Current Scholars

Class of 2026

Chase Avecilla

Rachel Bechtel

Rachel (she/her) is a disability justice activist with experience in direct support, advocacy, and research. Rachel is originally from Moscow, Idaho, where she was introduced to disability culture at a young age through her friends and family. She graduated from Carroll College in Helena, Montana with a degree in Psychology. During this time, she researched disability-based wage discrimination and promoted increased accessibility on campus and in her community. After graduation, she provided individual and systemic advocacy as an advocacy specialist at Disability Rights Montana. Rachel then lived and worked as a Direct Support Professional within a cooperative living community for adults with and without intellectual disabilities in Portland, Oregon. She recently finished a Fulbright grant in Canterbury, England, where she completed a Master’s by Research Degree and studied the effects of relationships on prejudice towards people with intellectual disabilities. Rachel is excited to attend AUWCL and hopes to continue to promote disability justice.


zev braun

Zev (he/him) grew up in the small, ideologically-diverse community of Hood River, Oregon. There, glaring inequalities based on ethnicity and immigration status sparked a winding career journey that would eventually lead him to AUWCL.­­­ After graduating from Grinnell College in 2015 with a Bachelor’s in Biology, Zev began work as an emergency medical technician and drug addiction recovery specialist in Portland, Oregon, with the intent to become a physician. Discouraged by the quality of our healthcare system and the social determinants of health, however, Zev took a break from that as an AmeriCorps volunteer in a different rural Oregon community than his hometown. Assigned to health education in an alternative high school, he witnessed both terrible impacts of childhood trauma and incredible resiliency in the student body—spurring a fundamental re-evaluation of his career and lifepath; Zev gave up the path of medical professional in favor of policy advocacy and systems change as a lifelong commitment. In graduate school after AmeriCorps ended, Zev studied health policy and law at Boston University School of Public Health, devoting his coursework towards gun violence prevention advocacy. In his spare time, Zev used funding from a university challenge grant to interview family members who had lost loved ones to gun violence in Boston, and develop a website to uplift their voices in pushing for policy changes and systems investments on the city level. After graduation, Zev returned to Oregon, where he first worked for a state policy nonprofit focused on firearm safety—contributing to the eventual passage of Oregon’s safe firearm storage law (SB 554)—and second worked for a Portland metro county’s health department as their suicide prevention coordinator.


christine cha

As a Korean American, Christine (she/her) graduated and received her Bachelor of Arts from Bucknell University in 2021 double majoring in political science and philosophy. Christine became committed to her passion for the law when she interned in Chatham County Juvenile court in Savannah, Georgia, within the prosecutor’s office. Working with the prosecutors, she took and recorded victim statements, helping maintain structure and clarity for the juvenile court as a whole. She saw firsthand how families and children’s lives were being determined by the law, especially those from marginalized communities, for their future and livelihoods. But she also saw how her local government and the juvenile court worked towards making changes within the system, such as thinking of ways to introduce restorative justice and taking a family-first approach. Thus, she found her purpose on how to serve her community through the legal realm. Christine has worked in various realms within the public service and public interest arena, from nonprofit work to local county government. She was one of four people in her school to receive the Shepherd Hill Consortium for Poverty summer internship program and worked for Bread for the City in Washington DC as a housing social service worker. Christine has worked with hundreds of clients on their affordable housing applications in DC and nonnative English speakers for their social security and housing applications. Christine’s perspective on the legal system’s role within the family became more nuanced and enhanced after she became an AmeriCorps member. She worked as a Crisis Rapid Response Coordinator with families in three different counties in Central Pennsylvania (Northumberland, Snyder, Union Counties). As a Crisis Rapid Response worker, when children were at risk of being taken away from their family, often within the end of the day, she made sure that a family meeting was held as soon as possible to face the emergency. Her most rewarding yet demanding role as a Crisis Rapid Response worker meant coordinating with hundreds of family members, their supports, schools, local prisons, and their social workers to make sure the children could stay with kinship support rather than be put in the foster system. Families were often dealing with issues such as poverty, substance use, and mental health crises, and she learned how to serve them, so they felt as much agency in the process as possible. However, Christine felt throughout her career that there were severe limitations as a social worker, whereas attorneys had the power to help their clients feel safe and supported. She chose the law because she could make a greater difference as a lawyer because people trust and rely on their lawyers to protect them and their best interests. Christine’s dedication and drive towards working with marginalized and destabilized families, and committing to family and juvenile law is something that she will pursue within her time and WCL and beyond. 


