Current recipients of the Tony Patiño Merit Award

Columbia Law School

Kevin Barbosa

Class of ‘24

Kevin Barbosa graduated from Bard College in 2018 with a B.A. in Political Studies.  At Bard, Kevin served as Speaker of the Student Body and Executive Chair of the Central Assembly. Kevin was honored as a Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar and received the Dr. James Brudvig Achievement Award for outstanding service to the community throughout his time at Bard. 

Prior to starting his J.D. at Columbia, Kevin worked as an analyst in Goldman Sachs’ Litigation and Regulatory Proceedings Department, where he was responsible for triaging a variety of civil, criminal, and regulatory matters.  During his time in the Legal Department, Kevin was awarded the Excellence in Leadership & Management Award for his leadership on issues of equity and racial justice.  Kevin was selected as a finalist for the Fulbright García-Robles in Mexico City in 2020, but after the scholarship was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin joined the Financial Crime Compliance and Anti-Money Laundering group as a strategist for the Investment Banking Division.  Kevin departed Goldman Sachs to participate in the SEO Law Fellowship program in May 2021, and he joined Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP as an SEO Law Fellow & Summer Associate. 

Kevin is a born and raised New Yorker, and an alumnus of the Prep for Prep leadership development program.

Luke Cronin

Class of ‘24

Luke Cronin is from Duxbury, Massachusetts and graduated from Boston College in 2014, where he majored in Economics.

Before attending Columbia Law School, Luke helped lead the Pine Street Inn Outreach Team’s daily operations in downtown Boston. Pine Street Inn is the largest provider of services to unhoused populations in New England and the Outreach Team is the largest team in America. Luke helped chronically homeless and unhoused individuals access shelter and substance use supports, receive medical care, obtain housing, and ensured the safety and flourishing of his team members. Before joining Outreach, Luke was the Manager of Volunteer Operations at Pine Street Inn. Notably, Luke and his team helped keep a continuity of services flowing during the pandemic when in-person volunteering was not possible.

Prior to Pine Street Inn, Luke served as a Fulbright Scholar in Gudiyattam, Tamil Nadu, India. Luke taught English at Vidhyalakshmi Matriculation and CBSE Schools. Vidhyalakshmi Schools was founded to help reduce caste tensions in rural Tamil Nadu. Luke helped facilitate community development by establishing after-school clubs and was the first American to live in Gudiyattam. Immediately before his time as a Fulbrighter, Luke was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. Luke taught Economics, Spoken English, and Storytelling to over seven hundred first-generation students at Sichuan Tourism University. Before serving abroad, Luke was a mediator for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and a commercial litigation paralegal for White and Williams LLP.

Rohan Naik

Class of ‘24

Rohan Naik is a native of Houston, Texas. He holds a B.A. in History from Yale and an M.A in Public History from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, where he was a Mitchell Scholar.

At Yale, Rohan was involved with the Asian American Cultural Center, the Yale Daily News, and Yale Outdoors.

Prior to law school, Rohan was a researcher for Amend, a Netflix documentary series on the Fourteenth Amendment. He also worked as a freelance journalist in Northern Ireland, covering politics and terrorism.

In his free time, Rohan is an avid hiker and tennis player.

Skylar Gleason

Class of ‘25

Skylar Gleason grew up in northern Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan with highest distinction in 2019. She majored in International Studies and Political Science and minored in Spanish and Law, Justice, and Social Change.

While attending U of M, Skylar was heavily involved in community service through leadership in Circle K. She interned with the Washtenaw County Office of Public Defender, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, and Perseus Strategies, a DC-based international human rights law firm. Her junior year, she spent a semester in Buenos Aires, which inspired her honors thesis on Argentina’s transitional justice process following the country’s last military dictatorship.

