Staff & volunteers

Professor Amelia Clarke - Principal Investigator

Amelia Clark Head Shot

Professor Amelia Clarke is the co-creator and principal investigator of the Youth & Innovation Project, associate dean of research for the Faculty of Environment and a full professor at the University of Waterloo. At the age of 23, Amelia founded the Sierra Youth Coalition, a national youth environmental group. She holds a PhD in Management from McGill University, has an active research program on youth engagement with over 25 publications and has made hundreds of presentations to academic and non-academic audiences.

Twitter: @DrAmeliaClarke

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Ilona Dougherty - Managing Director

Ilona Dougherty

Ilona is the Co-creator and Managing Director of the Youth & Innovation Project at the University of Waterloo. She is an award-winning social innovator and a regular voice in the Canadian media advising business, civil society and government on how they can tap into the value and unique abilities of young people. She has extensive leadership and governance experience having co-founded several successful organizations. In 2004, she Co-founded Apathy is Boring, a non-partisan social enterprise that educates Canadian youth about democracy and encourages them to vote. Ilona is a PhD student in political science at the University of Waterloo, a speaker with the Speaker Spotlight agency and an Ashoka Fellow.

Twitter: @ilonadougherty

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Valentina Castillo Cifuentes ‒ Research Manager


Valentina is responsible for the delivery of the YouthInn’s Social and Environmental Impact Research Program and the Economic Impact Research Program. She plays a key role in our team’s structure, supervising casual employees, students, and volunteers. Valentina is the first point of contact for external stakeholders and maintains strong relationships with various partners across the University of Waterloo. She has experience in the non-profit sector focused on grant-making as well as in community engagement through various research projects. She holds a MES in Sustainability Management from the University of Waterloo and a Sociology degree from the Universidad Diego Portales in Chile.


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Mariah Jolin – Administration and Research Coordinator

mariah headshot

Mariah is responsible for coordinating the Youth & Innovation Project’s day-to-day operations, financial management, fundraising, and research. She has previously held various roles in youth recreation and education settings and has also worked in an administrative role with the federal government’s Northern Contaminants Program. She has an Honours Bachelor of Public Health with a minor in Psychology from the University of Waterloo.

Alessandra Aponte - Research Assistant


Alessandra Aponte is a PhD candidate in Social and Ecological Sustainability, in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) at the University of Waterloo. Alessandra’s research interests include water governance, climate change, and social media.  Before joining the PhD program, Alessandra worked in USAID-led development projects in Honduras related to youth, violence prevention and gender-based violence. Currently, she is a member of the Honduran chapter of the Organization for Women in Science in the Developing World (OWSD).  

Twitter: @aleaponted

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Anushka Tadikonda – Volunteer Research Assistant

Anushka Tadikonda headshot

Anushka Tadikonda is a research assistant with the University of Waterloo. Passionate about political science, she has interned with several American political campaigns, including Congressional and Senatorial campaigns, even helping write climate change and gun violence policy briefs. Through her fellowship with AMP Global Scholar, she creates content and materials for their social media presence as well as supports the release of their State of Global Youth report. Besides that, she is co-chairing the Santa Clara County's Youth Task Force and assisting in the development of the Children and Youth Bill of Rights for the county. As a result of her passion for fighting social justice issues, she has also worked with many non-profits, including March For Our Lives San Jose as the Outreach Coordinator.

Morgan Harris - Research and Administration Assistant

Morgan Harris headshot

Morgan works to support the team by conducting quantitative and qualitative data analysis, interviewing young people and community organizations, and documenting processes for future reference. She has previously done work in engaging youth patients in research which sparked her interest in youth advocacy and elevating youth voices to create a more inclusive health care system. She holds a bachelor’s degree in applied science (Nutrition) with an emphasis in dietetics and a minor in Marketing from the University of Guelph.

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Yuxin Gong - Research Assistant

Yuxin Gong

Yuxin Gong is a master’s student in Economics, in the Department of Economics at the University of Waterloo. Yuxin holds broad interests in social issues from educational inequality to population aging to sustainability. With an economics and business background, Yuxin’s interests also include consumer market and decision making. Yuxin was a MITACS Globalink research intern at the University of Victoria, working on sustainable supply chain modelling. Besides that, she also has work experiences in user growth and marketing at multinational companies like TikTok and Warner Bros. Discovery. 

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Saranya Nemanathan - Communications Assistant

Saranya Nemanathan headshot

Saranya Nemanathan is a Communications Assistant with the Youth & Innovation Project at the University of Waterloo. With a degree in Computer Science Engineering and a Postgraduate Certificate in Interactive Media Management, she combines technical expertise with creative skills in her role. She focuses on the knowledge mobilization of research findings to positively impact youth welfare. She is dedicated to user experience design, developing effective communication strategies, and fostering youth engagement. 

Previous staff & research assistants: Elina Qureshi, Aleksandra Spasevski, Cate May Burton, Miha Alam (MDP), Martina Buchal, Yingying (Scarlett) Sheng (BES), Wen Tian (BES), Merry Ma (MSc.), Leah Feor (PhD Candidate), Odeeth Lara-Morales (PhD), Kelly Rao (PhD Student), Marina Melanidis (MSc.), and Amy Howard (BES).

Special thanks to Christopher Paré for volunteering his time to support the project through communication advice and editing.