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Autry Fellows

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MDC recruits talented, passionate recent graduates, committed to equity and social change, to work for one year as full-time staff members at MDC. 

Meet our Autry Fellows



Sofia MolinaFaydra Richardson

Katie Toles
Dasia Moore (BIO)

2017-2018 Rishi Jaswaney (BIO)
2016-2017 Elsa Mota  (BIO)
2015-2016 Anna Shelton-Ormond (BIO)
2014-2015 Joshua Mbanusi (BIO)
2013-2014 Ivanna Gonzalez (BIO)
2012-2013 Beth Caldwell (BIO)
2011-2012 Max Rose (BIO)
2010-2011 Breanna Detwiler (BIO)
2009-2010 Alyson Zandt (BIO)
2008-2009 Lauren Koehler (BIO)
2007-2008 Daniel Bowes (BIO)
2006-2007 Noah Raper (BIO)
2005-2006 Ann Warshaw (BIO)
2004-2005 LeElaine Comer (BIO)
2003-2004 Alison Greene (BIO)
2002-2003 Tate Helms (BIO)
2001-2002 Jehan Shamsid-Deen (BIO)
2000-2001 John Rohrs (BIO)

Sofia Molina
2021-2022 Autry Fellow

Sofia was raised in several Latin American countries and has called Mills River, N.C. home for over a decade. In May of 2021, she graduated from Duke University with a B.A. in Political Science and minors in Psychology and Education. Sofia’s studies at Duke focused on political ideology and behavior, social psychology, history, and race and power.

At Duke, Sofia became passionate about education equity, access, and opportunities. As president of the student global education committee, Sofia created programming for financial aid recipients and minority students who were interested in going abroad. She frequently shared her experiences from her terms overseas with both current and prospective students, in addition to supporting annual WNC student and Latinx student recruitment outreach for the university.

Her passion for education led her to volunteer with Partners for Youth Opportunity, a program that works with the community to support Durham youth through mentoring and educational support. Through Duke, Sofia worked on a social research project focused on Guatemalan migration and deportation in which she researched the ways immigration impacts mental health. She facilitated partnerships between the Duke research team, nonprofits in Guatemala, and mental health nonprofits in cities around N.C. Additionally, Sofia worked on the communications team at Forward Justice, a nonpartisan law, policy, and strategy center dedicated to advancing racial, social, and economic justice in the South. During this internship, she designed and led the inaugural university outreach “Week of Engagement” programming at Duke in collaboration with Duke Athletics.

During these experiences, Sofia was exposed to many of the complexities of working towards meaningful change and became inspired to continue community-driven work after graduation. As the Autry Fellow, she is excited to build on her prior experience and education to contribute to MDC’s mission to foster equity and opportunity in the South.

Faydra Richardson
2020-2021 Autry Fellow

Faydra was born and raised in Tallahassee, Fla., and graduated from Dartmouth College with her Bachelor of Arts degree in 2020. She majored in African and African American Studies (AAAS) and studied conceptions of race in the United States and while abroad in France. Beyond race, Faydra studied classics and archaeology, traveling to Greece, London, and Sicily, informing her perspective on how different cultures perceive and act upon socioeconomic and racial disparities.

Through her study in various geo-political locations, Faydra discovered her love and interest in racial politics in the American South. This interest in the South led her to MDC, where she applied and accepted the position as the 2020-2021 Autry Fellow.

Prior to MDC, Faydra participated in the Strengthening Educational Access with Dartmouth (SEAD) Program as an Educational Access Advisor (EAA). SEAD works with high school students who are low-income and/or aspire to be first generation college graduates. She also participated in Dartmouth’s Student Advisory Board for the university’s Sexual Violence Prevention Project. Through her work, Faydra was introduced to the formal world of systemic change.

In her year as the Autry Fellow, Faydra looks forward to diving forward into community-driven work. She is excited to shift her focus from learning about historic systems of inequity to leaving the classroom and actually challenging those systems.