After graduation, Skylar returned to Perseus Strategies for two years as the Liu Xiaobo Human Rights Fellow. In that role, she engaged in legal, government, and media advocacy on a wide variety of human rights projects across the globe, including political prisoner cases, international parental child abduction cases, an international tort claim, and investigative reports on crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although Skylar completed her fellowship, she has remained part of the Perseus team as a pro bono consultant on the case of two American hostages in Iran, one of whom was finally permitted to leave the country in October 2022. Additionally, for the year prior to law school, she served as a member of the Scholar at Risk Network’s advocacy team, which involved advocating for the freedom of imprisoned scholars and chronicling attacks on academic freedom for the organization’s online database.

At Columbia, Skylar is a Public Interest/Public Service Fellow and a Human Rights Institute Advocate. She hopes to pursue a career in international human rights law with a specific focus on transitional justice and mass atrocity accountability.

Nathan Porceng

Class of ‘25

Nathan Porceng was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016 with a B.S. in chemical engineering and minors in history and music.

After graduation, Nathan joined the United States Navy through the Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate Program. He served for 14 months as a Junior Officer Staff Instructor at Nuclear Power Training Unit Ballston Spa, teaching hands-on nuclear operations to sailors and supervising physics testing on a prototype reactor. Nathan then served 32 months aboard the submarine USS Ohio, during which time he completed three deployments and held several roles including Operational Safety Officer, Assistant Engineer, and Chemistry and Radiological Controls Assistant.

Between deployments, Nathan volunteered with Tutoría, preparing prospective immigrants for their U.S. citizenship exams, and with United Way, staffing the Washington State COVID-19 Information Hotline. Nathan left the Navy in April 2022 and began working as a freelance writer. His work on clean energy and sustainable living has been featured by The Daily Beast.

Nathan hopes to pursue a career in climate justice, civil rights, and environmental law.

Brandon Reid

Class of ‘25

Brandon Reid is from Annapolis, Maryland and graduated from Davidson College in 2022. Brandon was first in the college’s history to serve two consecutive terms as student body president. He graduated cum laude from Davidson with honors in philosophy, and is now a JD student at Columbia Law School with a passion for working towards the eradication of the school-to-prison pipeline.

At Davidson in 2021, Brandon completed a project called “Telling the Stories of the Ignored and Forgotten” that contributed to the release of his childhood friend 12 years early from prison. This project received national attention, that included ABC’s Good Morning America, The Washington Post, NBC News, and an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. In Annapolis, Brandon leads Brandon’s Coalition for Success, a mentoring program that has been working with at-risk youth for the past six years.

Ghalia Aamer

Class of ‘26

Ghalia Aamer, a 2023 graduate of the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Commerce and certificates in Leadership and International Learning, is an entrepreneur and education advocate. She founded TalkMaze, an internationally recognized organization focusing on public speaking and debate training for children. Ghalia’s achievements include being a Princess Diana Award recipient and Cansbridge Fellow.

As the youngest Canadian delegate at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance Summit, she crafted policy recommendations for enhancing entrepreneurial ecosystems through education and inclusion. She also served as the youngest member on Junior Achievement’s Board of Directors and Edmonton Unlimited’s Innovation Growth Council, championing youth, women, and visible minorities. With eight years of experience at the intersection of education and business, Ghalia started her first company, Toon Tutors, at 13. She’s a sought-after international speaker, with four TEDx talks, the most recent highlighting her journey as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants.

In her leisure time, Ghalia enjoys globe-trotting and language acquisition, having visited 17 countries and currently learning her fourth language, Spanish

Prameela Kottapalli

Class of ‘26

Prameela Kottapalli graduated from Cornell University in 2023, earning top honors for her thesis on the political and economic landscape of the United States migrant detention system. Her most intensive involvement was founding the Cornell Anti Detention Alliance, a community organization dedicated to supporting migrants incarcerated in upstate New York. Through this initiative, she most notably led a campaign that contributed to the release of multiple women from the Buffalo Federal Immigration Detention Facility at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For her leadership, advocacy, and service, she was recognized as a 2022 New York State Truman Finalist and a Cornell Merrill Presidential Scholar. On campus, she was also an active leader in the Pi Beta Phi sorority, where she promoted diversity initiatives as a new member instructor, and the Cornell outdoor education program, where she guided pre-orientation backpacking trips on the Finger Lakes trail for incoming freshmen. She is a proud daughter of immigrants and grew up in San Jose, California.

