Meet Cohort 20!

They rep NYC, NYC public schools, and CUNY hard! They include activists, educators, researchers, poets and foodies. Learn about the accomplished folks starting their PhD journeys together in 2020.

Orubba Almansouri Words, written and spoken helped ease my culture shock transition from life in Yemen, to High School in New York. My passion for writing, dedication, and advocacy for education fuel my academic journey. As a PhD candidate, my endeavors as a scholar and educator are to push forward the importance of multicultural and translingual education in transforming academia into an environment where immigrant students are able to connect into the world that revolves around them. I am eager to conduct research on multicultural and translingual education and to develop educational programs that provide immigrant students—especially women immigrants—with the means to achieve their potential. 

Matt Anderson has 18 years of professional experience in the New York City Department of Education as an English teacher, teacher leader, new teacher mentor, and district leader. He received his bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Hartford, CT in English and Political Science. He has also earned a Masters in English Education from New York University, and a Masters in Educational Leadership from the College of St. Rose. Matt is currently the Director of Continuous Improvement for Brooklyn North High Schools where he uses his deep understanding of teacher, student, and administrative support to anchor his work of transforming schools.

Lucien Baskin I am a proud alum of the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and have been affiliated with the Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers University and the Centre for Urban Youth Research at Carleton University. I am a co-chair of the students committee of the American Studies Association and an active member of the Critical Prison Studies Caucus. My research explores Black, queer, feminist, abolitionist, and decolonial student movements against austerity and neoliberalism. I am particularly interested in liberation/freedom schooling, abolitionist university studies, the history of CUNY, HBCUs, and the relationships between universities and cities. I’ve never taught in a traditional classroom setting, and am excited to be part of a program with so many experienced teachers, parents, and people with other relationships to schooling and education. I organize with Free CUNY and the Brooklyn College Student Union, as well as abolitionist campaigns and organizations across the city. In my free time, I enjoy reading (Jesmyn Ward is my favorite author!), cooking, watching trashy gay television, and walking around Brooklyn (and sometimes even Queens) in search of delicious food to eat. I am from Western Massachusetts and now live in Brooklyn. 

Gisely Colón López adjuncted for the City University of New York (CUNY) teaching courses in bilingual education and Latino/a Studies in the Bronx and Brooklyn. She holds a Master of Arts from UConn-Storrs in International Studies and previously graduated from Brooklyn College-CUNY.  Her research interests include the development of U.S. based ethnic studies and investigating the process of institutionalization on the victories of this mostly student-led social movement. Colón López has worked as an educator for systems of public education throughout the Northeast. She also works with various community-based organizations focused on youth development and empowerment. During her transition between undergraduate and graduate school Colón López joined the board of the Alliance for Puerto Rican Education and Empowerment (APREE), and more recently co-produced a short educational film with the non-profit about the student-led movement at Brooklyn College- CUNY that pioneered the field of U.S. based Puerto Rican Studies. 

Mieasia Edwards is a Harlem, NY native committed to creating sustainable, systemic and equitable change through action, planning and policy. She began her journey to advance educational equity as a New York City public school teacher. Thereafter, she became the founding principal of an elementary school in Queens, NY where her students excelled. She later engaged in school-turnaround as a principal in her hometown. She presently serves more than 8,000 students and families in Community School District 5 as a principal coach. Mieasia is eager to continue her journey to advance educational equity by collaborating with a diverse group of scholars committed to transformation and justice as a member of the 2020 Urban Education cohort at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Adelia S. Gibson is a Brooklyn Native who attended Public Schools in Brooklyn from pre K -12th grade. Currently she serves as an Education Administrator for the NYCDOE on the Academic Response Team in the Bronx Borough Central Office. She has been in education and children services for 11 years with a range of experience from foster care to Adult Continuing Education courses. Adelia has earned her B.A in English from SUNY Albany, MS. Ed in Urban education from LIU Brooklyn, and a Masters in Educational Leadership from CCNY. She is currently completing her School District Leader License at Hunter and plans to become a principal in the near future. When she is not studying or working, she likes to sew and has started a small clothing company.

Shobita Mampilly is a scientist and poet, with over twenty years of teaching experience in urban communities from Brooklyn to Bangalore, India. As a founding member of the non-profit By All Means Leadership Alliance
(BAMLA), she is currently developing the Chem4All Initiative in New York City, working to provide access to young adults interested in health-science careers. Through The Anonymous Indian Trust, she collaborates with local scientists and activists in India to publish and deliver the Trashonomics curriculum, encouraging government-run schools in rural and urban India to teach solid and liquid waste segregation at source. A graduate of Columbia University (MA), The New School (MFA) and Indiana University (BS), Shobita presents her unique approach to science education globally, through her workshop entitled “Teaching Social Justice through Science Curricula,” presented last year at the NAIS People of Color Conference. Shobita continues to evolve in her role as Science Department Chair as she mentors new teachers and develops socially relevant courses by radicalizing science education to empower the most disenfranchised communities on our planet.

