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Meet the 2018-2020 Empire State Fellows Class

Griselle Baret

Griselle BaretGriselle holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications and an M.A. in Educational Leadership, specializing in Politics and Advocacy, both from New York University. More recently, Griselle completed the Center for Bronx Non-profits Executive Management Certificate Program. Griselle co-founded the Hunts Point Alliance for Children (HPAC) organization, in response to the poor educational outcomes of Hunts Point students. She has been the Deputy Director of HPAC since 2016, managing the daily operations of the organization, and also served as the organization’s Director of Evaluation and Program Development, and Program Director. As Program Director, Griselle developed and managed all HPAC youth development programs for children from birth to college, including the Hunts Point Children’s Shakespeare Ensemble, the Career and Education Mentoring Program in partnership with Fordham University, and HPAC's Education Counseling programs, among others.

Mikael Russell Cejtin

Mikael Russell CejtinMikael holds a B.S. in wildlife biology from the University of Vermont’s School of Environment and Natural Resources and a Master of Environmental Science from Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Previously, Mikael worked as a Conservation Program Associate at the Lake Placid Land Conservancy and as Adjunct Professor at Paul Smith’s College, where he taught environmental policy and natural resource economics courses. As a field biologist, Mikael has studied wildlife species including bobcats, mountain lions, and wolves. Mikael has published in academic as well as non-academic journals and strives to advance social and environmental well-being through creativity, service, collaboration, and leadership.

Victoria Clingan

Victoria ClinganVictoria holds a B.A. in Philosophy with a Minor in Women’s Studies from Siena College and an M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. For more than 10 years Victoria worked at the Brain Injury Association of New York State. She has held various positions within the organization, most recently serving as Director of Engagement and Advocacy. Victoria is a Certified Brain Injury Specialist Trainer, holds the NYS Public Librarian’s Professional Certification, and is also a Notary Public. Victoria also served as a member of the Shaker Heritage Society Board of Trustees, the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (ACPHS) Experiential Education Advisory Panel and the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Improving the Transition Experience (BRITE) Professional Stakeholder Committee.

Shevaun Culmer-Reid

Shevaun Culmer-ReidShevaun holds a B.A. in Spanish and International Studies from Spelman College and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Shevaun has worked as a Program Manager for Business Development and for Partner Engagement at the Center for Internet Security (CIS). Previously, she worked as Program Manager at the Secretariat of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE), at the Organization of American States (OAS) where she collaborated with US Government agencies and other international, regional and sub-regional organizations to develop and implement capacity building projects in aviation security and tourism security for 34 OAS Member States. Shevaun also interned for Partners of the Americas in the Citizens Working for Justice Program in La Paz, Bolivia and in their head office in Washington, DC where she supported USAID-funded projects.

Peter Kiernan

Peter KiernanPeter holds a B.A. in Political Science from Columbia University and an M.Phil. in Conflict Resolution from Trinity College Dublin. He worked as the Chief Operating Officer at With Honor, an organization that works to promote the election of veterans. Previously, Peter served as Legislative Assistant at the New York State Senate and interned at the Council for Foreign Relations of the Center for Geoeconomic Studies. Peter also served in the United States Marine Corps, as a MARSOC Raider, which involved leading over 40 complex special operations missions in Afghanistan as well as diplomatically engagine with village leaders. Peter was the youngest Marine to be selected to serve as a Raider in the Marine Special Operations Command. Peter is involved in veteran advocacy, is an avid traveler, and holds a Gold Parachutist Insignia, among other awards.

