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New Leaders Council

2016 Fellows


Amir Bassiri, Empire State Fellow, New York State Governor's Office    Amir_Bassiri.jpg

Amir Bassiri is a Licensed Master of Social Work currently serving in the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo as part of the Empire State Fellow Program, which trains professionals to be the next generation of State policymakers.  Amir works in the Executive Chamber with the Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services on several areas of Health and Human services policy.  Prior to being an Empire Fellow, Amir worked as Director of Development at Urban Upbound, a non-profit organization committed to breaking cycles of poverty in New York City.  As Director of Development, Amir reported directly to the President & CEO on a variety of financial, strategic and operational matters, as well as oversaw the Development Department, including the Research and Evaluation Team.  During his time at Urban Upbound, Amir secured a diverse mix of revenue sources that increased the organizational budget, and developed several public/private partnerships, including one of which resulted in the creation of a worker-owned cooperative.  Amir also led and managed the creation of a living financial model, which assesses both program and contract profitability to guide strategic decision-making.

A California native, Amir graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Economics and Psychology (Double Major), before earning a Master’s in Social Enterprise Administration (M.S.W), from Columbia University. Amir is also fluent in Farsi.


Kathleen Brady-Stepien, Director of Advocacy, Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies   Kathleen_Brady-Stepien.jpg

A native of Buffalo, New York, Kathleen is passionate about child welfare and particularly passionate about working to achieve policy solutions that improve the foster care system.  Currently, she is the Director of Advocacy for the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA), a statewide organization that represents over 100 child welfare nonprofits; Kathleen works to develop COFCCA's budget and legislative advocacy positions and acts as a liaison between member agencies and state agencies.

Kathleen is a graduate of Vassar College, where she earned a BA in English, and SUNY Buffalo, where she earned a Masters in Social Work degree.  Her professional experiences have varied from managerial positions to clinical and direct practice roles. After graduating from Vassar, Kathleen managed and led after-school programs in the city of Buffalo for low-income students attending schools in need of improvement.  She directed programming and led staff as director of the Southside Boys and Girls Club, where she created and executed programming to prevent summer learning loss.  Kathleen supervised parent-child visits as a social worker at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and taught a GED class of domestic violence survivors through the Buffalo Public Schools Adult Education Division.  Kathleen is a 2014 Center for Women in Government Fellow; during her fellowship, she focused on foster care policy at the NYS Office of Children and Family Services.  She currently co-chairs the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society's Fellowship Alumnae Network.



Shannon Cantiello, Director of Finance and Operations, New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Shannon_Cantiello.jpg  

Shannon Cantiello is the Director of Finance and Operations at the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, a State agency that works to improve New York State’s response to and prevention of domestic violence with the goal of enhancing the safety of all New Yorkers in their intimate and family relationships. In this role, she assists in the direction, development, and implementation of statewide domestic violence policy and program directives and manages all aspects of the agency’s finances.  Prior to her time at OPDV, Shannon served as a Legislative Budget Analyst for the New York State Assembly Majority Ways and Means Committee with a portfolio focused on Human Services issues.  Throughout her time at the Assembly, she assisted in the development and analysis of policies aimed to improve the lives of children and families.  Shannon began her career as an advocate working on behalf of survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the legal, medical, housing and social services systems at Wellspring (formerly known as Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County).   In this work, she gained an understanding of the many barriers to safety and well-being faced by individuals experiencing domestic and sexual violence, and also the many weaknesses of the legal and community networks potentially accessed by survivors as they navigate crisis.

Shannon holds a Masters degree in History with a concentration in Public Policy from the University at Albany and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in History/Political Science and Education from the College of Saint Rose.  She is passionate about social and economic justice issues and is focused on building a career that addresses these issues at the structural level and betters the lives of the most vulnerable.  In her spare time, she has continued volunteering with domestic and sexual violence service providers and recently, became a Wish Granter with the Make A Wish Foundation of Northeastern New York.  She resides in Albany, NY with her husband, Joel, and their adorable dog, Charlie.



Jasmine A. Clemons, Graduate Assist, New York State Division of the Budget   Jasmine_A._Clemons.jpg

Jasmine A. Clemons is a Graduate Assistant to the Deputy Director of the NYS Division of the Budget, while she works to complete her Master of Public Administration at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. Jasmine also has served as a John M. Reilly Legislative Intern for United University Professions, assisting with policy research and member advocacy. Prior to these positions, she was honored to be selected as a 2015 Fellow on Women & Public Policy, spending her fellowship with the NYS Department of Transportation, Public Transportation Bureau, researching and working as a state liaison for issues affecting the transit disadvantaged.

