Meet Our Team

Staff  |  Board of Directors  |  Interns

James Benjamin – Stanback Fellow for Energy Democracy, Summer 2020

Born in New York and raised in London, James is an undergraduate at Duke University studying English, Political Science and Environmental Science. Having spent time volunteering and organizing in the UK, US and Peru, James has held a strong love of nature throughout his life and seeks to spend his professional life contributing to efforts around clean energy, environmental justice and wildlife preservation. James will be spending the summer working with the Energy Democracy team. Throughout his time at university, James has become very attached to North Carolina and is looking forward to working with communities across the state. He hopes to aid in the great work done by Appalachian Voices in fostering energy independence throughout Appalachia. Outside of his studies, James can often be found exploring new hiking trails or perched somewhere with a book.

Hayley Canal Hayley Canal – Editorial Assistant, Summer 2020

Hayley is an undergraduate student at Appalachian State University, majoring in both journalism and sustainable development. She lived in San Jose, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., before moving to Boone for her studies. Hayley discovered her passion for environmental justice during high school as she began to grapple with the social and ecological threats faced by her local community. She paired these concerns with her love of storytelling in college, and has since focused on environmental justice-related stories in her journalistic work with The Appalachian. In the future, she aims to provide hope through visual storytelling on climate change. In her free time, Hayley enjoys painting, cooking and thrifting, especially for green clothing.

Casey Dunajick-DeKnight – Data Research Assistant, Summer 2020

Casey is an incoming first year MBA student at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business focusing on finance and social impact. After graduating from Florida State University in 2012 having studied International Affairs and Economics, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she was drawn to the rich food and agriculture community in the Mid-Atlantic region. From 2014-2019 she worked extensively in the urban farming community and for a social enterprise, food desert grocery store. Casey is committed to working with equitable, long-term solutions of economic justice for communities marginalized by systematic racism. For fun, she’s spending her summer volunteering for Appalachian Voices as a data analyst, and on a specialty cut flower farm in Purcellville, Va.

Stephanie Kazemi – Digital Communications Assistant, Summer 2020

Stephanie is a graduate from Florida International University, where she received a Master’s of Engineering Management, with a focus on digital marketing. She has extensive professional experience in marketing. She moved to Charlottesville in 2018, where she collaborates with nonprofit organizations to establish brand awareness, search-engine optimization and build advocacy among involved communities. Her experiences in the realm of advocacy has helped her pursue a greater cause while improving the digital presence of organizations. With recent challenges of global warming, she has felt the urgency of maintaining land, water and soil more than ever. That is why she has joined Appalachian Voices to contribute her part in preserving the beautiful nature of the Appalachian region.

Robert Kell – New Economy Graduate Intern, Summer 2020

Robert is a native of Southwest Virginia and a proud Appalachian. He is currently at Vanderbilt Divinity School studying religion and economic justice. This summer, Robert is researching land ownership and taxation issues in Virginia’s coalfield counties.

Sophia Palia – Media and Graphic Communications Assistant, Summer 2020

Sophia is a recent graduate from The College of William & Mary in Virginia where she majored in biology and became familiar with the environmental issues facing Appalachia. She spent the past two years conducting ecology and conservation research in the forests of Indonesia and Peru. Those experiences helped Sophia understand the importance of communicating environmental science in an engaging and accessible way. She plans to continue working to preserve our environment through her advocacy work with Appalachian Voices this summer. In her free time, Sophia enjoys making art, hiking and learning languages.

Emerson Wells – Editorial Assistant, Summer 2020

Born and raised in the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains, Emerson is an undergraduate at Elon University pursuing a double major in Journalism and Environmental and Ecological Sciences. Interested in environmentalism and how it pertains to her hometown while growing up, Emerson became further involved in sustainability efforts and climate justice in high school after working as a volunteer for an environmental nonprofit organization. Pairing this passion with her interest in journalism, Emerson hopes to bring light to environmental injustices that affect rural and minority communities in the future. In her free time, you can find Emerson hiking different sections of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail or reading in her hammock.

Clara Weybright – Editorial Assistant, Summer 2020

Clara Weybright is a recent graduate from Eastern Mennonite University, located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She majored in Environmental Sustainability with minors in English and Honors. She wrote widely during college, which included serving as the editor-in-chief of her school’s newspaper. She is particularly interested in environmental work as it connects to communication, policy, and advocacy. She hopes to pursue graduate studies in environmental policy or law in the future. This summer, she finds herself on her family’s small farm in Pennsylvania, where she is writing, running, chasing cattle, baking lots of sourdough bread, and contemplating building a bake oven in the backyard.

Taylor Wood – Advancement Assistant, Summer 2020

Taylor is a graduate student at Virginia Tech working towards an MFA in Arts Leadership. Originally from Nashville, Taylor’s background is primarily in production and stage management for theatre and opera. Alongside her current studies of nonprofit leadership, she has taken a particular interest in the intersection of the arts and environmental justice through the power of storytelling, education, and empowering action. She is excited to explore these connections further while taking the next step in a future career of nonprofit fundraising this summer with Appalachian Voices.

Sikai Zheng – Mountaintop Removal Analyst, Summer 2020

Sikai is a first-year master student at Duke University. He majored in Environmental Engineering since undergraduate school. Over the past five years of studying environmental engineering, He learns to find solutions from a comprehensive perspective, and he loves this discipline because he can use it to improve the environment with various engineering practices, such as environmental monitoring, geospatial analysis using GIS software, and water management. He is passionate to work on sustainable development and to preserve the beauty of nature. In his free time, Sikai enjoys hiking, skiing, and drawing.

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