2018 Human Rights Center Fellows

We are pleased to announce the 2018 Human Rights Center Fellows. The cohort is primarily law students, and also includes one student from the Master of Human Rights program. This year, four of our sixteen fellows will stay in Minnesota, working with high-impact organizations to defend rights of refugees and immigrants, promote gender justice, and improve access to affordable housing. Nine fellows will be based elsewhere in the U.S. working on issues ranging from Constitutional rights to ending gun violence. The remaining three fellows will work for human rights organizations abroad: one in the United Nations system in Costa Rica, one in Geneva, and one in The Netherlands.

Stay tuned to our Facebook page for regular updates from our fellows.

Hana Alicic, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowHana Alicic (1L)
Center for Constitutional Rights – New York City

Prior to attending law school, Hana worked as a community organizer with the Tenants Union of Washington and with people experiencing homelessness in Seattle at the Tent City Collective. She focused on reducing barriers to housing access and countering displacement. As an undergraduate studying Public Health at the University of Washington, Hana learned about the importance of partnering with communities and gained an interdisciplinary framework for understanding health inequities that she later expanded to her organizing.

Hana will be with the Center for Constitutional Rights this summer. She is looking forward to learning about movement lawyering from the attorneys at CCR, and hopes to work on domestic human rights issues after Law School.

Bonny Birkeland, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowBonny Birkeland (1L)
Hawaii Institute for Human Rights – Geneva, Switzerland

Bonny grew up in the suburbs of Chicago before moving to Bozeman, Montana for college. At Montana State University, she pursued a BA in English Writing. During her junior year at MSU, Bonny studied abroad in Istanbul, Turkey; she enjoyed living in Istanbul so much that she returned after she graduated to teach English for a year. After Turkey, Bonny taught English in Vietnam for six months and then decided she wanted to pursue a law degree to work in international human rights.

This summer, Bonny will be in Geneva, Switzerland as a research fellow with the Hawaii Institute for Human Rights. As part of her research and advocacy, Bonny will attend UN conferences to promote and raise awareness of issues regarding cultural and indigenous rights.

Michelle Cardona Vinasco, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowMichelle Cardona Vinasco (1L)
United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, Regional Legal Unit – San Jose, Costa Rica

Michelle grew up in Cali, Colombia and has always been interested in human rights, with a particular interest in situations of civil conflict and internal / external displacement. Before coming to the University of Minnesota, Michelle earned an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service where she studied International Politics and minored in Justice and Peace Studies. Throughout her undergraduate work, Michelle focused on mass violence, peace and reconciliation programs, and the laws of war. Michelle is a rising 2L planning to concentrate in Human Rights and International Law. Since beginning law school Michelle has engaged with the Human Rights Center and the International Law faculty through both events and courses.

As a Human Rights Fellow, Michelle will intern with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in their Regional Legal Unit for the Americas in Costa Rica. She will serve in the Refugee Status Determination Unit. Michelle is excited to work with a large humanitarian organization, to learn about humanitarian protection and to work on issues relating to Colombia and Latin America.

Natacha Garcia, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowNatacha Garcia (2L)
The Advocates for Human Rights, Refugee & Immigrant Rights – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Natacha Garcia is a lawyer from Venezuela. In 2017, she graduated from the LL.M program and transferred as a 2L to the JD program at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is particularly attracted to the immigration law practice; she finds it to be a fascinating field that allows her to help communities in need. Her experience in Venezuela was mainly in the law-firm environment. When she started her studies as an LL.M, she served as a Spanish translator volunteer for the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic.

Natacha was selected to participate in the Cooper Fellowship in Immigration and Human Rights at the Advocates for Human Rights this summer 2018. She will be part of the Refugee and Immigrant Program, focused on providing help and legal services to low-income people seeking asylum in the United States. Part of her duties will include: intake, legal and human rights research, preparation of cases for volunteer attorneys, and preparation of asylum applications and affidavits. Natacha is very grateful for the support of the Human Rights Center and all other people that have made this opportunity possible. Her country has been a strong motivation to apply for this fellowship; there have been immeasurable human rights violations and the crisis and hunger is pushing people to leave the country looking for refuge. She is confident this experience will provide her with the necessary tools and knowledge to be of great help in the future.