UC College of the Law San Francisco

Tori Arnau

Class of ‘23

Tori Arnau (she, her) graduated from Pitzer College in 2018 with a double major in Biology and Asian American Studies. She is a low-income, first-generation college student from Los Angeles. After graduation, she worked in Resource & Program Development at Pilipino Workers Center, a 501(c)3 non-profit in Historic Filipinotown serving the low-wage immigrant Pilipinx community.  Tori is interested in pursuing Labor and Employment Law as it relates to immigrant worker rights and health and safety in the workplace.

Brittany Jackson

Class of ‘23

Before beginning her journey as a law student, she received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Public Health, from the University of California Merced. Brittany went on to pursue a career in social services in San Francisco, providing services for individuals most vulnerable to socioeconomic inequity. She spent much of her career working for one of San Francisco’s largest essential service providers for individuals experiencing homelessness. Brittany started as a case manager, providing intensive case management to individuals experiencing homelessness, and went on to become a support services consultant for a newly opened Navigation Center Shelter. Brittany then joined the organization’s Impact and Analytics team providing insight to company compliance, performance, while promoting data-driven culture.

Prior, Brittany was a case manager for a community-based foundation providing case management for young women of color. In addition, she helped integrate counseling services for young women of color attending a San Francisco Unified School District alternative school. Brittany also has a history of working for multiple immigration service providers, having a hand in helping hundreds of people receive their employment visas, and aiding in facilitating pro bono opportunities for attorneys. Brittany has a long history of community involvement, advocacy for underrepresented groups, and commitment to public interest. Brittany is devoted to continuing the work she started and intends to use her power as an attorney to relentlessly fight for change.

Isabella Ysebrands

Class of ‘23

Isabella was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California. Her father, a firefighter, inspired her to involve herself in public service at a young age. She first became interested in law when she volunteered as a juror for the Santa Barbara Teen Court and joined her high school mock trial team.

Isabella was also interested in health care and attended UC Davis, where she received her Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and molecular biology. During her time at UC Davis, she interned with the Yolo County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office, assisting deputy coroners and forensic pathologists with death scene investigations and autopsies.

After graduating college in 2015, Isabella worked in the immunoproduction department of a cancer diagnostic company, Agilent Technologies, where she performed cell culture and produced antibodies. Passionate about public service, Isabella later became a deputy coroner for Sacramento County, where she has done her most impactful work to date. As a deputy coroner, she responded to scenes of sudden, unexplained, or violent deaths such as homicides, suicides, motor vehicle accidents, and child deaths. As part of her investigations, Isabella identified the deceased, provided death notifications to legal next of kin, and determined manner of death. Through this role, she provided emotional support and guidance to those facing the worst day of their life.

Isabella’s work as a deputy coroner and her time spent volunteering with people experiencing homelessness motivated her to go to law school. She is a student at UC School of Law San Francisco and hopes to use her experience from death investigations coupled with a legal education to make a positive impact on her community.

Outside of school, Isabella loves hiking, surfing, gardening, and watching True Crime documentaries.

Iris Wagner

Class of ‘24

Iris Wagner was born and raised in the East Bay area of California. She graduated from the University of Washington in 2018 where she studied Law, Societies and Justice. Throughout her time at the University of Washington, Iris was involved in various non-profit organizations dedicated to serving low-income and underserved populations.  Iris worked for a non-profit law firm to promote access to education and mental health services to incarcerated individuals. She also spearheaded the Prison Phone Justice campaign that advocated for affordable access to communication between prisoners and their families. Iris has been published in Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News.

Upon graduation, Iris went on an eight-month solo backpacking trip through 12 South East and East Asian countries where she engaged deeply with other cultures, working with children in educational settings and developing life-long connections with people and communities across the world.

