Wonderful Public Service Graduate Fellow – 2019
Benny Corona is pursuing a Master in Public Policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School. Benny was born and raised in the Central Valley’s Lindsay, CA. He grew up accompanying his parents to work as a farm worker on school breaks. By the age of 13, Benny had the capacity to double his family’s income in the fields. In 2010, Benny enrolled into UC Berkeley as the first person in his family to attend college. In 2015, he graduated with a B.A. in Anthropology with highest honors for his thesis work titled, “The Growing Voices in the Courts: Free Legal-Services and Immigrants Accessing Justice”.
In the past few years, Benny has worked as a farm worker, community organizer, community development specialist, and political campaigner. His work is focused on the issues of humane immigration reform, environmental advocacy, and water access. His contributions include working in a director role of a nonprofit whose staff produced 8,200 voter registrations, programming the first community air monitor in Kings County’s Avenal, CA, and managing the grant application and implementation of 3.3 million in funding for wastewater infrastructure in Kern County.
After obtaining his Master in Public Policy, Benny is committed to continuing his service to Central Valley communities and to helping solve some of the region’s most pressing public policy issues.
Manpreet Kaur Sandhu is pursuing a Master of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She was born and raised in Bakersfield and carries her Central Valley roots with great pride and affection. She is a proud alumna of Bakersfield’s public schools, completing her undergraduate degree at UC San Diego in Political Science and Ethnic Studies with a minor in Law and Society.
Manpreet founded the Jakara Movement’s Kern County chapter, becoming the first community organizer in the region and creating a forum for long-neglected Punjabi Sikh youth voices to be valued, amplified, strengthened, and organized.
She helped register hundreds of new voters, penned op-ed pieces in the Bakersfield Californian, worked to reform school district policies, advocated for greater language access through state legislation, and has been a primary driver in preparation for Census 2020 in Kern County. She has opened new vistas for the Punjabi Sikh youth of the region through championing immigration rights, educational justice, neighborhood empowerment, youth leadership, community organizing, and civic engagement. Inspired by the rich tradition of social justice in the Valley, Manpreet seeks to emulate a commitment to advocacy, activism, and organizing, in building the legacy for the Sikh Punjabi community of California.
Empowered by Kern County and the Central Valley, upon graduation Manpreet is eager to return home bringing back with her the lessons learned to better inform policy and decision-making.
Samantha Santamaria is pursuing a Master of Social Work with a focus in health, mental health and disabilities from Columbia University, in New York City. Samantha was raised in the small town of Lindsay in Tulare County. She went on to pursue her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley, which she completed in 2016.
During her time as an undergraduate student, Samantha served as a health educator for socioeconomically disadvantaged schools that lacked health education. She also partnered with an anti-trafficking organization to develop a 44 lesson girls’ empowerment curriculum which is now being used in 5 high risk counties as a trafficking preventative tool.
Samantha’s experiences range from working with inmates at San Quentin Prison, day laborers is Oakland, California, and disadvantaged youth with mental health issues. Her international work experience includes working in Nepal to help develop a project that provides counseling, rehabilitation, skills development, and vocational programs to victims of sexual exploitation.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree. Samantha took on the role of an administrator for a group home/shelter for commercially sexually exploited children in Bakersfield, California. She plans to return to the San Joaquin Valley upon completing her master’s degree with the hopes of addressing mental health access barriers in the community.
Wonderful Public Service Graduate Fellow – 2018
Jenna Chilingerian is pursuing a Master’s in Community and Regional Planning from the University of Oregon with a specialized focus in Land Use and Built Environment. While pursuing this degree, she has become passionate about land use planning and policy and plans to return to the San Joaquin Valley to begin her career as a planning practitioner. She is expected to graduate in June 2020.
In the summer of 2019, Jenna interned with the City of Fresno, Department of Planning and Development, Current Planning Division where she processed entitlement applications and drafted the citywide Wireless Telecommunications Facilities policy and procedure.
She is currently serving as a project manager for the University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research and Engagement, leading a graduate student team to complete a multi-phased hazard program, policy, and infrastructure resilience review for the city of Gresham, Oregon.
In the classroom, Jenna has gained practical and applied experience in several projects for Oregon communities ranging from downtown revitalization, transportation demand management, low impact development in watersheds, e-commerce, to operational strategies for transit districts. She is currently applying this skills-based knowledge to her professional graduate project – a trail feasibility study for the City of Reedley, California.
Prior to graduate school, Jenna worked for a series of nonprofits in Cleveland, Ohio and Washington, D.C. before returning to the San Joaquin Valley in 2014. She then served as a Program Manager for the Office of Community and Economic Development at Fresno State and later for the Downtown Fresno Partnership. She entered graduate school with five years of experience in planning, community and economic development, and program management.
Wonderful Public Service Graduate Fellows – 2017
Nanki Bhullar, B.A. (Double Major) in Women’s and Gender Studies (concentration in Power, Rights and Society) and Philosophy (Emphasis: Ethics and Prelaw) at Santa Clara University. She will be a candidate for concurrent Masters in both Social Work and Public Health at UCLA in June 2020.
Nanki was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and moved to Fresno, California when she was twoweeks old. Although she attended college in northern California, her heart remains deeply connected with the San Joaquin Valley as a Sikh American daughter of immigrant almond and raisin farmers dedicated to Valley agriculture.
