New York Secretary of State Announces 2015-2017 Class of Empire State Fellows
New York State Welcomes New and Diverse Class Dedicated to Public Service
New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales today announced the 2015-2017 class of Empire State Fellows. The program, now in its fourth year, recruits mid-career professionals from the public and private sectors to serve as the new generation of New York State government leaders. The 10 new Empire State Fellows were chosen from a competitive pool of outstanding candidates for their professional experience, leadership potential, creativity and commitment to public service.
“The diverse backgrounds of these Empire State Fellows are an asset to the challenges faced by our State government,” said Secretary Perales, who oversees the program for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. “We welcome the new class and look forward to their service and contributions to the people of New York.”
Governor Cuomo appoints each Empire State Fellow to work closely with senior administration officials and participate in the policy-making process. During their Fellowship, the Fellows also engage in educational and professional development programs, including completion of a unique, interactive curriculum developed specifically for the program by the Rockefeller Institute at SUNY Albany in consultation with Cabinet-level officials.
The Empire State Fellows program continues its tradition of selecting outstanding leaders from diverse backgrounds to enter public service. Members of the new class bring expertise from various professional fields, including law enforcement, not-for-profit management, the armed forces, education, and the legal profession.
“We are proud to welcome this new group of leaders into the ranks of State government,” said Jorge I. Montalvo, Deputy Secretary of State for Economic Opportunity. “The Empire State Fellows program has proven to be a successful vehicle to recruit the best and brightest to serve at the highest levels of New York State government and we look forward to another stellar class.”
The 2015-2017 Class of Empire State Fellows
Amir Bassiri Amir Bassiri comes to the Empire State Fellows program after four years at Urban Upbound, a not-for-profit organization committed to breaking cycles of poverty in New York City. As Director of Development, Amir oversaw a variety of the organization’s financial, strategic and operational matters. During his time at Urban Upbound, Amir developed several public/private partnerships, including one that led to the creation of a worker-owned cooperative. Additionally, Amir led and managed the creation of a living financial model to assess program and contract profitability and to guide strategic decision making. A California native, Amir graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Economics and Psychology (Double Major), before earning a Master’s in Social Enterprise Administration (M.S.W) from Columbia University. Amir is also fluent in Farsi. Placement: Executive Chamber
Luana Y. Ferreira Luana Y. Ferreira joins the Empire State Fellows program with a background in education and professional development in diversity affairs. She began her career as a New York City Teaching Fellow, working with school districts as a teacher, staff developer and data specialist. An advocate for closing the achievement gap, Luana has also worked for Summer on the Hill, the I Have a Dream Foundation and Alianza Dominicana’s Summer Youth Employment programs, all not-for-profit entities that support student success. Luana was a research assistant for the Research Institute for the Study of Languages in Urban Settings (RISLUS) in New York, where she helped develop and administer diagnostic tools to assess English proficiency levels of immigrant Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE). Additionally, she served as a lead for strategic planning and implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives, presenting at the National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS) and the National Dominican Student Conference at Wharton. Luana received her B.A. from SUNY New Paltz, her M.S. Ed. from the City College of New York and a Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics from the CUNY Graduate Center. Recently, Luana taught at CUNY Lehman and Teachers College. She speaks Spanish, French and Portuguese and was born and raised in Washington Heights, New York. Placement: Department of State
Dora Fisher Dora Fisher brings a decade of experience in aging and public health to the Empire State Fellows program. She joins us following her role as the Director of Older Adult Programs for Oral Health America, overseeing the aging strategies for this national organization and conceptualizing community-based public health aging programs implemented across the country. Prior to that, she held a research position as a gerontologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writing and researching peer-reviewed publications on aging and disability health promotion. Before her role as a gerontological researcher, she oversaw health programming for older adults at a community health center in Chicago, worked in advocacy for senior centers in New York City, and was a policy analyst for the Office of the NYC Public Advocate. She has a Master of Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College. Dora originally hails from Connecticut and the Boston area, and she is excited to return closer to home after many years in Chicago. Placement: Office for the Aging
Daniel Friedman Daniel Friedman joins the Empire State Fellows program following a career in political consulting and communications around the country. Daniel was a campaign manager and communications director for candidates for public office and institutions in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southwest. As a campaign manager, Daniel helped candidates build winning organizations from the ground up, including fundraising, organizing and communications strategy. As an advisor to policymakers and political candidates, Daniel wrestled with politically sensitive policy matters in a variety of high-stakes settings, including health care, transportation and immigration law. Daniel earned his Bachelor's in Political Science at American University and his Master's in Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University where he studied management and public finance. Placement: Empire State Development
