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Special Fellowship Report

May 2006

• Celebrating the WREI Fellows
• Class of 2004
• Class of 2006
• Classes of 2003, 2002, and 2001
• Class of 2005
• Classes of the 1990's

Celebrating the WREI Fellows
On Tuesday evening, June 13th, WREI will celebrate the accomplishments of the 2006 Congressional Fellows on Women & Public Policy. Since January, when they completed a rigorous orientation and accepted Capitol Hill placements, these seven scholars have been mastering the ways and means of public policymaking. As you will read below, they have already made important contributions to their House, Senate, and committee offices.

We expect a crowd of friends, family, former Fellows, and women’s advocates to join Reps. Betty McCollum, Carolyn Maloney, Robert C. Scott, and Adam Schiff at this annual salute. It will be held in room in room B-340 of the Rayburn House Office Building from 6:00 until 8:00 p.m.

For more information about this event, please call WREI’s offices at 703-812-7990.


Class of 2006
Attorney JACQUELINE AYERS accepted an offer from Rep. Robert Scott of Virginia to cover issues arising in the House Judiciary and House Education and the Workforce Committees. Jacqueline has already staffed caucus and committee meetings, prepared speeches and remarks, met with constituents, and visited the district office in Richmond. Her primary focus: reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act; extension of the H2-B visa guest worker program under immigration reform; and disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina victims, particularly with regard to rebuilding schools and the entire K – 12 public education system.

BERRE BURCH is applying her unique skills as an art therapist to mental health policy in the office of Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. Previously, Berre worked as a child and adolescent forensic interviewer at Safe Shores: The DC Children's Advocacy Center, where she conducted interviews with child and adolescent victims of violent crimes in Washington, DC. She recently authored an amendment to the Higher Education Act that was accepted by the Rules Committee and passed the House by a landslide. This legislation would grant federal loan forgiveness for mental health professionals who provide counseling and psychological services to children and adolescents—a career field now experiencing tremendous shortages.

As the fellowship orientation ended in January, JILL FELDSTEIN officially completed dual master’s degrees in public affairs and urban and regional planning from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. She then accepted a legislative position with Senator Patty Murray of Washington, covering education policy. Through Senator Murray’s committee assignments, Jill has had the opportunity to work on expanding access to higher education through the budget, appropriations, and authorizations processes. This included drafting an amendment to increase the maximum Pell grant and preparing questions for DoE Secretary Spellings on the administration’s education priorities.

Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland invited oncology nurse LESLIE GREENBERG to serve as her health policy fellow on the Subcommittee on Retirement Security and Aging of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. There, Leslie is focusing on reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, Health and Human Services Appropriations, and other health-related legislation. The National Philanthropic Trust recently recognized Leslie’s previous research work with cancer patients at Sibley Hospital by awarding her a scholarship to the 2006 Oncology Nursing Society’s annual Congress in Boston.

Returned Peace Corps volunteer HEIDI HOLLONBECK has harnessed her experiences building a maternity clinic and training/teaching about HIV/AIDS in Cote d’Ivoire. Heidi accepted a placement with Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, where she covers the Global Health Caucus and focuses on problems/policies affecting women and children around the world. Heidi is current working to gain House support for H.R. 4188, a bill to improve voluntary family planning programs in developing countries. She is also organizing briefings on global health issues, including avian flu, tuberculosis and malaria.

After joining the staff of Rep. Adam Schiff of California, SAVANNAH LENGSFELDER took responsibility for human rights, democracy-promotion, international development and security, Latin America, Africa, trade, Latinos, women’s rights, and the environment. As the Congressman’s delegate to the House Democracy Assistance Commission, Savannah parepared for a visit from the Speaker of the Indonesian Parliament. She also helped launch the Congressional Press Freedom Caucus, a new bipartisan, bicameral group that will highlight and condemn media censorship and the persecution of journalists. When she's not working, Savannah teaches a 6 a.m. spin class as a fitness instructor at the Gold's Gym on Capitol Hill.

