Meet the Current Class of Gates Scholars Committed to Public Service
Supporting UW Law’s vision of making public service a reality for students, the Gates Public Service Law Program enables scholars committed to work in public service to pursue that career path. Created in November 2005 to honor William H. Gates Sr., a prominent Washington state attorney, public servant and UW Law alumnus, the program awards full-ride scholarships to first-year students entering the J.D. program at UW Law for all three years. With the requirement that scholarship recipients work in public service for a five-year minimum following graduation, the Gates Scholarship covers tuition, books, other enrollment fees, costs of room and board, and incidental expenses.
Gates Scholars have gone on to impact change on local, national and international levels at a variety of organizations.
The Gates Public Service Law Program convenes under the leadership of new director Elizabeth Baldwin. Meet the current class of Gates Scholars.
The son of Afghan refugees, Mustafa Alemi is committed to using his legal education to protect society's most vulnerable citizens. Prior to law school, Alemi received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach in rural Malaysia, after which he joined Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's legislative team to further progressive policy reform. As an undergraduate at San Diego State University, Alemi organized on-campus initiatives, including divesting from the Israeli Occupation and improving university efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Many students go to law school with dreams of engaging in meaningful public service, but the debt they accrue pressures them to take up more lucrative work at a corporate firm,” Alemi says. “The Gates Scholarship is a life-changing opportunity that enables me to pursue my passion of serving others without worrying about the debt that typically accompanies law school. I am very grateful to be a Gates Scholar and intend to pay this blessing forward through my work as a public interest attorney.”
Santos Garcia Avelar
Santos Garcia Avelar learned the value of education as a farmer-student when he would make the two-hour trip to attend the sixth grade. As an unaccompanied minor, Santos immigrated to the United States, where he learned that many Latinx communities lacked access to higher education, just as he did in El Salvador. These experiences motivated Santos to advocate for the passage of the NYS Dream Act, which now provides state aid to undocumented students in New York.
Santos Graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. As an undergraduate, he assisted communities in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma and Maria and worked advocating for consumers at the New York Attorney General's Office. Santos believes in giving back to keep the door open for those following behind. Thus, he plans to use his legal education to continue helping communities in need and work with pre-law pipeline programs to assist in diversifying the legal profession.
After arriving in the U.S. alone at the age of 16, Robert Colton navigated the complex US immigration system and overcame housing insecurity, directly experiencing how accessing basic rights is often predicated on financial resources and institutional knowledge. Colton has since focused on policy reform and legislative advocacy, working on a broad range of legislative issues at the Washington Attorney General’s Office and subsequently on housing and technology policy at the federal level.
Kely Cortes was inspired to pursue her legal education in immigration and criminal justice because she lived as an undocumented immigrant for over 15 years. She spent a summer in Texas documenting courtroom observations for the proceedings of Operation Streamline, a policy that punishes clandestine immigrants. Before attending law school, Cortes worked for two years alongside pro bono attorneys providing legal services for unaccompanied immigrant children facing deportation in Los Angeles County.
“As a Gates Scholar, I plan to use my legal education as a tool for power and change. I hope to be able to sit at a table where important decisions are made and to advocate for the fundamental human rights of undocumented immigrants,” Cortes says. “My mission as an aspiring attorney is to ensure that every client I represent is given a fair and equal opportunity to fight their case in court. No person should be forced to face the legal system alone due to their race, gender, social class or legal status.”
Teresa Dennerlein graduated summa cum laude from the University of Washington at Tacoma, where she received the 2021 President’s Medal. In college she served as Elections Administrator and Senator, advocating for equitable student representation. Dennerlein focused on unemployment policy through the Washington State Legislative Internship Program and the Public Interest Policy and Advocacy Program in the Washington State Senate. Dennerlein has also worked as a researcher with the Labor Solidarity Project to assess labor market inequalities and inform policy making to aid underrepresented workers in Washington.