Katie Toles
2019-2020 Autry Fellow

Katie was MDC’s Autry Fellow for 2019-2020, the 20th person to be selected for the competitive fellowship program that honors MDC’s founding president, George Autry. Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, Katie lived in Carrboro, N.C., for more than a decade and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Pogue Scholar, a full, merit-based scholarship awarded to young people with a commitment to diversity and changing perspectives of those around them. She graduated with honors from UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health with a B.S.P.H. in Health Policy and Management in May 2019.

Katie committed herself to learning how to best advocate for access to healthcare, particularly in her beloved, home state of North Carolina. Throughout college, she volunteered and worked in an array of positions and organizations in order to gain a well-rounded understanding of what it means to be an advocate. Some of these perspectives included the academic research environment as a social science research assistant (N.C. State), the private sector as an intern for a major healthcare provider (Kaiser Permanente), the policy and law environment as an intern for a national health law advocacy group (National Health Law Program), the public sector as an assistor for health insurance marketplace open-enrollment (Certified Application Counselor), and finally on the community level at a local nonprofit advocacy group for community members at or near homelessness (Community Empowerment Fund).

Living in a time of insecurity, Katie’s biggest fear is indifference as a barrier to change and movement building that she sees within herself, peers, and community. In an effort to combat indifference and successfully lead social change, she has prioritized participation in organizations that work toward justice and equitable social reform.

During her Autry year, Katie worked to broaden her understanding of the social determinants that adversely affect the health of Southerners.

Dasia Moore
2018-2019 Autry Fellow

Dasia was raised in several Southern states and calls Reidsville, N.C., and Charleston, S.C., home. In 2018, she graduated Cum Laude from Yale University where she studied ethics, politics and economics with a concentration in poverty policy. Dasia’s commitment to the South and anti-poverty work led her to MDC, where she is the 2018-2019 Autry Fellow.

Prior to MDC, Dasia worked at the Reidsville Area Foundation, Danville Regional Foundation, and City of New Haven. She is co-founder and President of Go South Inc., a nonprofit that redirects capital to Southern organizations promoting equity and opportunity. In 2018, Go South launched its inaugural program: a summer fellowship connecting Yale students and alumni to Savannah, Ga., nonprofits.

At Yale, Dasia mentored freshmen as a first-year counselor, coached low-income students like herself as an academic strategies mentor, and coordinated a student group that advocated progressive state policies. She conducted research on North Carolina’s uneven rural/urban development and the gendered effects of Dutch and American welfare policies.

Beyond data and policy, Dasia values history and cultural interpretations of it as crucial elements of understanding contemporary challenges. She engaged deeply in this issue as the sole undergraduate member of Yale’s Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming, formed in response to controversy surrounding then-John C. Calhoun College (now Grace Hopper College). Dasia wrote her senior thesis on “revivalism,” a form of urban planning that, in Charleston, employed inaccurate public history to justify policies that displaced the city’s black population.

At MDC, Dasia will be working with our Passing Gear Philanthropy team and on work related to economic mobility, among other projects. She says she looks forward to delving into the policies, demographics, and histories of her home region to better understand place-based approaches to combating poverty and enacting systemic change.

Rishi Jaswaney
2017-2018 Autry Fellow

As an Autry Fellow, Rishi is excited to further his understanding of the social determinants of health. He hopes to dedicate his professional career to serving as a physician for his community and believes his time at MDC will be critical for his growth into a compassionate and holistic healthcare provider.

Originally from Cary, N.C., Rishi graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in May of 2017 with a degree in biology and a minor in education studies. His independent research project investigated changing school demographics and student performance outcomes following federal desegregation policies.

Throughout college, Rishi partnered with the Clinton Peabody housing development of downtown St. Louis through the youth-engagement program, City Faces. Beyond his continued commitment as a volunteer, Rishi served as the financial manager for two years. In this role, he worked closely with the fundraising team to raise over $25,000 a year and with the executive board to design programs and budgets for its youth engagement activities.

In his final year with the program, Rishi transitioned City Faces from a student group into a nonprofit entity under the St. Louis Housing Authority. Throughout his undergraduate studies, Rishi also sought out opportunities to combine his passions for medicine and education. During his internship at Children’s National Medical Center, Rishi collaborated with the Medical Education Department on projects designed to improve patient-provider relationships through the implementation of family-centered care practices.