Christine Monte

Christine MonteChristine earned a BA from the University at Albany SUNY, an MPA from the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, and a JD from The Pennsylvania State University, The Dickinson School of Law. She has extensive experience with federal, state, and local government and the private sector and has previously worked with New York State and local government in the emergency management and job training fields. As an attorney in private practice, she worked on extensive litigation and advisory matters for a range of private and government clients. Christine served approximately 11 years as a Deputy Attorney General in the Advisory Division of the Office of the Indiana Attorney General, where she advised elected and appointed state officials on numerous matters, drafted Advisory Opinions on behalf of the Attorney General, served as an Administrative Law Judge, drafted and approved state contracts and rules, and advised various state boards and commissions at public meetings. She also worked extensively with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center, and Indiana State Police on critical infrastructure protection, intelligence matters, state and nationwide suspicious activity reporting, privacy laws and policies, and continuity of government and operations. She represented the Indiana Attorney General’s Office in various capacities on interagency workgroups and task forces, including the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana. She has presented at conferences for the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance and United States Department of Homeland Security, Office of Intelligence and Analysis on predictive policing, and critical operations and information collection and sharing considerations for fusion centers nationwide.

Priya Nair

Priya NairPriya holds a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies from Vassar College and is a native New Yorker. Immediately before ESF, Priya was the LGBTQ Liaison for the New York City Council Speaker. In this position, Priya also covered criminal justice and HIV/AIDS issues for the Speaker’s Office and was on the emergency services team. In 2018, Priya was a participant in the NYC Unity Project campaign, a citywide commitment to supporting and empowering LGBTQ young people. Prior, Priya worked at the American Civil Liberties Union supporting advocacy and litigation on issues of reproductive justice, women, LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS, and religious freedom and belief. Priya is an experienced organizer and policy-maker with a commitment to intersectional social change.


Jessica Scott

Jessica ScottJessica holds a Master's degree in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, as well as a B.S. in Animal Behavior from Bucknell University. Immediately prior to ESF, Jessica produced massive online open courses (MOOCs) on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the SDG Academy, the global online education arm of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. While at Yale, Jessica developed substantive expertise at the intersection of climate and security, writing climate policy for the Department of Defense and the UN Development Programme. She also worked as a research consultant at the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development & Social Policy, where she developed a proposal to align the field of early childhood development with the SDGs, using methodology developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Formerly, Jessica co-directed a US State Department fellowship on US foreign policy for international scholars and directed a national sustainability leadership program for college students, both at Bard College.

Padma Seemangal

Padma SeemangalPadma holds a B.A. in English Literary Studies & Government from St. Lawrence University and an M.S. in Urban Policy Analysis & Management from the Milano School for International Affairs at The New School. She has worked as a consultant for the Public Advocate for the City of New York, for a New York City Council Member, and for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additionally, Padma worked as Program & Communications Manager at the Women’s City Club of New York, where she served as the lead staff person for strategic planning and was responsible for developing and implementing the organization's rich diverse policy program initiatives. She also served as Acting Executive Director and Program Director at the Indo-Caribbean Alliance, Inc. where she designed youth development programs, which she expanded to include immigration services. Padma interned at the League of Women Voters of the City of New York where she assisted in capacity-building efforts.

Brenda (Brent) Whitfield

Brenda (Brent) WhitfieldBrent has over twenty-five years of experience as a social service worker working directly with families and vulnerable populations, as well as in public policy. Zie is committed to serving the needs of disadvantaged populations, including the foster care, homeless, and special-needs populations. Brent has worked as a Resident Manager at Hope for Youth, Inc., a residential group home for teenagers with behavioral and mental health issues. Zie has also worked as a case associate with the Jewish Board of Children & Family Services and as a therapeutic foster case worker with the Cardinal McCloskey Family & Children Services. Brent worked at the Children’s Law Center in the Bronx and for the past 10 years has volunteered in the hotline of the New York City Anti-Violence Project. Most recently zie has worked as a community coordinator and project advisor in Program Development and Policy at the NYC Department of Homeless Services. Brent holds a B.A. in Government from St. Lawrence University.

The Empire State Fellows Program is one of the three parts of Governor Cuomo’s New NY Leaders Initiative, which is designed to renew the connection between the public and private sectors and prepare a new generation of leaders to serve in state government. The Excelsior Service Fellowship Program brings highly-talented recent graduates to serve throughout the state government, and the New NY Leaders Internship Program offers hundreds of college students an opportunity to work in state government. Information regarding the Empire State Fellows Program is available at