Attorney ANTHEA WATSON has been working for passage of bills that her boss, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, introduced during the 109th Congress. These include the Access to Legal Pharmaceuticals Act (written by 2005 Fellow Karen Persis), requiring pharmacies to have on staff a pharmacist who would fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, and the Plan B for Plan B Act, which mandates that the Food & Drug Administration rule on Barr Laboratories' application for over-the-counter status for emergency contraception. Anthea also staffed Rep. Maloney in her Manhattan district when she was interviewed on the “Today” show and attended a luncheon at Cosmopolitan magazine to celebrate the introduction of the Congresswoman's Tanning Accountability and Notification Act—legislation that Anthea authored.


Class of 2005
JAIME HAWK is now a public defender in Moses Lake, WA. She was offered a contract by the state’s Office of Public Defense to set up and run a Juvenile Court Pilot Project for 18 months. She notes that: “A high percentage of my clients are Hispanic, so I really hope to improve my limited Spanish this year. The kids we represent in court every day face so many challenges and have very limited resources. Most of them live in other rural parts of Grant County and it can be very difficult for them to make it to court.

Living on Moses Lake in the small town of Ephrata, WA (population 6,825), Jaime’s drive to work is 22 miles along a rural highway and through some great plains. “I’m close to the Washington State Potato Commission” she reports, “Grant County is the world's largest potato producing county! My love for spuds seems to follow me wherever I go... ”

RENEE NEELY WALTERS is now a clinical psychologist at Paul Public Charter School (grades 6-9) in Washington, DC. She provides psychosocial counseling and interventions and consults with parents/guardians to individualize their child’s education plan. Renee tells us that she “… has been able to integrate the knowledge and skills I acquired working on the Education and Workforce Committee for Rep. Bobby Scott into my everyday practice. For example, my work with IDEA laws helps me ensure that students—particularly those with special needs--are not denied their right to a free public education.”

In February, Renee and four teachers escorted 80 students on a tour of Capitol Hill. Many of them were inner city kids who had never dreamed of seeing the House or Senate. The highlight of the day was “eating in the Longworth Cafeteria, meeting with Rep. Scott’s staff, and having their pictures taken while sitting at his desk.”

Renee has started a teen girl's mentoring program called SASSIE (Sisters Achieving Self-Understanding, Success, Individuality, and Excellence) and was recently inducted into "Who's Who's Among Executive and Professional Women.”

KAREN PERSIS emails that she is “pretty much settled at the law firm in Orlando now. I really enjoy the other attorneys in my office. There's only about 20 of us, but we are part of a much larger firm with seven offices and about 200 attorneys. So we enjoy some big firm benefits (like the salary!) with more of a small firm atmosphere (like not having to wear suits). I have already gone to court and successfully argued several hearings, plus we take on a lot of pro bono cases. In my free time, I have been working on a team appealing a death penalty.”

BRENDA RITSON (Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton) graduated from Yale Med School in May and celebrated an offer from her first choice of internships. For the next three years, she’ll be training at the Children's Hospital of New York at Columbia-Presbyterian to become a pediatrician.

Attorney PATTY SKUSTER translated her extensive experience in international women’s health and her work on reproductive rights for Senator Barbara Boxer to a position with Ipas in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For 30 years, Ipas’s global and country programs have included training, research, advocacy, information dissemination, and distribution of equipment and supplies for reproductive healthcare.

Patty is now engaged. she describes her fiancé as “part-politico, part-academic and part-lawyer. He does death penalty work (representing clients) and teaches a course on the same at U of North Carolina Law School. He’s been fairly involved in local politics and beyond. Matt’s sort of like a male version of me, but working on culture war issues from a different angle and as a lawyer. And he’s kind and wonderful and perfect. I think we’ll have a small wedding – that’s our goal anyway – here in North Carolina.”


