Public Interest Scholars

 

Financial and programmatic support

The Berkeley Law Public Interest Scholars Program is a three-year scholarship covering the equivalent of California resident* tuition and fees (excluding SHIP) for J.D. students dedicated to public interest work. As part of its public mission and commitment to public interest students, Berkeley Law admitted the first class of Public Interest Scholars in 2021.  

In addition to financial support, Public Interest Scholars are welcomed into a cohort of Scholars and public interest staff and faculty. At the same time, Scholars will find themselves among many others–students, faculty, staff, and community members alike–who are deeply committed to public interest lawyering. Berkeley Law’s public interest landscape reaches every corner of the law school and beyond. 

With the Public Interest Scholars Program, Berkeley Law hopes to reduce the financial barrier law students face when deciding whether to pursue public interest legal careers after graduation. There is no post-graduation “qualifying employment” requirement nor any obligation to repay the scholarship should a Scholar not enter a public interest position; we understand that there are many ways to work to advance and increase access to justice.

*Applicants from any location can apply for the Public Interest Scholars Program. If a non-California resident is selected, they will receive a scholarship that covers an amount equivalent to California resident tuition and fees, and they will be responsible for paying the remainder. However, many of our students are able to gain California residency for tuition purposes in their second and third year, thus further reducing their costs.

 

How to apply

Candidates for the Public Interest Scholars Program must have a demonstrated interest and commitment to public interest legal work during and after law school. “Public interest” encompasses a broad range of practice areas and workplaces, but most often refers to work with a nonprofit, government agency, union, plaintiffs’ side firm, educational institution, community organization, or international NGO.

To be considered, you must submit a “Why Berkeley Law” statement that expands upon your interest in Berkeley Law’s public interest offerings. Your “Why Berkeley Law” statement must be included with your initial application materials. Please be sure your application materials, such as your personal statement and resume, reflect your interest, experience, and commitment to the field.

 

Review and selection

Review will begin December 1, and as such, we strongly recommend submitting your application and required essay early. Review for the scholarship will continue on a rolling basis during both the initial gift aid stage and during reconsideration. If an admitted student has not received an offer for the Public Interest Scholarship by the time reconsideration opens, they should apply for reconsideration. 

Every admitted student who applied for the program will be evaluated. We are looking for a strong commitment to public interest work pre-law school and a desire to continue in public interest work at Berkeley Law and beyond. Successful applicants not only show a commitment to public interest work, but also demonstrate leadership and initiative. We are looking for people who will be able to leave their mark on Berkeley Law and have a positive impact on their community.

 

Meet the Scholars

Class of 2025

MacKenna Alvarez

MacKenna Alvarez photoOriginally from Southern California, MacKenna (she/her) graduated magna cum laude from NYU in 2019 with a BS in Secondary English education and double minors in Urban Education and Public Policy. As an undergraduate, MacKenna studied the harmful impacts of privatization on education as both a research assistant for NYU and USC, and as an education consultant for schools in Los Angeles.

After graduation, MacKenna taught 7th and 8th grade history and English in Brooklyn, New York where she created anti-racist curriculum scorecards and teaching practices for her charter network to implement across all subject areas. By working at a charter school, MacKenna deepened her passion for fighting against privatization and for tackling factors outside of education that contribute to economic inequality. She is excited to continue this work at Berkeley as a Public Interest Scholar.

In her free time, MacKenna enjoys reading, making unnecessary lists, and spending time with her cat, Chubs.

 

Leily Arzy

Leily Arzy photoLeily Arzy was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 2019, she graduated summa cum laude from Emory University. Her honors thesis examined the factors contributing to over a decade of juvenile justice reform across the United States.

Leily joins Berkeley Law after two years at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York City where she worked to end mass incarceration. She conducted research and authored analyses on a wide range of criminal justice issues, including state policing reforms following George Floyd’s murder and efforts to overhaul cash bail in California. Leily also engaged in legislative advocacy at the state and federal levels—frequently working with Congress to advance critical reforms, including legislation that would reduce incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic and eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

Prior to the Brennan Center, Leily spent a year in Sacramento as a Judicial Fellow with the Judicial Council of California, the policy and rule-making body for the state’s judiciary. Leily’s work focused on promoting the equitable administration of justice in state courts. Her culminating project was a best practices guide for courts to effectively implement and comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Outside of school, Leily enjoys spending time with friends and family, listening to live music, and baking sourdough bread.

