Scholars Profiles

Meet the 2015–16 Imagining America Engagement Scholars


Mellissa Basset

Melissa A. Bassett-Graetz, A.A.S in Applied Vocal Music and B.M. in Percussion Music, is from Cicero, NY. Two of her previous positions were serving as the events and social media intern for Central New York Jazz and as an operations intern for Syracuse Symphoria. She aims to engage and promote arts and social justice within different communities around the U.S. She will be pursuing her Masters in Arts Leadership in the Janklow Arts Leadership program in the College of Arts and Sciences.



Nicholas Lehrman, B.S. in Information Management and Technology, is from Newark, DE. Recently, he coordinated and oversaw the installation of a networked computer cluster at the Somali Bantu Community Association of Syracuse. He is currently a part of a project team that is developing an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system designed for illiterate refugees, specifically the Karen refugees from Burma who have relocated to Syracuse. This system is a voice-based message board, facilitating locally-owned communication within the community. He is also involved in a research project examining the relationship between adaptation and technology, focusing on transitioning refugees and combat veterans.  He will be pursuing his Masters in Telecommunications and Network Management in the School of Information Studies.



Librandi Cowan

Joe Librandi-Cowan, B.S. in Art Photography, is from Auburn, NY. His artistic practice is heavily community-based, dealing with the deep and complex issues of the prison industrial complex, its role in society, and its impact on his hometown’s community. He is a native of Auburn, NY – a community sustained by a maximum- security prison that lies in the middle of the city. The goal of his artistic practice is to begin and sustain a socially aware dialogue in his community and others like it.




Alexandra Mantzoros, B. Arch in Architecture, is from Long Grove, IL. After interning at large corporate firms for the past few years, she realized come to realize that putting up luxury condos is not what she wants to do with her life. She previously worked on community building work through 601 Tully and participated in restorative justice work through the Center for Court Innovation. She hopes to help communities and people often overlooked by architectural development. She will be pursuing her Masters in Advertising in the Newhouse School of Public Communications.




Kimberly Powell, B.F.A in Art Video, is from North Lauderdale, FL. She is a developing artist with a vested interest in the inclusivity of art and video to structure research, a research whose methodology is grounded in first serving the community in which it aims to explore. During Fall 2014, she served as a core leader of The General Body movement, a student led activism initiative that purposed to highlight the current administration’s interest in creating a more corporatized university. For Kim, activism is not only a way of challenging normative mentalities, but also a way of connecting people, ideas, and cultures. In many ways, art has a similar mission. She will be pursuing her Masters in Women’s and Gender Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.




Ronald James-Terry Taylor, B.A. Political Science and Policy Studies, is from Hempstead, NY. Previous experiences working for The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, The Institute for Responsible Citizenship, and Inkululeko (South Africa), have allowed him to develop an ability to not only advocate for a cause, but also to present data and figures to work on fighting effectively for that cause. His primary research and academic interests focus on high school education and curriculum and black male achievement. He will be pursuing his Masters in Social Studies Education in the School of Education and in the Spring of 2016, Ronald will fulfill his student teaching requirement at the Harlem Children’s Zone.




Ivan Zhivkov, B.A. International Relations and History is from Bronx, NY, by way of Bulgaria. He cites his study abroad opportunities in Florence and Istanbul as a way to expand his horizons, narrow his focus of study, and create life-long friends. He is a member of the Alpha Phi Omega National Service fraternity, and a co-founder of the Russian and Slavic Cultural Society. He spent a semester during his senior year in Washington D.C., where he interned for Representative Daniel Maffei (NY-24). He will be pursuing his Masters in International Relations (MAIR) in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.




Ruitong (Flora) Zhou, B.A. in International Relations, Political Science, and Public Relations is from China. She aspires to combine her international public affairs knowledge and communications skills to become an international civil servant dealing with political affairs, external communications, and human rights issues by working for the United Nations. She has worked with the Hiscock Legal Aid Society in Syracuse, a nonprofit organization providing free legal assistance to low income communities. She will be pursuing her Masters in Public Administration (MPA) in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.