Ben Gronowski, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowBen Gronowski (Master of Human Rights Program)
Institute on Statelessness & Inclusion – The Netherlands

A native of Oregon, Ben graduated from Willamette University with a dual degree in International Relations and Spanish and a minor in Latin American studies. Prior to pursuing a Master of Human Rights (MHR) degree from the University of Minnesota, Ben worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic, where he developed programs to advance the right to education and the right to a nationality for those of Haitian descent rendered stateless by the Dominican government. He also worked as an Investigator with the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure that workers’ basic rights were respected, where many of his cases focused on migrant and undocumented workers. As an MHR student, Ben has been able to combine those interests and experiences by pursuing a concentration in migration, forced migration, and socioeconomic rights and a minor in Program Evaluation.

This summer, Ben is excited to have the opportunity to intern with the Institute on Statelessness & Inclusion (ISI) based out of the Netherlands. As part of his work, he will conduct an evaluation of the Institute’s advocacy efforts to date by reviewing submissions to human rights monitoring bodies, working with staff and civil society partners, and developing recommendations to strengthen ISI’s capacity to create change in the future. He will also work in-country to develop and participate in meetings with civil society organizations and prepare submissions for the Universal Periodic Review process, as well as participate in an intensive course on statelessness in the Netherlands. Ben looks forward to supporting ISI’s research and advocacy work, providing a platform for those experiencing statelessness to voice their stories, and better understanding the intersection of statelessness and other human rights violations.

Taylor Gunderson, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowTaylor Gunderson (1L)
St. Paul Department of Human Rights – St. Paul, Minnesota

Taylor hails from the great mitten state of Michigan. As an undergraduate, she attended the University of Michigan majoring in International Studies and Political Science with a focus on “International Norms and Security.” As an undergraduate Taylor was part of a campus social justice organization. Prior to attending law school, Taylor worked at the Fair Housing Center of Southeast and Mid-Michigan where she had the chance to see how prominent issues of discrimination still are in areas such as housing. Now, Taylor is an executive board member of the Human Rights Advocacy Project, a new student group at the law school.

This summer Taylor will be working at the Saint Paul Department of Human Rights. There she will have the opportunity to work on a housing initiative for the mayor. The right to housing is an often overlooked human right, so she is excited to have the chance to bring this topic to the forefront. Additionally, Taylor will be addressing claims of employment discrimination in the city. This work is about making human rights protections directly accessible at the local level.

Meghan Knapp, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowMeghan Knapp (1L)
Amnesty International – Washington D.C.

Before entering law school, Meghan studied Early Modern Polish History.  She attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison for her undergraduate education, graduate school at Indiana University – Bloomington, and she was a research fellow at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland.  While in Kraków, Meghan served as an intern for the US State Department, analyzing Polish social media, newspapers, and radio on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This experience combined with being a witness to the wave of Syrian refugees then entering into Central and Eastern Europe caused her to evaluate her career objectives, leading her to law school and international human rights advocacy.

This summer Meghan will be working as a research intern at Amnesty International for their End Gun Violence campaign.  The End Gun Violence campaign addresses the gun violence epidemic in America by analyzing gun violence’s impingement on the right to live free of violence and fear.  The campaign will be releasing their report shortly. She will be researching gun violence and its impingement on the right to life as well as working on campaign materials, presentations, and writing cases briefs and policy documents.

Rachael Melby, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowRachael Melby (1L)
Texas Defender Service – Houston, Texas

Rachael Melby grew up in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and graduated with honors from Bethany Lutheran College where she warned a BA in Psychology with minors in Legal Studies, Communication, and Sociology. During her undergraduate years, Rachael interned with the Mankato Public Defender’s Office and the Otter Tail County Attorney’s Office. She also volunteered as a sexual assault advocate at the Committee Against Domestic Abuse and Someplace Safe. After graduating Rachael interned as an investigator in the Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C. The summer prior to law school, Rachael worked as a legal intern for the Innocence Project of Minnesota, investigating cases of individuals who maintained their innocence after conviction.