Class of 2004
TORI BRESCOLL (Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton) reports that she has successfully defended her dissertation and “… FINALLY have my Ph.D in psychology from Yale. My 23-year school career is over!” Dr. Brescoll found time while organizing her defense to join her 2004 classmates ERICA SWANSON and JOCELYN YEE at the January wedding of CHRISTI CORBETT at Devil’s Thumb Ranch outside Boulder, Colorado.

Awhile back, Women E-News reported about Tori’s research on the way the press covers gender-based learning for an article in Psychological Science. “Two Yale University researchers--Victoria Brescoll and Marianne LaFrance--analyzed articles on sex differences that appeared in 29 large-circulation U. S. newspapers published between January 1994 and February 2001…[T]hey found that the political leanings of newspaper publishers and managers color reporting on sex differences. While conservative newspapers tend to use biology to explain those differences, more liberal newspapers explaining them in terms of socio-cultural effects.”


Classes of 2003, 2002, and 2001

JOLEIN ANDERSON (Rep. Betty McCollum) will marry Jeremy High on June 3rd in Blackfoot, Idaho. She took time off from wedding plans and her job with the Idaho Cleanup Project at the Idaho National Laboratory to buy a new home, move, unpack, and paint the entire inside of the house.

From DANA McGRATH (Senator Ted Kennedy), who left her legislative affairs position at NARAL Pro-Choice America in Washington, DC last October for the wilds of Austin, Texas: “I want to share the good news that my job search is finally over. I’m now an editor for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services in their policy operations and rule-writing division. It will be quite different from my more advocacy-oriented roles of the past, but I'm excited and also happy to finally be able to shift the focus of my free time to house hunting and wedding planning--our next big projects here. With my Pittsburgh Steelers' recent win in the Super Bowl, 2006 is off to a great start!”


DARLENE ISKRA passed her specialty exams (Military and the intersection of Gender, Work and Family) and is now in the dissertation stage of a Ph.D. in sociology at the U of Maryland. In the last year, she’s toured India—saw a mother and four cubs at the Royal Tiger Game Preserve—and ridden two long distance bike events: the “Tour De Canal,” a two-day trip down the 184-mile C & O Canal Towpath in Maryland, where she raised over $1700 for the Alzheimer’s Association; and the “Seagull Century,” a 100-mile ride around Maryland’s Eastern Shore, from Salisbury to Assateague.

In 2004, RACHEL KRAUS received her Ph.D. in sociology from Perdue. She recognized both WREI and Rep. Adam Schiff in the acknowledgments section of her dissertation on the religious and political motivations of religious lobbies. Rachel then began a tenure-track position in the Department of Sociology at Ball State University in Muncie Indiana, teaching research methods and social problems. “I am also planning on expanding my research to incorporate more of a gender component and study women and belly-dancing,” she writes. “I am really excited about this new adventure!”

JULIE OKONIEWSKI will be leaving her position as legislative director for Rep. Nydia Velasquez (her original Fellowship placement) in August. Since Julie has provided an office tour and briefing for incoming WREI Fellows for the past four years, her loss will be doubly felt!

She is moving back to Poughkeepsie, NY, to run the third session of her highly successful Summer Youth Advocacy Program -- Voices of Tomorrow Empowered (VOTE). VOTE is a two-week training project for low income young people between the ages of 13 and 18 which increases understanding of the political process, teaches the tools of grassroots, social and political advocacy through the arts, and fosters an early interest in and commitment to civic participation. While working for the Oakwood Friends School where VOTE is held, part of Julie’s job will be to grow her own independent non-profit: “I hope to hold a parent workshop in the fall, repeat the DC reunion I just organized that was a huge hit, and expand the program to three summer sessions next summer.” Read all about it at www.advocacyretreat.org.