nicole devereaux

Nicole (she/her) has spent nearly 20 years helping people engage in their most important conversations. As a certified Conversational Intelligence® coach, Nicole facilitated innovative conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion practices at public interest organizations, including the NYC Department of Health and the National Housing Trust in Washington, D.C. Nicole was also an anti-bias trainer with AmazeWorks. In that role, she led conversations in K-12 schools about identity, differences, stereotypes, and taking action against bias-based mistreatment. Formerly, Nicole served at a women’s crisis center in Minneapolis. Initially hired to launch a material assistance program, she was inspired by conversations with clients to co-create an education program to support their parenting journeys, mental health, job readiness, and financial freedom. Nicole is also a Restorative Circle Keeper and Nonviolent Communication practitioner. She has planted non-denominational churches in Minneapolis, MN and Brooklyn, NY, where she provided pro bono lay counseling, conflict resolution, and welcomed hundreds of neighbors around her table. For her 40th birthday, Nicole fundraised $40,000. She donated the funds to nonprofits serving refugees, female entrepreneurs, and survivors of sex trafficking. Prior to joining the PIPS community, Nicole spent 2 years living in a motorhome and traveling across the U.S. with her husband, two daughters and dog. She is eager to take on her next adventure as a law student and future public servant, with a particular interest in advancing racial justice.


gabriela dickson la rotta

Gabriela (she/her) joins PIPS after almost three years at the Public Justice Center, a Baltimore-based impact litigation firm, where she supported the Human Right to Housing Team on eviction-related matters. Helping attorneys represent clients in Baltimore housing court and pushing for policy solutions in the Maryland state legislature informed her decision to pursue a career working with clients and effecting change at the systemic level. Born in Brazil to journalist parents from Colombia and Argentina, Gabriela grew up in Miami, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and New York. She graduated in 2020 with a B.S. in Policy Analysis and Management from Cornell University. Upon graduation, she was a Spanish/English interpreter for the Cornell Law School farmworker legal assistance clinic. She is currently Special Projects Coordinator for Project Lifeline, a non-profit organization that supports legal practitioners in their work with immigrant youth. She co-created the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) Predicate Order Resource Center, including the State-by-State Age-Out Database, a tool used by thousands of attorneys around the U.S. every day. In her free time, she enjoys reading romance novels, baking for friends and family, and singing in her Baltimore-based a cappella group.  


lydia galvan

Lydia (she/her/ella) is a Chicana woman from Texas. She is dedicated to transforming the legal and policy systems that impact immigrant families, like hers, to better serve and honor the sacrifice, bravery, and dreams of those who journey to the United States. In previous roles, Lydia has explored areas of interest, including education and housing. She worked within Fort Worth, Texas, organizing community members to advance racial equity efforts in public education. In her real estate career, she saw the realities of redlining and gentrification across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. She brings a diverse set of experiences from designing advocacy campaigns locally and statewide to negotiating contracts for home sales. Lydia is a graduate of Texas Christian University, where she studied political science with an emphasis in comparative race and ethnic studies.  She is a yoga teacher, amateur gardener, and loves exploring new interests and she is eager to join the PIPS community at AU! 



