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2022 Class of Forefront Fellows

Each year, we select a diverse cohort of emerging leaders to investigate how design can address a social or political challenge facing New York City. This year’s interdisciplinary cohort will explore new approaches to waste and re-envision how we keep our city clean.

Made up of designers, community planners, environmental justice advocates, policy experts, and developers, our seventh class of Fellows is already shaping the future of New York City: organizing community composting sites, designing multi-family housing projects, reimagining canal infrastructure, and more.

Thanks to our Forefront Jury for their careful consideration of our many excellent candidates: Victoria Dearborn, Department of Sanitation; Dorraine Duncan, ’19 Forefront Class; Carmelo Freda, Department of Sanitation; Daphne Lundi, ’17 Forefront Class; Jessica Mathews, ’16 Forefront Class; Beatrice Sibblies, BOS Development; Emma Silverblatt, ’20 Forefront Class; Mallory Taub, ’19 Forefront Class; Ebony Wiggins, ’20 Forefront Class.

Rafael Berges
Senior Urban Designer, NYC Department of City Planning

Originally from Queens, Rafael is a Dominican/Puerto Rican designer and artist. His work focuses on how our built environments form our cultural identities and how, in turn, our environments are shaped by our inhabitation. Rafael holds an M.Arch from the California College of the Arts and a B.A. from SUNY Albany.

Katy Burgio
Senior Program Manager, Sustainability/Waste Projects, NYCHA

Katy is the senior program manager for waste capital projects at NYCHA where she facilitates infrastructure upgrades, programs, and procedure revisions to divert material from landfills. In her free time, Katy helps compost at local community gardens and organizes litter cleanups with BedStuy Strong and her run group.

Alexandra Burkhardt
Project Manager, Urban Design, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Alex is an urban designer with a passion for equitable, livable, and resilient cities. With a background in architecture and urbanism, her work focuses on community engagement, climate resilience, and visual storytelling. She works as a project manager at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill where she leads interdisciplinary projects and teams within their City Design Practice.

Fernando Canteli de Castro
Senior Urban Designer, NYC HPD

Fernando is a licensed architect from Madrid who works as an urban designer for the Predevelopment Planning Unit at HPD. He envisions the design of 100% affordable housing developments bringing much-needed services to the neighboring communities while reimagining the public space around them.

Asad Dandia
Graduate Student, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies

Asad is a born-and-bred Brooklynite with a deep passion for all things urbanism. He is a member of Brooklyn’s Community Board 13, a member of the NYC Civic Engagement Commission’s Language Assistance Advisory Committee, and an urban studies MA student at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies.

Betsy Daniel
Associate Urban Designer, HOK

Betsy is a community-oriented urban designer, who strives to have the built environment be inclusive, healthy, and accessible for all people. Through her professional career, resiliency and sustainability research, civic leadership work, and design for equity efforts at her workplace, Betsy aims to collectively work together to envision a brighter, environmentally just, and liveable future for our cities.

Judith Desire
Executive Director, Uptown & Boogie Healthy Project

Judith (Judi) is a native New Yorker with four years of experience as a Master Composter and currently enrolled at the Farm School NYC Citywide Program’s urban agriculture training program. Her passion for cycling launched Uptown & Boogie Bicycle Advocacy, which works in tandem with Uptown Good Food (Farm Stand) as well as the Bronx Park East Farmer’s Market and Community-Supported Agriculture.

Melissa Gutiérrez Soto
Urban Designer, NYC DCP

Melissa is an urban designer at the NYC Department of City Planning. She holds a Master of Science in Architecture and Urbanism from MIT and a B.Arch from Universidad de Monterrey. She is interested in making design more accessible and equitable, and working closely with the community to build healthier and more resilient neighborhoods.

Brittany Hodges
Project Manager, Alloy Development

Brittany is a project manager at Alloy Development, where she manages the architecture and engineering teams as well as the development process of large-scale projects in NYC. She has experience working and collaborating with multiple stakeholders and city agencies. She holds a Masters of Architecture from the University of Kansas and is a Registered Architect in New York.

Shivam Jumani
Associate, Buro Happold

Shivam is an economist and urban planner in Buro Happold’s Cities team with over seven years of experience in economic development, real estate, and infrastructure revitalization. His most recent projects include the $300M Reimagine the Canals initiative in upstate New York and an Off-Broadway industry assessment for New York City.

Nicolas Lee
Co-Founder, Other Projects

Nicolas is a co-founder of Other Projects and a lecturer at Parsons School of Design. He has practiced in Europe and the US, focusing on cultural, public, and mixed-use building typologies that engage with contemporary urban issues. Lee holds a Master in Architecture from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Architecture from Syracuse University.

Yoo Jin Lee
Architect, Marvel

Yoo Jin is a registered architect and an urban designer with experience in leading numerous projects through design and construction across a wide range of clientele and project types. Stemming from her professional and academic background in architecture and urban design, she aims to understand, explore, and design built environments that are equitable and livable across multiple scales.

Aixin Li
Project Manager, NYC HPD

Aixin manages a portfolio of supportive and senior housing projects from predevelopment through construction, and completion at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. She comes from a background of housing, homelessness prevention, and social service, and is committed to providing sustainable, high-quality affordable housing for vulnerable populations.

gil lopez
Freelance Environmental Educator & Ecological Design Consultant

gil lopez has a degree in landscape architecture and lives in Lenapehoking (also known as Queens) as a community organizer and environmental educator. gil has started multiple community composting sites in Queens. He has worked for the NYC Compost Project and currently serves on the Queens Solid Waste Advisory Board (QSWAB).

