Empire State Fellows Program

The Empire State Fellows program of the New York State Department of State, which includes an educational component developed and administered by the Rockefeller Institute, is a full-time, two-year leadership training program aimed at preparing the next generation of talented professionals for careers as New York State policymakers.

Engagement in the work of New York State government lies at the heart of the Empire State Fellows Program. Governor Andrew Cuomo appoints each Empire Fellow to work directly with a Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, or other high-level policy maker. Each Empire Fellow works at a state office or agency, such as the Empire State Development Corporation, the Department of State, the Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Department of Labor, or in the Governor’s Executive Chamber. Work assignments offer Fellows unparalleled experience collaborating with senior officials and participating in the policy-making process.

While taking part in the work of government, Empire Fellows have the opportunity to participate in educational and professional development programs that help them to serve as effective and ethical government leaders.

Learn more.

Meet the Fellows

Omotolani Elumade

Tolani holds a BA in history from Fisk University, master of professional studies in criminal justice from St. John’s University, and she is completing an executive master in public administration from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

Prior to the Empire State Fellows, Tolani worked as a special projects manager for the NYC Department of Correction where she worked on various initiatives. These included EEO compliance, diversity, inclusion, equity, recruitment and leadership development, security response, and other projects under the Anti-Violence Reform Agenda, a landmark criminal justice reform strategy aimed at reducing violence and improving the quality of life for incarcerated individuals and officers.

Tolani’s interest in public policy is rooted in strategizing around how to translate large, complicated legislation and policy into seamless operations for agency implementation. She is also interested in bottom-up approaches to policymaking. Tolani is excited to continue to learn about policymaking and implementation on a state level.

Tolani is placed at the Workers’ Compensation Board.

Paula Granger

Paula holds dual BA degrees in philosophy and women’s studies from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. She recently graduated with an MA degree in nonproliferation and terrorism studies and a specialization in financial crime management from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Paula also studied Persian at the Defense Language Institute and earned a congressionally approved AA degree in Persian-Farsi studies.

Paula has been a member of the Army National Guard for nine years and received a Joint Service Commendation Medal for her work at United States Cyber Command. Here, she briefed high-level civilian and military decision makers on the current cyberthreat landscape, which included authoring cyber intelligence products with readership from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

Previously, Paula worked at The Julian Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on assisting domestic and sexual violence survivors. Here, she held several different positions over eight years, including working directly with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department as a victim advocate. She and her team received the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department North District Baker One Award, which recognized their efforts to educate the community about domestic and sexual violence while assisting those most affected.

Paula is placed at the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Nathaniel Gray

Nathaniel Gray holds a BFA in musical theater from Pace University and his MSW from Fordham University, where he received the Claver Award for excellence and graduated with honors. Prior to the Empire State Fellows, Nathaniel’s focus has been on homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City, working for the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Ali Forney Center in direct practice, policy design, and grant writing.

Nathaniel was the founder of The Proud Path, an educational tool for parents of queer youth, and provided queer-competency training for teachers and social workers at nonprofits like Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City as well as at several public and private schools. For that work, Nathaniel was honored to receive the 2018 New York Nonprofit Media 40 Under 40 Award.

Nathaniel is also a part of the Anti-Defamation League’s cadre of antibias trainers and has delivered the Anti-Defamation League’s peer training program to students across the state of New York.

Nathaniel’s dedication is to address the disproportionate rates of homelessness and suicide in queer youth through inclusive and affirming policy design.

One of the inaugural LGBTQ fellows, Nathaniel is placed with the Office of Children and Family Services.

Chloe Hanna

Chloe has nearly a decade of experience in nonprofit management and program development, with expertise in conservation and education. She holds a BA in Middle Eastern studies from Barnard College, and recently obtained a master of environmental management degree from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

While attending graduate school, Chloe managed an urban forestry program for high-school-aged youth and developed a carbon budget for New York City’s forests. Prior to graduate school, she served as business operations manager for the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, where she led a team in developing a green career pathways program that placed 72 at-risk youth in jobs in its first year.

Chloe has also coordinated scholarship and exchange programs in Egypt, administered social services for low-income families in Los Angeles, and served as a founding board member for a survivor-led organization committed to ending human trafficking. She is dedicated to empowering underserved communities through environmental stewardship.

