu, Nepal, documentary film writer and educator Ishwari Rajak speaks on cultural history, customs and taboos involved with a woman’s  coming of age – specifically a woman’s menstruation cycle and its manifold relationship with advertising and products, health, male and female perspectives, economic/life opportunities, and inhuman practices. She sees positive masculinity as a key toward not just preventing gender based violence, but promoting positive changes at both the policy level and in everyday life.

Her courage, grit, and determination drive her to educate women and men, as well as inspire immigrant communities by finding their voices.








Richa T. Sharma is a Master of Human Rights candidate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the College of Liberal Arts, UMN. This past summer she interned with UNHCR's Division of International Protection at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to graduate school, she worked at Ameriprise Financial and UN Association of Minnesota after graduating from Carleton College with a degree in Political Science/International Relations. Her interest in refugee issues stems from her lifelong experience as a Bhutanese refugee.








Elaine Tymchak founded Cultivate International in 2016 in order to address a growing problem: leaders of communities that struggle with poverty and injustices are often not spearheading change due to a growing dependency on charity from the hands of outsiders. A Brazilian native with a MA in International Development, she’s worked for over 14 years in nonprofit management and community development while serving communities worldwide, and building relationships with global community leaders. An avid lover of people, knowledge, and the world’s diversity of culture, she is using her talents, experiences, and networks to build a global movement through Cultivate.








Jake Wild Crea

Jake Wild Crea is a Social Entrepreneur from St. Paul Minnesota. He believes that successful and sustainable development must come from within the community. Since he graduated from DePaul University with a degree in Peace, Justice and Conflict Resolution he has worked alongside neighbors (locals and immigrants) in Córdoba Argentina. Recently his work through Loyola Marymount University has focused on connecting US university students to marginalized communities in Córdoba for an education focused on the whole person. Relationships are at the core of his work and he wants to take the skills, lessons, and values from his friends in Argentina back home to work being done in Minnesota.


2016 Fellows

Fartun Abdi

Fartun Abdi is Board of Immigration Appeals Legal Representative (BIA) working within the refugee resettlement office at Lutheran Social Service of MN. Fartun graduated from the University of Minnesota with Global Studies major in 2012. Fartun is originally from Somalia. Her passion and interest to work with refugees and immigrants derives from her own experiences resettling to MN as a refugee in 2003. Her goal is to assist immigrants or refugees to successfully navigate the web of unfamiliar and complicated systems with current focus on the refugee resettlement system.  Her work will eventually allow a generation of families to reunite with their loved ones abroad in refugee camps and other places.  Fartun has also assisted refugee families navigate the education and welfare system.


Olivia Boerschinger

My name is Olivia Boerschinger and I am the current Housing Case Manager with the International Institute of Minnesota, and have only been with the Institute since this past spring. Currently I work to find safe and affordable housing for incoming refugees, while educating landlords of the housing needs of the refugee community. I am a 2014 graduate of Augsburg College with a dual degree in Metro/Urban Studies and Sociology. I was first introduced to the work of international development and refugee resettlement during a semester long HECUA program during which I was an intern with Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services. Since then I have always found myself in positions related to housing, and now recently returned to refugee resettlement.

Hanadi Chehabeddine

Hanadi is a Muslim Relations Communication Expert living in Eden Prairie with her husband and three kids. An award-winning public speaker and published writer, she received the Eden Prairie Human Rights Award of 2016 for her efforts to dismantle misconceptions about Islam and build bridges of unity.

She has been featured in the Star Tribune for her community building projects and had been published in the Huffington Post, American Diversity Report, MinnPost, Engage Minnesota and recently The Guthrie Theater and the Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis. She was a speaker at the national Diplomacy Summit, August 2016 in Minneapolis, and was recently invited to be a U.S. State Department International Speaker.

Hanadi is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Leadership at St Thomas University, eager to make a difference in the ethics of development and understanding the Middle East region.

Before coming to the U.S., she was an award-winning creative and communication specialist working across different media platforms. She has been on numerous award show jury panels in the Middle East and covered the 2004 Cannes Advertising Festival in 2004.

Falastin Hassan

My name is Falastin Hassan. I live in Minneapolis MN, I am a former refugee from Somalia. I moved to Minneapolis MN the year 2005. I was resettle by Lutheran social service of Minnesota. Before coming to America I lived in few different refugee camps in Kenya. Living in a refugee comp was not the best life one could imagine for themselves but we survived and made it to the land where dreams come true. Currently I work for the same agency that resettled me 11 years ago Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. My current position is Senior Refugee Specialist, where I work as reception and placement caseworker.

Vandalark R. Patricks

Vandalark R. Patricks is a Liberian Human Rights Defender and Social Entrepreneur, born and raised in Liberia. He holds a Master's Degree in Public Administration from the Cuttington University (Class of 2012).  He is the Founder and National Director of Campaigners for Change (CFC), a national NGO in Liberia. As a human Rights Defender and Social Entrepreneur, Mr. Patricks' work involves sensitizing Liberians on their roles and responsibilities through civic engagements in communities, secondary schools and universities, provision of scholarships to students who lack the support to continue their education, mentoring and leading hundreds of young people in entrepreneurship and advocacy programs. In 2015, Mr. Patricks nominated one of his mentees for the International Children's Peace Prize for his advocacy on behalf of Liberian children.

His nominee was declared winner of the Prize on November 9, 2015 in the Hague, The Netherlands. Mr. Patricks work in human rights defense and protection has earned him a lot of respect, nationally and internationally despite the lack of support his organization continues to face, financial and logistics wise!

Mr. Patricks is an international Youth Foundation Fellow and has been working to promote youth development and empowerment in his home country, Liberia.