Gabriella Malavé
Program and Engagement Coordinator, Friends of the Highline

Gabriella is an educator, creative strategist, and program designer at the High Line. She grew up in Queens, New York. Gabriella loves to explore how the spaces we create and the designs we develop impact communities through our understandings of justice and nature.

Astrid Mayak
Planner/Urban Designer, Stantec

Astrid is an urban designer/planner working now in the Urban Places Group of Stantec NYC. During undergraduate studies, she focused on self-built housing in informal settlements. Prior to studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, she collaborated with the Architectural Association (AAUK) in Haiti on designing core housing in lightweight materials.

Graci Mills
Project Architect/Urban Designer, COOKFOX Architects

Graci is a licensed architect, urban designer and educator with over a decade of diverse experience across New York City and Aotearoa, New Zealand. Focused on public realm, housing and infrastructure design, Graci’s work is unified by a constant interrogation of how publicness can infiltrate all facets of the built environment, no matter the project type or scale. Graci is an architect at COOKFOX Architects, where she brings her expertise as a Certified Passive House Designer to multi-family housing projects.

Dana Moore
Architect, Dattner Architects

Dana is an artist, activist and architect from San Antonio, Texas passionate about beautifying cities. She holds bachelor’s degrees in architecture and liberal arts from the University of Texas at Austin and now designs transportation and infrastructure for the city of New York.

Marisa Prefer
Manager of Sustainability and Environmental Engagement, Pioneer Works

Marisa works on projects related to environmental justice and stewardship, drawing from alternative pedagogies, deep observation and ancestral wisdom to engage in tactile experiments that cultivate care among multi-species communities. Marisa is a NYC Master Composter, NYC Trees Community Pruner, NYC Parks Super Steward and stewards unceded Canarsie and Munsee Lenape lands in Red Hook, Brooklyn as the manager of sustainability and environmental engagement at Pioneer Works.

Peter Rampulla
Land-Use Specialist, Rampulla Associates Architects

As a land-use specialist at Rampulla Associates Architects, Peter leads strategic planning for zoning conflicts and analyzes complex regulations affecting properties throughout New York City. Peter is also a licensed Class 2 Code and Zoning Representative with the NYC Department of Buildings.

Veronica Rivas Plaza
Project Designer, Street Plans Collaborative

Veronica is a project designer at Street Plans Collaborative. She has a background in architecture, urban design, and sustainable city-making. She holds a degree in architecture from The City College of New York and a master of science in the Urbanism Studies Programme at KTH, Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. She believes that design should be informed by the social, ecological, and cultural environments that shape our lives and advocates for creating more walkable communities to improve quality of life for all.

Xavier Rumph
Multidisciplinary Designer

Xavier is a multi-disciplinary designer & strategist. His work is at the intersection of user experience, strategy, visual and spatial design. His diverse skillset allows him to craft strategies to a variety of conditions ranging from consumer needs, as well as sociological, ecological, and urban matters.

Akemi Sato
Co-Founder & Principal, Sustrato

Akemi is co-founder and principal at Sustrato, a non-profit focused on collaborative design and implementation of community-led projects. In addition to her work at Sustrato, she is a senior urban planner and designer at the Design Trust for Public Space. As an architect and planner, she has directed internationally recognized sustainable development projects, including: an ecologic restoration strategy for Barrilaco Ravine in Mexico; a campaign to crowd-source Mexico City’s first transit map, called “MapatonCDMX”; and an SMS-based mental health program for disaster survivors in Peru and Puerto Rico, called “Libremente.”

Alex Shapanka
Assistant Project Manager, RXR Realty

Alex works in real estate development and has extensive experience with real estate policy related to development, sustainability, labor, building maintenance and management. He is interested in new forms of urban governance and planning that aim not for endless growth but a thriving economy and that facilitate equitable development. Alex holds a MSc in City Design and Social Science from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a BA in Comparative History from Duke University.

Miryam Shemwell
Compost Program Team Manager, GrowNYC

Miryam learned early on the value of reusing and repairing stuff. In New York City, she saw the need for sustainable waste management systems and wanted to contribute to the transition. After her master’s in Sustainable Development, she started working with GrowNYC’s Compost Program in 2018. As the compost program team manager, Miryam has been focused on implementing equitable hiring and training practices for Compost Program staff.

Nicole Spina
Assistant VP, Smart & Sustainable Cities, NYC EDC

Nicole (Nic) is an assistant vice president at NYCEDC and a native Brooklynite. She leads programs that address pressing climate challenges and shape a more inclusive and sustainable New York City, with expertise in circular economy, clean energy, and food tech. In her free time Nic loves riding bikes and taking care of community cats.

Dior St. Hillaire
Worker-Owner, GreenFeen OrganiX

Dior is a microhauler who is passionate about environmental justice and waste equity. She uses hip hop to teach sustainability and adds a unique approach to reimagining New York City’s waste management system. Her ultimate goal is to see zero waste sent to landfills with the supporting infrastructure that increases local processing capacity of organics within the city.