Building Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) Launchpad Fellowship
A Fellowship Program for Undergraduate Students
The Building Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) Launchpad Fellowship will select 20 outstanding undergraduate students from a national pool of nominees who have demonstrated their commitment to interreligious and cross-cultural engagement on their respective campuses. BILI Launchpad Fellows will join this growing network of students and their mentors in a structured program of dialogue, study, and leadership development in interreligious engagement. The program combines virtual gatherings with all-expenses-paid convenings in Chicago and Washington, DC. This competitive fellowship is an initiative of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College in partnership with Interfaith America.
The Miller Center also launched BILI Online in August 2022, a new digital interreligious curriculum and resource bank for leadership development, based on the BILI fellowship.
BILI has been an amazing capstone to my interfaith experience on campus, and has allowed me to explore and expand what it means to participate in interfaith spaces, as well as how to actively create them for others. It has been so rewarding to learn from the other fellows about what they are doing on their campuses, and I have been consistently inspired by the sensitivity, drive and creativity of the entire cohort — I am so excited to see what these connections lead to in the future!Miriam Israel, Tufts University, International Relations and Arabic
The BILI Fellowship is designed for student fellows to achieve the following:
- Build strong connections with peers from colleges and universities across the country
- Develop resilient interpersonal communication skills, including dialogue across different religious identities, worldviews, and life experiences
- Develop and lead an impactful interfaith campus- or community-based project
- Gain foundational interreligious literacy through the study of texts, practices, and ideas
- Articulate a personal theology or ethic of interfaith leadership
- Cultivate a public voice through speaking and writing, situating one’s worldview within a pluralistic context (two blog posts or one podcast)
Each participant will actively engage in all activities listed below and will be expected to complete preparation (readings, podcasts, etc.) prior to each meeting.
- BILI Orientation & Interfaith America Summit, Chicago, IL — Thurs.-Mon., August 3-7, 2023
- Monthly Cohort Meeting (Virtual, 2 hours) — one Thursday per month from 3-5pm Eastern in September, October, November, February, March
- Monthly Meeting with Campus Mentor (approx. 60 minutes)
- Travel to Washington, D.C. — January 8-11, 2024
- Closing Circle (Virtual, 2.5 hours) — April 2024
- 2 Blog Posts (or 1 podcast), due Nov. 30, 2023 and April 30, 2024
- Interreligious Literacy
- Intersectional Identity Formation
- Facilitation of Courageous Conversations
- Models of Interreligious Leadership
- Program Design & Implementation
- Cultivating Your Public Voice
- Coalition & Community Building
- Professional Presentations
- Text & Case Studies
- Peer Presentations
- Group Discussion
- Reflective Exercises (including arts-based)
- Site Visits
- Campus/Community-Based Projects
This fellowship program is open to outstanding undergraduate leaders from the participating schools with a passion for interreligious and cross-cultural engagement. Religious and spiritual life professionals from the participating schools will nominate 1-2 students. To apply, each student fellow must have have the commitment of a chaplain, professor, or other appropriate professional from their campus or local organization to serve as their mentor for the year. Each student must fill out a brief application form. The Miller Center staff will make final selections of all fellows.
- Rev. Tom Reid, BILI Launchpad Director & Associate Director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership, Hebrew College
- Rabbi Or Rose, Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College
- Seigen Johnson, Assistant Program Director
How to Apply
Applications are now open. Please contact the spiritual life staff (or equivalent) at your university to discuss nominations. Applications must be received before June 15, 2023.
Questions: Contact Rev. Tom Reid, Associate Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College: TReid@hebrewcollege.edu.
2023-2024 BILI Fellowship Recipients
Alina Wilson (she/her) is a storyteller, poet, explorer, and wellbeing advocate. She is a third-year student at Stanford University majoring in human biology with a concentration in ethics and medical humanities. An aspiring physician, she is interested in how patients and medical practitioners can tap into religion and spirituality to facilitate meaning-making and healing. In 2021, she founded the VOICES Service Project and trained 25 young Black changemakers to use relational organizing to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in the Black community in Oklahoma with funding and mentorship from the Rajendra Social Impact Foundation, Vital Voices, and Stanford University. On campus, she has served as a Rathbun Fellow for Religious Encounter, a Meeting the Moment Fellow, an Associate Producer for the Stanford Storytelling Project, and an Orientation Coordinator for the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life. Alina took a gap year during the pandemic and spent much of it reading spiritual and religious texts and growing her own faith and spirituality. Raised in the United Church of Christ, Alina considers herself a spiritual seeker and is eager to continue to engage in interfaith dialogue. In her free time, Alina loves to play the drums, practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai Kickboxing, and create playlists for her friends.
My name is Aneesah Lawrence (she/her). As a native of Jersey City, New Jersey I wanted to continue my education at an HBCU and currently attend Howard University. At Howard University I am pursuing concurrent degrees in Psychology and Criminology in Howard University’s Honors Program. I plan to bring rehabilitation and therapy into youth detention centers and youth in high-risk communities. I hope my goal of opening programming that will help educate youth in and provide counsel and promote rehabilitation in youth detention facilities will lead me one step closer to that vision becoming a reality. As a way of participating in projects that have spurred me toward this goal, I regularly enter a youth detention facility in Washington, D.C. to provide mentorship to incarcerated young men. Outside of studies, I serve as a First Year Representative for Howard University’s Muslim Student’s Association, Mentor for Howard University’s Youth Justice Advocates, and a Spoken Word Poet. I am an advocate for those who are victims of formal and informal imprisonment. I will use my studies to find ways to bring a new narrative to marginalized communities that replaces the prison pipeline they have so long been fed with a pipeline to success. share these meaningful, comical, and philosophical ideas and moments with all of you, and I hope you are too!
Darshleen Kaur (she/they) is a first-generation Sikh-Punjabi American who is an undergraduate senior majoring in finance and information systems at Georgia State University. In October 2020, Darshleen joined SikhTeens, a religious nonprofit organization aimed to encourage the youth to learn and further themselves in their Sikh journey via various mediums. SikhTeens’ primary goal is to connect the diaspora. In July of 2021, Darshleen was onboarded as the Chief Operating Officer to guide the organization as it fully transformed into a legal nonprofit. With her time at SikhTeens, Darshleen has hosted the Rahao podcast, a vulnerable show diving into the experiences of young Sikhs as they navigate their relationship with their faith. She also founded and led research on the SikhTeens Sexual Assault Toolkit Project, aiming to create a resource guide packed with safe tools for women in the Sikh and Punjabi communities. Darshleen has also trained under Sikh Family Center and led multiple consent workshops at her university and neighboring schools (Georgia State, Georgia Tech, and Emory). Darshleen also participated in a panel with the Department of Justice as a representative of the Sikh Youth community with Sikh Coalition, expressing the concerns and struggles that Sikh teens and young adults face. At school, Darshleen is a volunteer and organizer for the Atlanta Sikh Student Association, part of multiple business schools, and is currently expanding her career in consulting.
Hello! I (they/them) am a sophomore studying religion at the University of Southern California. I grew up in Forest Falls, California. I was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist church but I embrace fluidity in my spiritual journey. I am an aspiring religion professor and an amateur geologist. I love learning new things and meeting new people! I am also passionate about facilitating understanding and helping people feel heard. I love good sci-fi books and movies, cats, and cool bugs. Feel free to ask me about whatever’s on your mind – there are no stupid questions!
Grayson Brooks (he/him) is a junior at Williams College, pursuing a major in Chemistry. As the previous co-community coordinator of the Interfaith Dialogue House member and a member of Williams Catholic, Grayson has developed a strong sense of community and a passion for fostering interfaith relationships. He believes that through open conversations and shared experiences, people from diverse religious backgrounds can come together and celebrate their common values while appreciating their unique traditions.
My name is Izzy Lundquist (she/her) and I am a Jew by choice! After growing up attending both Catholic and Protestant churches, but never feeling much of a connection to Christianity, I began to explore Judaism in college. It resonated with me so deeply that I knew I had to convert, and I officially joined the tribe in March after several years of study. I am a senior at the University of Minnesota studying German and Human Resources, and I plan to pursue a career in labor relations and worker advocacy once I graduate. I helped restart the UMN German Club and served as its president during the 2022-23 school year. As Minnesota Hillel’s Vice President of External Relations, I liaise between the Jewish community and the broader campus. Much of my work involves interfaith outreach and collaboration, so I am excited to deepen my skills in those areas! I am fascinated by all forms of spirituality and love to connect with others about it. Outside of school, I enjoy reading, solving crossword puzzles, and cooking. I’ll also teach Hebrew school starting this fall!