Meet the 2014–15 Imagining America Engagement Scholars

  • Camilla J. Bell, B.A. in English Education, will work as a Language Arts Consultant within the Office of Supportive Services and will also pursue an M.S. in the Sociology of Education.
  • Branden Birmingham, B.S. in Information Management and Technology, will work with LCM Syracuse, and is pursuing a M.S. in Information Management.
  • Philomena Duffy, B.M. in Music Education, will continue her education to achieve a M.A. in Arts Leadership while working at the Redhouse Arts Center.
  • Joanna Irvine, B.S. in Social Work, will intern at the VA Behavioral Health Outpatient Center and work at the Jowonio preschool with children with special needs.
  • Kyra Murphy, B.A. in international relations and political science, will continue to intern at the Turkish Cultural Center (TCC) of Syracuse.
  • Heidi Murray, B.A in Anthropology, will continue working for the local company Raven Wise Media and hopes to continue interning in the Physical Anthropology lab, as well as pursuing her graduate studies in the field of bioarchaeology at the Maxwell School for the following academic year.
  • Alexander Ranalli, B.S. in Inclusive Elementary and Special Education, and will be working with Huntington Learning Center, tutoring elementary students in reading, writing and mathematics.
  • Meghan Schneider, B.A. International Relations and Political Science, graduated with Renée Crown University Honors, and will intern with the International Victims Program at Vera House.
  • Victoria Seager, B.A. in Policy Studies, will continue working with the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service.

Meet the 2014–15 Entrepreneurship Engagement Scholars

  • William Ceskavich ’14, B.S. in information management and technology and political science, intern for Hack Upstate, IDEA Connector, and co-host of #IDEAchatCNY.
  • Thomas Charles ’14, B.S. in magazine, intern for Hack Upstate, IDEA Connector, and co-host of #IDEAchatCNY.
  • Kean Clifford ’11 SUNY-ESF, B.S. in aquatic and fisheries science, ’14 SUNY-ESF, M.S. Wildlife and fisheries biology and management, ’14 SU, master’s in public administration, founder of Prey, a company that create 3D lure designs and allows thought leaders in the world of fishing the opportunity to design and manufacture their own lures on an individual basis.
  • Scott Friedberg ’14, B.S. in finance, co-founder and CEO of Blu Arc Media, a company that puts digital displays in high volume retail locations that integrate social media and display advertisements.
  • Sharon Lee ’14, B.S. in information management and technology, founder of DISCOVERcUse, an online platform aimed at creating a space for ethnic youth to step outside their cultural boundaries and discover their passions and interests.
  • Rayshon Mason ’14, B.S. in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises and information management and technology, founder of Insight Travelers, a company that creates individual travel experiences for people in key locations around the world who want not just a spontaneous adventure, but a lifestyle.
  • Amanda Quick ’14, B.S. in broadcast and digital journalism, founder of The Next Zuck, an online platform that allows students to promote their startups through webisodes and video interviews, creates an engaging community of startup founders, and provides access and relevant information about early stage startups to investors.
  • Zachary Schleien ’12, B.A. in history, founder of Caveman Protein Muffins, a company that makes protein muffins that act as a meal replacement, with no artificial ingredients.