Upon returning to the United States, Iris worked as a mental health counselor for youth in Oakland and served on the Leadership Council to address agency-wide and racial justice initiatives. Iris’ work as a mental health counselor included facilitating restorative justice circles, and using behavioral and therapeutic interventions to empower and support growth in underserved youth.

Iris’ interests in civil rights, community advocacy, and criminal justice brought her to UC College of the Law San Francisco. Iris serves as a Student Representative with the UC San Francisco Public Law Interest Foundation and is involved with groups such as UC San Francisco Prisoner’s Outreach and UC San Francisco Association of Youth Advocates. Iris intends to dedicate her career to underserved communities to promote empowerment and justice in those historically marginalized. 

Outside of school and work, Iris is passionate about traveling to international countries, enjoys playing the piano, and illustrating still life in her spare time. She enjoys bike rides through Golden Gate Park, cooking, and hosting gatherings with friends. 

Samuel Ruby

Class of ‘24

Sam Ruby was born and raised in Minnesota and grew up playing hockey and singing in choir. He attended the United States Coast Guard Academy where he majored in Government and earned his commission as a Coast Guard Officer.

Sam has served aboard three Coast Guard Cutters that have taken him all over the globe. As a newly minted Ensign aboard CGC SPENCER, he conducted federal law enforcement and search and rescue operations from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea. He was a part of a number of large narcotics interdictions, but Sam’s true passion was enforcing fisheries law, working with fishermen to ensure compliance with safety and catch regulations, and protecting vital living marine resources.

Sam also served aboard CGC ADAK in the Arabian Gulf where he worked under the Navy to counter Iranian influence in the region. His final afloat assignment was in command of CGC WAHOO in Puget Sound where he and his crew conducted search and rescue and environmental law enforcement. Before coming to UC San Francisco, Sam served as the Aide de Camp for the Eleventh Coast Guard District Commander, the Admiral charged with command of all Coast Guard operations from Humboldt Bay to the coast of South America.

Sam is still an active duty Coast Guard Officer who will return to the Coast Guard as a JAG after graduation. He hopes to practice environmental law with the Coast Guard and return to sea duty one day to break up his legal assignments. He still enjoys playing hockey and is actively exploring the maritime history of San Francisco.

Nooran Alhamdan

Class of ‘25

Nooran Alhamdan was raised in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She attended the University of New Hampshire (UNH) from 2016-2019, where she received degrees in Analytical Economics, Political Science, and a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. During her time at UNH she was an International Research Opportunity Program (IROP) grant recipient, funding her 9 week research in Jordan on Palestinian refugee identity construction. She also interned at the United Nations Population Fund Agency and the Arab American Institute. In her junior year she was awarded the Harry S. Truman Scholarship in recognition of her commitment to refugee and immigrant rights.

Upon graduation, Nooran attended Georgetown University from 2020-2022 and received her Masters degree in Arab Studies from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foriegn Service. Her graduate research focused on refugee advocacy, human rights in the Middle East, and transitional justice in Palestine. She interned at Perseus Strategies, an international human rights law firm based in Washington DC. Throughout this time she was also a graduate fellow at the Middle East Institute, where she published policy memorandums on Palestinian refugees and digital rights in the Arab world.

At UC San Francisco, Nooran hopes to launch her legal career. She is currently a representative for the UC San Francisco Technology and Law Society and for the Middle Eastern Law Society. In her free time, Nooran enjoys exploring the Bay Area and spending time with her husband and their two cats.

Julie Mendoza

Class of ‘25

Julie Mendoza is a Bay Area native and a student at UC College of the Law San Francisco. Julie graduated from UC Berkeley in 2017, a first generation college graduate, where she studied Psychology and Legal Studies. After graduating with High Distinction, Julie became a 7th grade humanities teacher in East Oakland’s District 2 while simultaneously earning a Masters in Education Policy from Loyola Marymount University.