Hey, friends! My name is Jaden Schultz (she/her) and I’m a junior at UW-Madison studying health promotion & health equity and English, with minors in religious studies and history. I was raised in Pewaukee, Wisconsin in a Lutheran household by parents of both Catholic and Lutheran upbringings. My mom was raised Catholic, and I’ve grown up hearing about her personal opinions, experiences, and perceived shortcomings and disappointments of the Catholic church. Oppositely, my father grew up in a Lutheran home and shared his own, more positive experiences with religion and religious upbringing. This opposition in religious encounters has stimulated my interest in analyzing how our individual experiences with religious groups leave lasting impacts on our lives, and how they form the way we view both our own and other religions. More specifically, I’m interested in dissecting how and why religious stereotypes exist, and what we can do to debunk these misconceptions. I look forward to learning more about how faith appears in individuals’ everyday lives, and I hope to join in on informative discourse on religious groups and systems that are unfamiliar to myself.
Justin (he/him) is a senior at New York University majoring in politics and Italian on the pre-law track. Originally from Chicago, he is excited to pursue a future career in law and/or policy research. Past internship experiences with the American Red Cross and on Capitol Hill further confirmed this. Other research interests include: Asian-American literature; comparative politics; Italian studies; and immigration studies.
Hi! My name is Madeline Johnson (she/they) and I am a current Junior at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. I am majoring in politics and government as well as Spanish with a minor in Latino studies. My goal after undergrad is to go to law school and study immigration law. I come from a mixture of non-denominational Christianity and Atheism in my family with an overall focus on loving the people around us. This message has remained my core focus in all that I do and I hope to bring that love into every space that I inhabit. I want to create spaces for those that have been harmed by the Christian church with a focus on gender and sexuality as well as overall worldwide religious education to promote peace and tolerance.
My name is Marcus (he/him). I am African-American and Dominican-American and I speak English and Spanish. I also took a year of Arabic at Brown University, where I will graduate in December 2023 (is the plan). I hope to eventually become fluent in Arabic and travel to parts of Africa and the Middle East. I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA my whole life other than the 10 months I lived in Peru when I was five. I consider myself an Agnostic Baptist/Christian with some Buddhist influence. I am currently learning more about the history of Christianity and personally exploring what it would be like to have a relationship with God, the Universe, myself, people around me that isn’t based in shame, judgment, punishment, abuse, and guilt. Outside of overthinking I like to play sports (basketball, tennis, soccer, ultimate frisbee), read (manga, adult graphic novels, fiction, getting into poetry), journal, meditate/pray, take showers, do yoga, hang out with my friends, eat (ideally healthy AND taste good) and do nothing in moderation.
Mylah (she/her) is a senior at Ohio Wesleyan University majoring in neuroscience and psychology with a minor in women and gender studies. She pulls from various religious traditions to create her interfaith identity. She is a second-year member of the Interfaith House on campus. During the 2023-2024 school year, she will serve as the house moderator, assisting her housemates with projects, hosting celebrations, and facilitating important interfaith conversations. During Mylah’s junior year, she hosted a panel with four campus and community members, titled “For God So Loved the Gays,” addressing the experiences and misconceptions of queer Christians. Mylah is president of the rugby club at her university and is a member of the psychology student board. She is also involved with Women in Science, Bishops for Accessibility, Neurds (neuroscience club), PRISM (LGBTQ+ pride), and the Sustainability Task Force.
As-Salamuʿalaykum! My name is Rida Ali (she/her) and I am a junior studying political science and international studies, while pursuing certificates in political economy, philosophy, politics, and Asian American studies. I was born and raised in central India, and moved to Milwaukee, WI when I was young. My family and I are practicing Muslims, so growing up in a country as diverse as India had a profound impact on my perspective on religion and the value of respect and co-existence. With sociopolitical conflicts stemming from religious differences rising around the world, especially in my home country of India, I believe it is more important than ever to engage in productive interfaith dialogue to build more meaningful connections and understanding that can, hopefully, play a small but valuable role in creating a more inclusive campus and world. With the CRGC Interfaith Fellowship, I hope to learn more about the role religion plays in other fellows’ lives and work together to dismantle prejudices to achieve our shared goals of creating more inclusivity and community.
Samira Yssa (she/her) is a student at the University of North Florida studying Biomedical Science and is on track to become a dentist. She is a Muslim Latina that is ready to make a change on how people view her as well as view others. She believes that one conversation at a time can create the willpower in people to then put change into action.
My name is Sarrah Livson (she/her) and am entering my senior year at NYU double majoring in global liberal studies and journalism. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and have always been a strong member of my Jewish community. Now in college, I have worked at the NYU Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life as well as am a fellow of NYU’s Extremism Examined Fellowship. I have spent the last year studying abroad in Madrid and have been able to travel and learn about many new countries and cultures! For fun, I enjoy reading historical fiction books, biking, and trying new restaurants! I hope to go to law school soon and work with the law to ensure everyone, regardless of their religion, gender, or race, is ensured equal rights!
Shira Michaeli (she/her) is a senior in the Joint Program Between the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University. Studying Jewish ethics and human rights in American studies respectively, Shira is fascinated by the legal and social freedoms of religious people within the United States. In her free time, Shira enjoys cooking, crafting, and spending time with her pet dog, Mah Rabu.
William Loughridge (he/they) is a sophomore at Brown University studying international and public affairs and religious studies. Hailing from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, William is a practicing Christian, and is interested in pursuing meaningful interfaith experiences that acknowledge the inherent diversity within each person’s unique religious experiences as they relate to where they call home. He loves to serve as a worship leader, and has led several expository bible studies. Academically, he focuses on two separate disciplines: international security through a diplomatic lens (with overlaps in theater and performance studies) and the study of religion through the lens of critical theory. He writes for the Brown Political Review, serves as an editor for the Brown University Journal of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, and performs with the Higher Keys acapella group, as well as the Brown University Chorus and the Old Time String Band. In his free time, you’re likely to find him enjoying some espresso at a local coffee shop, watching his beloved Arsenal challenge for the Premier League title, or practicing his banjo.
My name is Zeinab Mohammad (she/her) and I am currently a third year student at Dominican University with a major in nutrition and dietetics. I am currently an active member of the University Ministry on campus and work on interfaith work through my internship there. This work involves creating events that center around interfaith relations and sharing one’s spiritual experience. Through my work, I hope to achieve a higher level of religious literacy and allow for the students on campus to be able to share their religious experiences so that our community continues to grow and flourish. Additionally, my work focuses on ensuring the Muslim students and staff have a place to practice their faith in a comfortable manner through supportive events and improving the interfaith prayer space.
Hello everyone, peace be upon you all! My name is Zeyneb Sekin (she/her), and I am a rising junior at Boston College studying neuroscience. I am a Muslim and follow the faith tradition of Islam. Some of my favorite things to do include going on boba runs, immersing myself in nature and reflecting, and taking lots of pictures of sunsets!
2022-2023 BILI Fellowship Recipients
My name is Aisha Adelotan and I study at the University of La Verne. I am 20 years old. I was born in Nigeria and moved to the US four years ago. I am a Muslim and eco-feminist. Other than religious freedom, the environment, and feminism, I am also a passionate activist for immigration and labor rights. I consider myself to have always been doing interfaith work as I grew up in a multi-religious family, but I only started doing serious interfaith work during my second year of college when I met my school’s chaplain and became a member of my university’s interfaith group. As an Interfaith Fellow at La Verne, I have planned multiple events to promote religious diversity and interfaith cooperation on campus. I enjoy meeting new people and reading fictional books and webcomics. I am a big fan of a music group called Stray Kids and can talk about them all day any day!
Sharique attends Ohio Wesleyan University and would describe himself as a lost and confused soul. His loved ones want him to get his life together, prioritize himself and improve his time management skills. Jack of many trades, master of maybe one, Sharique has his feet in many boats – aspiring computer scientist and microbiologist, professional Hindi translator, English teacher, researcher and subpar Imam, and full time unsolicited and unwanted advisor. He also jumps off boats sometimes, as a professional scuba diver. He says the name might intimidate you, but he just wants to be your friend and speak to you about video games, movies, and tv shows.
My name is Cherie Atalor, and I attend the University of La Verne. I am an international student from Nigeria with a computer science major. Being born and raised in Nigeria broadened my view of spirituality and religion as Nigeria has two major religions, Islam and Christianity, alongside other traditional religions. Growing up, I had Muslim and Christian friends and a lot of people around me were Sikh and mystic. This taught me so much about coexisting peacefully and accepting everyone even though our beliefs may vary. Reading and research played a great part in discovering my interfaith interest as there are so many vibrant and amazing cultures and beliefs—and for me, no feeling can beat that of learning something new. I hope to use my interfaith skills to support other international students coming into the U.S. because moving into a new society is tough and culture shock is real. My transition into the American system was rough in some aspects, and I do not want that to be the case for others. Coming to start a new life in a different part of the world is a courageous but hard thing to do, and I hope to make it better.
