Public Interest Law Scholars Biographies

Public Interest Law Scholars Biographies

Northeastern University School of Law, one of the nation’s leading public interest law schools, offers Public Interest Law Scholarships to outstanding applicants each year.

The Public Interest Law Scholars (PILS) Program was launched in 1999 by generous donors who believe in the mission of Northeastern, and the need to support outstanding lawyers who are committed to social justice. Exceptional students, who possess impressive academic profiles as well as extensive experience in fields concerned with social justice and public service, are provided with renewable full-tuition scholarships.

Selected Recipient Biographies

Stephanie Ainbinder ’17

Stephanie graduated cum laude from Tulane University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and social policy and practice. She took on her first union job as an undergrad when she began working as an organizer for the United Labor Unions, Local 100, in New Orleans. After graduation, Stephanie moved to Boston and served for three years as the hospital and higher education campaign coordinator for the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, AFLCIO.

During her first year in Boston, Stephanie enhanced her skills as a community organizing fellow with the Jewish Organizing Institute and Network (JOIN) for Justice. She also volunteered as a policy advisor for the Martin J. Walsh for Mayor campaign and helped develop detailed, progressive policies aimed at improving the lives of women and the LGBTQ community in Boston. Stephanie also completed a co-op at the Justice Resource Institute (JRI)'s Health Law Institute doing legal services work, focused on housing, social security, food stamps and other benefits.

Through her campaign and union work, Stephanie was exposed to the myriad ways in which the law can be used to rectify the power imbalance between employers and individual workers.

Brenda Kombo ’16

Born in Kenya and raised in Ethiopia, Brenda is an anthropologist interested in the connections among human rights, culture, law and justice. At Northeastern, she enjoyed serving as a research assistant and teaching assistant to several professors. For her first co-op, she was an Ella Baker Fellow at the Institute for Justice & Democracy. Her subsequent co-ops were with the Katiba Institute in Nairobi, Kenya; the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, where she was a judicial intern to the Hon. Geraldine S. Hines; and Joyce & Associated in Boston, where she was a law clerk.

Brenda received her doctorate from Yale University and BA from Hampshire College. Before law school, she worked in Nairobi as a research assistant on various justice-related projects. Prior to that, at Equality Now’s (EN) Nairobi office, she managed the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights coalition campaign and supported EN’s Discrimination in Law program. Brenda has also worked as a research fellow at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and spent a year, as a doctoral candidate, based at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris as a Fox International Fellow. Her doctoral research, which was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and others, focused on intimate partnership violence in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Brenda is currently the Africa Program Manager at the New York City Bar Association's Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice. She works with colleagues, 24 leading New York law firms, and other partners in providing pro bono legal representation to social justice organizations in Africa. She also manages a fellowship program for young African lawyers.

Julia Lum ’13

Julia graduated from Scripps College with a BA in gender and women’s studies in 2009. Following graduation, Julia accepted a position as a litigation assistant at the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, Calif. While there, she monitored medical care in California prisons as part of a settlement agreement under Brown v. Plata, the largest-ever prison class action lawsuit.

While at Northeastern, Julia focused on advocating for people affected by the criminal justice system. Through the co-op program, she worked with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty; the parole division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia; the Legal Aid Society of New York; and the plaintiff-side law firm Cohen, Milstein, Sellers and Toll. During her time at Northeastern, she co-wrote a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States to appeal the death sentence of a prisoner in Georgia and participated in Northeastern’s Prisoners’ Rights Clinic

After graduating from NUSL, Julia worked as a public defender at the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn, where she represented indigent clients in criminal cases. She is currently an associate at the Law Offices of John F. Martin in Walnut Creek, California.

Shiva Prakash ’16

Shiva graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a degree in economics in 2009. Having studied economic development, both in the international and domestic context, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in city planning at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. At MIT, Shiva worked on projects related to community development in Massachusetts’ gateway cities as well as the implementation of policies promoting sustainability on a citywide scale.

