PILS 2018

Joshua BranchJosh Branch grew up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania the youngest of four children to Joseph Branch and Aurora Cruz. As a child, Joshua watched his father fight for over 15 years to be considered a 100% disabled veteran after sustaining a neck injury. His father’s legal battle inspired his interest in law. He graduated from the Pennsylvania State University Schreyer Honors College in 2013 where he won the Lambda Outstanding Student of the Year and Stand Up Award for his advocacy of the LGBTQ community and was also named Outstanding Student in the Political Science Department. At Penn State he researched the effects of extended year and summer educational programs on minority youths’ academic successes. He was selected as one of 20 students worldwide to be an American Political Science Association’s Ralph Bunche fellow at Duke University, where he conducted research on the success and failure of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements. Joshua then went on to research the causes of the Arab Spring and the effects of school districting and tax policies on minority students at the University of Oxford St. Catherine’s College.  

Joshua further pursued his interest in education policy and social advocacy through his two-year service commitment with Teach For America in Miami, Florida where he taught reading at Madison Middle School and Homestead Senior High School.

During the summer he worked for the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) in Seattle, Washington. While at DFER, he analyzed legislation on childcare reform and met with community members to discuss pending legislation. His work at DFER afforded him the opportunity to conduct research and consulting work for Dan Grimm, former State Treasurer of Washington. This work focused on analyzing National Assessment for Educational Progress data, state value assessments, as well as historical judicial research for a show cause hearing regarding the McCleary et. al. v. State of Washington case. Joshua looks forward to pursuing his interest in law at Georgetown, which reside on the intersection of civil rights and education. 

When he is not in a library Joshua can be found running, cooking, enjoying a good laugh via Netflix, or playing clown for the entertainment of his nieces and nephew.


Greg CarterGreg Carter has been engaged in education and education policy since graduating in 2010 from Pomona College in Claremont, CA. Most recently, he worked as a Writing Fellow for New Schools for New Orleans and the New Orleans Director of the Urban Leaders Fellowship, a program designed to help educators develop skills as policy advocates. Before that, he taught 7th grade Reading at John Dibert Community School in New Orleans, LA, where his students earned the highest percentage of Mastery and Advanced scores on the iLEAP of any open-enrollment school in the city of New Orleans. 

He previously taught 6th and 7th grade Language Arts teacher at Ridgeway Middle School in southeast Memphis and, before entering the classroom, served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Colorado state Senator Mike Johnston. In college, Greg served as President of the Pomona Student Union and was awarded a Senior Service award for his dedication to the college.


Joyce Dela PenaJoyce Dela Pena majored in American Studies with a concentration in social change and the law.  She focused on the intersections of race, law, and power, serving as an editor of the Stanford human rights journal and conducting research on historical trends in incarceration practices.  Her senior thesis, a sociological analysis of the South’s convict lease system, explored both the material power of penalization as well as its symbolic role as a cultural engine of social relations, moral emotions, and perceptions of race and criminality.  Additionally, Joyce was an active campus organizer around issues of social justice, sexual violence, and women’s issues.

After college, she joined a small boutique litigation firm in San Francisco, where she worked on both criminal defense matters as well as asylum cases.  In her most recent position at the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, Joyce assisted in class action litigation and policy advocacy on behalf of California and Arizona prisoners, advocating for constitutionally adequate medical care, mental health care, and accommodations for prisoners with physical and development disabilities. Joyce has also continued to organize against sexual violence and volunteers as a sexual assault crisis counselor with San Francisco Women Against Rape.  Looking forward, she plans to focus her studies on criminal justice, prison law, and disability law, and is interested in ways to combine community organizing with legal strategies that empower and politicize vulnerable communities.   


Tommy LandersTommy Landers is a Maryland native. He studied at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned undergraduate degrees in Mathematics and Theatre Performance. After college, he traveled through Europe and elsewhere, worked in a physics lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, and then came back to Maryland to teach mathematics at UMD. Along the way, Tommy developed a passion for climate change activism, sparked by his experience volunteering with Hurricane Katrina refugees who had wound up in Los Angeles.

After returning to Maryland, Tommy began volunteering on legislative campaigns for climate and clean energy solutions, and within a year he decided to work full time on these issues. He spent six years at a statewide environmental group, Environment Maryland, working his way up from grassroots organizer to director of the organization. At Environment Maryland, he played leading roles in successful campaigns to enact a statewide carbon cap, secure state funding for energy efficiency, and set the stage for offshore wind power for Maryland. Tommy then accepted a position as Maryland & DC Policy Director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), the only group in the region dedicated exclusively to global warming. At CCAN, Tommy has focused on improving and expanding Maryland’s and DC’s clean electricity standards.

Over his past two years at CCAN, Tommy has become most interested in illustrating the human impacts of climate change and pursuing intersections with other economic justice issues. For example, he has collaborated with a set of non-traditional clean energy allies—such as Maryland Working Families, the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, and the newly formed Maryland Latino Legislative Caucus—on a campaign to increase clean electricity consumption in Maryland. At the same time, Tommy ensured that his climate advocacy allies supported a priority of these new social justice partners—establishing mandatory paid sick leave in Maryland. Tommy believes that the ultimate goal of stabilizing the climate aligns well with that of many social and economic justice efforts: We all seek an equitable society in which workers and their families can be healthy and prosperous for the long haul.