I am a rising senior at Williams College and have been a member of the college’s Jewish association since my arrival on campus. I enjoy baking and gardening when I have the time between lengthy political science readings. This academic year I am co-leading a new style of housing at Williams that emphasizes interfaith dialogue amongst its members. Although my knowledge of Hebrew and traditional prayers can leave me wanting at times, I appreciate the connection that my Jewish faith provides not only to the spiritual but also to family members and ancestors who I never had the opportunity to meet.
Rebecca Chiet is a student in The Jewish Theological Seminary’s Joint Program with Columbia University. Rebecca is earning two Bachelor’s degrees in Jewish Bible and political science. She was born in Nanchang, China and grew up in South Florida. Raised in a multi-ethnic household as an adopted Asian-American Jew, Rebecca is passionate about embracing diversity, promoting tolerance, and ensuring equitable opportunities for marginalized groups. Rebecca has done past work on raising genocide awareness through an art-infused project that was integrated in her school’s curriculum and was a state education director for an international educational non-profit that promotes educational opportunities for rural Cambodians. Raised in a vibrant and supportive Reform Jewish community in South Florida, Rebecca’s love for Judaism only deepened once she was introduced to the community at The Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University. As a Joint Program student, she has the opportunity to continually explore her love for Judaism in both academic and spiritual contexts. Additionally, in this exploration, Rebecca bridges her Asian and Jewish identities through her involvement in the Jews of Color cohort at her university’s Hillel. Beyond her work on campus, Rebecca creates inclusive spaces for female-identifying Chinese adoptees and continues to explore her love for education as a Hebrew school teacher in New York synagogues.
My name is Ishan Datey, and I am a student at Georgetown School of Foreign Service class of 2025, majoring in science technology and international affairs. I’m from South Riding, Virginia, which is about an hour out from D.C. When not doing homework, you can find me at the many Dharmic/South Asian events on campus, hanging out at the library (pretending) to work with friends, and staffing Model UN conferences. I enjoy discussing faith and its importance in human lives, and I’m always eager to both share and learn from different perspectives. I’m excited to share these meaningful, comical, and philosophical ideas and moments with all of you, and I hope you are too!
My name is Ama DeLeon and I am going into my fourth year at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. I am majoring in English with a minor in religious studies and hope to use that to pursue interfaith work as a long-term career. I currently work at the Interfaith Center as the student advisor and have been able to plan and facilitate events, enable our diverse student leadership team, and learn the meaning and power behind this work. I grew up practicing Christianity in multiple forms, but now fully claim a non-religious but spiritual identity based on the interconnectedness of energy and finding the sacred in everyday or normal things. I have loved learning about diverse religious and non-religious identities and hearing insight from students my age gives me hope for a society that achieves true religious pluralism. The way our worldviews bleed into every aspect of who we are is the reason this work is so important. I love crystals, books, nature, and tattoos and am beyond excited to continue my interfaith journey through the BILI Launchpad Fellowship.
Simardeep Singh Gawra is an undergraduate at the University of Southern California studying biomedical engineering and computational neuroscience. Currently, he is the president of both USC Sikh Student Association and Science Outreach, respectively. As part of the USC Sikh Student Association, he works to facilitate bonding within the USC Sikh Community and hold interfaith events with other student organizations. Apart from the university, Simardeep is also involved in two nonprofits: Gurmat Sangeet Collection and Anhad Magazine. Both organizations work to help Sikh youth across the globe access resources to learn about the Sikh religion when there is no one to teach in their respective communities. Simardeep also works locally to help bring awareness to religious tolerance and acceptance at local schools, communities, and colleges. Simardeep’s other extracurriculars include an interest in old Indian instruments (dilruba, jori, thabla, baansuri, sarangi, and rabab), pottery, welding, and frontend/backend web development.
Jaimelee Felipe (she/her) is a senior physics major on the pre-engineering track at Davidson College. She was born and raised in Maui and identifies as Native Hawaiian and Filipino. As a first generation and low-income student, she is passionate about creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive spaces for everyone, which she has done in her physics department at Davidson College through physics education research and leadership in various physics groups. During the Summer, she interned at The Relatives On Ramp Resource Center in Charlotte, NC where she was able to work with clients from underserved populations. She is passionate about serving the community and hopes to continue combating educational inequity as a part of the 2023 Teach for America corps in Charlotte, NC where she will be teaching high school science. She loves connecting with others and listening to their stories as well as sharing her own. She also loves playing games, exploring nature, and cooking. She has also led her college’s interfaith group since freshman year and continues to do so during her senior year with the hope to gain new perspectives from the BILI fellowship to help implement and grow interfaith life on her campus.
James Glenn is a young convinced Friend, an aspiring movement chaplain, and a trans scholar of liberation. He is currently a student at Guilford College, in his third year, studying community and justice and religious studies. At Guilford, he works in the Friends Center helping to coordinate multifaith activities on campus. Jim is also a proud member of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program, where he has served his community by leading worship, doing service, and helping staff provide spiritual support on campus. He has a deep love for queer and womanist theology, Quaker history, and his home state of Michigan. He hopes to attend seminary after undergrad, and enrich his theological as well as political resistance to empire. Above all, he is a firm believer in the redemptive power of love and that we can collectively make a way out of no way. And finally, he is a cat person, not in a way that degrades the goodness of dogs but that uplifts the greatness of cats.
Born and raised in Denver, CO, Eliana lives in Tacoma, WA where she is a student at the University of Puget Sound. As a double major in politics & government and religion, she has spent the past three years working to better understand the relationship between communities, the traditions they hold, and how these communities influence political structures. As a student at South High School in Denver, Eliana founded the Jewish Student Union and worked to build a collaborative relationship with the Muslim Student Union. In college, Eliana has continued this work as a leader within the Jewish Student Union at Puget Sound to strengthen the bonds between members of the club and throughout the greater campus community. Over the past four years, Eliana has worked for several elected officials, both on the campaign trail as a field director and at the Colorado State Capitol as a legislative aide. In her free time, you can find Eliana cooking food with her friends, exploring the mountains, or working as the general manager of her college radio station.
Nikash Harapanahalli is a third-year student at Georgetown University majoring in regional studies (South Asia & Middle East) with two minors in Persian and religion, ethics & world affairs. Nikash is very interested in learning about the history of the Dharmic traditions, queerness & spirituality, and inter-religious art. Nikash is passionate about inter-religious work in South Asia and hopes to work to better facilitate Hindu-Muslim dialogue.
Hello! My name is Sonia and I attend the University of Rochester! I was born in Houston, Texas to a Bengali American mother and Punjabi American father. I have lived all over the world and have appreciated learning about so many cultures. Throughout school, I have been most interested in history and the natural sciences, from European history in middle school to biology in college. I enjoy reading classics; Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is my favorite novel of all time. I enjoy watching Christopher Nolan films, especially The Dark Knight. I am drawn to interfaith work because of my family’s history as well as my passion for human rights. I look forward to learning how to function as a leader in the interfaith field.
Abdulaziz Mohamed is a fourth-year University of Minnesota student studying political science and African American & African studies. A proud Minnesotan and student leader, he served as the first Somali-American student body president, representing the needs of over 35,000 undergraduate students. During his term, his student government rolled out an on-campus mobile grocery store, secured a $15 minimum wage for student workers, and advocated for University fossil fuel divestment. He also sat on the M Safe Implementation Team, creating tangible policy solutions to address policing issues on campus. Outside of student government, Abdulaziz was a policy intern in the office of Governor Walz and the office of St. Paul Mayor Carter. He is currently a board member of the Stillwater area Community Foundation, where he launched a $15,000 Racial and Social Justice Grant. He is also an organizing fellow on Attorney General Keith Ellison’s re-election campaign. Informed by his experiences in a state that sparked a global conversation on systemic racism, Abdulaziz plans to go to law school and pursue a career in public service grounded in expanding access to justice.
Parveen Mundi is an incoming second-year at DePaul University studying Political Science with a minor in Chinese Language Studies. Beyond the classroom, she serves on the Executive Board of Dear Asian Youth— a global student-led 501(c)(3) that works to uplift Asian youth into intersectional empowerment through digital advocacy while showcasing holistic and equitable representation in the Asian community. As a founding member of multiple departments at Dear Asian Youth, her contributions include growing the organization to include a global network of 170+ Chapters in nearly 20 countries and over 110K+ followers on Instagram. In the span of her time working in the organization, Dear Asian Youth has been featured on Good Morning, CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post, People, Vogue, and more. She has furthered her exploration of global citizenship through interfaith and intercultural learning this past summer through a fellowship with the Institute for Nonprofit Practice, an internship with the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, an internship with the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and an internship with the U.S. House of Representatives. Parveen truly believes in the power of civil discourse and works to combine her interest in law and public policy to better advocate for underrepresented communities. She is motivated to seek a career in human rights law, policymaking, or diplomatic affairs— with her ultimate goal being to establish democratic institutions founded on the rule of law and ensure that access to legal justice is a reality for people of all marginalized identities.