Elsa Mota
2016-2017 Autry Fellow

Elsa was born and raised in Miami, Fla., and is of Dominican descent. In May of 2014, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Florida with B.A in Criminology & Law and a B.S. in Psychology. Her senior thesis, titled ” Gun Culture in the South and Black Victimization” explored the alarming rate at which young black men are shot and at times killed by police officers and the prevalence of those events in the South.

At the University of Florida, Elsa was a Florida Opportunity Scholar. In that role, she served as a mentor to other first-generation, low-income identifying students and obtained a full tuition scholarship. Additionally, she was an orientation leader and “First Year Florida” instructor, working with incoming freshmen.

Elsa’s passion for teaching and mentoring led her to join Teach for America in Denver, Colorado. There, she taught a bilingual class of fourth graders. As a teacher, Elsa founded a co-ed dance team that incorporated fitness, creativity, and self-esteem into culturally responsive dances. In an effort to increase community and family engagement, Elsa set her school’s record for most home visits conducted in one semester. During these home visits, her understanding of the various socioeconomic and racial inequities faced by immigrant families deepened. Elsa’s experience with her students and their families inspired her interest in research, policy, and advocacy.

During her Autry year, Elsa hopes to learn about and develop relationships with the communities she will be working with. Elsa believes that identifying local needs is crucial to attaining educational and professional growth. Specifically, she will conduct policy research.

Anna Shelton-Ormond
2015-2016 Autry Fellow

Born and raised in Greenville, N.C., Anna graduated Phi Beta Kappa in May of 2015 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Sociology and Communications and a minor in Women and Gender Studies.

Anna joined MDC as the 2015-2016 Autry Fellow and is now a Program Associate. As the 2015-2016 Autry Fellow at MDC, Anna provided critical support and insight to the “North Carolina’s Economic Imperative: Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity” report in partnership with the J.M. Belk Endowment, Great Expectations, and the State of the South blog, among other accomplishments. She has studied and researched the frameworks that leaders in the South are using to create and sustain social and economic change, particularly for those who have been systemically disconnected from opportunity. As Program Associate, Anna will continue this work, as well as support MDC’s development projects, including planning and coordinating events for MDC’s 50th Anniversary.

As an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Anna contributed to a number of social and economic justice efforts in areas ranging from feminism to elder care to anti-violence education. Additionally, Anna conducted extensive qualitative research for her sociology honors thesis addressing the intersection between Southern culture and inequity. Her research examined the annual North Carolina debutante ball in Raleigh, N.C., with a focus on participant motivation and rationalization. She used her findings as a platform on which to critically discuss both the display and reproduction of social, cultural, and economic inequity within the state. Anna’s research received highest honors, and she presented her findings at the Southern Sociological Society’s 2015 Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Joshua Mbanusi
2014-2015 Autry Fellow

Joshua is from West Orange, N.J., and graduated from Cornell University in 2012 as a Merrill Presidential Scholar, one of the highest academic awards given by the university to recognize those who have demonstrated a significant “propensity to contribute to the betterment of society.”

A former community college student, Joshua used most of his undergraduate experience to learn about the educational and economic policies needed to combat structural barriers inhibiting families from escaping poverty. He interned at the U.S. Department of Education; the New York State Senate; and the Center for Community Self-Help, where he conducted academic performance and demographic data analysis on charter schools serving low-income communities in North Carolina.

As a senior at Cornell, Joshua developed and launched a campus-wide, one-to-one mentoring program to combat persistently low graduation rates among black males at the university. As the program’s architect, manager, and fundraiser, Joshua managed its expansion; organized bi-weekly workshops and professional development events; and raised more than $17,500 in his first year, in part from a $5,000 grant from PepsiCo. Upon graduating, Joshua joined KIPP: Gaston College Preparatory in Gaston, North Carolina, as a 2012 Teach for AmericaCorps member. There, he developed the course material and curriculum for the freshman level social justice course and taught the course before joining MDC in 2014.

As an Autry Fellow, Joshua is excited to learn strategies for creating lasting relationships within communities in order to bring about community-driven systemic change.