A native Southerner, Jasmine was born in Louisiana and grew up in Kentucky and spent over a decade in Florida before moving to the Capital District. While in the Sunshine State, Jasmine had a successful management career within the private sector before ultimately deciding that she could no longer continue neglecting her passion for progressive politics. Some of these private sector roles include Sales & Marketing Manager for Morton's the Steakhouse, Palm Beach and Business Development Manager for two food & beverage outlets within a Tallahassee boutique hotel.

Jasmine earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Troy University and has volunteered with many different organizations, including the Junior League and Big Brothers, Big Sisters. In her free time, she most enjoys traveling to visit family and friends, reading non-fiction and watching almost any sporting event.



Desiree A. Farley, M.A., Healthcare Program Specialist, New York State Department of Health   Desiree_A._Farley__M.A..jpg

Desiree is a self-defined feminist, advocate, political organizer, and fundraiser for social justice causes.  As a young woman, Desiree challenged oppressive forces wherever they existed.  She stood up to school officials who suppressed her peers’ rights to self- express in violation of the dictates of social constructs of gender identities.  She began advocating for women’s reproductive health and LGBTQ rights as an undergraduate student at the University at Albany.  Traveling the country to lobby for progressive legislation, Desiree gained insights into the power that public policy has in shaping everyday lives of the most vulnerable groups.  While completing a Master’s degree in Women’s studies focusing specifically on public policy, Desiree worked full time at a non-profit organization to privatize funding for programs and services specific to LGBT people of color communities while also helping to develop an economic stimulus for Albany’s distressed communities.

While participating in lobbying and grassroots efforts to push forward progressive policies in New York State, she also participated in political campaigns of progressive candidates.  As a 2015 Women in Government & Civil Society Fellow, Desiree identified, tracked and analyzed relevant research and trends regarding reproductive health care with the purpose of advancing policy initiatives that support the legislative and regulatory agenda of Family Planning Advocates of New York State.

Desiree is furthering her education at the School of Public Health at the University at Albany and works as a Healthcare Program Specialist with the Office of Quality and Patient Safety at the New York State Department of Health.



Jack Kelly, New York State Mortgage Assistant Program Coordinator, Empire Justice Center   Jack_Kelly.jpg

Jack Kelly currently works with Empire Justice Center as the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program (NYS-MAP) Coordinator.  The MAP program, funded by the Office of the Attorney General, works in New York City with partner organizations, and outside of New York City with Empire Justice, to lend money to homeowners in danger of losing their homes due to outstanding debt.  To date, the program has helped over 1000 families.

In the past Jack has worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA and has a background in government and marketing, and media. Jack graduated from Stetson University with a BA in Political Science and American Studies.



Jordan Lesser, Legal Counsel, New York State Assembly   Jordan_Lesser.jpg

Jordan Lesser currently works as Legal Counsel for the New York State Assembly, where he has been able to lead in environmental and energy policymaking. As a former National Park Ranger in Arizona and Louisiana, and with a background in water law and natural resources law, he has been able to bring this expertise to the state capitol as energy and environmental policy rapidly moves forward to craft a sustainable future.

He is an avid traveler and most recently went to Guatemala and Iceland, and is a member of the Albany Curling Club.



Renee Lewis, Member Specialist, State Employees Federal Credit Union   Renee_Lewis.jpg

As a Member Specialist at State Employees Federal Credit Union, Renee assist members with basic financial transactions such as answering any banking inquires; on both member account information and SEFCU's products and services.  On a daily basis, Renee strives to establish and deepen relationships with prospective and current SEFCU members.  Prior to working at SEFCU, she received her B.S in Mathematics at the State University at Albany.  During her undergraduate career she participated in the NYS Senate Democratic Conference Internship program, where she conducted research on policies dealing with Minority and Women-Owned Business (MWBE).  Along with her extracurricular activities and a rigorous academic course load she also maintained a position as a customer service representative for both the athletic department and the university bookstore. Renee hopes to advance within her current role at SEFCU to help optimize new products, control costs, reduce risk, and build deeper customer relationships through analysis of consumer and marketing data collected.

Aside from work, Renee volunteers during her spare time.  Recent volunteer efforts include; helping low-income families shop for holiday gifts through CoNSERNS-U non-profit, assisting with Hope Houses annual holiday party, and Equinox Thanksgiving Day Community Dinner.  She hopes to increase her volunteer efforts by engaging in financial literacy programs through SEFCU.

As a Brooklyn native Renee enjoys traveling, doing yoga, and reading. She looks forward to her experience as a NLC fellow.



Rosa Mendez, Consistency Review Specialist, New York State Department of State   Rosa_Mendez.jpg

Rosa Méndez is a Consistency Review Specialist for the New York State Department of State and a dedicated advocate of environmental protection and community engagement.