“I believe that recognizing the agency, dignity and humanity of workers is essential to further equity and promote substantive justice in both the workplace and in communities,” Dennerlein says. “I intend to use my experience as a Gates Scholar to help disenfranchised and underrepresented workers access legal protections.” Having grown up in a community with limited resources, Dennerlein wants to ensure that those without means are not barred from accessing safe and sustaining work.
Sagiv Galai grew up in Queens, New York, where he became intimately familiar with the dangers of over-policing, poverty and housing insecurity at an early age. Galai transferred from community college to Bard College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Human Rights and was awarded the New Generation Scholarship. After navigating his own family’s impending eviction, Galai was compelled to focus on local issues that affect poor immigrant communities in New York, like housing insecurity and homelessness. He became involved in New York City’s tenant rights movement, working as a paralegal and tenant outreach specialist (organizer) for Legal Services NYC and their Tenant Rights Campaign, a project that utilized tenant organizing to further affirmative litigation goals against rapacious landlords. In 2018 Sagiv left LSNYC to join the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, where he helped the team of impact litigators launch audacious challenges to racist police tactics, exploitative bail regimes and prosecutorial misconduct.
“After working as a paralegal for almost five years, I was incredulous when I was offered a full-ride scholarship to UW Law,” Galai says. “I am confident that I would not be able to attend law school if it was not for the financial support of the Gates Scholarship program.” Galai hopes that more low-income, first-generation, students of color apply to the scholarship and achieve their cherished dreams without worrying about a gruesome amount of debt limiting their prospects of becoming the radical lawyers our world desperately needs.
Galai hopes to focus on the criminalization of homelessness in Washington state, his new home, and plans to contribute to a growing community of radical Washington lawyers committed to racial justice, prison and police abolition and transformative economic policies.
Abigail Gellman has long hoped to advance social justice and spent a year living in Dakar, Senegal, before college. She studied history at Princeton University, concentrating in African American Studies, volunteering with incarcerated people and organizing within an anti-mass-incarceration student group. After graduation, she joined Equal Justice Initiative to support wrongfully convicted clients and aid in research for the nonprofit’s death penalty defense and efforts to confront the U.S.’s enduring legacy of white supremacy. She subsequently provided litigation assistance as a paralegal for Federal Defenders of New York.
Inspired by the generosity and perseverance of currently and formerly incarcerated clients and allies, and by the tenacious advocacy of mentors and colleagues, Gellman intends to spend her career combatting the enormous injustices of the criminal legal system. She is deeply grateful for the Gates Scholarship and the opportunity it provides to apply a law degree more readily to public defense work, and she will use it to fight against the excessive punishment of society’s most marginalized people.
Metta Girma joined the Race & Justice Clinic as a 2L, where she worked on juvenile justice issues and interned at Columbia Legal Services' Ending Mass Incarceration unit. At the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Legal Services NYC, Metta worked on asylum cases and volunteered at the border to work with unaccompanied minors. She has also worked on housing and family law matters and as a judicial extern in district court. In each position, she sought to reduce the intricacies and intersectionality of legal issues that low-income folks experience every day.
“I will use my Gates Scholar experience as a reminder to act and think in an inclusive manner regardless of where I will be working in the future,” says Girma. “As our society continues to change and develop rapidly, and even if we may be advancing for the better in some ways, we must ensure that our advances are not achieved by pushing out and leaving behind historically marginalized communities. This reminder is needed not only within the legal profession, but in every institution and system that exists today.”
Ayla Kadah’s vision for collective liberation has been shaped by her lived experience growing up in Damascus, Syria and organizing around social justice issues. Prior to law school, Kadah executed a community-led response to the Muslim Ban, helped elect two progressive women of color to public office, served as a legislative aide to State Senator Rebecca Saldaña, and directed two statewide coalitions to expand civic access among historically disenfranchised communities. As a law student, Kadah has interned with the Unanimous Jury Project, advocated at the Race and Justice Clinic and worked at the Center for Constitutional Rights supporting complex prisoner class action lawsuits challenging prolonged solitary confinement. Kadah is spending her 3L year with the Federal Public Defender Office and the Washington Appellate Project.