Chloe is placed at the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

Thomas Hisgen

Thomas holds a BA in music with a minor in East Asian studies from the University of Wisconsin –Whitewater and an MBA in global impact management, as well as an MA in international environmental policy from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

As a recent graduate student, he served as president of the Veterans Organization. He also served in the United States Marine Corps as an Arabic linguist and intelligence analyst, functioning as a Middle East subject matter expert, providing vital insight to strategic decision makers and combatant commanders. He holds an AA in Arabic from the Defense Language Institute. Thomas is committed to environmental sustentation through the intersection of sustainable development.

Thomas is placed at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Zachary Hobbs

Zach is a civic and community education professional, developing effective partnerships between educational institutions and social change organizations, and developing students as effective and engaged leaders and citizens. He has worked in civic education in Andover and Lawrence, MA, at Phillips Academy – Andover; in New Orleans at Tulane University; and, most recently, he served as director of community service at Boston University.

A native of upstate New York, Zach earned a master of education at Harvard University, focusing on lifespan civic identity development, and a bachelor of arts in history at Boston University.

Zach is placed in the Executive Chamber.

Belia E. Jimenez

Belia holds a BS in telecommunications management from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor of arts in English textual studies from Syracuse University. She has more than two decades of experience working with top media organizations including Viacom, Turner, iHeart Media, ABC, and Univision. She brings a range of experience as a researcher and strategist helping Fortune 500 companies market products to target populations and has extensive experience in TV, digital, social, and radio.

Belia recently worked with Univision’s community empowerment initiatives, the company’s prosocial campaigns that provide the Hispanic community with access to information, resources, and tools. In this role, she contributed to the development and launch of education-focused programs that empower parents to help their children succeed in school. She also participated in the company’s nonpartisan voter engagement efforts for the 2016 elections.

As a professional, she focuses on understanding people, the behaviors that drive them, and figuring out how to solve problems. She is a native New Yorker who was born and raised in the area of Washington Heights.

Belia is placed at the Department of State.

Calvin Tendai Pegus

Calvin comes to the Empire State Fellows program from the field of social justice and public health. Calvin has had the opportunity to work for a variety of non-profit organizations focused on initiatives that include environmental justice, health equity, adolescent substance abuse, LGBTQ + inclusion, and community collation building.

Calvin’s career started as a Spring 2016 LGBTQ Institute research fellow for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. He then interned with the National Black Justice Coalition, where he researched and analyzed policy legislation for senior associates in support of the activities around health care reform in the DC-area. He also interned with the Department of Public Health Opioid Strategy Department in Georgia and has worked with the Satcher Health-Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine. Most, recently he has worked for Vanderlande Industries, where he was the Safety Analyst for North America.

Calvin was the scholarship recipient for the Public Health Ethics Intensive at Tuskegee University. He holds a BA in African American studies from Georgia State University and a master of public health from Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. His placement will be with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

Calvin is placed in the Executive Chamber.

Douglas Priest

Doug holds a BS and an MA in history from the College at Brockport, State University of New York, and a PhD in history from Michigan State University. He has worked in the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors focusing on technology and digital media.

Before joining the Empire State Fellows program, Doug was the department head for digital at Townsquare Media in Albany, New York. Prior to Townsquare, he worked at H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online with a focus on digital transformation to make rigorous and open scholarship and discussion available to scholars around the globe.

Doug is excited to bring his combination of experience in technology, management, analysis, and strategy to high-impact projects for New York State.

Doug is placed in the Executive Chamber.

Alexandria Trujillo

Alexandria earned a BS in biological sciences and a PhD in pharmacology and toxicology from the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. While in Buffalo, Alexandria worked for nonprofit organizations aimed at diversifying STEM fields and retaining underrepresented minorities in science.

Alexandria advocates for evidenced-based policy and cofounded a nonprofit organization, Science Demands Action, to bring science-backed solutions to policy issues in western New York. As a lifelong New York state resident, Alexandria is dedicated to improving environmental, health, and social justice concerns in New York State.

Alexandria is placed with the Department of Transportation.

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