Meet this year’s terrific new Union Semester interns!
Priscilla Acuña Mena
Priscilla Acuña Mena is a December 2016 graduate eager to begin her post-college life with Union Semester in the hope that it will help her lay a foundation of activist engagement for years to come. She studied Human Biology, which she describes as a health-centric social studies degree, and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (minor) at Stanford University. Her family, though originally from Costa Rica, moved to California when she was an infant and later to Jakarta, Indonesia, where she spent middle and high school. She is grateful for the transnational perspective on social justice that these life experiences have given her. While most of her previous work experience is in providing direct services in Latinx communities, she greatly appreciates her previous exposure to organizing through her involvement with Resource Generation and showing up for campus activism, and is eager to continue learning.
Fiona Asante was born in Accra, Ghana in West Africa and spent the first 17 years of her life in her land of birth. She migrated to the United States in 2008 and promptly began her journey to excellence in the American educational system. She lived in Buffalo, NY for 4 years, where she completed her high school education and started her college career at Erie Community College. However, due to a workplace injury that rendered her immobile, she was forced to withdraw from her classes and concentrate on her recovery. After 2 surgeries and intense physical therapy, she was able to gain adequate functionality and promptly moved back home to Bronx, NY. She enrolled in Bronx Community College for her Associate of Science degree in Paralegal Studies and graduated with Honors. Her experience and exposure to the legal system during her workplace injury buttressed her interest in the legal field and fueled her passion to bring change as well as contribute to the legal system. She is currently enrolled at John Jay College of Criminal Justice pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Society. She is the Community Associate Member of the John Jay Mock Trial Club, where she ensures that the club activities run smoothly. Her other interests include fitness, fashion and family. When she is not busy pursuing her goals, you will find Fiona at home binge watching shows on Netflix or sleeping. Fiona aspires to be a member of the American Bar Association and strongly believes that if she wants to see change, she has to be the change.
Mike Bradley was born and raised in NYC. He has been working for 11 years as a doorman and is a member of SEIU Local 32BJ. He is also working on his Masters in Labor Studies at The Murphy Institute. His motivation for joining the Union Semester Program is to get hands on experience working at a union and gain some knowledge that will allow him to take the next steps toward the career he wants to pursue once he completes his degree.
Jason is 25 years old and from the beach side town of Newcastle in Australia. He has lived in the capital, Canberra, for the past 5 years. He recently graduated with a bachelor degree in languages from the Australian National University, majoring in Indonesian and Spanish. In his spare time Jason enjoys hiking, skiing, travelling and studying languages. He decided to undertake the Union Semester Program to equip himself with the skills needed to work towards improving the lives of the most vulnerable workers in the community. He is really excited to develop these skills and to experience living in New York City!
Taylor is a junior Sociology & Gender, Sexuality, Feminist Studies major at Middlebury College. She spends most of her time on campus organizing with the Fossil Fuel Divestment/ Reinvestment campaign, hosting a weekly radio show, and learning about critical disability studies. She is new to the labor movement and is looking forward to leaning into nuances and contradictions throughout Union Semester.
Aminta Dawson is originally from Texas. She came to New York to study at Sarah Lawrence College, and graduated in 2015 with a concentration in Anthropology. While working at Trader Joe’s this past year; she got involved with the union organizing campaign at the 72nd store, eventually becoming one of the store organizers. This semester she hopes to better cultivate her skills as an organizer, as well as have a more comprehensive understanding about labor history and organizing as a whole.
Matan is a New York City native and recent graduate of Clark University. At Clark he majored in political science and minored in history. Since graduating he has worked at multiple organizations including the Correctional Association of New York, a prison reform organization. He is also a member of the New York City chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a Palestinian solidarity organization. He is excited to further build his understanding of organized labor through hands-on experience.
Maria DiPasquale graduated from Emerson College in May 2016 with a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She is from Maplewood, NJ, but now resides in Brooklyn, NY. While at Emerson, Maria was an active member of Emerson P.R.I.D.E, a local of United Students Against Sweatshops. She worked in solidarity with campus food service workers and clerical, technical, and professional workers as both groups organized and won successful union drives. She also worked on campaigns in solidarity with Bangladeshi garment workers and participated in the Boston Fight for $15 movement as a student ally. She finished her college career with a thesis entitled “Writing About Oppression and Social Movements from a Privileged Position: New Strategies for Fiction,” accompanied by “Here We Are: Stories of Women and Work in Boston,” a collection of short stories. Maria previously interned for Massachusetts Jobs with Justice! and ROC Boston, and hopes that her Union Semester internship will allow her to gain new skills and perspectives on the labor movement. She wants to spend her career working for collective liberation, and hopes Union Semester will help her find a place within the labor movement where she can be an asset!
Tali Ginsburg is from Chicago, and is currently on a year away from Brown University. Tali is especially interested in issues of identity and power, particularly as they relate to labor, the environment, and reproductive justice. They also love to write, sing, stitch, and drink tea. They are excited to learn new skills and modes of resistance through Union Semester, and to build new community in New York.