Meet the 2013–14 Imagining America Engagement Scholars

  • Christopher Borncamp, B.S. in advertising, will pursue a master’s degree in Public Relations from Newhouse and plans to create a PR campaign geared toward SU students about Syracuse’s vitality.
  • Ousman Diallo, B.S. in information management & technology, will work on Public: A Journal of Imagining America and pursue a master’s degree in Photography from Newhouse.
  • Quinton Fletchall, B.I.D. in industrial and interactive design, will work at the Connective Corridor and pursue a master’s degree in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from VPA.
  • Kathleen Kogel, B.S. communication and rhetorical studies, will pursue a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Addiction Studies and will work in community engagement in the Syracuse community.
  • Stacey Lindbloom, Bachelor of Architecture, will work with the Near Westside Initiative and co-teach a 1-credit survey seminar on Syracuse titled System City: unpacking, hacking, and restacking in Spring 2014.
  • Brian Luce, Bachelor of Architecture, will work with UPSTATE to help develop a visiting critics studio and a Syracuse-specific design-build project.
  • Juliann Merryman, B.A. in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies, will work at the Near East Foundation and pursue a master’s degree in International Relations from Maxwell.
  • Sarah Myers, B.S. in health and exercise science, will continue her work with Planned Parenthood and hopes to pursue a master’s degree in Social Work.
  • Hannah Nast, B.F.A. in Art Photography and Religion, will work as a Production Coordinator at SU Arts Engage and pursue a Certificate of Advanced Study in Information Innovation from the iSchool.
  • Leondra Polk, B.S. in social work and psychology, will work at the Elmcrest Children’s Center in the Family Transitions Program and pursue a master’s degree in Social Work from the Advance Standing Program.
  • Trevor Raushi, B.A. in sociology, will pursue a Master’s degree in the Cultural Foundations of Education and work with QuERI (Queering Education Research Institute).
  • Mary-Jo Robinson, B.A. in policy studies and psychology, will continue her work with Hopeprint and pursue a M.A. in international relations from Maxwell.
  • Heather Ryerson, B.F.A. in illustration, will work at the Talent Agency and pursue a M.F.A. in Illustration from VPA.
  • Michelle Tarshus, B.S. in information management and technology, is pursuing a number of community-based poetry projects with the Underground Poetry Spot and is continuing her work at the VA Hospital through the Veteren Appreciation Shows and Poetry/Art Therapy Initiative she has established. She is pursuing a M.S. in Library and Information Sciences specializing in school media.
  • Corinne Tyo, B.F.A. in acting, will work as a Production Coordinator at SU Arts Engage and pursue a M.A. from the Janklow Arts Leadership Program.

Meet the 2013–14 Kauffman Entrepreneurship Engagement Scholars

  • Aldrine Ashong-Katai  ’13, B.S. in public health, business management, and pre-medicine, founder of Arcit, a website for Syracuse University students to buy and sell products (textbooks, furniture, microwaves, etc.) for reasonable prices.
  • Koby Brandstein ’13, B.S. in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises and information technology and management, and founder of iSucceedOnline, a program that digitally facilitates reading comprehension for struggling students.
    Russel DeRemer ’13, B.S. in finance, and founder of Wealth Enabler, an asset management website for millennials.
  • Ian Dickerson ’13, B.S. in communication and rhetorical studies, and president of Centscere LLC, a social media donation platform that enables users to donate to their favorite charity through simple social media actions.
  • Michelle Gaston ’13, B.S. in communication and rhetorical studies, and co-founder of, a business management platform that doubles as a site for SME’s to commission high quality creative services.
  • Troy Harris, Jr. ’13, B.A. in African American studies, and founder of Collar Candy, a bowtie accessory line with bowties that can be worn in numerous ways to accommodate any event.
  • Lizette Lewis ’13, B.S. in communication and rhetorical studies, and founder of Promise to Keep Your Head Up, which seeks to motivate, encourage and instill goal seeking strategies and confidence within young females in the Syracuse Area to accomplish their goals, especially those striving to go to college.
  • Jennifer Osias ’13, B.A. in international relations and political science, and founder of AccuFit, a program that creates a virtual mannequin so that online shoppers can try clothes on virtually.
  • Altan Senaydin ’13, B.F.A. in photography and B.S. in information technology and management, and founder of Altan James Photography, a fashion, portrait, and concert photography company.
  • Justin Sullivan ’12 B.A. in theater arts from LeMoyne College, and founding executive producer for the Syracuse Fringe Festival, an annual performance arts festival.
  • Edward Zaremba ’13, B.S. in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises, and founder of Disability Identity Consulting, which will promote an inclusive culture for people with and without disabilities.