Upon graduation from UCLA, she plans to return to serve the community with the knowledge gained through her graduate studies.
Irene Calimlim, graduated with a She graduated from the joint Masters in Public Health (Health & Social Behavior) and Masters in City and Regional Planning program (Environmental Design & Healthy Cities) from UC Berkeley in June 2019 and got her BA in Human Biology at Stanford University.
Irene is a Stockton native first moving into the Little Manila neighborhood and attending South Stockton schools like El Dorado Elementary, Hamilton Middle, and Franklin High.
Irene has worked in rural India with the Comprehensive Rural Health Project to learn about their model of empowerment and development working with women village health workers; in southern Japan teaching English at a medical school; and with Greenlining Institute in Oakland in the health equity program.
She has been involved with Fathers & Families of San Joaquin for the past five years where she founded their health and environmental justice efforts and has also led the expansion of their culturally-rooted healing models and restorative practices into seven South Stockton Schools through the Americorps Healing Schools Initiative.
Currently, she serves as the Youth Department Manager at Fathers & Families of San Joaquin to focus on the youth participatory action research, creation of youth diversion models, and health & environmental work for the agency. Her passion is in the built environment and instituting equity focused policies in marginalized, low-income communities of color.
Randy Villegas, is pursuing a Ph.D. in Politics, with a designated emphasis in Latin American and Latino studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A Kern County native, Villegas earned his B.A. in Political Science at CSU Bakersfield in 2017, and his Associates Degree in Political Science from Bakersfield College in 2015. Villegas’s research interests are rooted in the experiences and communities he comes from: Latino Politics, Immigration, Civic Engagement, Poverty, and California’s Central Valley.
Before beginning graduate school, Villegas worked as a journalist and an organizer in Bakersfield, CA, where he helped lead the 2016 Social Justice series and the 2017 May Day Resistance march in Bakersfield. Villegas has written many reported pieces as well as opinion editorials in publications like the Los Angeles Times, the Bakersfield Californian, South Kern Sol, and El popular, a Spanish newspaper in Bakersfield.
Villegas has also worked for elected officials at the State and Federal levels, as well as on several political campaigns and as a percussion instructor at local schools in Kern. He was recently re-elected as a delegate for the California Democratic Party, representing the 32nd assembly district, and serves on the board of directors for Alisal Community Arts Network (ACAN) in Salinas, CA.
He interned in the summer of 2018 with the Dolores Huerta Foundation, assisting in civic engagement, and non-partisan voter education/registration efforts targeting youth in low-income communities in the Valley. At UCSC, Randy has served on several campus and statewide committees and has served as Graduate Student Association (GSA) President. He has been a recipient of numerous awards, including: the American Political Science Association (APSA) Fund for Latino Scholarship, scholarships from Winterguard International, and the Eugene Cota Robles Fellowship. Randy is currently featured in the California State Capitol Museum, in their Unity Exhibit for his work around social justice issues in Kern County.
After completing his Ph.D., he hopes to return to his community in Kern, or a similar underserved area in the Central Valley to inspire other young scholars, and make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.
Wonderful Public Service Graduate Fellows – 2016
Gilbert Felix, graduated with a Masters in Public Policy at University of Southern California in June 2018. He is currently the District Director for Congressman TJ Cox in California.
In the Summer of 2017, Gilbert interned with the Office of Community and Economic Development at California State University, Fresno.
A Central Valley native, Gilbert earned his undergraduate degree in political science from California State University, Fresno. Prior to attending USC, he worked for elected officials at the state and local government levels throughout the Central Valley. Additionally, he has worked in community and labor organizing, political campaign management, and philanthropy.
Gilbert is dedicated to the Fresno area and would like to continue focusing on regional economic development and serve in elected public office.
Edgar Garcia, graduated with a Masters in Public Policy program from UC Irvine in June 2018. He is currently a Management Analyst with the City Manager’s Office in the City of Modesto. Edgar works on various projects for the City that have been recognized as nationwide concerns including issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, and community engagement.
He interned in the Summer of 2017 with the City of Modesto’s Community and Economic Development Department.
Prior to graduate school, Edgar served as the Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the California State Student Association (CSSA), representing over 460,000 California State University (“CSU”) System students, acting as the spokesperson and lead liaison on higher education legislation that impacts CSU students. He has also worked in Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Legislative Affairs, working directly with legislative secretaries on education, public safety, and transportation policy issues.
Edgar graduated with a double major in Political Science and Criminal Justice from CSU Stanislaus in Turlock, California. He is originally from Firebaugh, California.
Edgar hopes to be a City Manager to help develop more effective and equitable communities in the Central Valley.
Wonderful Public Service Graduate Fellow – 2015
Kristine Williams, Master of City Planning at UC Berkeley, graduated in May 2017 as the inaugural Wonderful Public Service Graduate Fellow.
Upon graduating, Kristine returned to her home city of Stockton. She currently works as the Central Valley Program Director for Enterprise Community Partners, a nationwide nonprofit organization focused on improving community access to opportunity through the support of affordable housing development.
Kristine is the current chair of the Mayor of Stockton’s Affordable Housing Task Force and sits on the board of the San Joaquin Valley Housing Collaborative. The majority of her work focuses on expanding the impact and investment of state Cap and Trade programs – like the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program and the Transformative Climate Communities Program – to Central Valley communities. Kristine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.