Empowering tomorrow's leaders: The 2023-24 Wilder Graduate Scholars’ Fellowship Cohort at the Forefront of Public Affairs
by Tiffany Murray-Robertson and David Slipher
The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University is proud to introduce the accomplished members of the 2023-24 Wilder Graduate Scholars Fellowship Program. This year's cohort brings together 14 inquisitive minds from multifaceted backgrounds and academic programs.
Established in 2006, the Wilder Fellowship remains a pivotal bridge in connecting our exceptional master's students with state agencies and nonprofit organizations. The present class champions the school’s criminal justice, public administration and urban and regional planning specialties.
"Over seventeen years ago, Wilder School Dean Susan Gooden ignited a transformative journey for our graduate students through this fellowship. Today, it remains a powerful catalyst for career progression and immersive graduate studies," shared Shajuana Isom-Payne, Assistant Dean of Student Services, who oversees the program.
"The fellowship stands as a pivotal initiative within the Wilder School, designed to nurture and advance our future public policy leaders,” Isom-Payne added. “To date, we've sponsored an impressive 176 fellowships, channeling more than $5 million towards graduate education."
Wilder Fellows, in exchange for their dedicated 20-hour-a-week professional service with their designated nonprofit or government agency, benefit from a year's tuition assistance and a $14,500 stipend. Beyond financial assistance, they also get to sharpen their skills, contribute to specialized projects, and support organizations committed to the public's well-being.
"The fellowship stands as a pivotal initiative within the Wilder School, designed to nurture and advance our future public policy leaders. To date, we've sponsored an impressive 176 fellowships, channeling more than $5 million towards graduate education." – Shajuana Isom-Payne
This year’s cohort is made possible by the munificent support of the host agencies: Capital Region Airport Commission, Dinwiddie County, HOME of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Corrections, VCU Center for Public Policy, and VCU Wilder School RVA Eviction Lab and Greater Richmond Transit Company.
With an extremely competitive application process, the Wilder Graduate Scholar Fellowship stands as a hallmark of excellence within the Wilder School. The program underscores the outstanding services and initiatives championed by the Wilder School Office of Student Success and celebrates the exceptional caliber of students in our nationally acclaimed school of public affairs.
INTRODUCING THE 2023-24 CLASS OF WILDER GRADUATE SCHOLAR FELLOWS
VCU Wilder School Center for Public Policy
Hailing from Suffolk, Va., Alexander is interested in contributing her talent with a career in housing and environmental justice. Advocating for rent stabilization as a community organizer in New York, she learned firsthand the power of policymaking reform. Alexander is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning after earning her bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary.
Virginia Department of Corrections
Austin, a Suffolk, Va. native, will conduct program evaluations as part of her year-long fellowship. She anticipates attending law school and becoming a defense attorney. She proudly completed her first year of graduate school in pursuit of a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Austin earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and Italian from James Madison University.
VCU Wilder School Center for Public Policy
A Chesterfield, Va. native, Brown is a first year urban and regional planning student with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from Longwood University. Focused on environmental policy, housing, and community development, Brown combines policy with community renewal. An alumna intern of the Council on Environmental Quality, she's also a recipient of the Citizen Leader Award. Brown balances her interests in mentorship and baking with her zeal to research public and social issues through the Wilder Fellows Program.
Virginia Department of Corrections - Health Services Unit
From Glen Allen, Va., Deckert is a second-year Master of Public Administration student. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Politics, Philosophy, Economics, and Law from the University of Richmond and is deeply intrigued by jurisprudence, social justice, and Virginia politics. Recognized for her redistricting reform thesis, Deckert envisions her path with the Virginia General Assembly. Her diverse experiences, from political campaigns to legislative internships, come alive in the Wilder Fellows Program.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME)
Edmunds is a first-year urban and regional planning graduate student. Graduating with a human services degree from Old Dominion University, she's driven by data, research analysis, and community service. With aspirations to uplift marginalized communities and head an Executive Coaching and Consulting Agency, Edmunds founded Keedy’s Greater Impact Incorporated and proudly represents Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated.
VCU Wilder School RVA Eviction Lab
Houghland, hailing from Williamsburg, Va., holds career aspiration in the fields of housing and community development sustainability. Serving as a Peace Corps officer in Mexico, she experienced the power of community building in action. Hougland is studying urban and regional planning and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from the University of Virginia. She is president of the VCU Urban and Regional Planning Student Association.
Greater Richmond Transit Corporation (GRTC)
Mechanicsville native Joyner is a first-year Master of Public Administration student. His government and theatre background from Hampden-Sydney College fuels his unique analytical and creative prowess. Focused on prison reform, Joyner, a GIS-certified scholar, is also notable for his research on environmental views. Through the Wilder Fellows Program, he aims to bridge academic theories with public service challenges.
Virginia Department of Corrections' Operations Unit
From Rogersville, Mo., Keen is a second-year urban and regional planning graduate student. With a social work background from Missouri State University, she champions parks, recreation and innovative community solutions. A returning Wilder Fellow, her supportive role for adults with disabilities marks her devotion to service. With a vision for community non-profits, Keene blends her academic pursuits with hobbies like hiking and painting.
Virginia Department of Corrections' Correctional Education - Career and Technical Education Unit
Keener, hailing from Clifton Forge, Va., is in his second year of urban and regional planning graduate studies. With degrees from Christopher Newport University, he's committed to rural and regional planning. His drive centers on workforce development and community unity, as exemplified by a publication in “Public Administration Times”.
Dinwiddie County Planning Department
Snow is a native of Stafford, Va., and holds interests in urban agriculture, public health, policymaking and geographic information systems. He looks forward to a career using GIS software to create data-driven research. He previously worked as a summer intern with Plan RVA conducting feasibility studies for solar farms in central Virginia. Snow is an urban and regional planning graduate student and earned a Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Studies from VCU.
Virginia Department of Corrections - Research Unit, Data Collection and Analytical Support
Tilley hails from Herdon, Va. and is interested in a career in land-use planning. She hopes to work with the City of Richmond with a focus on affordable multifamily housing and mixed-use development. She previously served as a legislative intern in the Virginia State Senate, And then was hired on staff as a communications manager. She spent a summer working at the Virginia Department of Energy, conducting research on Shared Solar programs. Tilley is a graduate student in urban and regional planning and received her Bachelor of Science in in Urban and Regional Studies from VCU.
Capital Region Airport Commission
Tortolero, from Stafford, Va., looks forward to a career in policy government and law, with ambition to become an attorney and advocate for equitable lawmaking. She Is currently pursuing a dual Master of Public Administration and Juris Doctorate through a joint program with VCU and the University of Richmond. She has worked as a Virginia State Senate aide and policy intern with the Virginia Department of Social Services. Tortolero earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from VCU.
Derrick Watkins, Jr.
Capital Regional Airport Commission
Hailing from Portsmouth, VA, Watkins, a first-year Master of Public Administration student, anchors his roots in a political science background from Virginia State University. Guided by educational, urban, and public policies, he aspires to uplift underserved communities. Watkins accomplishments, such as the Frederick Douglass Award, validate his dedication.
Morgan D. Williamson
Capital Region Airport Commission
Durham, Nc., native Williamson is a second-year criminal justice graduate student. With a political science background from North Carolina A&T State University, she's worked under the mentorship of top attorneys. Ambitious about advocating for marginalized communities, Williamson envisions a legal future and hopes to establish a legal aid clinic. She is an active board member of the VCU Black Graduate Student Association and also participates in the VCU Graduate Student Association.