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The San Diego Leadership Alliance Announces its Eighth Class of Fellows

Emerging progressive professionals prepare for leadership roles, including Katie Altobello-Czescik with City of Oceanside’s Zero Waste team

San Diego County CA— Continuing its longstanding investment in the next generation of progressive leaders in San Diego, the San Diego Leadership Alliance (SDLA) has welcomed its newest class of SDLA Institute Fellows. “We are committed to building a strong network of young, progressive professionals from all over the San Diego region,” said SDLA Co-Director John Greenwell, “This talented group of new fellows reflects what our organization’s progressive values are all about.”

After a competitive application and interview process, 20 fellows were selected for the hallmark SDLA Institute. Fellows will engage in an intense five-month training program designed to provide them with the skills and relationships needed to create a positive impact in the San Diego region.

“Interactive SDLA Institute sessions will give fellows hands-on experiences in shaping policy, public speaking, coalition building, fundraising, and other essential skills needed to cultivate future leaders in our community,” says Greenwell.

At the end of the first session of the 2017 SDLA Institute, 2015 alum and SDLA Institute Co-Chair Sean Elo said, “In a time when good, progressive leadership is essential, I left the first weekend confident that the individuals in the room will become a close-knit team dedicated to and capable of turning their good energy into the collective action our community wants and needs.”

A true reflection of the greater San Diego community, the 2017 SDLA Institute fellows are a diverse group of talented social change agents. The current cohort represents an array of professional sectors, including education, housing development, city government, health care, law, immigration and refugee advocacy, climate justice, faith-based organizations and community organizing.

“Each year we seek to build a cohort where fellows can learn, not just from our distinguished instructors, but from each other as well,” shared Wyn Furman, SDLA Co-Director. “The fellows’ unique combination of personal experience and professional expertise ensures every cohort is truly distinct from those that came before.”

Cassie Purdy, a 2015 alum and Institute co-chair, noted that “this year’s class represents exactly what SDLA is about — it’s so exciting to see a bunch of new faces in the progressive movement and get to know people who are passionate about becoming more engaged in the San Diego community.”

With this eighth class of fellows, SDLA will have trained more than 150 emerging professionals in the San Diego region, giving them the tools needed to become progressive leaders. SDLA Institute graduates have a successful history of going on to positively impact the region.

Katie Altobello-Czescik is a San Diego native committed to progressing the region towards a sustainable future. She works as a professional assistant for the City of Oceanside’s Zero Waste team and for Certain Solar as a data consultant. She is dedicated to public service as a form of protecting the environment and the people that live, work, and play in it for generations to come.


Susannah Bankhead is a senior claims representative for Zenith Insurance Company. She has progressively worked her way from an entry@level clerical job to a senior@level position over the past decade. Susannah’s expertise ranges from the analysis of California’s complex labor code and workers’ compensation case law to engagement with state and national government agencies.


Zaheen Chowdhury is a project manager with Trestle Development, a San Diego-based housing development firm. Zaheen manages all aspects of the development life-cycle, from project conception to completion, and has extensive experience in leveraging public financing to build housing for low@income families and individuals. Through his current role, he is focusing on the development of micro apartments in urban centers with high cost of living.


Josh Coyne serves as an assistant director in the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement at the University of San Diego. Josh’s primary responsibilities include advising and supervising all operations of the student government. Josh also volunteers with The Trevor Project as a digital crisis counselor and is co-chair of the San Diego chapter. Josh leads the group in coordinating fundraising efforts and community outreach.


Tony Cruz currently serves as the senior council aide for Councilman Steve Padilla in Chula Vista, where he provides policy advice, constituent services, and staff support among other duties. Previously, he worked for the South County Economic Development Council, the 51st Congressional District, and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. Born in Chula Vista but raised in Tijuana, he’s always been interested in working to further the collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico.


Eric Eichler is a social worker at VA San Diego Healthcare System, where he coordinates care at the Center of Recovery Education (CORE), a clinic that provides recovery@oriented mental health services to veterans with schizophrenia, PTSD, and other mental health concerns. Eric provides group and individual psychotherapy and recovery coaching, and leads wellness programming including a yoga class and and a walking club.


Ansermio Jake Estrada currently works as the digital communications staffer for the office of Council-member David Alvarez. His previous work includes campaigns focusing on local elections both within the City of San Diego and San Diego County. He also serves on the board of both the Chicano Democratic Club and the San Diego County Young Democrats, both of which aggressively push for a progressive agenda in San Diego.

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