As an educator in Oakland, she was the faculty advisor to multiple student organizations, served as the Humanities Department Chair, and became a lead organizer for the Oakland Education Association. As an organizer, she fought against school closures and advocated for targeted support for high need students across the district. In her last year as a classroom educator, 50% of her English Language Learners received the highest score possible on their English Language Proficiency Assessments, preparing them for high school and beyond. Julie believes deeply in the power of public education and intends to use her law school education to continue to advocate for underserved students and families in Oakland.

University of Chicago Law School

Martin Martinez

Class of ‘23

Martin was born and raised in Waukegan, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, alongside his older sister Alyssa and younger brother Jakob. He attended Brown University for his undergraduate studies and earned a combined Bachelor’s of Arts / Bachelor’s of Science degree in International Relations and Social Analysis and Research.

Martin was also captain of the Varsity Cross Country and Track and Field team at Brown. He is the current school record holder in the Indoor Mile event with a time of 3:59.38 and earned All-American honors during his final year of competition. During his summer breaks, Martin had internship experiences at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and at Abbott Labs.

After graduating from Brown, Martin came back to Chicago and worked at the nonprofit Legal Aid Chicago for two years, through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. In his first year of service, he managed the Pro Se Bankruptcy Help Desk at the Dirksen Federal Building. In this role, Martin assisted pro se bankruptcy debtors as they sought relief from overwhelming debt. In his second year of service, he worked with the senior leadership team at Legal Aid Chicago on a variety of initiatives, including an ongoing campaign to enact a legal right to counsel for tenants facing eviction in Chicago.

Martin is engaged to his fiancée, Erin, and they have plans to marry in the summer of 2022. He is an avid White Sox fan and takes every opportunity to catch a White Sox game at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Ryan Kokell

Class of ‘23

Ryan is a JD/MBA candidate at The University of Chicago Law School and Booth School of Business.

Prior to graduate school, Ryan served in the United States Marine Corps as a helicopter weapons technician before attending Cornell University where he studied business and real estate at Cornell’s S.C. Johnson College of Business. At Cornell, Ryan lead several student-veteran advocacy groups that focused on veteran integration into higher education.

Today, Ryan continues to assist former service members and their families at the University of Chicago Office of Military-Affiliated Communities. After law school, Ryan would like to pursue a legal career at the intersection of law and business. In his downtime, Ryan enjoys hiking, woodworking, and playing basketball.

Maya Lorey

Class of ‘24

Maya Lorey is a student at the University of Chicago Law School. 

Maya graduated with distinction and Phi Beta Kappa honors from Stanford University with a B.A in Human Biology and a minor in Human Rights. While at Stanford, Maya focused her studies on understanding and addressing barriers that prevent historically marginalized women from exercising their rights to bodily autonomy. She also studied effective philanthropy, particularly trust-based grantmaking to grassroots women’s rights organizations and movements in the global south. After graduating, Maya was awarded an 11-month Ford Fellowship in Philanthropy, which she completed at the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) in New York City. Maya then served as a Program Assistant at IWHC and assisted in making grants to feminist organizations advocating for sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. 

For the year prior to beginning law school, Maya returned to Stanford to serve as a Teaching and Research Assistant at the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice. Maya is deeply committed to the global movement for reproductive justice. She plans to direct her law career towards dismantling systems of injustice that prevent pregnant people from accessing abortion services and defending the equal rights of pregnant people. In her spare time, Maya continues to volunteer for the Texas Equal Access Fund, an organization that provides funding to low-income people seeking abortion care in northern Texas. 

While not working or studying, Maya is likely reading a work of fiction or trying to pet somebody’s dog. She loves open water swimming in Lake Michigan and eating food prepared by her fiancé, Eren.

Talla Khelghati

Class of ‘24

Talla is a California native and law student at the University of Chicago. She was born and raised in the city of San Jose, in the South Bay Area, and later attended the University of California Los Angeles. At UCLA, Talla studied Economics and Public Affairs. 

