The Southern Education Leadership Initiative (SELI) provides young leaders with hands-on experience supporting organizations working to create school systems that give Black and Brown children access to the educational opportunity they deserve. In 2021, nearly 300 students applied for this competitive fellowship, with 17 stellar candidates rising to the top of the pool. The 2021 Cohort of exceptional young leaders represent 16 schools across the nation, including three Historically Black Colleges and Universities. During their fellowship, these SELI fellows will work in nonprofits, state agencies, school districts, and universities on issues of education equity. They will learn about the South’s most pressing education issues and grow as change agents for social justice.
2021 SELI Fellows
SELI Placement: South Carolina Commission on Higher Education
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA
A passionate advocate of social justice and human rights, Antonia Adams is an honors graduate of Piedmont Technical College and current student at the University of South Carolina’s Honors College with a Business Economics major and Political Science minor. At Piedmont Tech, she served as a Presidential Ambassador, Student Body President, Vice President of Diversity in Action, Student Worker in the Student Success Center and was a Christopher A. Calhoun Scholar with Phi Theta Kappa. At the University of South Carolina, she is a peer leader in the Leadership and Service Center, where she plans the annual Student Leadership and Diversity Conference and engages in education and activism with the Civic Leadership Education and Action Team.
Antonia is also a Gamecock Guide in the Student Success Center, where she supports students and provides academic and social resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. After graduation, she will obtain a JD in Public Policy law and hopes to advocate for disadvantaged minority populations who seek to obtain financial independence. When she is not studying or finding ways to advance educational equity, she is watching Hulu with her Labrador Retriever, James.
SELI Placement: UNCF
Melody Andrews is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program at Howard University. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Mississippi State University, and worked briefly in public relations prior to receiving her Master’s in English and African American Literature from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in 2014. Melody began her education career in a high-poverty high school in Greensboro, NC and has been teaching English and Composition for eight years. Melody was highly involved in the North Carolina Educators Association and helped implement the Beginning Teacher Organizing Project in Guilford County, which continues to support early career educators through networking, professional development, and mentoring. As an NEA Early Career Leadership Fellow, Melody represented the NEA at Education International’s Sustainable Development Goals Advocates workshop in 2017 in Brussels, Belgium where educators from all over the globe met to discuss ways in which education unions can advocate for the implementation of the United Nation’s Education 2030 goals of equity and access for all students, especially those from historically marginalized groups. In addition to her advocacy work, Melody has presented research on effective teacher support implementation and Black women education leaders, as well as collaborated to create safe spaces for educators of color to receive professional development and support.
SELI Placement: Intercultural Development Research Association
UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA
Salih Cevik is a PhD candidate and a graduate assistant in the Educational Administration and Policy program at the University of Georgia. He obtained his Master of Arts degree in Educational Leadership and Policy in University of Minnesota. For his studies, he received the Turkish Study Abroad Scholarship, CEHD Advanced Study Scholarship, and the Ray E. Bruce Award.
María de los Ángeles DeSantos Quezada
SELI Placement: LatinxEd
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
María de los Ángeles DeSantos Quezada (Ángeles) is a MEd candidate in the Policy and Planning division of the Education Leadership and Policy Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interest is in Critical Race Theory with a focus on language, minority and immigrant students, bilingual education, and K-12 ethnic studies. Ángeles is a McNair Scholar. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Applied Research Methods from San Jose State University.
As a First Gen immigrant, born in Aguascalientes, Mexico and raised in Jalisco, Ángeles has become involved in several advocacy initiatives. She is a member of the Student Advisory Committee, Co-Chair of the McNair Graduate Student Group, and a member of the Ethnic Studies Network of Texas. Ángeles also serves as the graduate assistant for the Transfer-Year-Experience office and a graduate research assistant for the Institute of Urban Policy Research & Analysis.
As a SELI Fellow she hopes to continue learning and working to advance equity and justice in education. Ángeles intends to earn her doctorate and become a part-time professor at a community college, and work for a school district.
