30 Under 30

by Tiffany Lopes
Illustrations by Mary Kate McDevitt

Entrepreneurs who are making an impact on technology-based health care, food delivery, stock trading. Scientists in the fields of evolutionary biology, technology, and wildlife ecology. Immigration and criminal defense attorneys. Nurses and teachers making an impact in the most high-need areas. Performers in the billion-dollar blockbuster Black Panther, the Tony Award-winning sensation Hamilton, and the world-famous Radio City Rockettes. // And you thought they were just Millennials. // These 30 Pace Setters—scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs, performers, activists, and difference makers—are just getting started.

Yahdon Israel ’13

The Fashionable Bookworm

Like many fascinating things, Literary Swag started on the subway, when Yahdon Israel spotted a stylish teen captivated by To Kill a Mockingbird. He snapped a photo, posted it to Instagram, and #LiterarySwag was born.

The intersection between fashion and literature, Literary Swag has gone from one moment to a movement, gaining thousands of followers and evolving into a series of interviews with authors, a book club, and a web series called LIT. His goal? To make reading cool.

Israel, who’s also editor-in-chief of Brooklyn Magazine, recalls asking 200 high school students if they talk to their friends about music and movies. They all raised their hands. When he asked about books, he saw maybe one hand. A book is not where a lot of people find community, he says, but often where they lose it. “So I thought ‘how do you use a book as a gateway to community?’ That’s what Literary Swag really is.”

Read the full profile on Yahdon Israel

Mariah Kitner ’15

The Artist

Making art accessible has always been important to artist and curator Mariah Kitner. Her thesis-turned-award-winning blog, “If Paintings Could Text,” which superimposes hilarious texts on classic works of art, was featured in the HuffPost, NYLON, BuzzFeed, and Elite Daily, and attracted more than 350,000 visitors. Currently, she is an art consultant at Pop International Galleries.

Read the full profile on Mariah Kitner

Asher Levine ’10

The Fashion Designer

At the intersection of fashion, technology, and material innovation, you’ll find Asher Levine and his progressive design label. A sought-after fashion designer, Levine’s designs can be seen anywhere from music videos to MoMA, New York Fashion Week runways to red carpets, and more. He’s created pieces for Lady Gaga, Will.i.am, Demi Lovato, Bruno Mars, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé, to name a few. This year, he won a Fashion Group International Rising Star Award and will launch his first commercial ready-to-wear collection this fall.

Read the full profile on Asher Levine

Alireza Vaziri ’14

The Composter

Did you know that up to 40% of food in the US is wasted? RoHo Compost, co-founded by Alireza Vaziri, is educating and demonstrating to the public that a zero-food-waste NYC is possible. Partnering with restaurants and businesses in NYC, RoHo is diverting food waste from landfills and transporting it to compost facilities. In 2017, RoHo composted 1.1 million pounds of organic waste and donated 6,670 pounds of food (4,600 meals) to local food banks and shelters.

Read the full profile on Alireza Vaziri

Nina Freeman ’12

The Video Game Designer

Video games don’t need to be about battlegrounds and violence. They can be character-driven, story involved games like how do you Do It? and Cibele, two of the 15+ games designed by indie video game designer Nina Freeman. A level designer at Fullbright, Freeman most recently worked on the awardwinning game Tacoma. She was also named an influential video game industry figure by Forbes.

Read the full profile on Nina Freeman

Briana Vecchione ’16

The Data Scientist

There may not be as many women in STEM, but don’t doubt their impact. “Women have actually shaped the computing industry,” says Briana Vecchione, who notes Hidden Figures’ three African-American women at NASA, where Vecchione is a Datanaut. Her work has been supported by the NSF and ACM, and most recently she was a Civic Tech Fellow at Microsoft. Now, she’s working on a different program: a PhD at Cornell, where she’ll study artificial intelligence.

Read the full profile on Briana Vecchione

Shaki Kar ’19

The Fait Fellow

Shaki Kar is one of five students in the nation to be awarded the 2017 Foreign Affairs IT (FAIT) Fellowship, a US Department of State program that prepares students for careers in the Foreign Service. “I will serve my country by enhancing information resource management and communications systems security, and ensuring transparent, interconnected diplomacy, while incorporating new technologies for the advancement of US foreign policy,” said Kar.