This summer Rachael will work for the Texas Defender Service in Houston to further its objectives of providing quality representation to those facing capital punishment, especially in post-conviction proceedings. Rachael will assist in all aspects of TDS work including consulting with defense teams on trial strategies, drafting legal briefs, conducting mitigation investigation, preparing to present or challenge forensic evidence and expert witnesses, and attending trials and oral arguments.

Grace O’Meara, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowGrace O’Meara (1L)
National Women’s Law Center – Washington D.C.

Inspired by civic-minded parents and mentors, Grace came to University of Minnesota Law School with the intention of impacting policy as well as individuals lives. She is driven by a passion for justice with a particular interest in gender and racial equity.

This summer, Grace will be working at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. in the Income Security group. She is excited to join the NWLC’s work in researching, strategizing, and commenting on how public policy that affects lower and middle-income women and their families can be improved.

Alanna Pawlowski, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowAlanna Pawlowski (2L)
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – Washington D.C.

Alanna is a dual J.D. and Master of Public Policy student. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, but attended college in Pennsylvania, majoring in political science, journalism, and philosophy. Before returning to school, Alanna worked on child welfare system reform at the American Bar Association. Her decision to go to law school was spurred by her concern with the causes and effects of growing income and wealth inequality across geographic and generational lines, leading to a focus now on civil rights and fair and affordable housing. In Alanna’s 1L summer, she clerked at a legal aid office, working with families at risk of homelessness, and at a criminal defense non-profit. Last summer, Alanna worked in legislative drafting for the U.S. Senate, which improved her understanding of legislative process, policy issues, and analytical legal thinking.  She have served for the last year as editor-in-chief of Law & Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice.  In her free time, she enjoy photography, cooking, playing soccer, and pretending she knows how to woodwork.

This summer, Alanna will be at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in Washington, D.C., working as a legal intern with attorneys in its Fair Housing & Community Development Project. The Project uses a variety of strategies to fight against discrimination in housing and to ensure equitable, inclusive community development. On the litigation side, the Project leads cases or writes amicus briefs aimed at enforcing the Fair Housing Act. The Project also advocates for federal policy initiatives in collaboration with fair housing organizations and others. Its community-based work involves supporting community organizing and advocacy campaigns that help secure economic and housing opportunities for low-income and minority residents. She am thrilled to have the opportunity to gain experience with and contribute to the Lawyers’ Committee this summer.

Michelle Rodenburg, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowMichelle Rodenburg (1L)
Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking – Fort Myers, Florida

In 2016, Michelle began her international human rights journey with Whole World Women Association in Cape Town, South Africa, an organization which focused on providing legal and survival services for refugee women. In 2018, Michelle had the opportunity to work at Feminist Dalit Organization in Kathmandu, Nepal, concentrating on the Dalit human rights.

As a 2018 Human Rights Fellow, Michelle will be working with the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking (FCAHT) in Fort Myers, Florida. This organization assists victims of human trafficking and raises awareness of human trafficking issues to Florida lawmakers, police, and community leaders. FCAHT has assisted in the coordination of human trafficking task forces throughout the United States and abroad, and has facilitated in the creation of new human trafficking laws. Her work with this organization will be focused upon creating new policy for victims in accordance with the recently passed Florida Statute 787.06, which was designed as a response to the growing prevalence of human trafficking in Florida

Katie Scott, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowKatie Scott (1L)
The Advocates for Human Rights, Refugee & Immigrant Rights – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Katie is interested in reducing power inequalities as a means to achieving greater access to civil and human rights. A lifelong Iowan, Katie graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Psychology & International Studies. During her time there, Katie conducted cross-cultural social psychology experiments. She also spent a summer as an intern for the Convener of the Welfare Reform Committee in the Scottish Parliament, conducting a comparative analysis of global welfare sanction regimes to recommend policy changes to reduce the burden on Scotland’s working women. Katie spent her time between college and law school as a Youth Advocate at Iowa Homeless Youth Centers, working with Emergency Bed clients and daytime drop-in center clients. She volunteered for the Bernie Sanders campaign in the Iowa Caucuses. Katie spends her summer free time on her bicycle and her winter free time on her couch, knitting needles in hand.