SELI Placement: Intercultural Development and Research Association
Haley Gray, originally from Loganville, Georgia, is a Senior at Vanderbilt University. She is double majoring in Child Studies and Human & Organizational Development with a concentration in Education Policy. While at Vanderbilt, Haley has been an active member of several campus and community organizations that are dedicated to mentoring and providing equitable educational resources to low-income and minority K-12 students in Metro-Nashville Public Schools. Haley’s experiences within the Nashville community led her to interning at KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School during the Spring semester of her Junior year, where she was able to develop a peer mentorship program and help encourage students at KIPP to be advocates for their own learning. In addition to youth advocacy, Haley is also passionate about matters of social justice. For this reason, she has served as Vice President of S.T.R.A.N.D.S., Vanderbilt’s Black Women’s Association, for the past two years. Currently, Haley works as an intern for the Georgia Coalition for Public Education, assisting in the Coalition’s efforts to promote community schooling and whole child education within the state of Georgia. After undergraduate graduation, Haley plans on continuing her education at Vanderbilt as she has been admitted as a candidate in Vanderbilt’s fifth year Education Policy MPP Program.
SELI Placement: Georgia Department of Education
Kelly Jasiura is a Master’s student at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. She graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2017 with a degree in Media and Journalism, focused on Public Relations, and a second major in Public Policy. After graduating, she worked for a year in New York City for a communications and advocacy firm focused on global health and development. She then spent two years in Washington, D.C., as a policy consultant for philanthropies and nonprofits, working on issues including technology justice, economic mobility, and voting rights.
At Sanford, Kelly has focused much of her studies on social and education policy, in particular on how to increase access to postsecondary education. She is also a non-voting board member of the Friends of the Hub Farm, a community organization in Durham that offers outdoor educational experiences to Durham Public School Students. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys hiking, crafting, and sampling all the takeout food Durham has to offer.
SELI Placement: Georgia Department of Education
JACKSON STATE UNIVERSITY
Anthony Jones is currently pursuing a graduate degree at Jackson State University in Social Work. He graduated from Jackson State University with a Bachelor’s in Psychology in 2014. While pursuing his Master’s remotely in Tulsa, OK, Anthony began teaching elementary music, grades K-6, at Sequoyah Elementary School. Through his experience as a music teacher, coupled with his time as a Master’s of Social Work student, Anthony has had the unique opportunity to combine his passion for community, children, and education. During his college years, he has been a member of Jackson State University’s Sonic Boom of the South Marching Band, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and the Jazz I Ensemble. Additionally, he was the president of JSU’s Psychology at Work club. As a member of the Environmental and Public Health Research Scholars program, Anthony’s research focuses on the influences of parents’ and teachers’ expectations on English language learners’ self-efficacy and academic achievement.
SELI Placement: Southern Education Foundation
UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA
Originally from the Cote D’Ivoire, Joseph-Emery Kouaho, is a second year doctoral student in the Educational Administration Policy program at the University of Georgia. His research interests center on how federal education policies impact the life and educational outcomes of Black persons. Joseph-Emery earned his Master of Public Policy from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Currently, Joseph-Emery is working on projects with faculty members at the University of Georgia centered on affirmative action policy framing, student activism on college campuses, and disparities in scholarship attainment. Joseph-Emery is in the process of developing his dissertation project focusing on the parent involvement of college-educated Black men.
SELI Placement: Alabama Possible
Theo M. Moore II was born and raised in Anniston, Alabama, where his dreams of being of service to others first began. After graduating from Anniston High School, Moore continued his academic career at Troy University in Troy, Alabama, where he earned a BS in History and a MS in Post-Secondary Education-History with hopes of following in the footsteps of his former teachers from high school. Currently, Moore is a Collection Manager and Educator at the Legacy Museum at Tuskegee University and a second-year PhD student in the Integrative and Public Policy and Development (IPPD) program at Tuskegee University. Within the IPPD program, Moore’s dissertation will focus on the representation of African Americans in Alabama’s social studies curriculum. Lastly, Moore founded a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization, Hiztorical Vision Productions (HVP), in 2017 to educate the public on the untold-but-inspiring history of African Americans in the South through short film documentaries. Along with providing inspiring short films, HVP includes lesson plans with each film, which are accessible to all educators with hopes of contributing to practices of equity and cultural inclusion in the social studies curriculum in Alabama.