Read the full profile on Shaki Kar

Anna Kusler ’18

The Wildlife Ecologist

Anna Kusler is giving a fierce new meaning to the phrase “cat lady.” A recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship, Kusler is examining the use of competition refugia—or safe spaces—by mountain lions in the Southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. // While a lot of research focuses on hunting/eating habits, Kusler’s research, a collaborative effort between Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project and Pace, examines the species’ bed sites, crucial to helping scientists understand the kinds of habitats and landscapes mountain lions and other subordinate predators may need in order to make informed conservation and management decisions. // Kusler’s research projects have taken her around the world—Botswana, Switzerland, Panama, Zambia, Patagonia—and now to develop a PhD program, to study the connectivity and conservation of cheetahs.

Read the full profile on Anna Kusler

John Vincent “VINNIE” Monaco ’12, ’13, ’15

The Army Scientist

The US Army’s brain-like computers are one key closer to cracking codes, thanks to the work of US Army Research Laboratory computer scientist Vinnie Monaco, PhD, who recently discovered a way to leverage emerging brain-like computer architectures for a theoretic problem known as integer factorization. Monaco has presented at international conferences, published journal articles, and won various awards, including a Best Paper Award at the 50th IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems.

Read the full profile on John Vincent “VINNIE” Monaco

Michael Boyle ’13

The Brainiac

What makes the human brain function? As an evolutionary biologist working on his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Michael Boyle is using ancient DNA to better understand the evolution of the human brain. Boyle was hired in 2015 by Svante Pääbo, renowned for sequencing the Neanderthal genome.

Read the full profile on Michael Boyle

Miriam Lacroix ’11, ’14

The Dream Maker

The daughter of a Haitian immigrant, Miriam Lacroix’s commitment to helping immigrants stems from her father’s experience with the US immigration system. While she was a student attorney at the Immigration Justice Clinic, she represented a range of clients including girls from Senegal seeking to avoid genital mutilation and forced marriage. After graduation, she and Pace alumna Stephanie Lynn Ramos, JD, ’14 founded Lacroix Ramos, LLP, which provides legal services to immigrants including naturalization, family-based petitions, and removal defense.

Read the full profile on Miriam Lacroix

Qadry Harris ’11, ’14

The Philosopher

Qadry Harris was looking for a graduate program where he could study Christian theology more deeply. He applied to only one—Yale Divinity School—which offered him a full academic scholarship. At Yale, Harris has focused his coursework on the areas of black religions and African Diaspora theology and ethics, and will receive his Master of Divinity this May, after which he plans to pursue a PhD, and work to bridge the gap between church and academic spaces.

Read the full profile on Qadry Harris

Opal Vadhan ’15

The Right-Hand Woman

No matter who you voted for, Election Day 2016 was an unforgettable one. But for Opal Vadhan, a member of Hillary Clinton’s national advance team, there was still work to be done. After the election, Vadhan accepted a position as Clinton’s executive assistant. “I felt like I had so much more to serve, to give, to learn,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to help people and I get to help people through her.” // For Vadhan, Election Day reminds her of the reason she’s here. “Right before she’s getting in the car to go give her concession speech, she turned around and said ‘Opal, how was your high school reunion? I know you were excited about it.’”

Read the full profile on Opal Vadhan

Christopher Smith ’17

The Public Defender

For Christopher Smith, his childhood dream of becoming a criminal defense attorney was personal. “My grandfather was homeless as a child, so my life experiences and family history have taught me to love equality and fight oppression,” says Smith, who has committed his life to pursuing justice and works in the criminal defense practice at the Bronx Defenders, an organization committed to redefining public defense and providing holistic legal representation for low-income people in the Bronx.

Read the full profile on Christopher Smith

Anasthasia Agyemang ’16

The Youth Leader

How do college students in Ghana use social media for political participation? That question led Anasthasia Agyemang to conduct research in Ghana as part of a Boren Fellowship, the first for Pace. A Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Georgia, she now works in a government youth house, mentoring youth on issues such as reproductive health, hygiene, and civic education, and doing capacity building—all while working on a PhD in International Development.

