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Student Scholars
Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics

The Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics supports wide-ranging research by the Saks Institute Student Scholars. The institute educates these future legal, medical and public policy leaders to employ cutting-edge research methodology and to serve the larger cause of social justice. The Scholars conduct research on the institute's topic of the year and present work that is published in academic journals. To date, 25 student papers have been published in three journals.

  • Alisa Balderas Alisa Balderas

    Alisa Balderas is a third-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. She received her B.A. degree in Psychology from the UC Santa Barbara. After completing her undergraduate studies, she worked as a behavior therapist for children with autism and later in the television production industry. At USC Gould, Balderas was the Vice President of the Latino Law Students Association and worked as a volunteer for the International Refugee Assistance Project. As a Saks Scholar, she is interested in examining the intersection of immigration and mental health.

  • Lindsay DiMaggio Lindsay DiMaggio

    Lindsay DiMaggio is a third-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. She earned her B.A. degree in Philosophy from UCLA. DiMaggio is a passionate advocate for children with disabilities in the public school system. Currently, she is working as a Law Clerk for Learning Rights Law Center. She previously volunteered with Public Counsel, Disability Rights California, and Mental Health Advocacy Services. As a Saks Scholar, DiMaggio is excited to examine the protections for professionals with mental health disorders under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  • Johnson Fu Johnson Fu

    Johnson Fu is a second-year law student at the USC Gould School of Law, where he is an Associate Editor of the Review of Law and Social Justice. Fu has also served as an Associate Editor of the Business Law Digest, a Co-External Vice President of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, and the Vice Justice of the Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, International. He was one of two summer externs selected to assist Honorable Karen L. Stevenson in her chambers at the Central District of California during the 2018 summer term. As a Saks Scholar, Fu is excited about the opportunity to invest in change that will build capacity for improved treatment.

  • Monique Holguin Monique Holguin

    Monique Holguin is a second-year social work Ph.D. student at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. She received her B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and a master's in Social Work from California State University, Los Angeles. She has both research, administrative, and clinical experience with individuals ranging from youth and adults experiencing homelessness, children and youth entering into and out of the foster and/or juvenile justice systems, to individuals grappling with co-morbid and tri-morbid conditions in inpatient and outpatient health and mental health facilities. Holguin is a licensed clinical social worker and a Council for Social Work Education Minority Fellow. Her professional and research interests include: racial/ethnic health disparities and utilizing social network theory and analysis to identify barriers to service use and access to care for transition age youth experiencing or at risk of serious mental illness. As a Saks Scholar, Holguin is interested in researching secondary trauma and other mental health risk factors experienced by mental health professionals in trauma-oriented settings.

  • Caryn Hreha Caryn Hreha

    Caryn Hreha is a third-year law student at the USC Gould School of Law. Originally from San Jose, CA, she received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Washington with minors in Political Science and Human Rights. While at Gould, Hreha has focused her studies on public interest topics and has interned with the Public Defender's Office of Santa Clara County as well as in Dependency Court with the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles. As a Saks Scholar, Hreha is looking forward to contributing to an interdisciplinary approach to policy-making and hopes to look at issues in mental health law through both legal and socio-cultural lenses.

  • Brooke Mulligan Brooke Mulligan

    Brooke Mulligan is a third-year law student at the USC Gould School of Law. She was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. Currently, Mulligan is the Student Government Secretary as well as the co-president of Law Students for Better Health, a student organization dedicated to holistic wellness for those in the legal field with an emphasis on improving health within Gould. Brooke's experiences both personally and otherwise with mental health was a driving force in her decision to attend law school. For this reason, she was incredibly honored to be selected as a Saks Scholar. Mulligan hopes to research PTSD further, specifically how it affects professionals.

  • Lauren Padama Lauren Padama

    Lauren Padama is a third-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. She currently serves as the Managing Editor of the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Denver, with distinction in sociology and psychology. Her background in psychology and mental health from her undergraduate education motivated her to explore the law's intersection with mental health in a seminar class at USC. Padama wrote her seminar paper on decision-making after loss of competency in dementia patients, and she is excited to continue researching mental health law in the context of professionals with mental health disorders as a Saks Scholar.

  • Jason Schechter Jason Schechter

    Jason Schechter is a third-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. He graduated cum laude with a B.A. degree in Political Science from UCLA. At USC, Schechter took on the role of peer mentor and served as the Vice President of the Jewish Law Student Association. In addition with being a Saks Scholar, he is enrolled in the Veterans Legal Practicum. Schechter hopes to gain practical knowledge from providing legal aid to veterans, use it to inform his research on mental health issues within the military, and ultimately advocate for policy reforms.