Meet the 2012-13 Imagining America Engagement Scholars (Read Press Release):

  • John Cardone, B.F.A in sculpture and creative writing who also completed the Renée Crown Honors Program, plans to work with Marion Wilson on the Mobile Literacy Arts Bus, as well as for Say Yes to Education.
  • Taylor Gibbs, B.F.A. in communications design, will work with SU ArtsEngage.
  • Samantha Hay, B.A. in biophysical sciences and global political economy, is seeking work in medical research.
  • Marc Mason, B.S. in communication and rhetorical studies, international relations and Middle Eastern studies, is graduating with honors and hopes to continue with the Near East Foundation.
  • Deanna Payson, B.A. in political science and public communications, will implement the second “Life Gets Better Together” conference for LGBTQ youth and intern in public relations with local nonprofits.
  • David Pittman, B.A. in international relations, hopes to continue his work with La Casita Cultural Center.
  • Daniel Powell, B.A. in English & textual studies, will work at the SU Photo & Imaging Center.
  • Olivia Rhinehart, B.A. in English & textual studies, will work at University College with the English Language Institute and pursue a Certificate of Advanced Study in Teaching English as a Second Language.
  • Lauren Rosenstein, B.S. in social work, will continue in social work and do an internship in the Syracuse community.
  • Tucker Scherger, B.S. in bioengineering, will work with the Recreation Services Department and hopes to develop more programming for local youth.
  • Rachel Tjornehoj, B.A. in Spanish and graphic design, hopes to work at the Community Folk Art Center.
  • Holly Zahn, B.F.A in film, will work with SU ArtsEngage.
  • Jian Yin Zhong, B.F.A in interior design and psychology, aims to develop public art projects in the Near West Side and in association with Say Yes.

Meet the 2012-13 Kauffman Entrepreneurship Engagement Fellows (Read Press Release)

  • Alexander Abdalian ’12, B.A. in psychology and photography and founder of Sharpen: A Collaborative Office Space for Independent Minds, an open-environment membership-based workspace for freelancers and entrepreneurs.
  • Joshua Anderson ’11, B.S. in marketing management and entrepreneurship & emerging enterprises and founder of Uvalue, a social e-commerce marketplace that allows students to share items they no longer need with other students on campus (2012 RvD IDEA Award winner, $2,000).
  • Lindsey Briggs ’09, G’10, B.S. in information management & technology, and M.S. in broadcast journalism, and founder of SocialU 101, a platform for facilitating and engaging older individuals with social media, helping them build their online presence and increase their comfort with social media tools.
  • Gianna Foltz ’12 and Emelia Natalicchio ’12, both B.F.A. graduates in fashion design, minor in entrepreneurship & emerging enterprises, and co-founders of The Palette, an e-commerce site and mobile pop-up shop where SU students can promote and sell their art work (2012 RvD IDEA Award winner, $2,000).
  • Joseph Gennaro ’12 and Jerrell Perry ’12, both B.S. graduates in information management & technology and co-founders of Tagglynx, a free social browsing app that allows users to participate in a discussion board to share web content discovery with their friend networks.
  • Christopher Grant ’12, B.S. in finance and real estate and founder of Waterport, which will create a portable and self-sustained rainwater harvesting system to turn rain into potable water in impoverished villages (2012 RvD Green IDEA Award winner, $10,000).
  • Kerry Maguire ’12, B.A. in communication and rhetorical studies, minor in information technology, design and startups and co-founder of VenueSpy, a web-based promotional company that offers a live peek at local bars and performance venues.
  • Katie Malatesta ’12 and Michele Palotta ’12, both B.A. graduates in interior design, and co-founders of Flat Shoes Tattoos, a dynamic design team with a focus on local projects. Flat Shoes Tattoos won Best Display ($500 cash prize) at Emerging Talk 2012.
  • Caitlin Moriarty ’12, B.M. in music industry, minor in marketing and founder of Moriartsy, an arts entrepreneurship and sustainability agency employing research, consultation and events for the creative industries (2012 RvD IDEA Award winner, $5,000).
  • Danish Nadeem ’12, B.S. in information management & technology, minor in global enterprise technology and founder of two ventures. HyperJobz is a service marketplace in which students post services they are willing to do in their community for a negotiable price and businesses post jobs they need students to fill. Coursespree is a student-to-student online marketplace for tutors, homework assistance and class notes or study guides.
  • Evin Robinson ’12, B.A. in communications & rhetorical studies and economics and founder of InspriRing, a jewelry company that sells handcrafted rings as symbols of female empowerment.
  • James Shomar ’12, B.S. in mechanical engineering and founder of the Performance Driving School, which aims to teach proper driving rules, skills and techniques combined with car performance basics
  • Michael Smith ’12, B.S. in advertising and entrepreneurship & emerging enterprises and founder of Pulse, a feedback aggregator that lets a company analyze what the most pressing issues are in the minds of their customers.