Alprentice McCutchen holds a B.A in History and African-American Studies from Wesleyan University, a Masters in Teaching of Social Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University and an M.A in Islamic Studies from Middlesex University. Alprentice has spent a good portion of his 23-year professional career developing curricula and providing workshops that integrate Hip Hop, Socratic inquiry, debate, travel/study trips to Egypt, Senegal, the Gambia, Spain and Morocco, student action, performance based assessments, project based learning as well as critical writing as part of his work to help develop students who will contribute to the thinking world. Alprentice is currently a history teacher in New York at New Rochelle High School, an assistant Imam of Masjid Sabur Inc. in the Bronx, NY as well as a Phd student at the CUNY Graduate Center in the Urban Education program. Most importantly, Al is a husband and father of three children. You can follow Al on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

Sunisa Nuonsy considers herself part of the 1.5 generation of immigrants who were resettled in the U.S. following the Vietnam War.  Born in a refugee camp in Thailand to Lao parents, she and her family were resettled in upstate New York just after she turned one.  Having graduated from New York State public schools, she also lived, attended university, and worked in northern California (ask her about obituaries!) before returning to the east coast and transitioning to a career as a public school teacher.  Sunisa currently teaches 11th and 12th grade English Language Arts at The International High School at Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, a place she considers home as she enters her ninth year at the school.  Her interest in language, particularly Translanguaging and home languages, has led her to the Graduate Center at CUNY, where she hopes to contribute years of progressive, critical, and transformative educational experiences to the cohort.  When not being hyper-local to her Crown Heights neighborhood, she enjoys traveling near and far, eating almost anything, and relaxing with Cannabis.

Jenna (or Jennifer) Queenan is a white, queer educator and organizer who spends a lot of time thinking about solidarity and community. She began working at Sunset Park High School in Brooklyn as an ENL teacher in 2013, where she has co-taught in all subject areas. She was also the ENL Department Chair and spent time after school facilitating the school’s Dream Team, a club for undocumented students and their allies. She advocates for immigrant rights in NYC schools with the Teach Dream team at the New York State Youth Leadership Council, the first undocumented, youth led organization in New York. Her research interests focus on abolition and the work that teachers and educational institutions should be doing to create spaces where undocumented students and their families can thrive. This year, she will be working with the CUNY Initiative on Immigration & Education (CUNY-IIE) and the PIECE (Putting Immigration and Education in Conversation Everyday) study, which looks at how school-based educators in varying contexts of reception are responding to recent immigration policies and discourse. To decompress, Jenna enjoys reading, running (sometimes), and building community with friends in Brooklyn.

Michelle Rendón Ochoa is an educator-scholar, passionate about co-creating healing, critically conscious spaces with young people through praxis, literacy, counternarratives and art. She grew up residing between Medellín, Colombia and Long Island, New York, two homeplaces that have shaped her social and academic life experiences. Her teaching career began as a K-12 English teacher in Medellín, where she also obtained her master’s degree in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. She believes in research as justice work, with interests in youth participatory action research (YPAR), critical hip-hop pedagogy, ethnic studies, bilingual education and translanguaging. These interests are grounded in her experiences as a bilingual, multicultural daughter of resilient immigrants and first college graduate in her family. Currently, Michelle is teaching Spanish as a World Language and as a Home Language to bilingual high school students at her alma mater, where she works closely with the Latinx community. In addition, she coaches and mentors female student-athletes in the Varsity Lacrosse team. In her free time she enjoys staying active through exercise, dancing (especially salsa), experiencing new places, and exploring her creativity.

Rachel Watts is a multidisciplinary arts educator who was born in Ghana and grew up on the island of Trinidad where she developed her passion for dance, theater, music, art, carnival, and cultures of the world. Ms. Watts currently works ArtsConnection Inc., one of the original Arts in Education organizations in New York City. She has also worked as Director of Education at Ballet Hispanico and Director of The MYC Youth Center in San Rafael California, where she created a state of the art facility focused on developing teen leadership skills through the arts and technology.  Her introduction to non-profit Arts Education was in the education department at The Studio Museum in Harlem, just after she graduated from Williams College.  She later received her Master’s Degree at New York University in Latin American and Caribbean Studies with a concentration in Museum Studies. She also studied Visual Art at the Edna Manley College of the Arts in Jamaica, and Modern and West African dance with Noble Douglas in Trinidad, at Emerson College, and under the mentorship of Sandra Burton at Williams College. She is excited to deepen her learning through the PhD program in Urban Education at CUNY.