  • Sara Schenk Sara Schenk

    Sara Schenk is a third-year psychiatry resident at USC. She earned a B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Kansas and an M.D. from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Her professional interests are focused in addiction psychiatry with an appreciation for both individual level and greater policy impacts. She is a member of LA County's Medical Practice Action Team, a subcommittee of Safe Med LA, which works to reduce prescription drug-associated deaths, She is also a Medical Education and Research Foundation scholar, allowing her to participate in the California Society of Addiction Medicine's conference and bring insights back to her local program and community. Schenk is grateful to be working with and learning from those involved with the Saks Institute and hopes to contribute to positive changes for the lives of people with mental illness.

  • Eva Schifini Eva Schifini

    Eva Schifini is a second-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. Schifini grew up in Las Vegas, NV. She earned a B.A. in Economics at Occidental College with a double-minor in mathematics and public health. She was the only woman in her graduating class to receive honors in economics. Her honors thesis studied the relationship between the minimum wage and chronic health conditions. At Occidental, Schifini fell in love with Los Angeles, and hopes to make this incredible city her forever home. At Gould, she is a peer mentor, LLM writing fellow, and co-president of the Health Law Society. On the weekends, Schifini works as a group fitness and pilates trainer.

  • Anne Schneider Anne Schneider

    Anne Schneider is a second-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. She graduated from UCLA magna cum laude with a B.A. in Anthropology. While at UCLA, Schneider worked as a law clerk for Fenton Law Group, LLP, a boutique healthcare law firm, where she was afforded exposure to healthcare law. Her father is a medical doctor, and expert in the subject of medical ethics. Schneider grew up attending his lectures worldwide on the subject of medical ethics. She wonders why there is not a better institution available for aiding individuals struggling with mental illness, and hopes that her participation as a Saks Scholar will allow her the opportunity to further explore the emergency room to prison pipeline.

  • Morgan Simpson Morgan Simpson

    Morgan Simpson is a second-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. He earned his B.A. in Journalism at the University of South Carolina – Columbia. Simpson worked for the Cancer Legal Resource Center this summer conducting intakes for callers from all over the country and providing them with legal resources in the fields of employment, healthcare, and wills, trusts, and estates. He is currently working for the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center Special Education Clinic representing clients in mediation who need access to special education resources. As a Saks Scholar, Simpson hopes to research the intersections between mental health and employment law as they relate to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  • Colton Smith Colton Smith

    Colton Smith is a second-year Ph.D. student at USC's Neuroscience Graduate Program. He received his undergraduate and master's degree in biology from Arizona State University. While at ASU he studied the neurobiology of drug addiction, the etiology of developmental disorders, and even dabbled in climate change research. Smith is currently using recombinant probes in zebrafish to understand how the brain encodes information. As a Saks Scholar, he plans to use his scientific expertise to inform mental health law.

  • Desiree Sulzmann Desiree Sulzmann

    Desiree Sulzmann is a second-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. She graduated magna cum laude from the UC Berkeley in Political Science and wrote an honors thesis titled "Books Behind Bars: An Analysis of Higher Education Programs in Correctional Facilities." She has four Associates degrees from Santa Barbara City College where she graduated summa cum laude and gave the 2015 commencement speech. Before law school, Sulzmann worked for the Prison University Project at San Quentin and in the criminal appeals division of the Cook County State's Attorney's office in Chicago, IL. In law school, Sulzmann is a peer mentor as well as a member of the executive board for the Public Interest Law Foundation, where she actively participates in pro-bono clinics.

  • Jennifer Wilson Jennifer Wilson

    Jennifer Wilson is a second-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. She earned her B.A. in Communication summa cum laude and her B.A. in Psychology cum laude from the UC Davis. At USC, Wilson is involved in student leadership by serving as a Co-Founder and Co-President of Womxn of Color Collective. She also serves as a 1L peer mentor and Co-Academic Chair for the Black Law Students Association. As a Saks Scholar, she is excited to explore how the mental health stigmas in various cultural communities affect the amount of people of color in professional settings.

  • April Yang April Yang

    April Yang is a third-year law student at USC Gould School of Law. She graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Global Health and spent the first two years after college working as a litigation paralegal at a law firm in New York City. At USC, she identified career interests in criminal law and also at the intersection of human rights law and public health. She has worked as a law clerk for the Hardcore Gangs Division of the LA D.A.'s office, and also spent a semester interning for Neighborhood Legal Services at the Wellness Center of the USC/LA County Hospital. Most recently, she has been working with the Mayor's office and City Hall in partnership with the United Nations on an initiative aimed at localizing the UN's Sustainable Development Goals to the city, specifically focusing on alleviating the homelessness crisis in LA. Mental health issues have invariably touched many of Yang's professional and academic experiences and endeavors, and she could not be more excited to be a Saks Institute Scholar this year, learning from and alongside USC faculty and students who are simultaneously like-minded and diverse.

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