Through the Michelson 20MM Student Fellowship program, five students are answering the call to create a better future and will deepen the skills and experiences they use to build student power and elicit change as Michelson 20MM Student Fellows. 

Over the next 10 months, student fellows will be matched with one of our four program areas—Digital Equity, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Textbook Affordability—and have the opportunity to spearhead their own project. Their efforts will engage, educate, and kickstart campus or local communities within their program’s area. Each of the students has a deep passion for advocacy, and we are thrilled to continue building their expertise as they become change makers in their communities. 

Please join us in welcoming the 2024 Michelson 20MM Student Fellowship Cohort! 

Matthew Brashier 

Smart Justice Student Fellow; California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB)

Matthew Brashier (he/him/his) is a student at CSUSB, majoring in communication studies with a focus on relational and organizational communication. Matthew grew up in Jurupa Valley, California, and enjoys going to the gym, as well as traveling and experiencing new things.

As a formerly incarcerated student, Matthew became involved with student government at Riverside City College, motivated by a desire to be a voice for students who were too afraid to speak up. During his time in student government, Matthew worked as a statewide ambassador with Berkeley Underground Scholars, where he used his voice to speak up for formerly incarcerated students. “My goal in life is to see formerly incarcerated students treated as equals,” Matthew shared.

The Smart Justice Fellowship is crucial to Matthew for several reasons. It allows him to advocate for and see policy change, while also raising awareness of injustice within the system. After graduating with his Bachelor of Arts degree, Matthew plans to continue building his podcast and growing the Liberated Scholars Network that he founded. 

Cristopher Espino 

Student Basic Needs Student Fellow; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Cristopher Espino (he/him/his) is a second-year student at UCLA, where he is pursuing a double major in political science and education and social transformation studies. He is passionate about education policy, politics, and the intersection of law with education. 

Originally from Tustin, California, Cristopher was raised by Mexican immigrants and has three sisters, whom he adores. In his spare time, he can be found dancing, binge-watching shows, hiking, playing pickleball and volleyball, and diving deep into his love of cinema. 

Christopher’s journey as a student leader began in second grade when he took on the role of a peer mediator. From there, he joined the student council, eventually becoming president three times. Cristopher also had the opportunity to serve as a student board member, where he gained valuable insight into the workings and policies of school boards. During this time, he advocated for the inclusion of ethnic studies and worked towards fostering a more inclusive and youth-centered environment within TUSD schools. Presently, Cristopher is the Chief of Senate at UCLA, where he oversees a team of approximately 20 senators. 

Having gone through the foster care system, identifying as gay, being a first-generation college student, Latino, and the child of immigrants, Cristopher recalls times when his basic needs were not met. “I intimately understand the challenges that students encounter as they navigate higher education,” he shared. “Recognizing the significance of student basic needs is crucial because academic equity is paramount, and the lack of resources for marginalized communities mirrors a lack of academic equity.” 

As a student fellow, Cristopher aims to not only to effect tangible change but also to inspire others to join this transformative journey. Looking ahead, he intends to obtain his Masters of Education, Doctor of Education, and Juris Doctor.

Francesca Romero 

Digital Equity Student Fellow; Occidental College

Francesca Romero (she/her/hers) is a junior at Occidental College studying diplomacy and world affairs with minors in politics and Latino/a and Latin American Studies (LLAS). She is passionate about human rights, housing, and digital equity. 

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, specifically the Eagle Rock and Highland Park neighborhood, has also become Francesca’s home. Some of her hobbies include reading, crocheting, hiking, cooking/baking, and watching TV and movies.

Francesca began getting involved as a student leader in high school. Fueled by a desire for more representation in her school, as a low-income student and Latina, Fracesca sought to make the school’s curriculum more diverse—a motivation she still carries today.  

In college, due to family experiences, Francesca became involved with housing justice and completed an internship with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. She also created the First-Gen and Low-Income Student Union at her school to make financial aid and academia more equitable overall. Most recently, Francesca interned with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), where she researched how to bring affordable or free quality wi-fi to Pico Union. Additionally, she assisted with the LA Welcomes Collective’s emergency shelters. 