Crystal Welch-Scott I am a Clinical Social Worker, employed as an Adolescent Clinician. My primary client population are youth between the ages of 14-26, the primary focus has been on stabilizing their behaviors so that they are better able to function in the community and avoid any further justice involvement. Professionally, I have worked with children/adolescents for over 15 years in varying capacities, from Clinician to Administrator and I continue to be passionate about serving this population, especially as new evidence based models continue to evolve and provides substantial benefit for the client population. I obtained my BA from Hunter College in Sociology and my MSW also from Hunter College with a focus on youth and adolescents as well as family systems. I look forward to embarking on this next journey!

Anthony Wheeler (he/him) joins The Graduate Center’s Urban Education Ph.D. Program as a Graduate Center Fellow under the Provost Enhancement Grant after having been a member of the Graduate Center community for two years. He recently completed his M.A. in Digital Humanities where he specialized in digital pedagogy and educational technologies as a means of implementing social justice initiatives within the classroom. He works for the CUNY Academic Commons Team as a Community Facilitator and is a member of the English Department at the New York City College of Technology and of Communication Studies at LaGuardia Community College. Anthony’s other research interests include data privacy and surveillance of students, intersectionality, and game studies.

Natalie Willens

I’m From

I’m from NYC, born and raised. 

A child of divorced musicians. 

But really I’m from a cascade of tough womyn.                       

Guided, healed, and nourished by 

a single mom, 

who worked late nights

but still had energy to draw cacti 

on our brown paper lunch bags,

and whisper songs into our ribs when we were sick.

I’m from scooping sandy silver coins 

out of my backpack for the M23 bus.

Eggs and bacon for dinner when my mother worked past 8.

I’m from finding comfort in the scratch of a record player 

and the smoke of my grandmother’s singing voice.

From hours on the subway, 

just to catch a glimpse of the sea.

I’ve learned from a cascade of tough womyn

Guided, healed, and nourished

by hooks, by Crook,

by Anzaldúa and


by Irigaray,

and King

to name a few.

Meet Cohort 19!

They rep NYC and NYC public schools hard! They include activists, educators, researchers, dog-lovers and word nerds. Learn about the accomplished folks starting their PhD journeys together in 2019.

Jayson Castillo is a proud New York native of Salvadoran and Dominican descent. Driven by his experiences growing up in immigrant households, Jayson is passionate about the issues impacting the lives of young people from linguistically diverse communities and backgrounds. When not studying, Jayson can be found playing music, reading on the train, and running throughout different parts of New York City.

Christopher Colon was born and raised in Bushwick, Brooklyn and received a B.A. in sociology from The City College of New York. He has worked as a tenant organizer combating gentrification in neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and continues to explore mediums like photography and film to bring awareness to issues affecting communities living on the margins.

Meagan Hammerbacher was born and raised in New York City, East Harlem, and now lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She has attended all NY public schools (#PublicSchoolProud), and was a sculpture major during Undergrad. She got her Master’s in Special Education, and has been teaching for the last 7 years! She teaches 8th grade, all subjects, in Washington Heights. She is a proud momma to two lovely little kids!



Lizzie Murchison is the Senior Research Associate for ExpandED Schools, a nonprofit that provides support services to afterschool providers throughout NYC. There, she manages a portfolio of evaluation projects related to elementary literacy, middle school STEM, and pre-service teacher training. Prior to joining ExpandED, she worked as a program evaluator for the Children’s Aid Society and as a communications manager for Global Kids. In addition to holding a Master’s degree in Public Administration from New York University and a bachelor’s degree from Boston University, Lizzie brings over ten years experience in the nonprofit sector and seven years experience working specifically with afterschool programs. She recently moved to Hastings-on-Hudson where she enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband Matt and daughter Ruby.

Brett Gardiner Murphy is a 9th grade global history teacher at Vanguard High School, one of 38 consortium schools in New York City. Brett is the editor of the book Inside Our Schools: Teachers on the Failure and Future of Education Reform, published by Harvard Education Press. She’s currently developing a curriculum about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and African Diaspora in Latin America, supported by a Fund For Teachers travel grant and a fellowship with New York University’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. When not writing lessons about social constructions of identity in history, you can find her walking her pit bull in Prospect Park.