Originally from Buffalo, New York, Sara Hobler grew up as part of a labor union family and is excited to be entering the movement as an activist. She studies sociology and history at Binghamton University, where she is part of student leadership involved in social justice and organizing. This spring she hopes to develop her skills as an organizer and help make meaningful change in the lives of workers in New York City.
Brianna Holman is a recent graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick, where she obtained a bachelor of Science in Labor and Employment Relations. During her time at Rutgers, Brianna was involved Douglass Residential College, a program designed to support and empower women all while being involved in various student based organizations. Brianna would love to focus on community engagement, empowerment and education due to her experience in the New Brunswick and Plainfield communities in New Jersey and her time spent with a small community in the Dominican Republic. Through the union semester, Brianna would like to take the knowledge gained and educate urban communities in the importance of continued involvement in political and labor movements.
David Isserman was born and raised in rural upstate New York. He developed an interest in labor history and left-wing activism and joined the Young Democratic Socialists in 2011 at the age of 16. He attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where he studied history and classics. While in Canada he was involved with the NDP, working on a parliamentary election campaign in 2015, and wrote for a student socialist newspaper called University and Union. Upon returning to the U.S, he worked on the Kim Myers for Congress campaign in Utica, New York as a canvasser and office intern. By taking part in Union Semester, David hopes to gain experience as a labor organizer and work in the broader trade union movement.
Jazmine Javier- LaRosa
Jazmine Javier- LaRosa is a NYC native hoping to expand her knowledge about current labor relations and union strategies. She is an alum of Adelphi University, with a BA in Political Science. Jazmine is currently enrolled in the MA program for Labor Studies at the Murphy Institute. While she has experience as a research assistant, she is most proud of her labor advocacy and organizing work through the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign.
My name is Liana Kallman and I am currently working at a fried pickle restaurant and questioning what the future holds for all of us. I’m feeling ready to start organizing, learning and building power through the upcoming Union Semester. I most recently spent a year teaching English in a small town in Ecuador on a Fulbright scholarship. Before that, I studied at the University of Michigan where I spent time organizing student workers and building the labor movement on campus, focusing on leadership development for women activists.
Born and raised in Manhattan, New York. Mirella is familiar with The School of Professional Studies, taking classes there during her time at Guttman Community College while completing her Associates Degree in Urban Studies. Mirella’s interest in social justice, urban studies, and public policy has only furthered while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her specific interests within political science are environmental, food, and urban planning policy. The Union Semester Program is the perfect meeting of public policy, urban issues, and organizing. This intersection of studies are what drew Mirella to the program as well as her interest in the history and future of the labor movement.
Kayleigh grew up in New York, in the beautiful Hudson Valley where she developed a love for photography and exploring the outdoors. She is a recent graduate of SUNY New Paltz, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Her passion for social activism was sparked when she began working for the New York Public Interest Research Group as a community outreach canvasser, gaining grassroots support for statewide, renewable energy reform. She continued working with NYPIRG during her final semester of undergrad as an intern, taking on the role of project leader for the Hunger Prevention and Homelessness Awareness campaign. She believes that protecting workers’ rights is essential in the fight for social justice, especially due to the recent changes in the political climate of the United States. She is excited to continue her academic career and journey as an activist with the Union Semester and hopes to learn how to be a more effective organizer for the future.
Addie Mahdavi is 20 years old; she was raised in Newfane, Vermont. She is a junior American Studies major at Middlebury College in Vermont, where she also works as an assistant in the Student Financial Services Office and plays on the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team. She looks forward to learning more about unions and the labor movement through Union Semester, and hopes to bring together work around labor with work around identities and systems of oppression to support broader movements toward justice.
Leah McGrath Reynolds
Originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Leah has been living in Montréal for the past 8 years where she has been involved in collectively-run DIY music and art groups and spaces and earned her BA in Community, Public Affairs, and Policy Studies from Concordia University. She is interested in the intersection of labour, immigration, and migration, in particular guest and temporary work programs. She is excited to become acquainted with the American labor movement, broaden her awareness of labour issues, and to learn skills and tactics for organizing precarious work environments and arrangements. Ready for a change of scenery, she is very excited to spend some time in New York City.
Ezra is a first year Master’s candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick for an MA in Labor & Employment Relations. He received his BA from Rutgers double majoring in Criminal Justice and Labor Studies & Employment Relations. He is from Edison, New Jersey and currently resides in Washington Heights. Before and during Ezra’s college career, he organized around several important social justice issues such as police brutality, mass incarceration, racial injustice and worker’s rights among others. He decided to join New York Union Semester based on his upcoming receipt of a Joint Bachelor’s-Master’s Degree from Rutgers and future in the labor movement. Ezra’s ultimate goal in being part of Union Semester is to figure out his place in revitalizing and empowering the American labor movement while bringing union power to heights it hasn’t experienced since the 1950’s.
Jake Villarreal is a recent graduate from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He enjoys cooking, gardening, and documentaries. He is passionate about building collective power, safe communities, and democratic institutions. In Fall 2017, Jake will be attending law school at Washington University in St. Louis on a public interest scholarship.