 

Marian Avila Breach

Marian Avila Breach photoMarian Avila Breach (she/hers/ella) graduated summa cum laude from UC Santa Cruz in 2020 with double majors in Philosophy and Politics. Born in Northern Mexico to a Mexican family, she grew up in the Bay Area but has been fortunate enough to have called both Beijing and Mexico City home. As an undergraduate, Marian led an investigative team as part of UC Santa Cruz’s inaugural Human Rights Investigation Lab. Her work in the lab involved the use of open source investigative techniques to verify human rights abuses in Latin America. Upon graduation and in response to her experiences with the lab, Marian began volunteering with the the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF) in the capacity of interpreter for asylum cases.

Passionate about guaranteeing civil rights and criminal justice reform, Marian joined the Santa Cruz Public Defender’s Office as an investigator and assisted trial attorneys gathering witness testimony and preparing defendants for trial. Additionally, she began working with Mt. Tamalpais College (MTC), an accredited college located within San Quentin State Prison. Initially, she worked as part of MTC’s COVID-19 response team, sending much needed hygienic items and legal papers to incarcerated individuals across the state. Once COVID-19 restrictions eased, she volunteered with MTC as an Ethics Bowl volunteer tutor within the prison.

By attending Berkeley Law, Marian aims to become a better advocate for communities in need, both those she’s familiar with and those she has yet to work with. In her spare time, Marian enjoys reading Sci-Fi (Ursula K. Le Guin being a personal favorite) and spending time with friends and family.

 

Ayeza Bajwa

Ayeza Bajwa photoAyeza (she/her) was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She graduated from Yale University in 2020 with a degree in Sociology and wrote her thesis on the efficacy of medical-legal partnerships in targeting the negative health effects of substandard, unaffordable housing.

After she graduated, Ayeza worked as a paralegal at Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) on their litigation team, which challenged restrictions to reproductive health care in over a dozen states, in both federal and state courts. While her two years at PPFA were marked by major losses for the reproductive rights movement, this only made her more confident that she wanted to pursue a career in public interest law and use the legal system to to push for health equity.

Ayeza intends to use her law degree to fight for reproductive justice and she looks forward to exploring the many ways of doing so during her time at Berkeley Law. In her free time, you can find Ayeza cooking Pakistani food or synchronized swimming.

 

Tiffaney Boyd

Tiffaney Boyd photoTiffaney Boyd (She/Her) is passionate about challenging inequality, expanding access to justice, and uplifting community voices. She grew up in Hemet, California, and graduated magna cum laude as a double major in Communication and Social Science with an emphasis on Critical Intercultural Communication from California State University San Marcos. As a first-generation college student, Tiffaney’s activism and position as Student Body President led to the creation of a student-led food pantry to alleviate student hunger and a student resource center for Black students. During undergrad, she also worked for the San Diego District Attorney’s Office with their victim’s unit, and her research on “Safe Spaces” was published in the International Undergraduate Journal for Service-Learning, Leadership, and Social Change.

After graduation, Tiffaney spent more than five years working in politics and public service. She most recently worked as a Legislative Director in the California State Assembly. Throughout her time in government, she made a concerted effort to advocate and uplift communities of color through legislative channels. Tiffaney was instrumental in passing legislation on institutionalizing trauma-informed criminal justice reform, expanding food security for college students, and requiring Ethnic Studies for college graduates at the CSU. Beyond working for the Legislature, where she began as a Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellow, Tiffaney has also served as a Policy Director for a statewide ballot measure and worked as the Policy and Government Affairs Director for the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

Tiffaney hopes to leverage the skills gained from her time in government and her legal education to bridge the gap between access, justice, and policy for marginalized and low-income communities of color. In her spare time, Tiffaney enjoys traveling, listening to podcasts, and practicing yoga.

 

Julianna Gay

Julianna Gay photoJulianna Gay (she/her) grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. She attended Cornell University, where she earned her B.S. in Industrial and Labor Relations and double minored in Law & Society and Crime, Prisons, Education & Justice. While at Cornell, Julianna co-founded an organization known as the Parole Preparation Project, which helped incarcerated individuals navigate the challenging process of obtaining parole. Julianna also had the opportunity to intern with Judge Richard Berman of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In this role, she also advocated for formerly incarcerated individuals who were on supervised release.