As an undergraduate, Talla served as the Vice President of the Iranian Student Group, representing the largest Iranian American student body in the country. She also served as the Chapter President and Southwest Board Representative of J Street U, the student organizing arm of the advocacy group J Street that focuses on Middle East politics. Talla was also a paid research assistant for Professor David Myers, the Director of the Luskin Center for History and Policy, where Talla also served as a research fellow. 

Talla is humbled and excited to join the community of Tony Patiño Fellows-Elect.

Christian Pierre-Canel

Class of ‘24

Christian Pierre-Canel is a student at the University of Chicago Law school. 

A first-generation Haitian American, Christian is from Lehigh Acres, Florida. He graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Florida in 2015. Christian was inducted into the 2015 class of the University of Florida Hall of Fame in recognition of his leadership and achievement through community involvement and scholarship.

 Prior to beginning law school, Christian spent six years working in the United States Congress. Most recently, Christian served as a Senior Legislative Assistant in the Office of Congressman Al Lawson (FL-05) handling an array of legislative priorities including agriculture, immigration, and defense policies. Christian also worked in the offices of former U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and former Congressman Alcee Hastings (FL-20). Christian is an alumnus of the Bob Graham Center Tallahassee Internship Program, the Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Internship Program.

At the Law School, Christian is a member of the Earl B. Dickerson Chapter of the Black Law Students Association and the American Constitution Society where he serves as a representative. Outside of the classroom, Christian is an amateur street photographer, proud Florida Gators fan, and avid concertgoer.

Kelly Bridges

Class of ‘25

Prior to joining the class of 2025 at the University of Chicago Law School, Kelly worked as an advocate to increase access to safe drinking water and sanitation in developing countries. From 2018 to 2021, Kelly served as a Senior Associate at Global Water 2020, a time-bound advocacy and facilitation initiative aimed at solving critical challenges in the global water, sanitation, and hygiene (commonly known as WASH) sector. These included addressing issues at the intersection of WASH and public health, as well as the relationship between water insecurity and conflict in transboundary river basins. In the year following her time at Global Water 2020, she worked as a consultant with the philanthropic initiative, The END Fund, supporting the integration of WASH, global health, nutrition, and education policies, strategies, and investments.

Kelly remains involved in the water sector as a Board Member of the Philadelphia-based non-profit organization, Global Water Alliance, as well as serves as the Young Professional Director on the Board of Directors of the Environmental Peacebuilding Association. In 2016, Kelly graduated from the University of Pennsylvania as a Benjamin Franklin Scholar with a B.A. in Science, Technology, and Society, concentrating in Energy, Environment, and Technology. Upon completing her studies at the University of Pennsylvania, she pursued her M.Sc. in Water Science, Policy, and Management at the University of Oxford, graduating in 2017. In her next chapter in law school, Kelly is looking forward to gaining new tools that can be deployed to help realize the human rights to water and sanitation.

Sahar Omer

Class of ‘25

A native of Sudan, Sahar Omer immigrated with her parents as an infant to Auburn, Alabama, where she was raised. Sahar graduated from Harvard College in 2020 with an AB in Government and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations with Honors.  At Harvard, Sahar was active in religious and cultural organizations, serving on the board of the African Students’ Association for one year, the board of the Society of Arab Students for four years, and the President of the Islamic Society for two years. In recognition of her work, she received the Harvard University Pforzheimer House Public Service Award, the Harvard University Muslim Alumni Martin Nguyen Community Service Award for Excellence in Service of the Muslim Community, and the Harvard Arab Alumni Association Recognition for Service to the Arab Community.

After graduation, Sahar worked for the World Justice Project as part of the Rule of Law Index team, which published the flagship, independent quantitative research report on the rule of law in 140 countries globally. She also co-founded and co-directs ZAHARA for Education, an education initiative focused on creating and facilitating educational opportunities for students in Sudan and the United States.

Sahar is a student at the University of Chicago Law School, where she hopes to learn about all facets of the legal field, especially comparative constitutionalism. She hopes to continue public service work through a legal profession by promoting the protection of human and civil rights internationally.