Amanpreet Kaur Sehra is a first generation Sikh-Punjabi American who is an undergraduate sophomore majoring in finance, investment, and banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In March 2020, Amanpreet co-founded SikhTeens, a religious non-profit organization aimed to encourage the youth to learn and further themselves on the Sikh journey through different forms of media in order to provide a resource for younger teenagers. Now, she is the current co-executive director with a vision of creating an organization that works as a resource to all young Sikhs to promote inclusion and change in their own communities. As a badger at UW-Madison, Amanpreet is involved in many different campus organizations including the Sikh Student Association, Wisconsin School of Bhangra, Badger Loop, and Capital Management Club. In the upcoming years, Amanpreet is excited to enter the world of banking while also committing to the community around her.
My name is Maddie Vargas, and I am a rising junior at Dominican University, double majoring in psychology and Spanish studies and minoring in translation and interpretation studies. I have three on-campus jobs; I work in the areas of theatre/event services, the University ministry, and campus experience. As a first-generation student, I am greatly passionate in furthering my studies and using my skills and experiences to help my community. I am so excited to be part of this amazing fellowship and look forward in meeting new people and gaining new perspectives!
Shuvi Jha is a junior at Stanford University from Cupertino, CA, studying computer science and human biology. She is passionate about applying quantitative and qualitative tools within healthcare contexts and uplifting Black, Indigenous, & People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Currently, she is conducting research exploring the link between sustainability and clinical workflow in both small-scale and large-scale hospitals, working with the Environmental Defense Fund to improve small-scale fishery management in Belize, and writing a book exploring the role of Native American youth in creating grassroots COVID-19 response within their communities. At Stanford, she is the Vice President of the Global Health Student Council and chair of the Health Policy committee.
I am a junior at Brown University, planning to double major in religious studies and education studies. I love taking walks by the river and watching the sunset. I was born and raised in New Jersey, but my love for learning has resulted in my fluency in Gujarati and Hindi. I love learning new languages and have been studying Sanskrit for around ten years. In high school, I started an Interfaith club. Seeing how unwilling people were to have conversations regarding faith and religion, even in a diverse community, made me realize how much there actually is a need for interfaith dialogue in the world. I love to travel, and after high school, I took a gap year to study in and explore India.
Salma Kamni is a junior at Stanford University with interests in product design, sociology, and technology. From her first experience at an Interfaith dinner in her hometown in Chicago, she realized the value and seamless conversation that two people of faith can nurture within the right context. She hopes to bring that forth to others in her community. Salma currently holds the position of co-president of the Stanford Muslim Student Union.
I am Stephen Yongjoong Kim, a 2nd Generation Korean-American hailing from the Southern coasts of the Golden State, California. Currently pursuing a degree in religious studies and education & society at the University of Southern California, I aim to build cooperative coexistence and interrelated communities of understanding via my time as president of USC’s Interfaith Council and my personal non-profit social media co-project. I come from a Korean-Catholic background and more recently have been reclaiming my Korean Buddhist roots as well as connecting with other great world traditions through their religious practices. I largely position myself as spiritual AND religious rather than spiritual but not religious. In my free time I read, listen, walk, and tap into anything that feels true, natural and beautiful. These days, chanting, the ritualism of money, and human group dynamics communication (i.e. gossip) pique my interest.
Chloe Lestitian is a junior at the University of Notre Dame and is expected to graduate in May of 2024. She is majoring in neuroscience and behavior and hopes to attend medical school after graduation where she plans to pursue a career in geriatrics. She is a public health research assistant, a hospice volunteer, and takes American Sign Language classes throughout the school year. Chloe is active in campus ministry through the club Compass, whose goal is to provide first year students with a stable and supportive community and is open to students of any religious affiliation. She is an academic commissioner in her dorm, where she helps to organize and implement helpful school-related events and programming, and is also a member of her dorm’s intramural soccer and basketball teams. In her free time, Chloe enjoys crocheting, reading, and participating in cycling classes. Her life goal is to learn as much as she can in order to better understand and support those around her.
Hi, I’m Ghadeer. I was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt and went to a boarding school for high school. I am currently a sophomore at Davidson College. For now, I plan to major in biology and minor in educational studies. I enjoy research, community service, teaching, and engaging in debates. On campus, I participated in the spiritual diversity dinner club. I was raised in a Muslim household, but I consider myself to be on a spiritual journey towards the values that best resonate with me. I am excited to share my spiritual background as well as discuss and explore the backgrounds of others as part of the 2022-2023 BILI cohort. On another note, I am fascinated with languages, cultures, and everything that sculpts human individuality. On my own time, I find myself painting, learning a new language, meditating, or just tuning in with myself and nature.
My name is Wanci Nana, and I am a junior at Tufts University studying biopsychology. My home is in Manassas, VA with my two brothers and parents. My brothers and I were born in America while both of our parents were born and raised in the central African country of Cameroon. With that, my spirituality is based on Christian/Catholic ideologies, but I pride myself on being receptive to ideologies that differ from that basis. At Tufts my time is spent playing for the varsity soccer team, engaging with the community through various on-campus organizations, and many other activities. In my free time, I love to read all types of books, practice mindfulness, and work on my startup W³!
Ayli Stabinsky (she/her) is an experienced Jewish educator and programmer. Ayli enjoys building and maintaining interpersonal relationships and communities that work to eliminate harm and open paths for engagement. She loves to make people laugh and aspires to be a stand-up comedian (a skill that will come in handy for a future in religious leadership). Recently she participated in a stand-up comedy event for Here Now, a Jewish teen organization that focuses on mental health destigmatization and community building. She is a senior at the University of Puget Sound double majoring in studio arts (painting) and theatre arts as well as earning a minor degree in business.
Emily Thompson (she/her) is a political organizer and writer from the Eastern shore of Maryland. She is a junior double majoring in political science and religion at Tufts University with interest in how religious traditions shape public policy. On campus, she is the co-president of the Protestant Student Association; an Interfaith ambassador; and the executive news editor of the student publication, the Tufts Daily. Emily is passionate about working on Maryland political campaigns and advocacy for economic equality. In her free time, she enjoys reading in the sun, being the cool aunt to her friends’ kids, and forcing her roommates to listen to Taylor Swift.
Adrian Yates is a Senior at Ohio Wesleyan University. They are a Bachelor of Fine Arts major with a concentration in book binding and drawing. They hope to create a successful art and streaming business for themself.
2021-2022 BILI Fellowship Recipients
Allison Barbee is a senior at Wingate University majoring in Religious Studies. She has minors in Mathematics, Biology, and Women’s and Gender studies. She is from Concord, North Carolina and identifies herself as a Christian. On her own campus, Allison is involved as the Executive Vice President of the College Panhellenic Council, in addition to holding various campus jobs as a Reference Assistant at the Ethel K. Smith Library, a Global Perspectives in Scripture Supplemental Instructor, and as the department assistant for the Religion & Philosophy Department. She also created Wingate Interfaith Leaders, a student organization dedicated to living out Wingate’s core values of faith, knowledge, and service by uniting the various faith communities on Wingate’s campus. Allison joined the Building Interfaith Leadership Initiative because she wanted to enhance her leadership, communication, and collaborative abilities, especially in the context of interfaith, in order to be a better leader and person. One day, she hopes to become a Religious Studies professor and continue her work in interfaith throughout her career.
Allison Blackwell is a senior at Queens University of Charlotte majoring in Creative Writing and Philosophy/Religion. She has been a part of her campus’s Interfaith Leadership Council (ILC) since her Freshman year and has been the Co-President for the past two years. Allison was also a Resident Assistant for two and a half years, has been a Davies Interfaith Fellow for two years, and is a current member of the Queens Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. Her interests include embroidery, hiking, reading, and writing, and her favorite book is Dune by Frank Herbert. After graduation, she plans to take a gap year before going to seminary for a Master of Divinity and hopes to one day work on promoting interfaith on college campuses through chaplaincy or academia. She is very excited to be counted as a member of the 2021-2022 BILI cohort, and she is looking forward to connecting with other interfaith leaders across the nation and hearing their stories and experiences.
Zinni Botha, a South African native, is a college senior studying Political Science and Religious Studies. The first summer during COVID-19 she was a part of the Bridge Builders initiative in Charlotte where she help design and create interfaith craft boxes for school children who could not attend summer programs. Shortly after Zinni founded an interfaith organization on her college campus to help further interfaith dialogue at her school. Zinni felt drawn to interfaith work coming from a family that practices more than one faith tradition and has learned through training how to utilize her own experiences to contribute to interfaith dialogue in her own community.