Meet the 2011-12 Engagement Fellows

  • Yusuf Abdul-Qadir – works for the City of Syracuse, Department of Parks, Recreation & Youth Programs, responsible for green infrastructure and public arts projects.
  • Jamie Arkin – will continue work on her venture, Cineaste, an e-portfolio social media platform, developed to integrate social media and the entertainment industry.
  • Sara Bergman – will remodel the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection at the Phoenix Center as part of the Students for Success group.
  • Caitlin Cronin – will be the production coordinator for Outreach with “Cry for Peace,” coordinating travel plans, maintaining relations with the Congolese community, and working with faculty on infusing this play with the academic community on campus.
  • Ryan Dickerson, Stephen Fox, Michael Santaniello and Case Wayne – will work on their venture, Rylaxer, producing ergonomic bolsters that transforms a bed into a sofa. The products are best known for their comfort and space efficiency. They promote lower back health while allowing a small room to be turned into a social hot spot.
  • Jillian Duff – will work as a marketing and communications specialist for the SU ExCEL Center, providing public relations expertise to connect entrepreneurs in Central New York to the resources they need.
  • Lauren Houlik – will work on her venture, Create2Relate CNY, a not-for-profit that seeks to promote self-actualization and empowerment through the arts for individuals with disabilities and refugees living in Central New York.
  • Courtney Kaleta – will work at Transitional Living Services, supporting people of all abilities to create a fair and just community in which everyone can fully participate.
  • Stephen Klimek – will work in the SU Community Engagement and Economic Development Office on the Near Westside Neighborhood Plan, and also The Front, a service for transforming abandoned storefronts into prime destinations for small and start-up businesses in Syracuse.
  • Nilus Klingel – will work with UPSTATE (an interdisciplinary center for design, research, and real estate founded at the SU School of Architecture) and also The Front, a service for transforming abandoned storefronts into prime destinations for small and start-up businesses in Syracuse.
  • Michael Loiero – will be the Lab Manager for the Information Technology Experiential Learning Lab (ITELL) at the iSchool at Syracuse University.
  • Francesca Merwin – will work in the SU Community Engagement and Economic Development Office on the Connective Corridor project.
  • Kristen O’Hara – will work for the CNY Regional Market organizing the mobile market, bring fresh local produce to those with limited access.
  • Domenica Pascarella – will be a Social Work intern at Upstate University Health System, on the pediatric floor, supporting parents and patients.
  • Andrew Taggert – was previously involved in the conception and implementation of a series of pop up stores.  He will apply his extensive experience in sales and promotions to a new venture in Syracuse.
  • Sarah Trad – will work for the SU Art Galleries and the Warehouse Gallery as well as a teaching assistant position at Syracuse University.
  • Emily Williams – will work as a science and technology enrichment specialist for the Say Yes Program at Webster Elementary School.
  • Marina Zarya – will work on special projects affiliated with Imagining America.

