Speaker Biographies

Speakers and Panelists Biographies

Below, please find the biographies for the Speakers and Panelists for the IGI Career Day.

Eduardo Alvarez (M.A., 2017, Middle East Studies) is currently working as a Refugee Officer for United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the Refugee and International Operations division. Prior to his current role he worked as an officer with USCIS Chicago Field Operations Division and USCIS Chicago Asylum. Eduardo received a Masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the Center of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at UIUC in 2017. His area of focus while in graduate school was the Levant with special interest in Jordan and Syria. During his graduate education at UIUC, Eduardo received multiple FLAS Fellowships to study Arabic at UIUC. In 2015, he was also the recipient of a David L. Boren Fellowship to study Arabic full-time for the academic year 2015-2016 in Amman, Jordan. Upon completing his Masters program at UIUC, Eduardo moved to Chicago to begin his career in public service with the United States government.


William Baptist (Ed.M. 2017, Global Studies in Education) is an international education scholar-practitioner focused on getting students in the mindset of global citizenship and outside-the-box thinking. As a program manager at Florida State University International Programs, he teaches courses in Global Foundations and Global Engagement courses, where he introduces students to the concepts, theories, and behaviors associated with intercultural communication, equipping them with practical skills for living abroad. William is an alumnus of the University of Delaware ('06) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ('17), and is currently pursuing his PhD in International and Multicultural Education at Florida State University. In addition to his years abroad as an English instructor and student advisor for the Boards of Education in Tatebayashi and Yokohama, Japan, William has advised on international student immigration policy at the University of Illinois and Coastal Carolina University.


Anthony Chan (M.A. 2021, East Asian Languages & Cultures) graduated from UIUC in 2021 with an MA in East Asian Languages and Cultures, where he focused on Japanese Linguistics and Pedagogy, taught JAPN201/202 (Elementary Japanese) for two years, and wrote a thesis on video games and language learning. As part of his MA program, he also attended the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies from 2019 to 2020 in Yokohama to study Advanced Japanese through the FLAS fellowship and CEAPS. Outside of his studies, Anthony has worked as a freelance Japanese-to-English video game translator between 2017 and 2021. Before that, he was a double major in Cognitive Science and Japanese at Vassar College, where he started learning Japanese as a freshman. He currently works on improving how Japanese is taught in the language-learning app Duolingo as a curriculum designer.


Lorena Chica is a Salvadoran American graduate student currently finishing her MA in the Latin American and Caribbean Studies department (UIUC). She has a BA in History and minors in Women & Gender Studies and Sociology from Bradley University, as well as five years of administrative experience in the Interactive Media department at Bradley. Her research focuses on El Salvador, gendered violence, and state sanctioned violence. Lorena is also teaching discussion sections of our core LACS course for undergraduate majors and minors, LAST 170: Intro to Latin America.

Esailama Arty-Diouf (M.A. 2006, Center for African Studies; Ph.D. 2012, Performance Studies, Northwestern University) is a Senior Program Officer at the San Francisco Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in the United States. The Foundation's mission is to mobilize community leaders, nonprofits, government agencies, and donors to advance racial equity, diversity, and economic inclusion. Esailama is also co-editor of Hot Feet and Social Change: African Dance and Diaspora Communities (2019), collection brings narratives of African dance as it exists within major cities across the United States, demonstrating the power and considerable influence it has in self-identity, empowerment and community mobilization. As an perofrming artist and scholar, Esailama has lectured throughout the United States and conducted long–term teaching and performance residencies in South Africa, Netherlands, India, Barbados, Trinidad-Tobago, and Senegal. Much of Esailama's work focuses on systemic change for cultural artists - in particular, maintaining the continued vitality of cultural arts for historically marginalized communities.



Kyle Estes (Ph.D. 2019, Political Science) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at Bradley University. He has previously held teaching positions at Iowa State University and Occidental College. During his time at the University of Illinois, Estes was awarded FLAS fellowships to study Ukrainian, Russian, as well as Kyrgyz--the last of which was a year-long fellowship at the American University of Central Asia, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (2016-2017). In Kyrgyzstan, he applied knowledge of Kyrgyz, Russian, and Uzbek (also learned at U of I) to conduct qualitative fieldwork on post-conflict ethnic politics and governance in ethnic minority communities. Currently, Estes instructs courses on a range of subjects, including the politics of the former Soviet Union and Russian foreign policy. Examples of current research projects include: the effects of the Russian-Ukrainian war on Ukrainian national identity; an NSF-funded project on social and economic integration of Ukrainian refugees in the Midwest; and an expansion of his dissertation into a book project comparing ethnic politics in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Latvia. Dr. Estes greatly appreciates that his work enables him to travel to understudied locales throughout the former Soviet Union and soak in the local cultures, foodways, and ideas. 