Hi, my name is Lucca Ferreira. I was born in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. I lived there until I was 11 then my family moved to Charleston, SC in hopes of a better future. We have been here for 8 years now and we consider this our home. I love my religion, playing music, and meeting new people.
I am a sophomore at Brown University studying International Affairs and Arabic. I love how language study can open doors to understanding how different people think and express themselves. I hope to combine these studies with learning about religion in BILI to expand my understanding of the many ways to live in the world. I’m excited to learn more about how to create meaningful dialogue and community across a wide variety of experiences, backgrounds and beliefs. Outside of BILI, I am involved with several Jewish efforts on campus, including a Queer Jewish Text Study. I also volunteer at the Refugee Dream Center where I lead high-schoolers in storytelling workshops, work on a podcast about political issues, am a barista at the student run coffee shop, and run on Brown’s Track team. I’m grateful for this opportunity in BILI to learn with and about my peers and to use these learnings to build strong communities at Brown and elsewhere that are committed to inclusivity and positive change-making.
John Josiah majors in Biology at Johnson C. Smith University and hails from Nigeria, the most populous black country on earth. He’s a proud Christian and believes that his faith plays a central role in who he is as a person. As an international student in a Historically Black University, he is keen on understanding the cultural and religious perspectives of the people around him to better his understanding of America and to appreciate its uniqueness more. Beyond actively engaging in interreligious conversations, John hopes to replicate the concept of religious pluralism sometime in the future in his native Nigeria, where religious tensions and schisms still exist.
I am a junior biology major at Davidson College on the premed track. I have a particular interest in the intersection between religion and public health/medicine, as religion is a source of comfort for many in trying times. I have worked with multiple faith initiatives over the years, from my college’s Religious Diversity Dinner group to the Muslim Student Association on my campus, and recently advised the Board of Trustees on their decision to allow members from other faith backgrounds to join the board. The focus of many different faiths on humanitarianism and helping those in need has inspired me and opened my eyes to the role that interfaith work can play in public health measures. I particularly appreciate the ability for faith to bridge gaps between communities around the common goal of increasing access to quality healthcare for all through volunteerism. I am excited to join BILI’s work and for the opportunity to serve my community!
Kareem King is a Junior at Harvard from Cleveland, Ohio on the pre-med track. He has a passion for issues of health equity and understanding how public policy impacts the health of marginalized communities. At Harvard, he engages in social justice research at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, where he explores factors which contribute to police brutality. He also serves at the Advocacy and Community Engagement Chair of Harvard’s Undergraduate Black Health Advocates to raise awareness about health issues effecting Black and Brown communities. Outside of class, he works with a Boston-based non-profit called We Got Us to increase access to health information and resources in marginalized communities.
Abby (she/her) is a sophomore at Harvard College studying Sociology. Growing up in Philadelphia, she was raised in an interfaith family and identifies as Quaker, but her search for a religious tradition sparked her passion for interfaith. She is the co-director of the Harvard College Interfaith Forum and works as an intern in the BGLTQ Office. In her free time, she loves to read and make things (especially to sew, quilt, and crochet). She is excited to learn and grow with BILI and her cohort members and to bring back successful interfaith practices to her own campus.
My name is Audrey McGlothlen, and I am a senior at Tufts University studying Biopsychology, Peace & Justice Studies, and French, which comes out to a passion for issues of science equity. I am from Denver, CO and was originally raised Catholic before beginning a spiritual exploration that currently has me more identifying with agnostic or Humanist ideologies. At Tufts, I started my interfaith work through the pre-orientation called CAFE centered around religious exploration and community organizing and have since stayed involved in the interfaith community on campus through the Humanist Community at Tufts and most recently the Interfaith Ambassadors Program. When not in thoughtful reflection at the Chaplaincy or studying participants in a lab, I can be found spinning away on the Ballroom Dance Team! I am excited to be able to carry all of that curiosity, creativity, and experience into my time at BILI and beyond.
I am a first generation Jamaican immigrant passionate about serving underrepresented and underserved populations of socio-economic, racial, sexual minority groups etc. I have just recently enrolled in a graduate program in Global Inclusion and Social development. I know this experience will help me grow as an aspiring Physician-Scientist.
Hannah Patterson is a Senior at Boston University studying International Relations and Religion. In the past, she has participated in a multitude of interfaith programming such as Passages Research Fellowship. In this program, she constructed and delivered a report on a multitude of interfaith issues such as the Second Vatican Council in order to shape new perspectives on interfaith cooperation. As well as participated in Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston: Break the Hate Mission. For this program, she traveled to New York City and visited different religious and historical sites that helped to create a greater understanding of other traditions. Over the Summer, she was a fellow at the Israeli Consulate of New England. While in this current role, she initiates and pitches several project ideas to the Consulate General. As well as created a podcast series which seeks to answer the question, “Why is Israel a political issue?” In addition, she is Vice President of Study of Religions and past Vice President of BU Hillel.
Laetitia is a Senior at Northeastern University studying Behavioral Neuroscience on the pre-med track. She is deeply passionate about education and fighting against healthcare disparities. Laetitia is currently a youth leader of STEMpower , a science enrichment program that teaches high school students about diseases that affect many Black patients and conduct a community health initiative to tackle inequalities in healthcare. In addition, she is an intern at the Center to Support Immigrant Communities where she takes part in projects on tackling food insecurity in Boston and fighting for better allocation of vaccine to minority groups. Laetitia also work for a non-profit organization, We Got Us, where she educated youth on health inequities.
My name is Rose Sall and I am a Senior at Queens University of Charlotte. I am majoring in Human Services and minoring in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. I have enjoyed taking part in Interfaith work for the last 3 years. As time moves forward, I began to see the interfaith journey each of us are currently on, but more importantly how that’s affecting the world around us. From being a Davies Fellow to taking IFYC trainings, I have seen my interfaith knowledge and leadership grow exponential. I love forward to BILI contributing to that growth and journey.
Hi I’m Hunter, and I am a history major at Endicott College. I’m in my junior year of college. I was born in Cambodia and adopted at 7 months old. However I grew up in Augusta, Maine and have been practicing Theravada Buddhism for 10 years now. I spend my free time learning more about Buddhism and other religions, last year I helped create a Buddhist sangha for my campus. I wondered why we didn’t have anymore clubs like that represented so I got in touch with my interfaith minister for help. And now we have a Jewish community, Christian community and Buddhist community on campus.
Hello! I’m Nora Sjue and I am a sophomore at Davidson College. I am from Kansas City, Missouri (go chiefs!), and I am the oldest sister to three younger brothers. Academically, I am planning on majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Data Sciences. I am currently involved in interfaith work within the Davidson community as well as environmental and health-related activism. I love working with others and meeting new people.I am a firm believer in the value of relationships and believe strongly in connecting with others. In my free time, I spend lots of time outdoors (hammocking, hiking, camping, swimming, etc.) as well as playing board games with friends. I grew up Presbyterian (a christian denomination), but am starting to reevaluate what faith and spirituality mean in my life. I love funny socks and dogs and long chats over ice cream!
Greetings! My name is Thomas Wilson Thermidor. I am a recent graduate from the Boston English high school and a now first-year student concentrating in entrepreneurial studies at Babson College. I was born and raised in Haiti, and I immigrated here to the United States in 2013, soon after the 2010 earthquake. I’ve lived in Boston ever since I departed from Haiti. As a result, I’m a product of the city of Boston. I am the youngest of three sons. I am currently involved in interfaith work within the Babson community. I enjoy spending time with friends in my free time, and I’m a big sports enthusiast (Basketball, Soccer, Football, the Olympics, etc.). I enjoy the arts, and I consider myself a passionate learner of historical events. Although I’m an atheist, I love learning about the different religions people affiliate themselves with.
2020-2021 BILI Fellowship Recipients
Zoe Bair is a junior studying Clinical Psychology at Tufts University. From Grand Rapids, Michigan, she grew up Catholic before getting involved in the Humanist Community at Tufts. Zoe currently serves on Tufts Interfaith Student Council and cherishes the opportunity to promote interfaith engagement on Tufts’ campuses. In her role as a Humanist and interfaith representative, she’s planned a number of events engaging the community including a “Death Cafe,” an interfaith open mic night, and leans on her love of arts and crafts to bring new members into the interfaith community at Tufts. In her free time, she enjoys playing the harp, spending time with friends, and going down interior design rabbit holes.