kayla keech

Kayla (she/her) continues her studies at the Washington College of Law after three years at the Office of Generic Drug Policy in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While at FDA, she served as the subject-matter expert on all administrative matters for the office. Kayla led the office’s transition to a fully remote office during the COVID-19 global pandemic and, eventually, to a hybrid workplace. She streamlined workflow processes and developed and communicated policies and procedures to staff. Kayla also volunteered to serve on the Office of Generic Drugs Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Committee. Leveraging her experience as a person with a disability, she organized the Committee’s inaugural event on incorrect stereotypes and interacting with people with disabilities. Previously, Kayla interned in the Office of the Parliamentarian in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she assisted a team of lawyers who advised members of both parties on House rules. Here, she helped edit the second volume of Precedents of the U.S. House of Representatives. Kayla graduated summa cum laude from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a B.S. in Public Policy and Administration and a minor in Spanish.


junnah Mozaffar

Junnah (she/her) is incredibly grateful to join this year’s PIPS cohort. After the United States’ hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, Junnah quickly shifted her priorities. In her senior year of college, she joined Development Alternative Inc. 's (DAI), Emergency Response Team to manage their Special Immigration Visa (SIV) requests. In her role, she researched, wrote, and processed application materials that would allow DAI’s Afghan employees to enter the U.S. The raw experiences of Afghans fleeing the Taliban while stranded in the visa system exposed the shortcomings of immigration policy. As much of the world remained silent, Junnah paused her pursuit of law school for a year to continue her work at DAI. Outside of work, she taught adult English classes and helped newly-arrived families integrate to their new home. Junnah is a Virginia native. She holds a B.A. in both Philosophy and Psychology from the College of William and Mary.


kayla Rivers

Kayla (she/her) joins the PIPS community from St. Thomas, U.S Virgin Islands, where she was born and raised. Her interest in law school and community advocacy is rooted in her passion for social justice. In the 2 years prior to entering Washington College of Law, Kayla served as a Legislative Staffer in the 34th and 35th Legislatures of the US Virgin Islands, focusing primarily on education, public safety and labor policy. In her role, she worked on policy that aimed to improve student achievement for students with behavioral issues, advocated for victims of crimes against a person and sought to increase equitable opportunities for employment. In addition to her work in policy, Kayla worked in the nonprofit realm increasing civic engagement in Generation Z and Millennial populations. She graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in International Relations from Seton Hall University. Research in her undergraduate studies explored educational and social programs for youth that would limit gun violence in the Virgin Islands, criminal justice reform, and social determinants of health in historically marginalized communities. By the culmination of her undergraduate studies Kayla earned Seton Hall University’s 2021 University Award for Distinguished Leadership due to her extensive efforts working to increase equity and inclusion on college campuses through facilitation, program coordination and policy implementation. Kayla looks forward to her experience as a PIPS scholar at WCL hoping to combine her background in research, policy and advocacy for historically marginalized communities with the law.

Class of 2025

Chase Avecilla

Eugene (E.c.) Bell

E.C. (he/him) returns to the D.C. area to further his education and acquire legal skills, as he pursues his lifelong commitment to working for the good of the city, whatever city he is privileged to call home. In the last few decades, since he graduated from a DC-area high school, he has served as a parish minister in Santa Rosa, California, Longmont, Colorado, and Newberg, Oregon. In each community he served as a pastor, he also served as a volunteer, board member, and officer of community organizations working on issues of educational persistence, housing, and food insecurity. Most recently he has had the privilege of serving as the chair of the Affordable Housing Commission for the City of Newberg. Working with the city staff and city council the commission was a part of effecting important code and policy changes to increase access to workforce and affordable housing. His B.A. from Covenant College is in history and historiography, his M.Div. focused on hermeneutical complications created by cultural syncretism in American Presbyterian churches and the practical application of ethical values in parish life. E.C. and his wife are celebrating their thirtieth years of marriage. He is the proud father of four grown children, one girl and three boys. He has also recently risen to rank of grandfather.


