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Read more below about the inaugural 2021 cohort of the African-American China Leadership Fellows program: Asha Clark, Steven Hanton, Ben Nebo, Leslie Nguyen-Okwu, and Kirt Smith.

Asha Clark
Fellow in Advanced Academics, mentored by Dr. Keisha Brown

Asha is an Intelligence Research Specialist (Mandarin Chinese) in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the U.S. Department of State. She began learning Chinese in middle school, and from that point on, fell in love with the language. She currently possesses a BA in Chinese Language & Culture from Washington University in St. Louis, and a MA in Security Policy Studies from The George Washington University.

Steven Hanton
Rhodium Fellow in International Trade & Economics, mentored by Robert Anderson

Steven J. Hanton, a graduate of Tufts University and University of Michigan Law School, is an experienced finance attorney at Nixon Peabody LLP and was recently elected partner at the firm. He often works with banks and other financial institutions in structured finance transactions and securitizations, with a particular focus on corporate trust and loan agency. He has nearly a decade of experience advising financial service clients in a wide range of securitization structures, custodial arrangements, and lending facilities throughout their life cycles. Steve is proficient in Chinese and received a certification in economics at Zhejiang University in 2007. Since then, he’s leveraged his Chinese and finance experience by advising startups and entrepreneurs on inbound investment opportunities and other cross-border transactions with China-based investors and financial institutions.

Ben Nebo
Fellow in Global Public Affairs, mentored by Damon Woods

Ben Nebo is a China specialist with over ten years of professional experience in foreign affairs and public service. Currently, he is a headquarters asylum officer with the Department of Homeland Security. Previously, Ben was a diplomat in China with the Department of State. He earned an MPA in international management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and a BA in Mandarin Chinese, peace studies, and philosophy from the University of St. Thomas.

Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
Fellow in International Media & Journalism, mentored by Keith Richburg

Leslie Nguyen-Okwu is an award-winning journalist and professional speechwriter. She is currently writing a memoir about being Black and Asian in America and is represented by Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. She has worked with major media outlets and the world’s biggest companies, including BBC, National Geographic, The Economist, Harper’s Bazaar, the South China Morning Post, Airbnb, and Google. She has nearly a decade of experience writing for top publications and governments, advising policymakers and business leaders, and appearing on television and print. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Stanford University and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvard University. Previously, Leslie worked as a technology reporter in Silicon Valley and a foreign correspondent in Asia. A first-generation American, Leslie is the proud daughter of Vietnamese and Nigerian immigrants and speaks several critical languages, including Mandarin. Her interests include race and immigration, international law and foreign policy, and decision-making in diplomacy.

Kirt Smith
Albright Stonebridge Fellow in International Government Relations, mentored by Ann-Marie Padgett

Kirt Smith is a Policy Analyst in Security and Foreign Affairs at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He previously worked in the Asia Section of the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division at the Congressional Research Service. Before his time at CRS, Kirt was a geospatial specialist for the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he contributed to the project’s extensive analysis of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Kirt has spent over four years working and studying in several countries across Asia — first in Japan, then South Korea, Thailand, and finally China. He studied intensive Mandarin at Capital Normal University in Beijing and completed part of his graduate research and coursework at Fudan University’s School of International Relations and Public Affairs in Shanghai. He holds a Master of Global Policy Studies from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas – Austin and a B.A. in French from the University of New Orleans.

We are grateful to the sponsors of our 2021 AACLF cohort. Without them, this program would not have been possible.
We thank our sponsors for their strong, active commitment to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
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