Group Members

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Chiara Bercu
Country of Origin: United States
Research Sector: Health

Chiara Bercu is originally from Austin, TX but spent much of her childhood living in Guanajuato, Mexico. Her insatiable love for learning about other cultures has led her to five continents and, immersing herself in these cultures, has inspired her to take up a life-long pursuit in community-led development initiatives. After graduation, Chiara moved to India to lead fundraising and communications initiatives for Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC), a grassroots non-profit that provides education, healthcare, and nutrition to children living on construction sites. After a year with MMC, Chiara relocated to Uganda to serve as a Global Health Corps Fellow, acting as Partnerships and Fundraising Manager for Action for Community Development’s rights-based community empowerment interventions.

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Ana Carolina Diaz
Country of Origin: Panama
Research Sector: Health

Ana Carolina has a B.S. Industrial Engenieering from Universidad Santa Maria La Antigua in Panama and worked as a Project Manager in a private company. For the last four years, she has been a volunteer at varying NGOs, such as Operation Smile, TECHO, Junior Achievement, Nutre Hogar, and an orphanage in Panama. Those experiences helped her to develop a strong passion for international and human development and the role of education plays in programming. She internet for UNDP in Panama, where she was a research assistant for the MDG Program Officer. During that time, her work was focused on food security and energy systems. Ana also has participated in different leadership conferences, such as GYLC, Operation Smile's ISCE and IDB's Youth, which helped her acquire leadership skills and different perspectives on global issues. She believes education is the key to economic growth and social development. Ana speaks English, Spanish, French, and Italian.

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Mariela Machado Fantacchiotti
Country of Origin: Venezuela
Research Sector: ICT Specialist

Mariela Machado has a Telecommunication Engineering degree from UCAB in Caracas, Venezuela. After which, she obtained her Master’s degree in Networking in Barcelona, Spain. She then spent 5 years as Project Manager for Telefonica, the international telecoms company. Her interest in the field of development practice and diminishing the worldwide digital divide began during an internship in Peru, where she developed a project to provide IP phone service to a local hospital in a remote town of 1,000 people. After this project and through her involvement in other NGOs, Mariela knew she wanted to integrate ICT into development projects to improve a population's standard of living.

Tricia Johnson
Country of Origin: United States
Research Sector: Arts & Culture

Tricia Johnson graduated from California Lutheran University in 2011 with her degree in International Studies with minors in Political Science and Spanish. After graduation, she spent a year in Honduras teaching at a bilingual school. Since then, she has been working with EcoViva, a small NGO focused on economic development and environmental sustainability in Central America. She also volunteers with Amigos de las Americas, a youth leadership and community development organization. Tricia is interested in the intersection between environmental conservation and community organizing in Latin America.

Laura Lehman
Country of Origin: United States
Research Sector: Arts & Culture

Laura Lehman is experienced in program design, education, capacity building, and evaluation, having worked as a community organizer for immigrant youth in Washington DC, a teacher for underserved communities in Philadelphia, and a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, she developed and managed a rural literacy program, trained teachers, and provided programming for at-risk youth. Most recently, Laura supported organizational growth and learning for MIT's D-Lab by conducting evaluations at co-creation/design summits in Colombia and Botswana. She is interested in sustainable development focusing on education and social justice in Latin America and the United States.

Emily Sylvia
Country of Origin: United States
Research Sector: Agriculture

Emily Sylvia graduated from the University of Arizona where she earned her B.S. in International Development and Global Political Economy with minors in Spanish and Latin American Studies. She worked with coffee farmers in the Antigua Valley in Guatemala, where she collected data, interviewed stakeholders, and participated in the construction of a community school. Later, she worked with a Tucson, Arizona, refugee network, focusing on eliminating food waste by harvesting local produce to redistribute to Tucson’s vast refugee community. Since graduation, Emily has been completing her Master's degree in Development Practice from Columbia University. She has been involved in various sustainable agriculture projects including SDSN's Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Pathways Project in Uruguay. Emily’s volunteer experience has been mainly with refugees, asylum-seekers, and undocumented migrants from Latin America and Sub-saharan Africa.

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Gary Verburg
Country of Origin: Canada/the Netherlands
Research Sector: Agriculture

Hailing from a Dutch immigrant farm family in the Canadian prairies, Gary has managed to gain extensive study, travel, and work experience in various parts of Latin America. After graduating from university, Gary set out on an internship in Honduras through Canada’s International Youth Internship Program. There, he monitored and evaluated a peri-urban food security program with a local NGO. Thereafter, he implemented a food security pilot project in southern Honduras, where he worked to establish gardens in rural communities and broiler chicken projects to improve food security and to generate income for impoverished families. Gary is interested in sustainable agriculture and rural development in underdeveloped countries, and is currently studying sustainable development in New York.

Faculty Advisors

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Debi Spindelman

Debi Spindelman, MPA-DP, is a capacity development specialist and leader in the fields of inclusive education, qualitative M&E, and participatory photography.

As Practice Manager for SIPA’s MPA in Development Practice program, Debi works closely with students on learning opportunities outside the classroom. She works closely with students and partner organizations to handle all details surrounding internships, student organization involvement, capstone workshop options, independent study opportunities, research and publishing opportunities, and summer field placements for the MPA-DP program. She also consults for UN REACH on capacity assessment and development in the field of nutrition governance. Debi is also a former professional surfer.

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Anne Nelson

Anne Nelson is an award-winning author and educator specializing in international affairs and the media who has taught at Columbia University since 1995. Nelson consults extensively on media development for the Open Society Foundation and other leading philanthropies, and has written a series of reports for the Center for International Media Assistance. She has been the recipient of a Livingston Award for international reporting and a Guggenheim Fellowship for her book Red Orchestra. She is a graduate of Yale University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.