Ramya SekaranRamya Sekaran comes to Georgetown Law with a diverse range of experiences advancing human rights and civil rights through anti-bias education, grassroots organizing, field research, and legal and policy advocacy. Most recently, she spent over three years working for the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Women's Rights Project, where she assisted with a number of litigation matters, including a challenge to the Pentagon’s policy of excluding women from combat roles and a lawsuit that led to the invalidation of patents on two genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Ramya also coordinated a multi-departmental effort to address the rights of pregnant and parenting workers and responded to numerous requests for assistance, including one that led to the filing of a Title IX complaint against a university for its response to a student who was sexually assaulted.

From 2010 to 2011, Ramya was an American India Foundation Clinton Fellow at the human rights NGO People’s Watch in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. At People’s Watch, Ramya worked on a study assessing the functioning of India’s national and state commissions for women, assisted with the proceedings of a public hearing on children’s rights, and participated in a fact-finding mission, among other projects. In college, she founded a chapter of STAND, the student anti-genocide coalition, and successfully collaborated with broader anti-genocide coalitions. 

While at Georgetown Law, Ramya looks forward to deepening her understanding of the intersections between gender justice and other areas, including economic justice, racial justice, criminal justice reform, and public health. 


Rachel SmithRachel Smith comes from northern Vermont and after graduation hopes to advocate for individuals in impoverished rural communities. Before coming to Georgetown, she spent two and a half years working as a paralegal at Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit legal center that focuses on impact litigation protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities. In this role, she was deeply involved in litigation with profound civil rights impacts – including a case that resulted in Alameda County ending the use of solitary confinement as a form of discipline for children in its Juvenile Hall, a case that challenged the 1.8% wheelchair accessibility of New York City’s taxicab fleet and that resulted in an agreement to raise that number to 50%, and a case that confirmed the right of voters who are blind or visually impaired to cast their vote privately and independently. Rachel grew up on a working farm and first became involved in advocacy through food justice, working with organizations nationally, internationally, and in her home town that worked to increase revenue for farmers who used sustainable techniques and to increase access to fresh produce for people with low incomes. She hopes to use her advocacy experience and law degree to help people affected by multiple forms of oppression navigate the legal system and assert their legal protections.


Eleanor UmphresEleanor Umphres hails from Texas.  She graduated from the Columbia University School of Social Work in 2011 and is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW).  While at Columbia, she studied advanced clinical practice with a minor in law and completed 1200 hours of fieldwork with The Doe Fund, Inc. and The Bronx Defenders.  Eleanor’s focus is on criminal justice, and she looks forward to using her J.D. to improve U.S. prison conditions and sentencing policies.  Eleanor has worked as a Senior Mental Health Counselor at Valdosta State Prison (VSP), where she managed a caseload of approximately 95 prisoners, conducted routine and emergency mental health and sexual assault evaluations, served on-call, and completed suicide risk assessments and self-injury reports.  She also reestablished and co-led the “Lifers’ Group”: a mental health support group for men serving sentences of 20+ years or life.  She is most proud of having held to her personal goal and standard of treating everyone with dignity and respect while advocating for better treatment of and conditions for men incarcerated at VSP.  Past internships and volunteer efforts include work with the U.S. Air Force Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, the Vera Institute of Justice, Human Rights Watch, Aid to Inmate Mothers, and the Good Hope Orphanage in Tanzania.  Graduating as class Valedictorian, Eleanor received a B.A. in International Affairs with a concentration in Politics in 2009 from Vesalius College, in Brussels, Belgium, and before that she was a professional ballet dancer with the Sacramento Ballet in California.  Eleanor is an Air Force spouse and hopes to volunteer during her time in D.C. as an Arlington Lady.  Eleanor is also a Public Interest Fellow at Georgetown.


Shaina VinayekShaina Vinayek graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology and Physiology. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the root cause of inequities in health, she spent evenings and summers shadowing surgeons, family physicians, addictions counselors and infectious disease specialists at the University of Maryland Medical Center. There she witnessed firsthand the miracles of a kidney transplant, a course of antibiotics, and lifesaving anti-retroviral therapy. Her experience in the field allowed her to appreciate how the many political, social and economic interactions and considerations play into a final prescription. Following her experience within the U.S. health system she pursued a study abroad program focused on HIV/AIDS in Copenhagen. It was during this program that she realized that “sickness” was not defined solely through a universal set of criteria dictated by the results of a scientific study, but rather at a political level.

To take a deeper dive into the relationship between health and cultural, social, political and economic factors, starting in 2010 Shaina pursued a Masters in Public Health at Columbia University. While at Columbia, Shaina was a Biostatistics Teaching Assistant on campus and a Health Research Training Program intern at the New York City Department of Health. As an intern, she contributed to the launch of a three-day curriculum and campaign to recruit clients to The Positive Life Workshop, a health education, self-management workshop for newly diagnosed HIV positive individuals. After graduating from Columbia, Shaina became a Rosenfield HIV/AIDS Public Policy Fellow at amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research where she analyzed the human impact of sequestration on global health funding and helped conceptualize the representation of public health outcomes and health commodities in a politically digestible infographic format. Upon the completion of her fellowship, Shaina joined Friends of the Global Fight Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as a Policy Manager where she was the lead in producing briefing papers, fact sheets, one-pages and talking points related to the Global Fund and global health.

At Georgetown Law, Shaina plans to focus on intellectual property and international trade law.  Her goal is to help enable low-and middle-income countries to develop intellectual property regulations that are in compliance with World Trade Organization regulations and other trade agreements, and concurrently promote country-level access to essential and cutting-edge medicines and health commodities.

In her free time, Shaina enjoys running distances and writing about food.

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