Sup! I’m Hope, I’m from Deland, Florida, I’m a senior studying Computer Science and History with a concentration in Education at MIT, and I’m a queer progressive Mormon. After my first year at MIT, I volunteered for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Sweden for a year and a half. Since coming back to school in spring 2018, I’ve spent time in MIT’s Addir Interfaith Dialogue program making new friends and trying to understand the traditions and values that guide us in similar and unique ways. In my free time, I enjoy squash (the sport, but also the vegetable), games, reading, reflection and rock climbing.
Jaiden Gividen a senior undergrad at Brandeis University interested in near Eastern and Judaic studies. She is a small-town Jew who has strong interests in religious studies and women, gender, and sexualities studies. Her experience converting to Judaism in a Southern Baptist community has driven her to pursue steps towards pluralism and believes that interfaith conversations are critical for peace in the future. In her spare time she is probably walking her dog, cooking, or on the phone with her family.
Anna Jensen is a second-year student in the Boston University Pardee School of Global Studies where she studies International Relations with a focus on Security Studies and European relations. She is from Cockeysville, Maryland before attending Boston University, beginning in the fall of 2019. Her interest in religious studies grew significantly after taking RN101 in her first semester of freshmen year and has continued to explore the different religious and spiritual traditions that people participate in. Anna is particularly interested in exploring and learning how to rectify the clash between secularization and traditional religious/spiritual culture; instead focusing on how to become and maintain a part in a religious/spiritual community.
My name is Ariel Kayton, and I am a sophomore at Tufts University. I grew in a non-denominational Jewish family in Miami, Florida and later moved Los Angeles, California, where I now call home. At Tufts, I am involved in the Interfaith Student Council and Tufts Hillel where I work with others to create interfaith programming and explore my own Jewish identity. In addition to interfaith work, I am very passionate about issues of social justice such as LGBT rights, economic justice, and climate justice. In my free time, I can be found painting, drawing, or watching movies at the theater! Through BILI, I hope to develop the skills to foster tolerant, inclusive spaces into the future.
My name is Amelia Mahony and I am a sophomore at Brandeis University studying English and history. I was born and raised in Beijing, China, but I am originally Iranian-American. My hobbies include baking, playing sports and making music and art.
My name is Shayna Mandelbaum and I am a sophomore at Northeastern University majoring in Cybersecurity & Criminal Justice. I grew up in Elizabeth, NJ and was raised in a very religiously observant Jewish household but have always wanted to become involved in interfaith work for quite some time. On campus, I am very active in Northeastern’s Hillel and Chabad but I also serve as a Service and Social Action Coordinator at Northeastern’s Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service. I grew up in a fairly homogenous environment, among people with a similar spiritual mindset as my own which is what inspired me to become more active in interfaith work on campus. I really enjoy learning about the similarities between different faiths and worldviews and am super excited to become a BILI fellow!
My name is Andrew Mascillaro, and I’m a religious Christian. Specifically, I’m an Assemblies of God, Protestant Evangelical Christian. I study Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College. My home is in New Jersey, although I am a second generation Italian (from Sicily) and Indian (Gujarat). In my free time, I like to play chess, take on interesting coding projects, and study the Bible.
Hi! I’m Simran Singh and I am a junior studying psychology at Boston University. I was born and raised in New Jersey and have two younger siblings who are in high school. At home, I grew up with Sikhism and Hinduism. I went to Sunday school for Hinduism and learned about Sikhism from my father. In our kitchen, there are constantly Hindu and Sikh prayers and songs playing leading to a very peaceful and comfortable environment. I am excited to be a part of BILI this year and to learn about my peers, their religious backgrounds, and how to facilitate conversations about interreligious topics with all types of people. I look forward to a great year full of learning new things, meeting new people, and making a lot of memories!
2019-2020 BILI Fellowship Recipients
Reuben is a senior at Boston College majoring in Economics, with minors in Computer Science and Marketing. He is from Natick, MA and grew up attending Temple Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley. Reuben is an active member of Boston College’s Hillel, where he is the Publicity and Promotion Coordinator, and serves on BC Campus Ministry’s Multifaith Council. Some of his other interests include: club lacrosse, kayaking, finding college tickets for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and photography.
My name is Connor Dedrick, I am a junior at Boston University studying operations in the Questrom School of Business. I was raised Jewish but in a very lax way, occasionally attending services, on and off observing of holidays and the like. Now, however, I love my Judaism and its fluctuating definition. The things that are constant in my Jewish life is learning and mitzvot (commandments). As president of BU Hillel, I had to learn to be conscious and have a purpose in everything I did to bring different kinds of Jews together. My Jewish journey heavily informs the way I organize interfaith communities. Compassion and empathy are the foundation stones of my Judaism and interfaith work. I am always striving to better understand someone else and deconstruct who I am and what my role can be in this world.
Husna is an interfaith fellow with the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative. Last summer, she did a dialogue in Jordan to better understand the Syrian refugee crisis through a different lens. She studies bioengineering in the hopes of applying it for greater healthcare accessibility. In her free time, she enjoys staying active by playing sports and keeping up to date on political issues.
My name is Deepu Ganesan, and I’ve been part of interfaith leadership for a little over a year, now. I grew up in a very interfaith environment and I’m an advocate for discovering what makes people similar, rather than focusing on differences.
Shruti is from Minneapolis, MN, where she grew up attending the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. She is currently attending Boston University as a political science student, where she aims to create a greater and more thoughtful interfaith presence on campus as a Marsh Chapel Associate and a fellow in the Boston Interfaith Leadership Institute. Her favorite activity in Boston, besides interfaith work, include her ESL teaching with The Literacy Program at Cambridge Public Libraries.
Hello! My name is Ione Heigham and I am a sophomore at Brown University. I grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts and was raised in a Protestant and Jewish interfaith household. Currently I am a practicing Jew and am very active in Jewish and Religious life on my campus. I plan on concentrating in Sociology and Religious Studies and find the intersection of the two extremely interesting. Since coming to college I have recognized the purpose of interfaith work especially on campuses and am excited to learn in this upcoming year.
Jessica is a sophomore at MIT who is studying Biological Engineering. She is Jewish and half Episcopalian and loves to lead the Reform services at MIT’s Hillel. In addition to BILI, she is involved with MIT’s Interfaith Dialogue group, Addir. In her free time, Jess enjoys overcommitting herself: she is an officer of the gymnastics team, is choreographing Shrek the Musical, sings with the Centrifuges, volunteers with LTI, works 2 jobs, and more. She is excited to be a BILI fellow and is looking forward to the retreat!
John Lazur is from Minneapolis, MN where they grew up attending a UU Humanist congregation. They are now a student at Tufts University where they are pursuing a major in Anthropology, working with the University Chaplaincy to promote a pluralistic campus culture, and wondering on the Big Questions of Life with friends. They seek to open spaces to share personal stories as a form of community building and to encourage others to reflect on personal values and practices. They are a fellow in the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) for 2019-2020 and look forward to forging ever-widening circles of interfaith community with their peers.
My name is Chloe Noll, and I a sophomore at Northeastern University majoring in Behavioral Neuroscience. I’m from Tucson, Arizona and was raised Lutheran but am now agnostic. On campus, I am president of the Secular Humanist Society and am heavily involved in interfaith work. I love exploring existential questions and the great outdoors
Hannah Pérez is an undergraduate student at Babson College. She has worked on campus as a chapel coordinator and interfaith liaison for the past 2 years, planning student leadership trainings and interfaith events based around social justice. Passionate about law and humanitarian rights, she hopes to one day work for the UN. In the meantime, she spends her time on campus advocating for students in Student Government, making people laugh in monthly improv shows, and writing music in her spare time. Originally from Miami, and a proud Cuban-American, Hannah hopes to help people recognize the intersectionality of religious and spiritual life, as it has touched so many aspects of her own identity.
Maaya is a current undergraduate student at MIT studying Electrical Engineering. She was raised in a Hindu household in Yorktown, VA. Her experience as a religious minority motivated her to join and advocate for interfaith communities upon entering college. She is a 2019-2020 fellow of both the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) and MIT’s interfaith group, Addir. In her free time, she sails for MIT’s varsity sailing team and is a counselor for Camp Kesem
Zahra is a sophomore at Tufts University studying clinical psychology on a pre-med track. She grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, an environment that shaped her view of faith and interfaith, as a religious minority. On campus, she works for the University Chaplaincy, to help support religious programming and also serves on Tufts’ Interfaith Student Council, which seeks to promote interfaith engagement on campus. She is a 2019-2020 Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative Fellow, in which she discusses issues and concepts related to interreligious spaces. Some of her other interests include the intersection of mental health and spirituality, brunch, road trips, and baking.