Meet the 2010-11 Engagement Fellows

  • Genevieve Babecki—works for La Casita Culture Center project, a Chancellor Leadership award project that seeks to establish a physical gathering place on Syracuse’s Near West Side to foster multimodal, multigenerational campus-community conversations and to serve as an intellectual and artistic bridge linking various communities, including Latino populations across and beyond Syracuse.
  • Hannah Dyer—works at the SUNY Psych Center
  • Tory Gentes— is a co-owner of Campus Mosaic Inc., a venture between two intertwined businesses popular among the college crowd: Cuse My Campus and Squeeze My Tees.
  • Sharia Graham—works at the Liberty Resources Brownell Center, an outpatient mental health clinic serving children, families and adults with mental illness.
  • Kristen Kelly—works at the Q Center, a resource center for LGBTQ youth and their allies ages 13 through 22.
  • Kevin Leonardi—works as a marketing specialist for the Community Folk Art Center (CFAC) planning, developing and implementing a marketing plan for CFAC.
  • Hilary Mansur—works at Home Headquarters as a Property Redevelopment and Design Specialist. She’ll work on projects involving redesigning and rehabilitating properties in the Near Westside neighborhood, forging collaborations between Home HeadQuarters and SU’s School of Architecture as well as other organizations such as the Syracuse Center of Excellence.
  • Becca McAvinue—works with REACH CNY, Inc., whose mission is their acronym: resources, education, advocacy and collaboration for health.  McAvinue will be assisting them in their various programs including the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention program and the Maternal and Child Health programs.
  • Lauren Newman—works at Synapse Partners, LLC, a Syracuse-based management support firm.
  • Timothy Rittenhouse—works at Home HeadQuarters
  • Kristian Rodriguez—works at the Redhouse Arts Center
  • Michael Short—works with the Near Westside Initiative as deputy director assisting the Near Westside assisting the director in the conception, planning, development, implementation and measurement of results-oriented projects and ongoing programming aimed at revitalizing the Near Westside neighborhood of Syracuse.
  • Christina Simmons—works at SU’s Burton Blatt Institute, a leading center in disabilities studies.
  • Elysa Smigielski—works at the Syracuse Center of Excellence with the iBox, a new interdisciplinary center to create innovation, community development and sustainable business practices.
  • Brian Weinreich—is a co-owner of Campus Mosaic Inc., a venture between two intertwined businesses popular among the college crowd: Cuse My Campus and Squeeze My Tees. Weinreich, who already creates and manages content for the Cuse My Campus website, will expand the content of Cuse My Campus to reach 80-90% of the students at SU. He will also work on Squeeze My Tees, in-house screen-printing business.
  • Kimberly Wolfe—works with Professor Steve Parks on a community writing project on the Near West Side.

Meet the 2009-10 Engagement Fellows

  • Garland deGraffenried—designer with King & King Architects LLP, works on a project that re-links the activated zones of Syracuse’s downtown, finding developers and financiers, and in partnership with community and University Hill entities, developing new connections through the design of mixed-use facilities.
  • Samantha Harmon—works for Say Yes to Education and serves as an art teacher in the Syracuse City School District’s after school program. She is also working on a collaborative design-build project on Syracuse’s Near Westside.
  • Carissa Matthews—is doing communications and public relations at the Syracuse Center of Excellence (CoE) with a goal of bridging the Syracuse community and the CoE through educational and outreach programs.
  • Robert Sherman—is co-founder of LLC, an internet-based enterprise for job seekers. Sherman hopes to create a spin-off company called, whee small businesses and entrepreneurs can showcase their business inexpensively.
  • Elizabeth Slate—who started the Alchemical Nursery Project, will continue developing the non-profit organization during her fellowship year. The nursery promotes sustainable and regenerative urban lifestyles and landscapes thorugh community organization, educational event hosting, workshops, and community-supported agriculture.