Esma Karakas

Esma (she/her) is from Niksar/Tokat, a small town located in the Black Sea region of Turkey. She came to the United States of America after graduating from high school in Turkey to study English and explore the higher education opportunities in the States. Since then, she completed the ESL programs at Kaplan International and DePaul University. After that she attended St. Louis Community College where she was awarded various awards for her service and leadership skills. She was then named the Distinguished Achievement Scholar of 2018 by Webster University where she attended on a full-ride scholarship. Esma completed her major in International Human Rights and minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Esma graduated summa cum laude in 2020 with her thesis focusing on US Immigration Policies and their Gendered Implications. After graduating, she worked with the immigrant community in St. Louis through various capacities including as an advocate, community organizer, and a community-based researcher. Most of her work in the community focuses on refugees’ access to higher education, domestic violence prevention in immigrant communities, increasing access to preventative health screenings among refugee women, and programming for elderly immigrants. Beside her work in the community, Esma is a social policy researcher and program coordinator at Washington University in St. Louis. Outside of work, Esma runs her own book club that she co-founded for Turkish women in diaspora. When Esma is not too busy creating good trouble for the right reasons, she likes to go hiking, work on her blog, and experiment in the kitchen.


Aiko Marcial Rivera

Aiko Marcial Rivera (she/her) is an Afro-Mexican immigrant with roots in Guerrero, Mexico. Her experience as an immigrant has been the driving force behind her advocacy for her community. Aiko grew up in a hyper-surveilled community of Santa Ana, CA where she experienced the realities of being an immigrant youth. It was the resilience and perseverance in this community that fostered her work ethic and pushed her to begin organizing in the immigrant rights movement. Aiko went on to be a youth organizer for five years providing political educational workshops to immigrant youth and organizing to stop deportations at the local level. Aiko then transitioned to helping immigrants through a different capacity and became a paralegal. She was an immigration paralegal for three years before transitioning into being a paralegal for worker rights where she works closely with immigrants experiencing employment violations. Aiko was inspired to work at the intersections of immigration and labor and employment when she helped unionize her nonprofit workplace in 2018. Living her life at the intersections of being an Afro-Latina has encouraged Aiko to go to law school to to become an attorney where she can combine her life experiences and all the skills she has acquired as an organizer and paralegal. Most importantly, she wants to become an attorney to continue organizing against oppressive systems that impact her community.


Maria ortiz pineda

Maria (she/her) was born in Honduras but grew up in the Northern Virginia area. She is a graduate of George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College. She received her degree in Government and International Politics with a minor in International Security. Prior to joining the WCL community, she worked for three years at the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), a non-profit focused on gender justice advocacy. In her role, she launched a storytelling project to tackle harmful poverty-related narratives. She helped manage the community partnerships portfolio by developing and strengthening relationships with stakeholders to advance efforts focused on child care and economic justice. Prior to NWLC, Maria has experience working at the U.S. Senate, the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Education Association where she worked on a broad range of issues like immigration, labor, and education. She has also been involved in advocacy work in Virginia by volunteering with the state chapter of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice and local immigrants' rights organizations. Outside her job, she enjoys attending Orange Theory classes, spending time with her dog and partner, and exploring new restaurants in the DMV. 


