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

Find Dr. Clarke on LinkedIn

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

Find Ilona on LinkedIn

Valentina Castillo Cifuentes ‒ Research Manager

Valentina

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.

Twitter:@Valcastillc

Find Valentina on LinkedIn

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

Staff

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

Find Alessandra on LinkedIn

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.

Marina Melanidis- Research Assistant

Staff

Marina has over a decade of experience in youth climate justice activism and in 2019 she founded Youth4Nature, a global, youth-led non-profit that establishes youth as leaders for nature-climate solutions. Marina is also a social scientist with an MSc from the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include biodiversity conservation governance, “nature-based solutions”, and climate justice. Marina has been named as one of Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders and Top 25 under 25 Environmentalists, and serves on the board of Global Witness. 

Twitter: @marinamelanidis

Find Marina on Linkedin

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. 

Find Yuxin on LinkedIn

Amy Howard- Research Assistant

Amy Howard

Amy is an undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo. She is also a research assistant at the Work-Learn Institute where she contributes to research on work-integrated learning. She is passionate about improving equity and accessibility. In the past, she has supported youth with disabilities in their employment goals. Her research interests include intergenerational collaboration, student experiences in co-op, and the contributions of youth to social change. 


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), and Kelly Rao (PhD Student). 

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