After graduating, Shiva worked at New Ecology (NEI), a Boston-based nonprofit, where she managed affordable and public housing projects utilizing sustainable and healthy green design. She also helped manage a program to gather data on household energy use in the affordable and public housing sectors with the goal of identifying opportunities to implement a low-income energy efficiency retrofit program throughout Massachusetts. At NEI, Shiva was exposed to the challenges faced by many in accessing basic needs, such as safe, healthy housing and eliable, affordable utilities. Her interest in advocating for policies that address these disparate impacts on underprivileged communities and individuals brought her to law school.

During law school, Shiva completed co-ops with the Conservation Law Foundation; the Hon. Judge Thompson on the First Circuit; the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Legal Internship Program in New York City and the New York State Office of the Attorney General, New York. After graduation, Shiva was an Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, New York. Shiva's work centered on addressing the legal barriers to community-owned renewable energy and other energy democracy and climate justice oriented initiatives in New York City and State.

Seth Purcell ’15

A Massachusetts native, Seth earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tufts University in 2005. In 2009, he earned a master’s degree in sustainable international development from Brandeis University’s Heller School. Since graduating from Northeastern, Seth has worked as a staff attorney with the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project, a Boston-area nonprofit that assists asylum seekers and detained immigrants with pro bono legal services in the Commonwealth.

Prior to law school, Seth worked on international development and humanitarian aid projects overseas. His work took him to places such as Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Fiji, Uganda, South Sudan and South Asia. Seth’s experiences in the developing world culminated in a desire to effectuate social change through the law. This led him to Northeastern University, where Seth completed co-ops with Physicians for Human Rights; Joyce & Associates; and the PAIR Project.

Sarah James Schendel ’09

Originally from Alaska and Oregon, Sarah graduated from Bard College in 2003 with a BA in cultural anthropology. After college, she served with AmeriCorps VISTA at Cornell University’s Public Service Center, and then worked as a legal assistant at Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, a nonprofit organization that handles cases for inmates at maximum-security prisons on issues including mental and medical health treatment.

Sarah completed co-ops with the Hon. Kim McLane Wardlaw of the Ninth Circuit; the Office of the Federal Defender for the District of Puerto Rico; the Boston law firm Dwyer & Collora; and a nonprofit prisoners’ rights organization in Florida.

After graduating from NUSL, Sarah spent two years as the sole immigration attorney at the Center for Non-Profit Legal Services in rural Southern Oregon. In 2012, she returned to Boston and spent two years as an associate with Masferrer & Associates, representing immigrants facing deportation. Sarah previously taught immigration law as an adjunct at NUSL and worked as a staff attorney at the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston in addition to working as a mentor manager-immigration rights for Lawyers for Affordable Justice, a collaborative legal incubator founded by the law schools at Northeastern, Boston College and Boston University. She was also one of 16 lawyers selected for the Boston Bar Association’s 2014-2015 Public Interest Leadership Program.

Chase Strangio ’10

Chase graduated from Grinnell College in 2004 with a BA in history. Prior to and during law school, Chase worked as a hotline and outreach volunteer with the Network/La Red, a social justice organization that seeks to end intimate partner violence in the lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. At NUSL, Chase worked with the Queer Caucus and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex. In partnership with Professor Libby Adler and other students, Chase helped to start a pilot clinical program working with LGBTQ youth in the Boston area.

After graduation, Chase received an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to work at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project with transgender individuals in various forms of detention experiencing violence because of their mental illness. In 2011, Chase founded the Lorena Borjas Community Fund, an organization committed to providing bail and other court assistance to LGBTQ immigrants facing deportation because of involvement in the criminal injustice system.

Today, Chase serves as deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project and is one of the nation’s foremost experts on transgender rights. Chase has served as lead counsel or among those on the top legal teams for whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who came out as trans while in military custody; for the challenge to North Carolina’s notorious bathroom bill; for the challenge to the Trump administration’s trans military ban; and the case of Aimee Stephens, which led to the US Supreme Court’s historic 2020 decision that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. For all of this and more, Time magazine named Chase to its list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2020.