Isabel salas

sabel (she/her) is a community enthusiast and neighborhood advocate from Nebraska. Originally raised in central Nebraska by Mexican immigrant parents, Isabel has used the majority of her professional career advocating for resident-led and resident-powered community development in Lincoln, Nebraska, often centering on housing justice as the foundation for equitable and just communities. She was a community organizer at a local community development nonprofit organization, focused on mitigating and pushing back on plans to gentrify the most affordable, historic, and culturally and racially diverse neighborhoods in the core of Lincoln, just one block south of the Nebraska State Capitol. Her advocacy included centering residents' voices and stories, creating a pipeline to civic engagement and leadership at the municipal and state levels. Isabel worked on policy solutions to rectify imbalances of power in Nebraska's landlord-tenant laws, organized and facilitated a tenant advocacy group, Renters Together, and, spurred by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 led the creation of the Lincoln Tenant Assistance Project, a partnership between the Nebraska State Bar Association, the City of Lincoln, and local nonprofits that provides pro bono representation for tenants at eviction court. Isabel graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2017 with majors in Political Science, Women's and Gender Studies, and Global Studies. While at the University of Nebraska, she played clarinet in the Cornhusker Marching Band and focused on the intersection of her majors to study the impacts of public policy on gender in Latin America. Isabel previously served on the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, has been active in her neighborhood association, and from 2020 to 2022 served as the Secretary for the Nebraska Stonewall Democrats, the LGBTQIA2S+ caucus of the Nebraska Democratic Party. 

Class of 2024

Chase Avecilla

Chace Avecilla

Chace (he/him) is a native of Las Vegas, Nevada, a fact he is reluctant to share among strangers for fear of being pigeonholed by regional stereotypes. Although, truth be told, he can shuffle playing cards really well. When he isn’t in Las Vegas, you can find Chace between Washington D.C. and the Nevada State Capitol. He’s worked between both areas as a policy advocate and legislative staffer, focusing on health and environmental policy. Before attending the Washington College of Law, Chace returned to the world of campaigns as a fellow for a political research firm in the DMV area, where he vetted appointees for the Biden-Harris Presidential Transition Team. He’s thrilled to have found a home in the PIPS community—a place where social justice and advocacy are essential components to legal education.


Catherine Blalock

Catherine (she/her) is joining the PIPS community from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), where she worked for two and a half years as a litigation paralegal. While at LDF, Catherine contributed to civil litigation on behalf of clients in cases related to equity in education, voting rights, economic justice, and criminal justice. Notably, Catherine helped defend race-conscious college admissions as a part of LDF’s litigation team in SFFA v. Harvard at the federal district court and appellate level. She also had the opportunity to help defend access to voting rights in Alabama in light of restrictive voting protocol during the COVID-19 pandemic. Catherine is particularly passionate about protecting the civil rights of students and expanding access to safe, empowering educational opportunities. Prior to her time at LDF, she served in the AmeriCorps as a member of the Carolina College Advising Corps (CCAC) at two rural high schools in Randolph County, North Carolina. In that role, she worked with approximately 600 high school seniors as they researched and prepared for post-secondary opportunities, and navigated the financial aid process. Catherine has also interned with the College Promise Campaign as part of President Obama’s initiative to establish universal, debt-free community college access, and with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. A native of Asheville, North Carolina, Catherine earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with highest honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2017. While at UNC, she studied abroad in India as a Phillips Ambassador Scholar and spent a semester in Washington, DC studying public policy as a Burch Fellow. Catherine also authored an honors thesis examining voluntary school desegregation across the United States, recently published in the University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy.


Ruth Enriquez

As a native New Yorker and the daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, Ruth (she/her) has been passionate about social justice from a young age. Before she arrived at WCL, Ruth worked as a Paralegal for two years at Mobilization for Justice (MFJ), an NYC-based legal service organization that assists low-income New Yorkers. Ruth was a paralegal on both the Government Benefits and the Immigration Law Projects. In her role, she assisted individuals with legal problems relating to Public Assistance, Food Stamps, and Disability Benefits, often representing claimants at administrative hearings. She also assisted immigrants in various stages of obtaining lawful statuses by preparing applications for Asylum, and other forms of immigration relief. Before MFJ, Ruth was a Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellow and spent her summer with the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) where she advocated for an expanded workforce to meet NYC’s growing shelter needs. Before her time with DHS, she was a Teach for America Corps Member, and taught Pre-K in Washington Heights, while earning her Masters in Teaching. Ruth graduated with her B.S from Cornell University where she studied Sociology, Policy Analysis, Demography, and Business. She graduated with distinction in research after completing her honors thesis where she sought to understand the barriers for racial and ethnic minorities seeking mental healthcare. Ruth is thrilled to be a member of the PIPS community and looks forward to using the law to advance equity for marginalized groups.