“For years as an organizer and public servant, I watched legal processes serve as the means by which those in power legitimized the system’s outcomes, violent and disparate as they may be. This inseverable connection between our legal system and violence guides my theory of change,” Kadah says. “As a lawyer, I hope to build upon the brilliance of movement lawyers who came before me, to imagine new models of lawyering that go beyond traditional representation and to center the wisdom, healing and joy of impacted communities.”
Soledad Mendoza’s interest in the law stems from personal experiences witnessing family and community members struggle to navigate complicated and racialized legal systems. Prior to law school, she worked as a paralegal providing legal services to low-income immigrants in Illinois, and this experience encouraged her to pursue a career in the law. Her immigrant heritage and low-income background motivate and inform her commitment to public service and her commitment to advocating for justice for immigrant and BIPOC communities.
“I hope to use my experience as a Gates scholar to become a resource for immigrant communities,” says Mendoza. “As an attorney, I hope to provide legal representation to community members most impacted by unfair laws and inequitable access to legal resources and to contribute legal knowledge and skills to support community-led movements to hold our legal system accountable.”
Anna Noel Pickett
Anna Noel Pickett is a highly motivated and committed disability rights activist and aspiring human rights attorney. She spent her 1L summer as Legal Intern at Legal Counsel for Youth and Children. Given Pickett’s lived experience as a disabled woman, her endeavors for access and inclusion are not only professional, but deeply personal. Throughout her career, Pickett has worked hard to ensure intersectionality is central to her social justice activism and legal career path. In 2021, Pickett began her J.D., and as a 2L started a concurrent LL.M. in Sustainable International Development.
“As a human rights attorney,” Pickett says, “I hope to advocate for a world where all women and girls, with and without disability, have access to the healthcare, bodily autonomy and education they need to achieve their goals and fulfill their highest potential.”
Dania Sarahi Quezada
Dania Quezada received her bachelor’s degree from Emory University in 2019, where she studied classical philosophy and literature. As a DACA recipient, Quezada leaned into her studies of jurisprudence and societal good, inspiring her to work with allies towards establishing a nonprofit organization aimed at empowering students of varying immigration status. After her time at UW Law, Dania hopes to bring her law license to her nonprofit work and provide pro bono legal counsel to undocumented children and students.
“I have a personal connection to immigration law–it is what both empowers and criminalizes me,” Quezada says. “Further, because I worked in immigration litigation before coming to UW, I am able to recognize those who most desperately need access to competent, compassionate counsel are often the ones least able to afford it. The Gates program at UW is a blessing relieving me of what would otherwise be an insurmountable financial burden, thus enabling me to provide future life-changing pro bono legal counsel to under-resourced populations.”
Eli Sanders is a longtime Seattle journalist. He has written on all sorts of topics, but the stories that have resonated most all had something to do with the law. His reporting on how digital platforms like Facebook were flouting Washington State’s “gold standard” law on political ad transparency helped spur multiple lawsuits by the Washington State Attorney General. A story Eli wrote about a woman’s brave testimony at the trial of a rapist won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. His 2016 book, While the City Slept, was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.
Sanders believes that journalism, done well, constitutes an important public service. He admires the work that some journalists with law degrees have been able to do, and he hopes to use his legal education to help power future writing and journalism.
Samantha Williams served as a foster parent and foster youth advocate through the state of Oregon for four years. She then transitioned to a career in non-profit social work. As a case manager, she helped homeless families obtain housing and successfully navigate the child welfare system to regain custody of their children. Her work was fulfilling, but her attention was repeatedly drawn back to the gaps in juvenile dependency law and the potential for stronger protections for those compelled to participate in the child welfare system. She is excited to use her law degree to make a difference on a systemic level.
“The Gates Scholarship program is providing the tools I need to make my dream of a safer, more equitable foster care system a reality,” said Williams. “This opportunity will undoubtedly improve the lives of countless children and families in the years to come.”