Read the full profile on Anasthasia Agyemang

Samantha Elisofon ’14

The Actorvist

Authenticity isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of acting, but Samantha Elisofon is redefining the face of film in Keep the Change, a rom-com written for and starring people on the autism spectrum, which won best US narrative at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and earned her a nomination for best actress. A graduate of Pace’s OASIS program for students with autism and other learning differences, Elisofon is also a member of EPIC Players inclusion company and DreamStreet Theatre Company.

Read the full profile on Samantha Elisofon

Sasha A. Alston ’19

The Stem Queen

Sasha A. Alston is literally changing the face of women in STEM. As author of the children’s book, Sasha Savvy Loves to Code, Alston is empowering girls—especially girls of color—to pursue educational and career opportunities in STEM. // From Arkansas, where the governor bought copies for 900 public school libraries across the state, to Japan, where it will be translated and published by a major publisher, Sasha Savvy is making its way across the globe. And Alston is continuing to write her own story. Whether she’s traveling across the country for speaking engagements, being featured in the HuffPost and Black Enterprise, appearing on Good Morning America for Disney’s “Dream Big, Princess” campaign, being named a 2018 Young Futurist, or interning at companies like Microsoft, EverFi, Infor, and Department of Commerce, there’s no question that she’s the STEM Queen.

Read the full profile on Sasha A. Alston

Susan Le ’17

The Caregiver

Palliative care, medical care that provides comfort and relief to people with life-limiting illnesses, is standard practice in the United States, but physician assistant Susan Le learned about the scarce access and health care challenges in South Africa during a Pace-led international rotation. Inspired by her work at Victoria Hospital, Le and her former Pace classmates are raising awareness and funds for Abundant Life, a primarily donations-funded palliative care program that has helped more than 2,000 patients.

Read the full profile on Susan Le

Robert “BO” Jones ’19

The Miracle

Since its inception, Make-A-Wish Foundation has granted nearly 450,000 wishes—from Disney trips to celebrity meet-and-greets. But Bo Jones, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at 10-years-old, wished for something that would help him get to where he is today—a gym membership and strength and conditioning training at Pace. “I went through a lot of obstacles in education and regaining my abilities,” says Jones, now 12+ years cancer-free and dedicating his career to teaching kids who are in hospital beds like he once was.

Read the full profile on Robert “BO” Jones

Paige Gargiulo ’16

The Healer

The number one cause of disability in this country is a stroke. A neurosurgery clinical nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian/ Columbia University Medical Center, Paige Gargiulo is currently working with the specialized epilepsy/neurosurgery monitoring unit and stroke/ICU. As a student, Gargiulo conducted research on poverty and empathy among students and traveled to Costa Rica, where she gained valuable insight into the country’s health care system, prenatal nutrition and pregnancy practices, and sustainability issues.

Kyla Korvne ’15

The Global Citizen

Peacekeeping and diplomacy in Kosovo. Post-genocide restoration in Rwanda. Women’s empowerment in India. This is a glimpse of the work Kyla Korvne has been doing around the world. Currently the global learning manager at buildOn, Korvne travels more than half the year to Nepal, Nicaragua, Haiti, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Malawi, evaluating learning needs in each country and building the learning department from the ground up. But Senegal is her home, she says, and has been since a study abroad trip and Senegalese Committee for Human Rights internship. After graduation, she won a Fulbright award which took her back to Senegal to explore the pathways to political empowerment for women in villages.

Read the full profile on Kyla Korvne

Dante Plush ’16

The Standup Teacher

When Dante Plush was growing up, he had trouble finding a teacher he could relate to, one who understood his difficult journey. Inspired to be that educator, he works as a social studies teacher at a DOE priority school in the Bronx, where a number of his students are homeless or live in shelters, something Plush has personal experience with and one of the many ways he’s connecting to his students. Another? Comedy. As a standup comedian, Plush infuses comedy into his classroom and has seen an increase in student engagement.

Read the full profile on Dante Plush

Chris Gaur ’12

The Telehealth Provider

Expand access. Increase quality. Reduce cost. Those were the priorities Chris Gaur and his brother Dave were looking to address when they cofounded Vital Care Services, a comprehensive remote monitoring telehealth company that’s changing the way we deliver health care. Through userfriendly technology, clinicians and health care providers connect remotely with patients to monitor vital signs, communicate health data, and improve long-term health management. // The exclusive health care delivery provider for Westchester County’s Telehealth Intervention Programs for Seniors (TIPS), Vital Care is helping empower the most vulnerable population—the elderly—to manage their health. // Gaur co-founded his first business, the Pace Perk Café, as a student. “I’m forever indebted to Pace,” he says.