Recent Rutgers Law School graduate DEBORAH ALEXANDER has hung out her shingle in Berkeley Heights, NJ, where she intends to practice “Law in Service of the Family.” A combination of assignments has inspired Deb’s specialty: “I clerked with a ‘mensch’ disguised as a family law judge all last year, spent my third year in a child advocacy clinic, did a short stint at a worker’s compensation law firm, and disability and elder law were my other focus at school.” Deb is too modest to mention the environmental expertise she developed as a WREI Fellow with Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr.

“Will admit to having some trepidation about potentially waning abilities and memory,” Deb says, “But last week I volunteered at the local ACLU chapter’s legal clinic at Somerset Courthouse and it was invigorating! And WOW it turns out I know something about the law – was actually able to HELP some folks!!!

After nearly five years handling appropriations and other issues for Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (her original Fellowship placement), PATRICIA ROJAS moved across the Hill to work for Senator Joe Lieberman on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Harnessing her budget experience, Patricia helped produce a successful amendment to the 2007 Senate Budget Resolution that added $986 million to strengthen first responder programs as well as port, rail and transit security. She has also focused on the failed response to Hurricane Katrina. In December, she traveled to New Orleans with the Senator to staff a field hearing and tour that devastated city. Her work on a variety of border security matters includes the hotly-debated immigration bill—an issue always close to her heart. Patricia was recently quoted in “Climbing the Hill,” an article from LATINA STYLE Magazine: “I’ve always been a person who sees myself as part of a larger puzzle, and that has driven me to help those in my community most in need.”

Patricia is planning a summer vacation in Germany, host of this year’s World Cup. While soccer matches dictate her agenda, the itinerary also includes an escape to southern Spain for a few days on the Coast.

Via telephone, Rabbi Pinchas Klein of Mt. Freedom, NJ, reported that his daughter AVIVA KLEIN was moving into a new home in Pittsburgh, PA, where her physician husband will be doing his residency. Aviva, a Fellow for Rep. Adam Schiff, is the proud mother of one year-old Noah.


CLASS OF 1995-1996

ERIKA WILSON YOUNG’s Fellowship with Senator Carol Mosley-Braun still keeps her open and connected to the political process as she has traveled and grown professionally. In 1996, as soon as she received her MSW from The Washington University in St. Louis, Erika hit the campaign trail for Senator Carl Levin, serving as events manager at his campaign headquarters in Detroit.

Returning to Washington, DC after the elections, she worked as a policy officer on housing and community development at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). From 1999-2002, Erika served in DC Mayor Anthony Williams’s administration, heading up the Community Reinvestment/Community-Based Lending Division of the DC Department of Banking and Financial Institutions. She then moved to Southern California to become the first-ever public relations manager for BSH Home Appliances Corporation. The third largest home appliance manufacturer in the world, BSH operates in 42 countries under several high-end brand names. Erika recently relocated to Atlanta as marketing manager for BSH’s Southeast Region--a nine-state territory.

Erika reports: “I would love to get in touch with my former classmates. I still have our photo with Sandra Day O'Conner. With the world where it is today, such experiences keep us close in spirit.”

CLASS OF 1994-95

DENISE FORTE, who has spent more than a decade with Rep. Bobby Scott (her original placement) and the House Education and the Workforce Committee, is quite appropriately marrying a teacher! She will wed Kyo Freeman, a geography/history instructor at Episcopal High School in Jacksonville Florida. Kyo is a graduate of Oberlin and recently finished his master’s in educational leadership. The wedding will be in Jacksonville, the honeymoon in Portugal, and the Freemans will reside in DC.

The bride-to-be reports that, “Since I do education policy, he and his ilk tend to blame me for the disconnect between ed policy and what happens in the classroom. Hopefully, now that I will have a teacher at home, that will change…”

CLASS OF 1989-90

Shari Miles, former WREI Fellow, former Fellowship director, former WREI executive director, and current executive director of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, will marry Earl B. Cohen, Jr. on May 27th.


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