Katie will intern with The Advocates - Refugee & Immigrant Rights this summer. She will assist with intake, legal and human rights research, preparation of cases for volunteer attorneys, preparation of asylum applications and affidavits, and assistance with other related immigration applications.

Caroline Sell, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowCaroline Sell (1L)
American Red Cross – Washington D.C.

Caroline earned a BS in public health and French studies from American University in 2016. She calls Iowa home but has spent the past six years living in Paris, Washington, DC, London, Lyon, and Minneapolis. Most recently, Caroline spent a year teaching English in France before starting law school. At the law school she has been involved with the Asylum Law Project as a Vice President and regularly volunteers at legal clinics in Minneapolis and St. Paul through MJF. As a joint degree student with the School of Public Health, Caroline hopes to do future work in global health law and policy.

This summer Caroline is excited to be interning for the International Humanitarian Law team at the American Red Cross in Washington, DC. She will spend her summer researching, creating content, and providing instructional services for various Red Cross IHL programs, which all give her the opportunity to witness the active role of an NGO in international law. Caroline’s interests include travel (she has been to 23 countries on 5 continents), music, and theatre.

Nora Steinhagen, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowNora Steinhagen (2L)
Elder Law and Disability Rights Center – Santa Ana, California

A native Minnesotan, Nora is currently pursuing a J.D. at the University of Minnesota Law School. She majored in International Relations at USC with a minor in Linguistics. She has worked for the Los Angeles District Attorney, as well as a Minneapolis firm specializing in Elder Law, which solidified her interest in protecting the rights of the elderly and disabled.

This summer, she will work with the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center in Santa Ana, California. She will help low-income senior and disabled clients by performing legal services such as drafting wills, ensuring reasonable accommodations, and applying for VA benefits to help them live with dignity and independently make end of life plans.

Ben Stowers, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowBen Stowers (1L)
City of Detroit Legal Department – Detroit, Michigan

Ben is a first-year student at the University of Minnesota Law School. His undergraduate studies and the work experience that followed were consciously chosen, diverse experiences in all corners of the public sector. These experiences continuously developed his ability to work with an array of individuals, on issues such as employment in the Latino community, understanding race relations in America, and recycling policy reform. Due to my array of interests, Ben studied in Hong Kong during Occupy Central, worked in a public school in Medellín, Colombia during peace negotiations with the FARC (in which he saw the first fiscal year that more public funds were spent on education than arms), and will study international and comparative law in Lyon, France, at a critical period in their domestic policy.

Project Clean Slate in Detroit, Michigan will allow Ben to bring his experiences with different groups and issues within the public sector to the government sphere. It is an area that will allow him a significant amount of client contact when determining eligibility for expungement of criminal records. Further, it will allow him to take part in the revitalization of the city of Detroit. Born and raised between Detroit and Flint, Ben is passionate about the money, water, and educational issues that have plagued these cities. As revitalization takes place, the city’s most vulnerable are struggling not to be left behind. Project Clean Slate aims to help the citizens of Detroit be a part of their city’s rebirth, rather than watch it be rebuilt by a new set of Detroiters. This experience promises to get Ben involved in other areas as well, that he has been promised will better his understanding of the overall functioning of the government of Detroit.

Molly Whitley, 2018 Human Rights Center FellowMolly Whitley (2L)
Gender Justice – St. Paul, Minnesota

Molly is a graduate of Purdue University, where she majored in women’s studies and law & society and minored in political science. An Indiana native, she has interest and experience in working for women’s rights, reproductive justice, and LGBTQ rights, both domestically and internationally. Since starting law school, Molly has spent a summer interning for the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights, researched UN internal policies for the UN Gender Network, and served on the executive board for the Law School’s If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice Chapter.

This summer, Molly looks forward to working with Gender Justice to advance women’s human rights through litigation.

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