McKenzie Wilkins is a second-year student at Wellesley College studying Religion and English. She lived in Qatar for high school, and has been passionate about facilitating interfaith dialogue ever since then. She is enjoying discovering the East Coast while exploring her liberal arts education. She strongly believes in the importance of diversity, and is fascinated by brainstorming ways that people of all faith traditions, cultures, race, gender, and mental and physical capabilities can have their voices heard for the benefit of everyone. When she’s not studying the intersections between religion and culture, she works on editing her fantasy novel and practicing to test for her next belt in Tae Kwon Do.
2018-2019 BILI Fellowship Recipients
Sarah Bickford is a junior at Boston University where she is majoring in Psychology and double minoring and Deaf Studies and French. She is from Newton, Massachusetts, but has lived in a few different states and experienced several manifestations of Christianity. As a second-generation “preacher’s kid,” active participation in church life and liturgy were integral parts of her childhood. She is now actively involved with her campus’ Episcopal ministry, which has sparked her interest in how different campus-based faith groups can work together to achieve common goals. In her free time, she can be found dancing ballet, ballroom, or west coast swing.
Ilana is a junior at Brown University and has been deeply involved in interfaith work since her time at Gann Academy, the New Jewish High School of Greater Boston. She is the co-founder/co-director of BRIJ (Building Relationships: Islam & Judaism), a Brown-based program that works with Partners in Peace, a partnership between Rhode Island’s Islamic School and Jewish Community Day School. Through collaboration with Partners in Peace, Ilana and the other BRIJ student leaders meet weekly with Muslim and Jewish fifth graders for text study and service work. Ilana also co-leads MOCHA (Multifaith Organizing for College Hill Activism), a network at Brown that connect activists from all faith backgrounds to work together for social change. Finally, she is honored to serve as the Brown-RISD intern for the Avi Schaefer Fund, a program that works with over a hundred campuses across the country to pursue interfaith and peace initiatives. Ilana enjoys studying languages (Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew), writing, comedy, and spending time in nature. She is thrilled to be participating in the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative!
I’m Joseph, a junior at MIT majoring in Philosophy. I grew up in Houston, Texas as a Baptist Christian. Looking for a personal experience of spirituality and dissatisfied with the lack of inclusion in my community, I’ve been studying Taoism and Sufism to learn about how spiritual practices deepen life. Some of my hobbies include computer security, soccer, and reading. I joined the MIT Addir Interfaith Fellowship because I believe that interfaith has the power to bridge conflicts and promote understanding. In addition to solving sectarian and diversity problems, I think interfaith can help us learn about how our traditions mirror each other and discover the purpose of spiritual teachings across religions. As Interfaith Council Chair of Addir, I’m trying to bring together the different student faith and non-faith groups on campus into an Interfaith Council, the goal of which is to support and increase the visibility of these groups on campus.
Maddie is 21 years old and a Senior at Wellesley College, where she studies Religion and English. She was born and raised Roman Catholic, having attended Catholic schools from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. She has lived in several cities around the U.S., but spent most of her childhood in Los Angeles, California. Maddie’s three favorite things are, in this order: Jesus, her dog Ruthie, and soup. Maddie is deeply concerned with issues of social justice, particularly as they relate to environmental racism, children’s access to education, and LGBTQIA rights. Maddie hopes to volunteer with the Catholic Worker Movement upon graduation and eventually work her way into the religious life. She approaches the world with an open, loving heart, hoping to share experiences of pain and happiness with others, and has very much internalized the mantra, “One Truth, many paths.”
My name is Olaoluwa and I am a sophomore at Tufts University. I am majoring in Mechanical Engineering. I am from New, Carrollton, Maryland which is near our nation’s capital, Washington DC. My favorite book is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and my favorite movie is Forrest Gump. I am a Christian. I enjoy visiting museums and my favorite TV show is Planet Earth, beautiful imagery. An instrument I play is the tenor saxophone and my favorite artist is J Cole. Both my parents are Nigerian so I am a big Super Eagles fan, Nigeria’s soccer team, and I also speak Spanish. In a past life I was an Eagle Scout and camping was my favorite thing to do and now a dorm room is my humble abode.
I am a first year Resumed Undergraduate Education (RUE) student at Brown. I am pursuing my bachelor’s degree after an 11-year gap from high school to pursue an Olympic cross-country skiing career. From Colorado, I have lived more recently in Utah and New Hampshire. At Brown I am interested in studying Economics and Public Policy with a focus on opportunity inequality. I am also working as an athlete presenter for the US Anti-Doping Agency. I currently identify as Jewish Agnostic and am honored and excited to be a part of the Boston Interfaith Leadership Initiative.
Hello! My name is Najma Jama and I am a Sophomore at Tufts University interested in studying History, Philosophy, and Cognitive Brain Sciences. I was born and raised in the Greater Boston Area, with a brief detour in Cairo, Egypt as a child. These two transitions, from Boston to Cairo and Cairo to Boston and from faith minority to majority and vice versa, marks the beginnings of my ever-evolving conception of faith and the importance of interfaith work. Faith is an entity by which many hold central to their identity, and to be able to bridge across difference in relation to faith is a necessity in our global and local communities, and this is the belief that I hold dearly and serve as a basis for my intellectual and academic pursuits. Apart from interfaith and religious interests, I love restful days, long slumbers, quiet spaces, cozy furniture, and warm hugs. I am thrilled to have joined BILI, as I wanted to join a space that celebrates diversity of philosophy and faith tradition, as well as utilize a platform to engage with the environment through interfaith activism.
May peace and blessings be with you!
Elizabeth Little is a senior at Bentley University finishing her bachelor’s degree in Marketing with a minor in Information Design and Corporate Communication. She is an avid reader and food lover from South Shore Massachusetts. If she is not working or studying, she is probably in the kitchen trying out a new recipe or watching Netflix. Last semester she studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain where she lived with a host family and traveled often. She has been working as an assistant at the Spiritual Life Center on her university campus since her freshman year and she really loves the people she has met and the opportunities it has given her.
Hello! My name is Molly McGreevy. I am a sophomore at Bentley University, but I call Narragansett, RI home. I have two younger sisters whom I miss dearly. My major is currently Undecided Business, but I will definitely be minoring in International Affairs. I was raised in the Catholic Church and have delved deeper into my faith since arriving at Bentley. I am the events coordinator for Bentley’s Catholic Association and I love every second of it. Encouraging students to get involved with their faith in college is challenging, but when is a better time to focus on your growth than school? I am also the treasurer of the Bentley Literary Society. In my free time you can find me reading inspirational books, singing with my roommate, cheering for Boston sports teams, or exploring this great city.
I’m Matisse, a junior at MIT studying philosophy and pure mathematics. I grew up in the Presbyterian church, but lost faith in high school; for years I identified as an atheist, but these days I’m more interested in the semantics of ‘belief’ than the question of whether God exists. In college, I found a home at a Lutheran-Episcopal service, and now care deeply about the Bible and Christian tradition. I joined the Addir Fellowship, MIT’s interfaith dialogue program, last year on the recommendation of a philosophy TA; I found not just the good conversation for which I had come, but a new and well-oriented way of posturing oneself in the world. I’m now interested in dialogue theory, and also the limits of dialogue and what interfaith engagement looks like past dialogue. I’m excited to work and learn with the other BILI fellows this year!
My name is Jules Poupard, and I am a student at Wellesley College. I am a believer of the Pagan system of faith. I am avid promoter of interfaith efforts, hoping to spread understanding, acceptance, and community with those of any and all spiritual backgrounds. I believe in connections, tolerance, harmony, and love; I hope to contribute all of these things in as many ways as possible with my time on earth. I say hello to the sun every morning, stir my hot cocoa clockwise for good luck, and am in love with the moon. Most of all, I want to be mysterious, adventurous, and daring. We all could afford to be a little more daring.
Sophie Wiener is a Film and TV student at Boston University who, somehow or other, ended up with a sincere passion for understanding people from different religions and helping people connect with each other. Seriously, your guess is as good as hers. Growing up on the Jersey Shore, she had little exposure to any religion but Judaism. She attended services as well as Hebrew School at Temple Beth Miriam in the town of Deal, and later worked as a teacher’s assistant there. So of course, when she got to college, she immediately joined CRU, a Christianity club—life comes at you fast, folks. Her years of experience in this club have left her determined to help shape a world where people are less ignorant of different religions, and more importantly, the of the people who practice them.
2017-2018 BILI Fellowship Recipients
My name is Amitai Abouzaglo — I was born in Dallas, Texas to a Costa Rican mother and a Moroccan-Israeli father. I grew up in an insular Jewish community, attending religious day school through the week and community synagogues and centers on the weekend. In those spaces I made my first friends. In those spaces I first considered my own strangeness. Those narrow spaces cultivated within me an undaunted love for people. I came to my current engagements with peacebuilding movements in Israel/Palestine and interfaith community building in accord with this love. I think abstractly: in the clouds of thought-formulation I am attached to realities of unfettered equality. Yet the clouds, I have found out, expand and thin out. The consistently grounding feature of my life is referencing that engulfing love emanating from my original narrow community. Bringing those particular (local/familiar) elements and eccentricities together with the universal conceptions of common brotherhood and sisterhood (international/other) is what I care most deeply about.