Ivanna Gonzalez
2013-2014 Autry Fellow

Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Ivanna was raised in Miami, Fla., and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Robertson Scholar, a joint merit scholarship and leadership development program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  and Duke University. She majored in political science and public policy.

Ivanna’s interest in MDC’s mission of creating equity and closing the gaps that separate people from opportunity stems from her experience working at a homeless shelter in the Mississippi Delta and spending a summer in Sierra Leone’s Kailahun District leading a rural community asset inventory and supporting the creation of a community-designed and -led economic development plan.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, Ivanna was an active member of Student Action with Workers (SAW), a group that leverages student support to lift up the voices of the university’s lowest paid workers. During her time with SAW, a coalition of students, community members, and workers led a successful campaign to stop legislation that would have eliminated state-guaranteed work protections for low- and mid-wage employees across the University of North Carolina system. The experience exposed her to the ways that inequitable work environments can exacerbate poverty rather than provide a pathway out of it.

Ivanna continued to explore these issues as an intern with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a grassroots advocacy network for domestic workers rights, and by organizing an independent oral history research project with Latina domestics in North Carolina as an intern at the Southern Oral History Program. She also has been involved with Who Needs Feminism, the international photo campaign that helps students worldwide host campus photo shoots of people holding handwritten signs explaining their reason for needing feminism.

As the Autry Fellow, Ivanna is excited to get involved in MDC’s Passing Gear Philanthropy engagements with foundations as they explore their communities’ history and develop data-based strategies for creating long-lasting change. She also hopes to learn about creating a systemic education-to-career pathway rooted in a sense of shared well-being between community members and employers.

Beth Caldwell
2012-2013 Autry Fellow

Originally from Augusta, Georgia, Beth graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University in May 2012. In her senior history thesis, titled “The Financial Frontier: Slave Mortgaging and the Creation of the Deep South,” she explored the use of credit in the antebellum United States and, particularly, the use of slaves as collateral in financing the expansion of slavery into the southwestern frontier. Supported by a grant from Brown University’s Slavery & Justice Committee, she was able to present some of her research at the Brown and Harvard University conference “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development” in the spring of 2011.

At Brown, Beth worked as the coordinator of the student group Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere. Working closely with the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, she and her fellow students successfully advocated for several pieces of legislation on foreclosure prevention and affordable housing. After organizing an extensive canvassing effort this spring, she and her peers saw the passage of the nation’s first Homeless Bill of Rights. As a final project, Beth convened more than 60 policymakers, faculty members, and homeless advocates in April 2012 to discuss the ways that her university’s research might support the implementation of a new strategic plan to end homelessness in Rhode Island.

As a member of Brown’s Student Labor Alliance and Student/Farmworker Alliance, she has also worked on campaigns to protect low-wage workers’ access to healthcare, living wages, and just working conditions.

As the Autry Fellow, Beth is excited to learn more about MDC’s programs in asset-building and financial security as well as the pathway from college entry to completion to employment.

Max Rose
2011-2012 Autry Fellow

Originally from Durham, North Carolina, Max graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2011 with a degree in political science and a minor in Hispanic studies. In his senior honors thesis, he explored the ways that public perceptions of poverty have influenced domestic policies over the last fifty years.

As a student, Max worked with Student U, an organization created to empower students in the Durham Public Schools to take ownership of their education by developing the academic and personal skills they need to realize their full potential in school and beyond. He also worked as an ESL tutor at Durham Technical Community College, an intern with U.S. Representative David Price, and as the city editor for The Daily Tar Heel, where he managed a staff of reporters and assistant editors covering crime, local politics, and community life. Max received the L. Richardson Preyer Award for Excellence in Political Science, given for a distinguished record of scholarship and service to the community.

As an Autry Fellow, Max helped to revitalize the Disconnected Youth project, which is working to build an education-to-career system in Durham. He also worked on Passing Gear Philanthropy and Rural People, Rural Policy.

Breanna Detwiler
2010-2011 Autry Fellow

A native of Warrenton, Va., Bre graduated from Elon University with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with minors in non-violence and religious studies.