Digital equity is important to Francesca because she and her family were able to benefit from programs, such as the Affordable Connectivity Program. Furthermore, her experience has allowed her to see how deeply intertwined digital equity is to the housing and city landscapes and just how much inequity persists. 

As a student fellow, Francesca is excited to learn more about the digital equity landscape across California, get involved with the work that various coalitions are advancing, and conduct further research or surveys that can help push digital equity forward. “My first goal is to be the first in my family to graduate from college!“ Fracesca shared. “My second goal is to become a movement/social justice lawyer and work within housing or digital equity in order to create a more equitable society for marginalized people.”

Abba Schwartz 

Textbook Affordability Student Fellow; Sierra College

Abba Schwartz (she/her/hers) is a second-year student at her local community college, Sierra College, where she is pursuing a Bachelor’s in political science and will obtain an Associates of Arts in women’s studies and social and behavioral sciences. Abba is passionate about learning, researching, and reading about history, social issues, etc. Born and raised in Sacramento, California, Abba enjoys kayaking, hiking, and swimming.

“My journey as a student leader started when I was around 13 years old,” Abba reflected. “I realized how important education is to me and how I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to learn.” 

Recently, Abba worked with her student senate to write a resolution that rebuked anti-trans policies passed by the school boards, which would have harmed students. She worked with the Academic Enrichment / Dual Enrollment liaison to start up a new Canvas page for impacted students, focusing on LGBTQ+ support on campus. 

As a Cal Grant, Pell Grant, and is a Ward of the State recipient, Abba has been forced to use her financial aid on textbooks due to the true cost of college. Having learned about Open Educational Resources (OER), Abba advocates for students who may be in similar situations. Through the Textbook Affordability student fellowship, Abba hopes to advance her understanding of the landscape and work to ensure that the use of OER becomes stronger so that students will no longer have the barriers of spending money on textbooks.

In the fall, Abba will transfer to a university where she will obtain her Bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, she hopes to obtain her Ph.D. and become a policy analyst and professor, fostering the next generation of student leaders. 

Katie Wagman 

Textbook Affordability Student Fellow; UCLA

Katie Wagman (she/her/hers) is a third-year undergraduate student at UCLA. From Camarillo, California, she is studying public affairs and is passionate about making long-lasting, legislative changes. Katie plans to expand her work into health and housing policies. In her free time, she enjoys reading, dancing, exercising, and traveling when she can. 

Katie’s work as a student leader began with environmental policy. She advocated for the expansion of electric vehicle infrastructure in Los Angeles and was brought into the realm of educational policy through those networks. Katie has also worked on gun policy activism through her classes. 

Textbook affordability is important to Katie because it is a piece of the puzzle of accessible education. “I believe that education is essential to minimizing inequities in society and making higher education more affordable in any sense is the key to that,” she shared. Katie also understands that open education is important for furthering the idea of shared knowledge systems and a more equitable society. 

As a Textbook Affordability Fellow, Katie hopes to further initiatives at UCLA for course materials affordability, which includes the UC Office of the President’s initiatives to increase textbook affordability throughout the UC system. On the local level, she is also working to implement course marking and price transparency at UCLA; nationally, Katie is advocating for a rule change that the Department of Education is considering, which would stop automatic textbook billing. 

After graduating, Katie intends to work in health and housing policy for a few years before going to graduate school for her Master’s in Public Policy. Her intent is to encourage more resources to go to low-income families/individuals in need.

We look forward to sharing what the 2024 Student Fellows achieve in their program areas!

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation working toward equity for underserved and historically underrepresented communities by expanding access to educational and employment opportunities, increasing affordability of educational programs, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place for individuals to thrive. To do so, we work in the following verticals: Digital Equity, Intellectual Property, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

To sign up for our newsletter, click here