Aaron Gladd Aaron Gladd comes to the Empire State Fellows program as a former Active Duty United States Army Officer and combat Veteran whose service included Operation Enduring Freedom. Assigned to the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Aaron served as a Sapper Platoon Leader where he led 41 Soldiers in Counter Improvised Explosive Device Operations throughout Eastern Afghanistan. Aaron also served as his Battalion’s dismounted tactics Master Trainer, with training oversight of over 400 Soldiers. Before enlisting in the service, Aaron ran legislative and budget operations in the New York State Senate under the Deputy Leader and was a New York State Senate Graduate Fellow. Aaron also worked for U.S. Congressman Michael McNulty. A native of Saranac Lake, Aaron holds a B.A. in Public Law from the University at Albany, an M.P.A. in Local Government Management and Finance from the Nelson Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, and is a graduate of the United States Army Infantry School and the United States Army Engineer School. Placement: Department of State
Omar J. Herrera Omar J. Herrera comes to the Empire State Fellows program from his role as Trustee & Deputy Mayor of the Village of Ossining, NY, in Westchester County. As Trustee, he and his colleagues adopted a “Complete Streets Policy” which ensured that all future roadways are strategically designed to consider pedestrian safety, access and equitable mobility for all. Omar also voted on a successful resolution supporting Governor Cuomo’s “Raise the Age” initiative to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18; restored the previously censored video recording and airing of public comment section during board meetings making the actions of the Board more transparent; and, launched virtual and mobile office hours for community outreach. Prior to his work in public office, Omar was a legislative assistant at the Westchester County Board of Legislators, where he worked on constituent affairs, case management, legislative research and community outreach. In addition, he served as the Public Relations Director for the Greater Ossining Chamber of Commerce and was a small business owner of an event management firm. Omar received his Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Media from Pace University Dyson College of Arts & Sciences. Placement: Executive Chamber
Giancarlo Pellegrini Giancarlo Pellegrini comes to the Empire State Fellows program from Sidley Austin LLP, where he served as an Associate in the firm’s Litigation practice. During his five years in private practice, Giancarlo primarily represented financial institutions in federal investigations related to the trading of equities and fixed-income products. Giancarlo also has handled pro bono cases in an array of areas including tenants’ rights, voter fraud protection, immigration asylum claims, veterans’ benefits, and advocacy at the United Nations related to alleged war crimes. Giancarlo holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from Lehigh University where he graduated magna cum laude with departmental honors, and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. Giancarlo is admitted to practice law in New York, the District of Columbia, and the Supreme Court of the United States. Giancarlo is also a member of the American Bar Association and is proficient in Italian. Placement: Executive Chamber
Michael-Sean Spence Michael-Sean Spence joins the Empire State Fellows program after a career as an Assistant District Attorney for the Queens County District Attorney's Office in Queens, New York. As a criminal prosecutor, Michael-Sean led various inter-agency investigations into organized tax evasion, organized commercial theft, identity theft and related crimes. During Michael-Sean's tenure, the Crimes Against Revenue Unit collected more than $3 million in restitution for State and local governments, as well as seized evidence valued in excess of $4.5 million. Michael-Sean is a regular speaker to youth and community organizations to help the community better understand their rights and the criminal justice system. Michael-Sean received his Bachelor of Science in Marketing from the University of Maryland-College Park and his law degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. Placement: Division of Criminal Justice
Allison Weingarten Allison Weingarten served as program director of the Queens Community House (QCH). In the face of severe financial challenges to the organization and after school program, Allison skillfully kept the program open and led an effort to successfully restore government funding in 2015. Prior to working for QCH, Allison served as Legislative Director of the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety under its Chair Assembly Member Rory Lancman (now, a New York City Councilman). Allison earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations and a master’s degree in Social Work at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. Allison has spent the last ten years of her life in Ithaca and Queens, New York and she is excited to return to her hometown of Niskayuna, New York. Placement: Division of the Budget
Ron Zacchi Ron Zacchi joins the Empire State Fellows from a position as the Assistant Director of Communications and Development for the Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS). Before joining CUCS, he worked at the Center for Social Inclusion on initiatives designed to dismantle structural racism. Ron served as Executive Director for Marriage Equality New York (MENY) where he led a successful statewide grassroots campaign for equal marriage rights in New York State. Before moving into the not-for-profit sector, Ron worked for nearly a decade in the private sector as a marketing executive. Ron received his Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) from Baruch’s Executive Program in the School of Public Affairs and his Bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University School of Communications. Placement: Office for Temporary and Disability Assistance
The Empire State Fellows program is one of the three parts of Governor Cuomo’s New NY Leaders Initiative that prepares 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