During her time at Elon, she was awarded the Truman Scholarship for her outstanding public service work and the Udall Scholarship for her environmental scholarship. Among other efforts, Bre founded Elon’s Community Garden, which supplied food for homeless families in the area, and a nutrition program for at-risk families in the local community. Following her graduation, she completed her master’s in environmental management at Queen’s University Belfast as a Mitchell Scholar.

At MDC, Bre spent much of her time on the Rural People, Rural Policy program, thinking about the ways that rural communities can adapt to a shifting agricultural economy in the United States. Currently, she works as the environmental policy coordinator and assistant to the president of the Airlie Conference Center in Warrenton, Va. In this position, she oversees the Center’s green certification, promotes energy conservation on the site, and manages a vegetable garden for the community to use.

As a result of her time at MDC, Bre continues to see equity as an important lens through which to view the environmental movement.

Alyson Zandt
2009-2010 Autry Fellow

Alyson grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2009 with degrees in political science and international development.

As a student at UNC, Alyson served as the co-chair of the UNC Chapter of Nourish International, a student organization that explores innovative solutions to global poverty by connecting socially engaged college students with entrepreneurial developing communities. Through the organization, Alyson worked with the community of Ciudad de Dios, Peru, and another partner organization to construct a potable water system spanning over three kilometers.

Alyson also completed a field study program in Vienna and the Balkans on the role of international organizations in post-conflict societies, and spent a semester interning with the City of Cape Town’s Office of Social Development while studying global health in South Africa.

During her Autry year, Alyson worked on the State of the South report, the Pathways Out of Poverty program, and MDC’s strategic philanthropy engagements. Since her fellowship, she has stayed at MDC and is now a program manager. Her current projects include Passing Gear Philanthropy and several of MDC’s community college-focused initiatives, including the Center for Working Families and the Developmental Education Initiative.

Lauren Koehler
2008-2009 Autry Fellow

Lauren graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in May 2008 with degrees in Spanish, government and plan II. During her time in college, Lauren focused much of her attention on the Latin-American community. Among other activities, she served as the first ESL program director at an Austin nonprofit and started a mentorship program for middle-school girls at risk of dropping out. For these and other accomplishments, Lauren was awarded the Truman Scholarship in 2007.

As the Autry Fellow, Lauren worked on the State of the South report, the Disconnected Youth program, and MDC’s strategic philanthropy engagements. Lauren has continued to draw on her experiences with place-based work and strategic philanthropy in subsequent positions at both the Strive Partnership and the Promise Neighborhoods program. In May 2012, Lauren earned a master’s degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is currently the assistant director of strategic planning at Jefferson Parish Public Schools, the largest school district in Louisiana.

Daniel Bowes
2007-2008 Autry Fellow

Born in Saxapahaw, N.C., Daniel graduated from Duke University in May 2007 with a degree in political science. At Duke, he was the president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and organized more than 25 events intended to educate Duke students and the Durham community about civil rights. In addition to serving on the Duke Undergraduate Judicial Board and as a North Carolina District Court mediator, Daniel was appointed to represent Duke students to the local community as the Duke-Durham Community Liaison.

At MDC, Daniel focused his efforts on the EITC Carolinas program and a project with the South Carolina Council for Competitiveness. From these experiences, Daniel says that he really saw “the face of poverty in North Carolina,” which has continued to propel his career. Following his fellowship, he attended the New York University School of Law, where he received the prestigious Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship for students studying public interest law.

Since his graduation from NYU, Daniel has worked as a staff attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center, which is engaged in advocacy and community-building on behalf of low-income residents. Through a two-year Equal Justice Works fellowship at the Center, Daniel designed a project that works with individuals with criminal records. In his first year of the fellowship, he participated in a successful campaign to make expungements available for adults in North Carolina, helped to establish local reentry councils to support men and women leaving prison, and coordinated educational events with Legal Aid.

Noah Raper
2006-2007 Autry Fellow

A native of Madison County, N.C., Noah graduated from Duke University in 2006 with a degree in history. In his senior honors thesis, he explored the social issues that developed alongside the cotton textile industry in North Carolina, particularly in the textile mill community of Lawndale.