After witnessing the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, Rosa decided to marry her passion for sustainability with the field of climate change and sea level rise resiliency.  This led her to the Department of State where she ensures that federal, state, and local public agency decisions affecting New York State’s coastal zone and approved inland waterways result in activities that are consistent with the State’s coastal policies and program.  Addressing the need for resiliency measures in the management of energy facilities, Rosa’s role focuses on energy projects.

A native of Brooklyn, NY, Rosa is a graduate of Cornell University and Vermont Law School. She excitedly returned to the upstate region to pursue her career in public service, tackle the Adirondack 46, and connect with the community.  Following in the footsteps of her civil rights championing parents Rosa recently got involved with voters rights protection in Albany and is looking forward to participating in the Capital District 2016 New Leaders Council Institute.



Burton W. Phillips, Counsel and Policy Director, Office of New York State Senator Brad Hoylman   Burton_W._Phillips.jpg

Burton serves as Counsel and Policy Director for New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, a progressive Democrat representing a district in the heart of Manhattan.  Since joining Senator Hoylman’s office in 2013, he has helped guide a policy portfolio focused primarily on government reform, environmental stewardship, and advancing LGBT issues, while managing day-to-day operations in the Senator’s Albany office.  His most recent projects include drafting legislation requiring state contractors to disclose their gender wage gaps, a report detailing the inaction of the New York State Senate on LGBT issues post-2011, and a bill to restore eligibility for state benefits for LGBT veterans who were discharged less than honorably from the U.S. military due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.  In 2015, Burton was named one of City & State’s “Albany Rising Stars: 40 Under 40.”

Before joining Senator Hoylman, Burton served from 2011-2013 as the Director of Executive Chamber Operations for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, managing a staff of 16 employees across four units including correspondence, gubernatorial messages, invitations, and constituent affairs.  He has also served as Counsel & Policy Director for New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, Associate Counsel to the New York State Senate Policy Group, and got his introduction to Albany as a New York State Senate Legislative Fellow.  Prior to coming to the Capital Region, Burton was a student law clerk with the New York State Attorney General’s Office in Syracuse and Buffalo, and an intern with then-U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders in Washington, D.C.

A native of upstate New York, Burton earned his J.D. from the University at Buffalo Law School, where he graduated in top quarter of his class, served as the President of the Student Bar Association and held leadership positions with the UB Environmental Law Journal, the Jessup International Moot Court Board, and OUTLAW, an organization for LGBTQA law students.  He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Connecticut, where he was awarded the Academic Excellence Scholarship and admitted to the Washington Center’s Congressional Leadership Program.



Jonathan J. Richardson, Development and Communications Manager, Habitat for Humanity   Jonathan_J._Richardson.jpg

Jonathan J. Richardson currently is the Development and Communications Manager at Habitat for Humanity Capital District.  He manages the individual giving and donor relations initiatives.  He also is the point person for all individual volunteers in addition to managing the marketing and communications.  Prior to Habitat, Jonathan held fundraising and communications roles at several nonprofit agencies in the Capital Region including the Pride Center of the Capital Region, Northern Rivers Family Services, Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany and Easter Seals New York.  Most recently, he completed a fellowship with New Sector Alliance in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  There, He managed a consulting project for the volunteer department at the Science Museum of Minnesota.  Jonathan is passionate about helping people and transforming communities.  He enjoys working with people who want to give their time, money and skills towards helping their local communities.

Jonathan is about to finish his Master of Social Work and Master of Public Administration degrees at University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy focusing on nonprofit management and social welfare policy.  He has completed research projects on the effectiveness of a nonprofit’s board of directors, marketing for human service agencies, and collaborations between local governments and nonprofit organizations. Jonathan received his Bachelor’s degree in Religion, Linguistics and Gender Studies from the University of Rochester.  He also serves on the board of the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals as the Vice President of Communications and Diversity.  Jonathan is a USA Track & Field Certified Level 1 Coach and tries to stay an active donor and volunteer for many local nonprofits.



Kimberly Segura, Budget Analyst, New York State Division of the Budget   Kimberly_Segura.jpg

Kimberly Segura currently serves as a Budget Analyst for the New York State Division of the Budget.  In this role, Kimberly is as a central contact for Article VII formulation for both the Executive and Enacted budget.  Kimberly also functions as the Division’s central liaison with the Governor’s Counsel and the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission.

Prior to her position at DOB, Kimberly held numerous internships and research positions throughout her academic career.  The organizations Kimberly was affiliated with include: the Nassau County 10th Judicial District, the New York State Assembly, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the New York State Assembly Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, and the New York City Comptroller’s Office.  Segura was also the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award, which is the highest honor awarded to any student in the SUNY system, the NYS Assembly Speaker’s Certificate of Recognition, and the Spellman Achievement Award for Leadership.