SELI Placement: Stand for Children Memphis
UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS
Octavian Moten is a Houston, TX native and graduate student in the Sociology program at The University of Memphis. He received his BA from The University of Texas (UT) at Austin in African/African Diaspora Studies. Octavian’s research focuses on disparities in discipline, restorative practices, and education equity. This interest in impacting educational policy was molded by his K-12 education in Houston and his time mentoring as a Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success) mentor. While at UT, Octavian was also active with the Onyx Honor Society, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, and the Black Student Alliance. He is a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
SELI Placement: Griffin-Spalding County Schools
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND COLLEGE PARK
Taylor Newkirk is a student in the University of Maryland College Park’s Master of Public Policy Program. Her interests include education policy and reform, civic engagement, and mentoring youth. Having had many opportunities to serve students from marginalized groups in various US states and internationally, Taylor is hoping to further develop her leadership and advocacy skills to eventually acquire an administrative position in a locality that aligns with her passions.
SELI Placement: Georgia Budget and Policy Institute
Allie Schneider is a senior at Yale University majoring in Cognitive Science with a concentration in Social Cognition and Education. She is from Atlanta, GA and is particularly interested in expanding social mobility and equity for public school students in the South. She is interested in expanding options for technical education, improving early childhood education, and reducing inequity in access to college and career. Allie manages the Yale branch of Matriculate, a national nonprofit providing college application support and guidance to low-income, high-achieving high school students across the country. She is involved in early child developmental psychology research and is a member of a student dance company on campus.
SELI Placement: Foundation for the MidSouth
Virginia Sciolino recently received her Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. While at Wesleyan, Virginia captained the Mock Trial team to three nationals bids and interned for public interest attorneys on issues of police reform and economic equity. She also founded the club Activist South to act as a social and educational resource for Southern students interested in grassroots progressive activism. She recently completed her High Honors thesis, “Visualizing the White ‘Unborn,’” which addressed the de facto private school segregation in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she grew up.
SELI Placement: The Latin American Association
WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY ST. LOUIS
Originally from Memphis, TN, Emille Taylor is currently a rising junior at Washington University in St. Louis double majoring in Statistics and Educational Studies and minoring in American Culture Studies. She hopes to become an educator in either Memphis, St. Louis, or Baltimore, and to use statistics and research to further understand the importance of educational and racial equity within and between schools.
SELI Placement: Voices for Georgia's Children
UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT
Alexandria Tomkunas (Lexi) is a second-year doctoral student in the Human Development and Family Sciences Department at the University of Connecticut. Her research interests include children’s social, emotional, and behavioral well-being, as well as school interventions that support children’s well-being. She previously taught kindergarten in Miami, Florida, and is currently teaching elementary special education in Jacksonville, Florida. She is incredibly passionate about quality, equitable education for all and aspires to work in education policy in the future.
SELI Placement: Texas Appleseed
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Huseyin Uysal earned his undergraduate degree in English Language Teaching from Mehmet Akif Ersoy University, and his Master’s degree in Linguistics from Ankara University. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction, specializing in ESOL/Bilingual Education at the University of Florida. In addition to his earlier work in psycholinguistic research, he taught in various higher education settings in Hungary, Turkey, Colombia, and the U.S. Aligned with his teaching mission, his recent scholarly work is grounded in power and status in linguistically and culturally diverse schools, and inclusivity issues in language minority schooling in the U.S. As an emerging scholar and a world citizen, he positions himself within the critical and constructivist paradigms, and works towards equitable, inclusive, and diverse learning environments by advocating for emerging bilinguals.
SELI Placement: DeSoto Independent School District
UNIVERSITY OF MAINE
Adele Weaver (Addy) is a Social Psychology graduate student at the University of Maine, and a researcher in the Emotion, Pain, and Interpersonal Communication Lab at the University of Maine. She considers education to be her life purpose and has exhibited this through her teaching and tutoring practice in Statistics, Psychology, and Math.
As a member of a faculty and graduate student community at her university, Addy discusses equity issues and solutions that can be implemented in her teaching practices and used in bias awareness presentations she conducts for teachers and students.
Addy believes that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and serves as an equalizer and researches interracial interactions, nonverbal behavior, and power dynamics to understand how educators can optimize their students’ performance and empower leaders of color. She plans to earn a PhD and become a professor of Psychology.