Meet the SAAPRI Team

Shobhana Johri Verma

Executive Director

Shobhana brings to the South Asian American Policy and Research Institute a unique blend of public policy, outreach, advocacy and public relations experience.

Most recently, she has built and also leads one of the first and most effective South Asian Voter Engagement Programs at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. Thanks to her untiring efforts since 2014, unprecedented numbers of South Asian Americans in the city have begun to exercise their right to vote and participate in the local, state and federal level electoral process. Prior to joining the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, Shobhana held numerous roles as a researcher, educator, volunteer and journalist, advocating for environmental causes and gender and immigrant interests, including challenging roles supporting victims of sexual exploitation, human trafficking and domestic violence. She has written for and been published in both the digital and print media in both the United States and India. Shobhana holds two masters Degrees in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from the University of Cincinnati and Lucknow University. She is a certified Sexual Violence Prevention Educator and is trained in Medical and Legal Advocacy. She is a past student board member of the Cincinnati Chapter of Planned Parenthood. Shobhana is also a member of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on Equity that advises the Mayor and City Council of Chicago on policy matters regarding civil rights issues.

Shobhana has been an active and trusted leader within the South Asian American community in the Greater Chicago Area and as SAAPRI’s Executive Director, she looks forward to continuing her work as a researcher, organizer, and strategist on a wide range of human rights and social justice issues with diverse and collaborative coalitions in Chicago and beyond.

Jordan Stalker

Research & Program Development Advisor

Jordan earned his doctorate in Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin. His dissertation focused on the media uses of Indian Americans in the Greater Chicago area and how that media use helps them connect to India and Indians. His other areas of expertise are in race and ethnicity, media history, public relations and research. His work considers how communication mechanisms and ideologies can contribute to democracy and dignity, how journalism and public relations function in democratic societies and how media products and industries contribute to the formation of group and individual identity.

Jordan’s wife is from New Delhi and their daughter gives him a vested interest in understanding and supporting the flourishing of the South Asian American community in and around Chicago. Jordan is happy to associate with SAAPRI and support with research and writing on various topics, using his connections in academia in Chicago and internationally.

Noor Shaikh

Democracy Project Lead

Noor is a local government professional with experience working in community development and finance. As an immigrant to the United States, she is passionate about working with South Asian American communities to realize their potential – as residents, tax payers, and (eventual) voters. Noor wants to build a new narrative around the immigrant experience – one that emphasizes civic engagement and trust in the political process. Noor holds an MPA from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University. She served on the City of Aurora, Colorado’s Immigrant and Refugee Commission and is an active member of the International City/County Management Association.

Ayal Weiner-Kaplow

Public Health Advocate

Ayal Weiner-Kaplow is a Chicago area native and has spent time living and working in Nepal and Israel. While abroad, Ayal facilitated youth and community leadership programs, conducted public health research, and served as a disaster first-responder. In the U.S., he has worked for non-profits facilitating professional development programming for educators. Ayal is a Nepali and Hindi speaker with a strong connection to the South Asian American community. He holds an MPA from UW-Madison.

Aliza Adhami

Communications & Research Fellow

Aliza is passionate about South Asian advocacy and community engagement. She graduated from Cornell University in 2019, where she was involved in diversity and engagement work, particularly in the South Asian community. She has experience in advocacy and translational research, and brings a multidisciplinary lens to her work. She is interested in immigrant rights and immigration policy reform, both within the South Asian community and the broader immigrant community. She is interested in policy research that focuses on relevant South Asian issues, including immigration, political representation, healthcare, voter engagement, and gender parity. 

As an intern here at SAAPRI, she is looking forward to making meaningful connections and learning about policy issues that affect the community.

Aakash Ray

Communications & Research Intern  

Aakash is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan with concentrations in biopsychology, neuroscience, and the history of law and policy. During his time at Michigan, he was largely involved in social justice-centered work and various research opportunities centered around immigrant populations. He has experience serving on the board of the South Asian Awareness, where he planned annual social justice conferences and community engagement events through a South Asian lens. He also served on the board of Paani, a non-profit organization dedicated to alleviating clean water accessibility in Pakistan, and contributed to the student newspaper’s POC-led section, Michigan in Color.

