Meet Our Wilf Scholars
Established through a generous gift by the Wilf Family Foundations, the Wilf Impact Scholars Program selects an annual cohort of New York Law School students who bring diversity, talent, and dedication to public interest careers.
From the time they enter law school, Wilf Scholars are immersed in the world of public interest practice, benefitting from NYLS’s specialized public interest advising, gaining connections to public interest practitioners and alumni, working closely with faculty and staff involved in real-world cutting-edge social justice issues, and developing the skills needed to excel in their careers.
Hailing from Vernon Hills, Illinois, Jenna Aasen received her undergraduate degree in education from Butler University. During her time at Butler, Aasen worked in Indianapolis public schools teaching elementary school students. At these schools, her passion to assist students beyond the classroom grew, and she decided to apply to law school. She hopes to combine this passion with her interest in the law to do public interest work in education in the future.
Syma Birenbaum started law school with the determination to enter the public sector. She previously had a career in production lighting design for live events, theater, dance, and opera; however she always felt a calling to pursue a career where she could professionally advocate for equality and justice. She holds a B.F.A from Purchase College. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Birenbaum has lived in New York City for five years and is excited to be attending law school in the city she has come to care about so deeply. She aspires to become a judge to help shape state and federal legal systems for the benefit of future generations. Birenbaum is grateful for the opportunity to be a member of the Wilf Scholar inaugural class and can’t wait to work with the other Wilf Scholars to positively effect change in the American legal landscape.
Michelle Blaifeder is from New York City, where in her native Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills she learned about the importance of community and the power of helping those in need. Blaifeder attended Binghamton University where she obtained a B.S. in human development and a B.A in political science. Blaifeder decided to go to law school because she felt the law was the best tool for making a difference in the lives of others, and she chose New York Law School because of the School’s public interest program and wide array of clinical offerings. Blaifeder is passionate about all things public interest law including housing, education, labor and employment, and LGBTQ rights. Blaifeder is thrilled to be a member of the inaugural class of Wilf Scholars, and aspires to one day run a nonprofit and maybe even start her own.
Blanca Gates studied criminal justice at the University of New Haven, which set her on the path to law school. Shortly after completing her undergraduate studies, Gates started working for Project Reset at the Center for Court Innovation (CCI). While at CCI, she was involved with the Race and Justice Council, and she helped to organize community events and to develop pilot programs that would be implemented in the community. Through her work, she became increasingly interested in public interest law—specifically public defense work. Originally from Altoona, Pennsylvania, Gates is also interested in civil and human rights policy work, both locally and internationally. Gates is currently the Vice President of Social Action for MetroLALSA, the regional organization for Latin American Law Student Association.
Sarah Hannah is a South Carolina native who relocated to New York City to pursue her passion of child advocacy. Hannah studied psychology and child advocacy at the University of South Carolina Upstate. She’s held a number of positions ensuring that children received important social services, including education and healthcare. She also interned with the 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office as well as with the Spartanburg, South Carolina Village Legal Hub, which were both influential experiences in leading her to law school.
Laura Katz is proud to be in the inaugural class of Wilf Scholars. After receiving her B.A. from Brandeis University, her post-undergraduate work was centered in the nonprofit sector. Seeing the many ways that marginalized individuals are disadvantaged when interacting with criminal legal systems, she hopes to use her legal knowledge to help marginalized communities achieve justice. In her spare time, she loves to make music and watch theater productions. She is looking forward to gaining some hands-on experience in the public interest field of law this coming summer.
Michael Anthony Lucatorto is a proud Wilf Scholar working to advocate for parents and children of nontraditional families. Growing up with two gay moms showed Lucatorto firsthand the daily struggles nontraditional families face in having their familial and personal identities acknowledged by the law. He aspires to be a family law attorney to represent members of nontraditional families during times of family crisis. Outside his studies, he works at the Law Offices of Irene Angelakis, P.C, where he regularly assists New York City families through divorce and family court proceedings.
Alexandra Ogunsanya is a proud New Mexican born and raised in Albuquerque. A graduate of the University of New Mexico, she previously worked at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center helping immigrants apply for citizenship, green card renewals, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Ogunsanya is very interested in social and racial justice and how the law can work to effect change for marginalized communities.
Ron Jovi Ramirez earned his B.A. in mathematics and philosophy of law from Lewis University. After graduating, he spent two years in the Lasallian Volunteers program operating a tutor center and teaching math classes. Following the program, he obtained his M.S.Ed in elementary and special education from Manhattan College. He then taught math at St. Raymond’s High School for Boys before shifting his focus to education outside the classroom in a higher education setting. His passion for public interest began during the Lasallian Volunteer program and grew during his time in the classroom as Ramirez saw firsthand the discrepancies in how schools taught their students—discrepancies exacerbated by differences in funding and other resources. Ramirez hopes to grow and explore areas in which he can use his legal education to help his surrounding communities.
Gianna Vitiello is a true New Yorker, born and raised in Brooklyn. Vitiello has an undergraduate background in psychology, sociology, and philosophy with a degree from Brooklyn College. She interned in the 2nd Judicial District with a family and criminal court judge during the summer of 2021. Vitiello previously was trained to work with those struggling with mental health issues.