Marnie Leonard

Originally from rural Illinois, Marnie (she/her) graduated magna cum laude from Southern Illinois University in 2018 with a degree in Political Science - International Affairs and Spanish. As an undergraduate she worked as a reporter and editor for the student newspaper, the Daily Egyptian, covering state and local politics, campus activism, and university administration. She also published her research paper, "Governor Rauner's Turnaround Agenda from a Comparative State Policy Context," in the Simon Review and served as a Communications Intern for two Members of Congress. Her senior year, Marnie interned in the Political/Economic section at the US Consulate General in Barcelona, where she followed the Catalan independence movement and helped report on human rights issues in the region to the State Department. Following her graduation, Marnie joined the Peace Corps, where she served in a village in rural Togo as a Gender Education Volunteer. Her work there was primarily focused on menstrual health education, life and leadership skills for girls, and income generating activity trainings. After two years in Togo, she returned to the US where she currently works as an Illinois JusticeCorps Fellow in Chicago's main civil courthouse assisting self-represented litigants with their cases. In her free time, Marnie enjoys volunteering as a food packer at her local food bank and as a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood, as well as making jewelry, sewing, hiking, and reading. She looks forward to attending AUWCL and is excited to use her legal education to advocate for and support underserved populations.


Chelsea Naylor

Chelsea (she/her) has been serving immigrant survivors of gender-based violence as a Department of Justice Accredited Representative at the Tahirih Justice Center for nearly five years. In this role, she has worked alongside clients to obtain hundreds of visas, work permits, and greencards. During this time, she found she was especially passionate about human trafficking cases, and worked to grow her experience and expertise in the field. Outside of her job, Chelsea volunteers regularly with Whitman Walker's Name and Gender Change Clinic, assisting LGBTQ+ individuals to file a petition to legally change their name. Chelsea comes from New Jersey, where she worked for Habitat for Humanity and LALDEF in Trenton, NJ, before obtaining her Master's in International Law and Human Rights at the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica. She is now thrilled to join the PIPS Community and plans to explore Crimmigration, Human Trafficking work, and LGBTQ+ advocacy.

Kayla Wyatt

kayla wyatt

A DMV native, Kayla (she/her) graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Government and Anthropology. Prior to matriculating to WCL, Kayla has interned with the Department of Justice to fulfill her passion of serving her community. With a deep interest in working towards criminal justice and prison reform, Kayla was a part of Georgetown University’s ‘Making An Exoneree’ program where she worked alongside two other undergraduate students to re-investigate the wrongful conviction of an Ohio inmate, produce a documentary from scratch presenting his case to the public, and working with him to file appropriate court documents to petition for his release. From these experiences, Kayla is excited to be a member of the PIPS community and looks forward to using law to advocate for marginalized communities and the people whose voices have too often been unheard by our criminal justice system.

Class of 2023



Julie McGinnity

Julie (she/her) was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, where she began her first career as a professional performer in high school.  She graduated in 2013 from Webster University with degrees in vocal performance and German and then went onto receive her master's in vocal performance from the University of Missouri Columbia. Her passion for music led her into teaching voice and directing her church choir, while her passion for advocacy inspired her to work for the division of IT at MU and design online resources on web accessibility.  For the last nine years, she has served as a leader in the National Federation of the Blind, a civil rights organization that believes in equality and opportunity of the blind in society.  In 2018, she began working on the staff of the National Federation of the Blind, where she took on a number of roles, including MCing a protest on behalf of blind performers and co-facilitating retreats all over the country for the federation's mentoring program. Her personal experiences facing inequality throughout her career as well as the training she underwent as a performer and leader have emboldened her to pursue a career in the law so that she will learn to use her voice to speak up for those who do not yet know how to advocate for themselves.