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Student Spotlights

The students spotlighted below were supported by a weekly class and internship program run in partnership with the University of Florida Bob Graham Center for Public Service.

Summer 2023
Spring 2023
Fall 2022
Fall student profile: Meryem Yuksel
Spring 2022 Internship Students

Name: Velgui Perez-Tomas

Bio: Velgui Perez-Tomas graduated in Spring 2022 as a Political Science and International Studies with a focus in Latin America double major at the University of Florida. She aspires to attend law school in the near future but for now is seeking experiences working in governmental affairs related to the Latin American region or entering the private sphere and seeking out paralegal experience. 

Background and Internship: Before her experience with FCI, Velgui had previous introductions working with nonprofits, specifically serving undocumented youth and poorer communities in her hometown of Lake Worth. She had also gained experience working in the legal field by being an intern at an immigration law firm in West Palm Beach, Florida which provided services including work-visa renewals, green-card applications, and naturalization. Additional legal experience includes her work with PRLDEF Latino Justice as a LawBound Scholar, and attending the University of Miami School of Law as a Summer Legal Scholar. Velgui also has extensive school involvement, including through her culture, working as the Executive Director for 2022 Latin American Summit, as well as working as an intern at PIRG Students pushing for voter education.

At FCI, Velgui has been able to grow her outreach skills by creating press releases and related materials in anticipation of Release 3 of their Florida Resource Map (FRMM). Velgui has a communications leadership role at FCI, assisting with other intern projects that involve outreach work. She closed out the semester by working on a white paper that highlights challenges undocumented and documented immigrants face while looking up public resources in South Florida and is continued to volunteer over summer 2022.

Name: Joseph Fleming

Bio: Joseph Fleming is a rising third-year student at the University of Florida studying Computer Science. He is looking into various aspects of the tech industry such as web development and Artificial Intelligence, but has not decided on a specific path.

Background and Internship: Throughout his time at UF, Joseph has learned various programming languages, including JavaScript, C++, and R. He had participated in volunteer work through his local church prior to college, but had not connected his interests in techology to his public service efforts before FCI.

With FCI, Joseph has been able to apply his prior knowledge to make a positive impact for the community. He has worked on the Florida Resource Map with the rest of the tech team at FCI, developing and creating the intake form for partners to use to get their organization listed as a resource for the general public. Learning React, CSS, and becoming familiar with Storybook, Joseph has gained experience working in a group setting to create a tech project, something that would not have been possible through standard course curriculum. Joseph is thankful to FCI for giving him the opportunity to apply himself and for the newfound confidence in his work that will allow him to excel in his career.

Name: Ethan Ghozali

Bio: Ethan Ghozali is a rising third-year student at the University of Florida studying Political Science & Economics. He plans to pursue a career in law and public policy.

Background and Internship: During the Spring 2022 semester, Ethan worked in coordination with FCI’S partners including the Central Florida Foundation, the University of Michigan’s School of Information, and American University’s School of Public Affairs.

Ethan has notably helped to guide and supervise a team of later career graduate students from American University as they create a policy brief about how cities provide resources to beneficiaries in Florida. In addition, Ethan is undertaking a supplemental data analysis in order to complement the American University project. Ethan was extremely thankful to be a member of the FCI team and is looking forward to supporting the organization in the future.

Name: Maddie Kuennen

Bio: Maddie is a rising second-year student at the University of Florida, majoring in Geomatics with a specialization in Geospatial Analysis. She currently is part of the University of Florida Navy ROTC unit and will commission as a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy upon graduating with her Bachelor’s degree.

Background and Internship: Maddie has worked and volunteered with several non-profits in the past, including founding the junior executive board for Neighbors to Nicaragua (a local non-profit from her hometown). She had some experience in coding and geospatial technology from her classes, which is why FCI was the perfect opportunity to help apply and develop her skills to a real, meaningful project.