These experiences have emboldened Julianna to dedicate her legal career to fighting for a more just and rehabilitative carceral system. Specifically, she desires to continue to advocate for Black and Brown individuals who are often disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system.

In her free time, Julianna has a passion for painting, playing softball/volleyball, and spending time outdoors.

 

Mackenzie Gettel

Mackenzie Gettel photoMackenzie (she/her) grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated cum laude from the University of Missouri in 2022. She received degrees in philosophy and political science. As an undergraduate, Mackenzie participated in multiple activities on and off-campus including serving as a site leader for an alternative breaks service organization, competing in collegiate mock trial, and leading as president of the first-generation students association.

Outside of school, Mackenzie worked under a property rights attorney as an administrative assistant. She gained experience assisting in multiple trials and preparing various court documents. Mackenzie is interested in becoming a legal advocate for homeless/at-risk youth who are occluded from legal representation.

At Berkeley Law, she’s curious to learn more about the intricacies of the homelessness crisis from an empathetic, yet an objective point of view, specifically as it relates to homeless teenagers and their pivotal positions in society. In Mackenzie’s free time, she enjoys working out, meditating, and spending time with friends and family—many of who inspired her to attend law school!

 

Adriana Herrera

Adriana Herrera photoAdriana Herrera (she/her) was born and raised in Rochester, New York. She graduated from The New School in 2018, where she co-led programming for students of color that ultimately led to the establishment of the first-ever community space for students of color on the university’s campus.

Post-graduation, she worked as a Program Coordinator at Cool Culture, a Brooklyn-based organization that uses art and culture to propel social change in schools, cultural institutions and communities. For the past year, she has worked with the Center for Educational Leadership, supporting nationwide professional learning opportunities for K-12 district leaders. In 2021, she had the honor of contributing to the Free Minds, Free People national conference for liberatory education.

At Berkeley Law, Adriana is excited to explore the breadth of public interest opportunities in education policy and beyond. Adriana is also an aspiring baker, recovering sneaker collector, and Gemini.

 

Peter Mason

Peter Mason photoPeter (he/him) was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Pomona College in 2018, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned departmental honors with his Philosophy major.

After graduating, Peter worked as a Paralegal at Altshuler Berzon LLP and a Legal Assistant at Gladstein, Reif & Meginniss, LLP. The two law firms specialize, among other things, in representing labor unions and workers. His exposure to that work generated an interest in the role lawyers can play supporting social movements, which he is excited to pursue at Berkeley Law.

In his free time, Peter plays volleyball and enjoys weightlifting and watching movies in theaters.

 

Bhavya Sukhavasi

Bhavya Sukhavasi photoA Michigan native, Bhavya (she/her) is dedicated to leveraging the law to design a more humane, equitable health care system. In 2020, Bhavya graduated from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy with a concentration in Health Policy and a minor in Writing. As an undergraduate, Bhavya worked at the Center for Value-Based Insurance Design (V-BID Center), an organization which aims to improve health outcomes and contain costs by aligning stakeholders around high-value health care. Bhavya was also dedicated to strengthening the connections between students at the University of Michigan and Detroit-based community partners through her involvement in clubs such as The Detroit Partnership.

After graduating, Bhavya moved to Washington, DC and began work as a research assistant at the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MEDPAC), a nonpartisan legislative branch agency that provides the U.S. Congress with payment policy analysis on the Medicare program.

At Berkeley Law, Bhavya hopes to continue to explore how public health interventions can make the United States health care system more accessible, affordable, and humane. Outside of school, she is excited to try new coffee shops, trail run, and hammock with the company of a good book.

 

Class of 2024

Nora Ellmann

Nora Ellmann headshotNora (she/her) grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. She graduated from Brown University in 2017 with a BA in development studies and a focus on movements for reproductive rights in Latin America.
 
After graduating, Nora moved to Washington, DC and participated in the Avodah Jewish Service Corps, working as a legal assistant and volunteer coordinator at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, an organization providing legal services to people in immigration detention in the DMV region. Nora spent the last three years working on women’s health and rights policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress (CAP), where she was also an active member of the CAP Employees Union, serving as President and Head of Negotiations.
 