Lucy Robins is in her ninth year teaching chemistry at a public 6-12 school in Queens, New York.  She also facilitates professional development for other teachers at her school and at Math for America, serves as an instructional coach for Breakthrough New York, and organizes with the Justice for All Coalition.  She is a native New Yorker.


Elena Romero is Assistant Professor in the Marketing & Advertising Communications department at The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT-SUNY). She teaches a myriad of undergraduate media courses including Intro to Journalism and Advertising and Promotion. Prior to joining FIT full-time, Ms. Romero served as Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Marketing & Advertising Communications department at FIT for 17 years. Concurrently, she worked as Academic Advisor, Communications Coordinator and Adjunct Assistant Professor at The City College of New York (CUNY) Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education. For the past six years, Ms. Romero served as a member of the Community Education Council District 15 and most recently served as its Co-Vice President. Four out of those six years, she was a Brooklyn Borough President Appointee. Academia is her second career. Ms. Romero is an award-winning journalist for the past 25 years and has published in both consumer and trade publications including Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), Sportswear Internal and the New York Post. Her beats include fashion, TV and film, hip-hop, and Latinx culture. She is the author of Free Stylin’: How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry (Praeger, 2012). Her fashion expertise can been seen on documentaries Fresh Dressed (2015) and The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion (2019), which made its debut at the recent Tribeca Film Festival. Ms. Romero currently freelances for and LATINAS, a half-hour monthly magazine TV show debuting September 10 on CUNY-TV. She is also a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ). Ms. Romero is a 2017-2018 recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Adjunct Teaching. She is also the recipient of the 2011 Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies at The City College of New York’s Faculty Leadership Award for her instructional work in service learning. Her academic interests include Diversity, Inclusion & Equity as well as Leadership and Policy. Ms. Romero earned her B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications and an M.S. in Publishing from New York University. She is of Puerto Rican ancestry and resides in Brooklyn with her three daughters.

Fatima Sherif is a first-year Doctoral Student in the Urban Education- Policy and Leadership track at the CUNY Graduate Center. Prior to attending the Graduate Center Fatima received her Masters degree from Teachers College, Columbia University.  Her professional experiences working with preschools and higher education institutions have reinforced the notion of an opportunity gap which has contributed to her sense of urgency to be a catalyst of change. More specifically, she is interested in educational inequities, accountability standards, and how economic decisions impact outcomes.

Kushya Sugarman is a middle school math teacher at a public school in Westchester. Prior to her current role, she taught fourth grade and tutored in NYC. A product of NYC public schools, she has a BA from City College, an MA from Hunter College and looks forward to completing her set with a PhD from the Graduate Center. She lives in the Bronx with her partner and hilarious two year old daughter. She dreams of owning a dog one day.

Mariatere Tapias was exposed to an alarmingly wide range of policies and practices as a student in the NYC public school system. Drawn to Wesleyan University’s commitment to the arts, social justice and diversity, she spent her undergraduate years working to understand the colonial experience in the Americas and teaching in summer enrichment programs. Shortly after graduating, she began teaching at a dual language public school in Brooklyn, where she experienced progressive education in action. She joined Bank Street College to gain a deeper understanding of this educational philosophy. In 2003, Mariatere joined Manhattan Country School as a language, culture and textiles teacher, examining issues of wellness, equity, agency, and justice. She is committed to organic farming practices, textile arts, yoga, and educations that move us towards a more sustainable, just and loving society.

Jessica Velez  is a dual language teacher who grew up in Bushwick. She has been a teacher both abroad and in the US, and is a strong advocate of student-centered curriculum and the use of multiple languages in students’ academic and social lives. Her undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Brooklyn College gave her the background she needed to be a teacher. She received her MA in English Education from Teachers College, where it became clearer to her that public education in NYC is deeply segregated. She has worked in East New York and Cypress Hills since then, where she was able to further understand the systematic issues in education. This is also where she got to work with parents, students, and community leaders to rise together as a community, which has been life-changing and where she hopes to continue to contribute as she works on her doctorate. If she is not tweaking curriculum and reading, she is probably hiking at least 3hrs away in an effort to leave the city.

Consummate word nerd and passionate language arts educator, Lydia Villaronga has spent the last four years working in a variety of out-of-school contexts teaching critical reading, critical writing, grammar, and fiction writing. Their commitment to public education is embodied most deeply by their dedication to the CUNY system. Before arriving at The Graduate Center, Lydia received a B.A. from John Jay College where they majored in Culture and Deviance Studies and an M.A. in Youth Studies from the School of Professional Studies. When Lydia is not in the classroom, you’re most likely to find them with their dog in Fort Tryon Park and their head in the clouds. 


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