During the Spring 2022 semester, Maddie had initially worked with the coding and construction of FCI’s Florida Resource Map (Release 3. Her tasks included performing front and back end installations, implementing new key words, and using three different languages she never had before. Her final project for the internship is a close collaboration with Shawna Dean (another FCI intern) and her Traffic Fatality map project. This was a great step forward in helping her learn ArcGIS and other geo-business platforms as well as connect real-time data. Most of all, out of everything that she learned, Maddie was most happy to work with FCI due to the impact she had made for so many different causes as part of a greater team. Maddie is continued to volunteer during Summer 2022.

Name: Shawna Dean

Bio: Shawna is an undergraduate student at the University of Florida pursuing a combined BSBA/MS in Information Systems & Operations Management with a concentration in Data Science and the Challenge 2050: Global Leadership & Change certificate.  She plans on entering the private sector upon graduation while continuing to work on her passion projects in data analysis for community development.  

Background and Internship: Shawna has had prior experience in sustainable development policy research through her Challenge 2050 projects “The Impact of Access to Contraception on Family Planning in Uganda” and “Implementing a Zero Waste Curriculum in Alachua County Schools.”  Before joining FCI, her work in data analytics was limited to a summer as a Business Operations Analyst Intern for a credit union.  

For the Spring 2022 semester, she partnered with FCI on her Challenge 2050 capstone project studying road traffic safety.  She chose the topic in honor of her classmates, Maggie Paxton and Sophia Lambert, who were both tragically killed as pedestrians on W University Avenue.  Her project involves mapping traffic fatalities and layering relevant safety resources to help pedestrians avoid hazardous situations in Gainesville.  She enjoys working with Maddie Kuennen (another FCI intern) as they develop their GIS skillset.

Shawna credits FCI for igniting her passion for data analysis in the public/non-profit sector and giving her the courage to giving her to pursue this line of work.  She plans to partner with FCI over Summer 2022 to develop her Traffic Fatalities map into a webapp.

Name: Rhiannon O’Donnell

Bio: Rhiannon is a rising second-year undergraduate student at the University of Florida studying Data Science. In her career she hopes to use statistical analytics and data processing in order to learn more about community interactions, as well as contribute to the prosperity of local communities in order to foster sustainable change. 

Background and Internship: Passionate about statistics and technology, Rhiannon was considering a career in data science upon beginning her internship. Her prior experience includes working as a research assistant in the Department of Biostatistics, as well as years of volunteering in her hometown of Atlantic Beach, Florida, being a two-time winner of the “Volunteer of the Year” award for the local elementary school where she volunteered.

Rhiannon’s work with Florida Community Innovation involves the development of the Gentrification Risk Assessment Tool (GRAT), a software tool that will gauge and track the gentrification of an area in North Central Florida by zip code. Rhiannon was selected to be in the 2022-2023 cohort of the Askew Scholars Program through the Bob Graham Center at the University of Florida and will be working on the GRAT with Florida Community Innovation through the support of this program. Her internship involvement has helped grow both her interest and her skills in data science, and she is thankful to the volunteers, her mentors, and fellow interns of FCI for the opportunity to grow and learn in a supportive environment.

Fall 2021 Internship Students

Name: Aniqa Ahmed

Bio: Aniqa Ahmed is rising fourth-year student at UF studying Political Science, on the pre-med track. She is planning on getting a masters in Public Health and entering the medical field, whether through practice or policy. 

Background and Internship: Aniqa has had prior experience in media outreach, civic engagement, public service, and data skills. Her extracurricular activities in civic engagement and community planning cultivated her interest in learning more about community organizing and connecting resources to people. She had limited experience in connecting her data skills with her community organizing experience, and FCI was the perfect opportunity for her to work on the intersection between these skills. 

In the Fall 2021 semester, she continued FCI’s partnership with the UF College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, UF-VA Bioethics Unit, attending the Grand Rounds presentation by Dr. Stacy Gallin, the head of the globally acclaimed Maimondes Institute, about “Medicine and Morality: Lessons from the Holocaust.” After attending, Aniqa composed a blog post aimed at educating the undergraduate student population at UF about this public health topic and conducted an exclusive interview with Dr. Gallin. In addition, Aniqa took a UX Design Course, while being mentored by a UX Designer from FCI, in the plans of learning more about the intersection between technology and public service.