While at Duke, Noah worked with Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) in a variety of roles. In the summer of 2005, he took part in SAF’s “Into the Fields” Internship and Leadership Development Program, building links between farmworkers and faith-based communities and supporting the efforts of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Through another summer internship, Noah worked in Madison County, North Carolina, under the auspices of the Program for the Rural Carolinas, where he was first introduced to the work of MDC.

During his Autry year, Noah worked on a number of projects, including the Program for the Rural Carolinas, the 2007 State of the South report, and Partners for Postsecondary Success. Through these programs, he learned new tools for research and writing as well as the power of philanthropy.

Following his fellowship, Noah continued his work at MDC for nearly five years. He then moved to Asheville, N.C., to work with the Small Business Technology and Development Center (SBTDC). In this work, Noah continued to draw on the skills and knowledge that he learned at MDC.

Ann Warshaw
2005-2006 Autry Fellow

A Cincinnati, Ohio, native, Ann graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 2005 with a degree in international studies. As a Robertson Scholar, she spent summers working to halt the death penalty at The Moratorium Campaign in New Orleans; volunteering with a children’s theater company in Havana, Cuba; and teaching English to farmworkers in Newton Grove, North Carolina, with Student Action with Farmworkers. Additionally, Ann promoted legislation to improve standards for migrant housing in North Carolina with the Farmworker Advocacy Network.

At MDC, Ann worked primarily on the State of the South report, the Program for the Rural Carolinas and the EITC Carolinas program. Through these projects, she learned about outreach in rural communities and gained greater technical knowledge about tax credits, and the ways it relates to wealth and asset development, skills that she relied on in her subsequent job with Legal Aid of North Carolina.

In her work with the Farmworker Division’s outreach program, Ann traveled throughout North Carolina visiting farmworkers in their homes, providing legal rights information, and answering questions. She also assisted in the litigation of cases related to a variety of claims, including unsafe housing, minimum wage violations, and work-related injuries.

In May of 2012, Ann graduated from the Washington College of Law at American University. She is now working as an honors attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.

LeElaine Comer
2004-2005 Autry Fellow

LeElaine grew up in Statesville, N.C., and received her B.A in sociology, with a minor in social and economic justice, at UNC-Chapel Hill. During college, she spent time in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua studying social change and sustainable economic development.

She served as an Americorps member in San Jose, Calif., working on efforts to educate local youth on issues surrounding migrant farm workers. Her public service experience included work with female immigrants in Orange County, service with autistic children and their families, volunteer coordination at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, chairmanship of a student group committed to the advancement of women’s rights domestically and internationally, and service on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Heart Butte, Mont.

During her time at MDC, LeElaine worked primarily on the Latino Pathways project and the Program for the Rural Carolinas. She continued to work at MDC for the three years following her fellowship year. In 2008, she received her master’s degree in city and regional planning with a concentration in community economic development from UNC-Chapel Hill.

She currently lives in Washington, D.C., and works for the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) as its state policy specialist. Building on her experience at MDC, she helps manage a network of state policy partners and provides technical assistance to states related to a range of policies focused on assets, entrepreneurship, and social insurance. Her years at MDC equipped her with a model of community-based change that she now applies to her work with states across the United States – one that focuses on the development of the leadership, knowledge and capacity needed to share and advance prosperity and opportunity for families and communities in the South and beyond.

Alison Greene
2003-2004 Autry Fellow

Alison grew up in Bakersville, N.C., and attended UNC-Chapel Hill as a Morehead Scholar. At UNC, Alison was co-chair of Habitat for Humanity and played club Ultimate Frisbee. A religious studies and anthropology major, Alison graduated from UNC in 2001 with highest honors and received the Bernard Boyd Memorial Prize as outstanding senior in religious studies. Prior to taking the Autry Fellowship, Alison taught fifth grade in Marianna, Arkansas, as a Teach for America corps member.

At MDC, Alison worked on State of the South 2004, “Fifty Years after Brown v. Board of Education.” She also assisted with Achieving the Dream and the Program for the Rural Carolinas.