I am from Kashmir Valley. I am a sophomore at Wellesley College, studying Economics and Political science. I want to work to innovate and better the education system overall and want to help create a peaceful environment in Kashmir. Education could be made a force to unite people, cultures and nations for a peaceful and sustainable future (UWC mission). Given the current state of affairs, creating a strong understanding, awareness and tolerance of each other’s values is essential and need of the hour. I feel honoured that I have been given a chance to be a part of this fellowship. I look forward to broadening my understanding of other cultures and religions though this fellowship. I love badminton, volleyball and rock climbing. And I love to smile.
Celine was born in New York City in 1999 and is a French, Swiss and American student. She graduated from the Lycée Français de New York in 2017 and is now studying at Wellesley College. She is a practicing Roman Catholic and was an Interfaith Youth Fellow at the Interfaith Center in NY. For the past four years, she has been deepening her understanding of different faiths and actively working towards creating a more accepting society for everyone. She was part of a program called My Faith Your Faith, which bring together teens from different faiths and encourages dialogue, engages students to participate in religious traditions, reflect on the problems surrounding faith in society and creates a better understanding of other faiths. In the future, she wants to help build bridges between people of different religions, especially in this divisive time and combat the stigmas that surround different faiths.
Anna Del Castillo is a senior studying International Relations and Colonialism studies at Tufts University. She is a Mississippi native and engages diversity as a member of the Bridge to Liberal Arts Success (BLAST) program at Tufts. She is the student body Vice President, an organizer of the Tufts Indigenous Peoples Day movement, a Career Fellow, a Synaptic Scholar through the Institute of Global Leadership, a representative on the Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Committee, and a member of the Interfaith Student Council. Anna is the lead ambassador for the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere team and because of her civic engagement work was invited to speak at the National Civic Leadership Summit in New York, was featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and in the Christian Science Monitor, and serves as a Harvard Institute of Politics National Campaign Ambassador. Anna is passionate about pursuing social justice and currently interns for Centro Presente, an organization focused on immigrant and worker rights.
Oelmis “Emi” Fermin is an undergraduate student at Boston University majoring in Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, to immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Emi grew up speaking Spanish along with learning the cultural traditions of the nation such as dancing bachata, merengue, salsa, and playing baseball. Although raised in a Catholic household, Emi converted to Islam after fasting during Ramadan. Emi began his Studies at Florida International University as Theatre and English Major before transferring to BU. Aside from speaking English and Spanish Emi also speaks Italian and is learning Arabic, hoping to be fluent in the language. Upon graduation Emi hopes to join the Peace Corps and help make the world a better place. Emi also serves as a Marsh Associate at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. With a great interest in interfaith relations, Emi hopes to encourage positive interfaith dialogue and collaboration to promote a more unified community in the greater Boston area.
Alden Fossett is a freshman at Harvard College, interested in studying philosophy or history of art and architecture. He is a part of dual degree Master’s program with Berklee College of Music, also in Boston, where he intends to study songwriting and music business. Originally from Los Angeles, California, Alden was raised attending Second Baptist Church and now considers himself to be a non-denominational Protestant. He became interested in interfaith work because he is very passionate about bringing the conversation of spiritual/religious/ethical traditions to a secular college campus, that, as of now, seems to be “allergic” to those discussions. He is also interested in how to facilitate and grow spiritual/religious/ethical life for the LGBTQ+ community and making them feel welcome in interfaith discussions.
Miriam Israel is a senior at Tufts University studying International Relations and Arabic. She is from the D.C. area and attended Jewish day school for many years where she learned about the importance of religious diversity and debate. Outside of academics she is involved with Tufts Hillel, serves as a Head Delegate for the Model United Nations team, volunteers as a tour guide and is on a traditional Indian dance team. She has spent significant time studying and living abroad in Muslim-majority countries and loves being exposed to different faith traditions. The study of language is also very important to her, particularly in the context of interfaith dialogue because it provides a way to connect with new people and gain a deeper understanding of their belief systems. She is very excited to be a part of BILI this year and can’t wait to work with and get to know the rest of the fellows!
Hello! My name is Ann-Marie Lee, but my friends call me Annie! I’m a sophomore and Community Health and Religion double major at Tufts University, originally from Roseland, New Jersey. On campus, I run the Conversation, Action, Faith, Education (CAFE) interfaith student group, and am a core leader of both the Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha and Tufts Progressive Alliance; I’m also a devoted and motivated member of Tufts Labor Coalition and the Left Unity Project at Tufts. The common theme I pursue is that of justice through interfaith collaboration – my motto is that whenever you have two people working together, you have interfaith work. Bringing together people of different backgrounds and ideologies to achieve fairness and opportunity for self-determination is one of the greatest challenges we face today, not just in Boston but across communities all over. I’m excited to be a part of BILI, and can’t wait to sow some seeds of change!
Emmanuel Nicolella is a queer Latinx Syncretic Humanist and Existentialist born in Barranquilla, Colombia in the evening hours of August 10, 1995. They are currently in their 5th and final year as a biochemistry major and sociology minor at Northeastern University. Emmanuel is also a painter and a poet and believes in the revelational synergy of science, art, and the study of human society and culture as quintessential to the human experience. They are a member of the leadership of various extracurricular activities on campus including Northeastern’s Interfaith Council, the Onyx Informer, an online publication by and for students of marginalized identities, and SAID (Students Against Institutional Discrimination), a campus organization that works to end institutional injustice at Northeastern and its surrounding communities. They are passionate about many things, and thus have little to no clue what they’ll actually be doing after graduation.
Maritt Nowak is a senior at Boston University studying international relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies and minoring in religion. She’s originally from St. Louis, Missouri, but loves the opportunity to be living and studying in Boston with other students from around the world. Maritt grew up attending Catholic school, but spends her time today between interdenominational Protestant worship and studying Islam. Her passion for interfaith was sparked at a Shabbat service during her freshman year and she’s been exploring the landscape of religious diversity on campus ever since. Although she is unsure what her future in faith will be, she enjoys the supportive community and spiritual fulfillment she’s found working at Marsh Chapel as an undergraduate associate. She hopes BILI will be an opportunity to be in contact with more opportunities for interfaith engagement, as she believes the best way to learn about who you are is to see yourself in others.
Phoebe Oler is a junior at Boston University studying Biological Anthropology. She is a Marsh Associate for Boston University’s Marsh Chapel, where she leads congregation, engages with the community, and contemplates her faith. She is also a member of the Marsh Chapel Choir, singing first soprano because she loves singing high notes. Phoebe grew up singing in an Episcopal Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. She continued singing throughout high-school in a secular setting. Phoebe found her faith again at Marsh Chapel her freshman year, where she feels strongly connected to the Methodist tradition. However, she still considers herself undecided on her spiritual journey.
Katie Owens is a third year student at Northeastern studying Behavioral neuroscience. She is a leader of Northeastern’s Interfaith Council and truly believes in its mission to promote understanding, respect and friendship between people of different backgrounds. Katie is also apart if Intervarsity Multiethnic Christian fellowship and has enjoyed the space to explorer identity in Christ, particularly as a part Latina woman. After college her tentative plan is to be a doctor for underserved populations in the US or abroad. She believes that our conceptions of what life could look like is nothing compared to what God has for us, so she continues to embrace uncertainty and live one step at a time. She hails from the beautiful Southern California, she loves to walk long distances, ice cream, birkenstocks and musical theatre- oh and Jesus, she loves Jesus.
Hello! My name is Sanjana Thakur. I grew up in Mumbai, India, with my parents, sister, grandparents, and a succession of tortoises, cats, and dogs. When I was fourteen, my family moved to Dubai. That’s where I graduated high school – in an international school surrounded by peers from over eighty countries. It was a wonderful experience that exposed me to different cultures, religions, perspectives, and beliefs, and it prepared me well for where I am now. I am currently a sophomore at Wellesley College double majoring in Anthropology and English with a concentration in Creative Writing. I am part of the editing team for two magazines on campus and a member of Darshana, the Hindu organisation. I am also a research assistant for a professor in the Anthropology department. Here are some fun facts about me: I skype my dog and cat at least once a week, my name means ‘gentle’ in Sanskrit, and I burnt myself with a firecracker on Diwali when I was five so now I am terrified of fire. Through the BILI Fellowship, I hope to participate in cross-cultural, interfaith conversations with people from varied backgrounds and gain insight into the role that religion plays in the world today.