Nora is also a modern and contemporary dancer and an abortion doula, and is passionate about pursuing a legal career rooted in the pursuit of reproductive justice.

 

Taylor Fox

Taylor Fox headshot

Taylor is a second-year student at Berkeley Law interested in legal advocacy that advances the work of communities who are building a world beyond the prison-industrial complex. In 2020, Taylor graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in Political Science, and spent her summers interning with the D.C. Public Defender Service and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. Before law school, Taylor conducted research as a master’s student on the history of US counterinsurgency, policing, and the George Floyd uprisings. 

As a law student, Taylor has rooted their legal study in work that fights policing and surveillance through internships with Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Taylor has also been a part of student-led pro bono projects that challenge the expansion of digital surveillance technologies and provide legal support to incarcerated people while at Berkeley.  These experiences have shaped Taylor’s commitment to community and movement lawyering that is grounded in an abolitionist framework. Outside of law school, Taylor is active in abolitionist and Palestine solidarity organizing in the Bay Area.

 

Jamilah McMillan

Jamilah McMillan headshotJamilah McMillan graduated magna cum laude from Monmouth University in 2017 with a major in political science and double minors in journalism and graphic design. As an undergraduate, Jamilah was the news and managing editor of her university’s students run newspaper, the president of the Muslim Student Association, and the founder and president of Student’s Advocating Girls’ Education.

After graduation, Jamilah worked at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as a paralegal in the Alternatives to Incarceration Unit and as a member of the Equity & Social Justice Advisory Board. In 2019 & 2020 Jamilah was a Beyond the Bars Fellow at Columbia University’s Center for Justice where she learned about community organizing and abolitionist theory. Before moving to Berkeley, Jamilah did community organizing and defund policing work in Brooklyn, NY as a member of Democrat Socialists of America.

Jamilah’s interests in law stem from her family’s experience with the criminal justice system, and she intends to use her law degree to help Black and Brown communities avoid the disproportionate effects of prisons and policing in America.

 

Kevin Steen

Kevin Steen headshot

Kevin grew up in Skagit County, Washington before moving to Los Angeles to study linguistics and Arabic. He later moved to the Bay Area to work in the field of automatic speech recognition. In 2014, Kevin founded an international organization that provides direct assistance to queer and trans people who have been rejected by their families. He is also involved in leftist political organizing in the East Bay, particularly in the area of tenant struggle. He speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, and some French.

Kevin is interested in interrupting the violence of the carceral system and creating pathways for healing from personal and intergenerational traumas. At Berkeley Law, he’s curious to study the systems that perpetuate white supremacy, ableism, cis-heteropatriachy, and anti-poverty. His activities at the law school include Defenders at Berkeley, the Policy Advocacy Clinic, the Abolitionist Collective at Berkeley, and Queers United in Radical Subversion. He hopes to begin his legal career as a public defender in the Bay Area.

Kevin enjoys weightlifting, hot springs, and preparing food for loved ones. He is a passionate birdwatcher and documents his exploits on Instagram @kevbirds. Recently, he was very excited to record a Phainopepla on Mount Diablo.

 

Amanda Young

Amanda Young headshot

Amanda Young (she/her/hers) is a proud Bay Area native and is excited to continue local advocacy at Berkeley Law. Most recently, she worked as an Organizer and Program Associate at the ACLU of Northern California. At the ACLU, she organized with the gender, sexuality, and reproductive justice team, leading campaigns to protect reproductive and LGBTQ health care from religious restrictions, and working with labor organizers to pass local and statewide paid leave policies. Additionally, she managed an organizing and racial justice training program for young BIPOC leaders in the Central Valley.

Prior to joining the ACLU, Amanda worked at the Legal Aid Association of California in Oakland, advocating for increased legal aid funding. Before LAAC, she was an AmeriCorps fellow at Healthy Start of Southern Oregon, a national infant mortality prevention program, and also worked in Washington D.C. as a health care policy analyst.

Amanda graduated with highest honors from Duke University with an A.B. in Public Policy and a minor in Arabic.

Outside of school, Amanda serves on the board of New Leaders Council- San Francisco. She also enjoys trail running, reading astrological charts, teaching mindfulness and meditation, and baking many types of pastries.