Vernita Pearl Fort (Research Scholar, WGGP; M.S. Systems Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University) is an Evolutionary Systems Ecologist, Political Economist, and who worked as a U.S. Diplomat in 40 countries across Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia for 25 years before retiring. Today she serves as a Research Scholar in two Centers of the Illinois Global Institute at the University of Illinois . She is also a Board Director with the Center for United Nations Constitutional Research based in Brussels, Belgium.  Her current research focuses on Regenerative Global Democracy: Transforming the United Nations and the International Economic Order through the Arts of Transitional Justice. She also founded the Music and Human Rights Project which undertakes research on the relationship between music and human rights through a transdisciplinary lens of neuroepigenetics, political economy, and ethnography. She recently served as a delegate to several United Nations conferences, including: 1) the 26th and 27th UN Climate Conferences of Parties (COP26 in Scotland and COP27 in Egypt); the 10th UN Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement; and the first Permanent Forum on Peoples of African Descent in Geneva, Switzerland.  Vernita earned a Master of Science degree from Yale University and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, Berkeley in ecology and natural resource management respectively. She trained as a National Economics Association Doctoral Fellow at the University of Maryland and completed the US Foreign Service Institute's Economics Program. Throughout, she studied performance, including at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in the Caribbean. 



Laura Fyfe (Ph.D. 2006, Interdisciplinary French Studies, African Languages and Literatures) earned her Ph.D. in French from UIUC in 2006. She was a FLAS Fellow of Wolof in the 1990s, studying with Dr. Falu Ngom at UIUC, and Idris Makward at UWisconsin-Madison. She has directed European and African language programs and is currently a Course Design Specialist at Foreign Service Institute (FSI), the training branch of the U.S. State Department. Her work involves the application of the latest research on Task-based and Project-based language learning to the training of US Diplomats before they go abroad and use the language for daily life and work. Prior to working at FSI, she led study abroad programs to Morocco, Senegal, Guadeloupe, Paris and Morocco, and taught French and African studies at George Mason University. She advises students to do internships in their field, and highly recommends students learn a language and gain experience studying or working abroad. She is married with two sons in Northern Virginia, and is an avid triathlete.

Noriyasu Li (M.A. 2013, East Asian Languages & Cultures; Ph.D. 2017, Linguistics, University of Pittsburgh) is a Senior Product Manager at Zoom. He has a background of over 10 years in academic research, automatic speech recognition, natural Language understanding, and product management. His primary focus at Zoom is Machine Transcription and Translation. Prior to Zoom, he was a Product Manager and Language Engineer at Amazon, and was a core member of Alexa's Japan launch in 2018. He received his PhD in Linguistics in 2017 from the University of Pittsburgh, his MA in Japanese Linguistics and Pedagogy in 2013 from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, and his BA in History and Languages in 2008 from the University of Alaska Anchorage. He received the Andrew Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship in 2016, a FLAS Fellowship in 2014, and was the recipient of the Ralph Tyler Award for Best Japanese Language Teaching Assistant in 2013. Between undergraduate and graduate school, he taught English in a small town in Hokikaido, Japan, through the JET Programme, and also studies abroad at Hokkaido University of Education Japan.

Lucy Pakhnyuk (M.A. 2018, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies) is a Program Officer at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Washington, D.C., where she manages democracy assistance programming in Ukraine. Prior to her role at NDI, Lucy worked at Eurasia Foundation (EF), where she supported proposal processes to secure funding from U.S. government donors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of State. During her time at EF, Lucy supported many successful proposals for projects focused on democracy, human rights, and governance across various geographic areas, including Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Balkans. As an M.A. student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Lucy’s coursework and research focused on civil society, democratization, and human rights in Ukraine, Russia, and broader Europe and Eurasia. Through her coursework, she researched a variety of topics, such as social movements in Ukraine; Russian fake news and disinformation campaigns; and LGBTQ+ rights in Russia and Ukraine. As a first generation Ukrainian-American, whose family hails from Kherson oblast, Lucy is a heritage speaker of Russian and completed six years of Russian language coursework at the University of Illinois throughout her BA and MA programs. From 2016-2018, Lucy also studied the Ukrainian language as a FLAS fellow through the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center.

Lucy looks forward to speaking with graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Illinois about working in the international development sector and the various career opportunities and paths available to area studies students.


Amir Ghazaleh (B.A. 2020, Global Studies), Associate of Program and Investments, engages in the building, execution, and management of The Fund’s programs. He works closely with members of the Principal Partnership and Data & Policy teams to help ensure that the needs of principals are being met. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign in Global Studies, Amir became certified to teach English as a foreign language and virtually taught students across the world, including China and Saudi Arabia. This experience took him to the Bremen High School District where he worked in the classroom as an Arabic translator and ESL tutor. He joins The Fund after working as an associate consultant with a firm that works in the cultural competence training space for Fortune 500, 100, and 50 companies. In his free time, Amir plays tennis and often accompanies the choir at his parish on the trombone. He enjoys exploring new restaurants in Chicago and loves riding along the Lake Shore bike path during the warmer months.


Lucas Henry (Ph.D. 2022, Musicology) is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Scandinavian Studies at Augustana College. Lucas is an ethnomusicologist, studying popular music and jazz in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia. His research involves musicians and music festivals in Europe, their engagement with the European Commission's Creative Europe Program, and the role of popular music in EU integration. Lucas completed fieldwork for his dissertation project at six Nordic music festivals in Sweden (Bråvalla, Way Out West), Denmark (Roskilde), Finland (Ruisrock), Norway (Slottsfjellfestivalen), and Iceland (Iceland Airwaves); popular music industry conferences in the Netherlands (Eurosonic) and Germany (Reeperbahn); and at the European Commission in Brussels. In addition to his doctoral work, Lucas previous worked as a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University, and as an instructor and advisor for the European Union Center at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. While pursuing his PhD at UIUC, Lucas held a FLAS fellowship in Swedish from 2015-2017 through the European Union Center.