Read the full profile on Chris Gaur

Kumesh Aroomoogan ’15

The Investor

We’ve all heard the phrase “every minute counts,” but for institutional investors, it could mean the difference between millions of dollars in losses…or in gains. Previously an equity researcher at a Wall Street bank, Kumesh Aroomoogan was familiar with the relentless monitoring of several news feeds at once, looking for actionable information without blinking. As co-founder and CEO of Accern, a data design startup that uses artificial intelligence to design predictive analytics solutions from more than one billion websites and premium financial news data feeds, Aroomoogan is able to provide users with quick delivery of actionable stories before they are exposed to the mass media. // Accern currently powers some of the world’s largest quantitative hedge fund strategies and Fortune 500 companies applications with predictive news analytics. Just last year, the company raised more than $3 million in funding.

Read the full profile on Kumesh Aroomoogan

Nicole Cardoza ’13

The Yogi

“We always tell students to pay attention, but we never teach them how,” says Nicole Cardoza, who saw the impact yoga had when she was volunteering as a yoga instructor in schools. As founder and executive director of Yoga Foster, a nonprofit that empowers teachers with yoga resources for the classroom, Cardoza is providing the training, curriculum, and yoga mats needed to make a meaningful impact in classrooms. To date, Yoga Foster has trained 1,400 educators across 512 schools in 48 states.

Read the full profile on Nicole Cardoza

Mohamed Merzouk ’16

The Delivery Guy

You probably thought ordering food couldn’t get easier, but what if it could get cheaper? As a busy graduate student, Mohamed Merzouk ’16 was often ordering meals at non-peak hours but paying peak prices. That’s why he co-founded Gebni, a food delivery app that works like “the stock market for restaurant takeout” and offers demandadjusted prices for your favorite foods, which also helps increase sales and eliminates food waste. Who knew takeout could be so good?

Read the full profile on Mohamed Merzouk

Nabiyah Be

The Powerhouse

The last year has been an incredible one for singer-songwriter and actress Nabiyah Be, who made her movie debut in the biggest film of year, Marvel’s Black Panther; starred in the off-Broadway production of School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, for which she earned praise; and reprised the role she originated for the live cast album of the highly-acclaimed show Hadestown. Now she’s back in the studio working on her own album. “It feels great to celebrate each step of the way,” says Be. “There is still much work to be done, skill to be learned, and intuition to be heard.” Well, we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Read the full profile on Nabiyah Be

Zelig Williams

The Revolutionary

Trying to get tickets to Hamilton is nearly impossible. What’s harder—landing a role in the show. Zelig Williams first auditioned for the show during his first year at Pace when he was a teenager. By junior year, the dancer was cast in the ensemble and the rest, as they say, is history. Currently, Williams is taking a break from the show to finish his degree, but plans to return and catch up with fellow alumnus and #HamFam member Sean Green Jr.

Sean Green Jr.

The Triple Threat

Finding a job after college isn’t easy, especially for performers. But it wasn’t even six months before singer, dancer, and actor Sean Green Jr. joined the revolution—Broadway’s Hamilton. As part of the ensemble, Green spends most of the show on stage wowing eight sold-out audiences per week and also understudies and has performed the roles of George Washington, and Hercules Mulligan/James Madison. And yes, he got his parents tickets. His mom’s first-ever Broadway show was one in which her son was on the stage.

Read the full profile on Sean Green Jr.

Kathleen Laituri

The Radio City Rockette

If you saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular this year, one of those eye-high leg kickers was Kathleen Laituri. Like many dancers, she began at the age of three. But it wasn’t until her first jazz class with Pace Professor and former Rockette Lauren Gaul that her dream of being a Rockette was born. A few years later, as the curtains rose on her first show, Laituri flashed back to that class that changed her career trajectory, “To realize I got there through the training that I received at school was the most special moment ever.”

Read the full profile on Kathleen Laituri