Aakash is primarily interested in conducting research on immigration law and policy and its effects on the broader immigrant community. He is also excited to join the SAAPRI team and build meaningful relationships in the Chicago South Asian community. In his free time, Aakash enjoys playing tennis, watching Hindi movies, and spending time with his family.

Emmanuel Ravichandar

Health Equity Project Intern

Emmanuel is a current third-year medical student from Saint James School of Medicine and also pursuing his Masters of Public Health from Purdue University. While in medical school, he organized several free community health clinics as a former president of the medical fraternity Phi Chi.

Emmanuel is interested in primary care, specifically disease prevention and health promotion. He is excited to join the SAAPRI team as an intern, which gives him the opportunity to construct health promotion campaigns that specifically target the vulnerable South Asian American community in Chicago. Emmanuel hopes that through working with SAAPRI, we can make a difference not only in this community but in others as well. In his spare time, Emmanuel enjoys watching sports and spending time with loved ones.

Sanjna Narayan

Democracy Project Intern

Sanjna is a second-year student at the University of Chicago and a co-founder of Dear Asian Youth at UChicago, a registered student organization working in collaboration with SAAPRI. She previously worked as a summer intern and Metcalf Fellow with the American Medical Association researching the impact of COVID-19 on physicians’ mental health and currently serves as a research assistant and Micro-Metcalf Fellow with the Pritzker School of Engineering studying the intersection of data science, literature, and environmental science (specifically relating to river health in India). She hopes to expand her research experience to policy, law, and social justice concerning the Asian-American community during her time as a collaborative partner with SAAPRI. Some policy issues that she is particularly interested in are voter engagement/education and Asian-American representation in politics and media. 

Sanjna is thrilled to be joining SAAPRI as UChicago DAY’s executive contact and is excited to dive into projects directly tackling some of the issues that she is most passionate about, with an emphasis on the South Asian American community. In her free time, Sanjna enjoys painting, playing the clarinet, practicing her French, and spending time with family and friends.

Varsha Kalangari

Research & Civic Engagement Intern

Varsha is working to completing her BBA in Information Systems with a minors in statistics and accounting at Loyola University Chicago and has been involved in research dealing with income inequality. She is currently working with the Information Systems department at Loyola to assess the effectiveness and validity of public bike-sharing programs in low-income communities using data visualization tools. Varsha has a keen interest in the South Asian diaspora and would like to use data-driven solutions and analytics to provide a voice and proper representation for the South Asian community here in the US. As an intern at SAAPRI, she is dedicated to bringing awareness to topics that impact the South Asian community as well as combining the areas of data and people to advocate for policy changes.

Varsha hopes that her time at SAAPRI will allow her the opportunity to serve and connect with her community.

Maya Lakshman

Special Projects Volunteer

Maya is excited to partner with the South Asian community in Chicago to design and host meaningful events and multidisciplinary research projects that can impact policy. She is passionate about connecting with and elevating the unique needs and concerns of LGBTQ+ communities, survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and systems-impacted youth. She received both her master’s degree in Public Health and bachelor’s degree in Anthropology & Human Biology from Emory University in Atlanta. She is skilled with mixed-methods and community-based participatory action research (CBPAR), as well as policy development and implementation at local and statewide levels. In her free time, she enjoys photographing people and buildings, experimenting with flavors in cooking, and finding original vinyl pressings at record stores. 

Kartik Ramkumar

Special Projects Volunteer

Kartik is excited to empower the South Asian American community in Chicago and around the country with great policy and education-related work. He comes to SAAPRI with a background in advocacy, social justice, and South Asian community work. Kartik works as a Customer Success Manager for VAMONDE, a technology company working with museums to showcase their stories to digital visitors. He has a master’s in Information Design and Strategy from Northwestern University and received his undergraduate degree from Cornell, where he studied labor, history, policy, and urban planning under the ILR major. In his free time, Kartik enjoys drawing, attending comedy shows, and exploring the Chicago restaurant scene.

Karan Gowda 

Special Projects Volunteer 

Karan is a second-year undergraduate student studying Biological Sciences and Global Health with a minor in Classics at Northwestern University. He has worked in an infectious disease lab at Northwestern studying Ebola viral proteins. Karan is looking at how policy changes can affect healthcare within the South Asian community. 

As an intern here at SAAPRI, he wants to bring to light various issues that can affect the community through the use of effective data and visuals. In his free time, Karan loves to play sports with friends and play video games.