Aniqa’s experience with FCI allowed her to gain a greater understanding of how innovative technology can intersect with community building by providing her with the beginnings of the technological and qualitative skills needed to continue to develop this passion. 

Name: Dianelda Pulido

Bio: Dianelda is a rising fourth-year student at the University of Florida double-majoring in Women’s Studies and Spanish and Portuguese Studies. She plans on pursuing a career in law, with a focus on Latin America. 

Background: Dianelda has worked for several non-profits in the past, including Equality Florida and Ruth’s List Miami. During her time, she has worked on translations, voter and community outreach, and research. Her involvement in student organizations has spanned from creating civic engagement programs to organizing drives for women’s health centers. 

Under the Bob Graham Center, Dianelda was a member of the Tallahassee Student Fellowship, where she interned for former State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez. This was her introduction into Florida politics and further developed her interest in pursuing a career related to public policy. To further her knowledge on public policy, she began to intern with Florida Community Innovation.

What I worked on this semester: “During my time working with FCI, I had the opportunity to further my knowledge on UX Design. Under this program, I was enrolled in a course and received mentorship from a leading UX Designer in the industry. Before this internship I had worked on social media campaigns for student organizations, through this experience I was able to create templates specifically designed to showcase non-profit organizations. One of the highlights of my experience was being able to interview Dave Joswick, founder and CEO of New Hope for Kids (NHK). NHK is a non-profit here in Florida focused on providing grief counseling to children and young adults. Having dealt with parental loss from a young age, being given the opportunity to speak and showcase an organization that has helped so many, helped me come to terms with my own grieving process. FCI has not only helped me on a personal level, but has also furthered my professional goals. Through the mentorship and guidance of the team, I am now confident in pursuing a career in public policy.”

Name: Chloe Dill 

Bio: Chloe is a rising third-year psychology undergrad, with interests across the social sciences, public service, communications, and sustainability. She has gathered a variety of research and outreach experiences, and aspires to pursue a PhD in Psychology. She will continue to work on her newest project centering behavioral nudge messaging techniques in the environmental domain, as a fellow with FCI in the spring semester.

In the fall semester I worked on:

“Being able to develop interdisciplinary skills across communications to research, while contributing to a project that helps people in a meaningful way is truly a dream opportunity here at FCI! I started working with data for the resource map, designed a newsletter template to keep everyone updated, and showed interest in communications and research. As the internship progressed, my idea for a minor social campaign has developed into a grant-funded research initiative with ambitious plans across psychology, sustainability, and public service. As a sophomore who still feels like they are figuring out college, I want to share this for students who might hesitate to go after challenging goals or need that final push to dive into the unfamiliar. If you aren’t sure what you want to pursue, go explore and you might find something somewhere you wouldn’t expect! As someone who struggles with perfectionism (and procrastination), something I learned at FCI is that it is okay not to have an idealized path to reach your goals. Take a confident step forward and don’t underestimate yourself!”

Name: Renee Listrom 

Background/major/future goals: Renee is a rising third-year geography undergrad, with interests in the environment, the arts, social sciences, and sustainability. She has accumulated a substantial amount of volunteer and work experience, and aspires to receive a masters in Geography. She plans on moving forward with her new major and opening her mind and eyes to new studies and experiences relating to geography and nature overall.

“As an intern at FCI this Fall semester, I worked to expand my knowledge on coding and build my computer programming skills. The specific coding languages I have been focusing on this semester are Javascript, HTML, and CSS. Using these languages, I was able to build and style a portion of the FCI website, specifically the “About”/Information section. With the knowledge and skills I acquired this semester, along with the help of FCI’s amazing lead engineer, Aly Knowles, I was able to code a properly styled information section for a website that real people can interact with.”

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