Kimberly recently earned her Master of Public Administration degree from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy – University at Albany with a concentration in Financial Management.  Segura also graduated from the University at Albany with a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, in Public Policy with a minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

In her spare time, Kimberly enjoys reading a new biography (particularly on the Kennedy family), traveling to new places, attempting to cook, and watching Parks and Recreation.  



Jahnhoy Smith, Special Assistant to the Deputy Commissioner, New York State Department of Health   Jahnhoy_Smith.jpg

Jahnhoy Smith comes to Albany by way of Brooklyn, New York and is currently a Special Assistant to the Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Health.  Prior to this role, Jahnhoy served as an Empire State Fellow at the New York State Division of Budget.  In his current role, Jahnhoy oversees the planning, coordination, and implementation of key health care policy initiatives in the Department's Office of Primary Care and Health Systems Management.

In previous career roles, Jahnhoy served as an Operations at Metro Plus Health Plan, a subsidiary of New York City Health+Hospitals.  In that role, Jahnhoy was responsible for overseeing the operational and policy issues related to Government sponsored health programs, namely Medicare and Medicaid.  Jahnhoy managed Medicare Operations and business strategies to meet planned objectives and external business partners to ensure that the Medicare program performance was consistent with the corporations business and regulatory requirements.

Jahnhoy has a keen interest in youth mentorship and community development and hopes to use skills learned from NLC to advance these causes.

Jahnhoy received his Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration from the CUNY Brooklyn College and his Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management from Baruch College & Ichan School of Medicine.



Kaciem Swain, Founder and CEO, SPARK + THRIVE  Kaciem_Swain.jpg

Kaciem Swain is the Founder & CEO of SPARK+THRIVE - an 850 sq ft boutique co-working space and real estate startup located in historic Arbor Hill - a space for entrepreneurship, designed and created by entrepreneurs to foster creativity, cultivate talent and accelerate ideas. SPARK + THRIVE is the first brick and mortar brand to come from the labs at FlagshipUltra, a creative think-tank agency and idea lab producing brands, events, products where Swain serves as the Creative Director for Idea Engineering. FlagshipUltra provides clarity, development and execution for creators at heart. Internally, they're creators first. Swain joins New Leaders Council as a 2016 Fellow looking to align himself with the entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow. He's committed to promoting entrepreneurship within the Capital District and will remain a resident of Albany to do so. In his spare time he is a freelance business consultant and coach as "Train With Swain" where he helps creative’s, freelancers, small businesses, big brands & startups start, run & grow or pivot + rebrand. He will start a 5-year MBA at The Sage Colleges in January 2016.



Bailey Van Deest, Senior Worker, St. Anne's Institute  Bailey_Van_Deest.jpg

Bailey Van Deest is currently working as a Senior Worker for St. Anne's Institute, where she supervises the day to day operations of the Albany Evening Reporting Center for girls aged 13-16.  Bailey began her career at GE Global Research working in purchasing, and most recently worked for Atlas Copco before transitioning to a career in human services. Bailey is also a volunteer with the Pride Center of the Capital Region, where she works as a facilitator with the Pride Center's youth programs. Originally from Wichita, KS, Bailey received a BA in Political Science from SUNY Albany, where she was also Division 1 softball player. In her spare time,

Bailey is an avid hiker, backpacker, and member of the Albany Curling Club.





Liska Wilson, Founder, She's a Boss  Liska_Wilson.jpg

Liska is the middle child and eldest girl of five children.  She was born in Jamaica, but grew up in Albany New York.  Growing up, her parents frequently preached to her and her siblings about the importance of education and making the most of opportunities.  The mindset they instilled in her led her through the public school system to Siena College where she obtained her B.S. in Marketing and Management.  She remembers being taught what most parents teach their children, “go to school and study hard so you can get a good job.”  So that’s what she did, but as a young woman (especially a young black woman), she quickly realized that that was easier said than done. This realization is what continues to drive her.

After graduating Siena, Liska started She’s a Boss, a group for career-minded women who wanted guidance and support as they built their careers.  Through She’s a Boss, Liska and her network of mentors help to inspire, encourage, and guide young women through the process of building a career or business that excites them.  She’s a Boss offers a dynamic mentor program and produces events throughout the year that educate, inspire, and connect women in the Capital Region.  Liska is proud that she is able to inspire and help women do more than just “get a good job.”

By trade, Liska is a marketeer specializing in branding, communications, and content marketing.  She works in the Innovations department of Pioneer Bank and also has freelance clients in various industries.  She is an Advisory Board member for Capital Region Women@Work and often volunteers her time to speak with college students about the importance of networking and strategic career planning.  Her goal in being an NLC Fellow is to get acquainted with and better understand how to learn about and get involved with the local government relative to how it affects career and business development.

In her free time, you can find Liska entertaining her 4-year-old daughter, sharing laughs with her siblings, and traveling the world.





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