After her year as Autry Fellow, Alison received a Mellon Fellowship to begin work on a Ph.D. in American History at Yale University. She currently lives in Starkville, Miss., where she is completing research for her dissertation, “Religion and the Great Depression in Memphis and the Delta.”

Tate Helms
2002-2003 Autry Fellow

A native of Wingate, N.C., Tate attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Morehead Scholar and graduated in 2001 with highest honors in economics and political science. As a student, he served as the president of the Young Democrats of North Carolina. After graduation, Tate worked as an investment banking analyst for Morgan Stanley in New York City and later as a business analyst for Bank of America in Charlotte.

As an Autry Fellow, Tate established the EITC Carolinas campaign to publicize the Earned Income Tax Credit and to assist low-income taxpayers with obtaining free or low-cost tax preparation services. He also devised a self-replenishing “Individual Development Account” to promote savings and homeownership by the working poor.

Through these experiences and his work with the Program for the Rural Carolinas, Tate learned about the process of community decision-making and building consensus, which he has continued to draw from in subsequent positions.

Following his fellowship, Tate attended UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, graduating in 2006 with honors. After law school, he volunteered as a translator and assistant at Schiller Lexconsult, S.A., a law firm based in Madrid, Spain. Tate later worked as an assistant district attorney in Monroe, North Carolina, and then as an assistant public defender in Charlotte, North Carolina. Since then, Tate has established The Helms Law Firm, PLLC, which has offices in Charlotte and Monroe.

Jehan Shamsid-Deen
2001-2002 Autry Fellow

A Charlotte, N.C. native, Jehan graduated from Davidson College in 2001 with a major in political science and a concentration in international studies. She was honored as a Davidson Presidential Scholar, a Leadership Davidson Scholar, a Coca-Cola Scholar, and a Craig G. Wall Fellow.

While at Davidson, she studied abroad in London, worked at an orphanage in Haiti, and did research in Belgium under a Smith-Richardson Security Studies Fellowship. She also served as freshman class president and as a class senator in Student Government during her freshman, sophomore, and junior years. She was a member of the Black Student Coalition, the Union Board, the Presidents Advisory Council on Minority Affairs, and the Committee on International Affairs.

Jehan interned at Wachovia Bank in the summers of 1997-1999, and in the summer of 2000 she completed an internship in the Student Leadership Network for Children division of the Children’s Defense Fund, where she worked to increase the involvement of young people in efforts to address educational access, juvenile justice, and access to health care.

During her time as an Autry Fellow, Jehan received broad exposure to all of MDC’s work. She worked on the site selection for the Program for the Rural Carolinas, provided technical assistance to youth-serving organizations in Jacksonville, FL, assisted with research and data analysis for the Shadows Revisited and State of the South reports, assisted with the start-up of the Latino Pathways, and helped coordinate the Southern Grassroots Leadership Development Program.

She has particular interests in poverty alleviation, youth development and increasing access to health care, both in domestic and international contexts. She currently serves as a program officer with the Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation where she helps direct funding to address critical needs in undeserved communities in North and South Carolina.

John Rohrs
2000-2001 Autry Fellow

Originally from Stillwater, Okla., John graduated with honors in 1999 from Duke University with degrees in history and economics. After college, he participated in North Carolina Public Allies and worked with Partners for Youth, a tutoring and mentoring program for disadvantaged youth in Durham, North Carolina.

As the first Autry Fellow, John had a wide-ranging experience at MDC, eventually focusing his time on the Program for the Rural Carolinas and on drafting an updated version of the Building Blocks of Community Development.

After two years at MDC, John attended Yale Divinity School, earning a master’s in divinity degree with honors in 2005. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest in February 2006 and took a position as the associate rector at Christ Church in Raleigh, N.C.

In the fall of 2009, John and his family moved to Norfolk, Va., where he works as the rector at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church. In this position, John continues to employ the skills he gained at MDC in building community across differences.

The Autry Fellowship provides an opportunity for talented and passionate recent college graduates committed to equity and social change to work for one year as a full-time, paid staff member at MDC. For more information, visit our Autry Fellowship page.

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