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 led one of the first and most effective South Asian Voter Engagement Programs at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners that has helped unprecedented numbers of South Asian Americans in the city exercise their right to vote by participating in the electoral process. Prior to joining the Chicago Election Board, Shobhana held numerous roles as a researcher, educator 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 was recently appointed to the Asian American Family Commission by the Illinois Senate President. The commission advises the governor, General Assembly and state agencies how to best improve and expand services and opportunities for Asian American families in Illinois. A former 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 is currently a member of the Chicago Mayor’s Office AAPI Community Engagement Council; the Language Access Advisory Committee and the Chicago Committee on Asian and Pacific Islander Hate Crimes.

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 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.

Aliza is passionate about South Asian advocacy and community engagement. 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 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 one.

Anushka Somani

Research and Civic Engagement Intern

Anushka is a third-year student at The University of Chicago where she is on a selective three-year track in public policy. She has previously worked with various organizations related to campaign management, research, and nonprofit work. Anushka Somani previously worked as an intern at The Borgen Project where she raised 1000+ dollars, successfully researched and published articles, and campaigned with congressional leaders to pass legislation that would alleviate global poverty.

Anushka Somani is currently a policy intern at the mayor’s office where she is responsible for drafting policy initiatives and publications, conducting research, and managing key initiatives related to gender-based violence in the City of Chicago. 

Anushka is thrilled to join the team at SAAPRI to work towards engaging her community and getting involved in key issues that affect South Asians.

Karan Gowda 

Research and Civic Engagement Intern

Karan is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health at Northwestern’s downtown campus. Karan is also a recent graduate from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Arts in biological sciences with two minors in global health studies and classics. He has worked for years within both quantitative and qualitative research laboratories and projects from infectious disease work to art museum acquisition. He also has an interest in education through his extensive tutoring and mentoring work with undergraduate peers as well as in the community within spaces such as the Chicago Math & Science Academy and most recently as a full time education fellow at Mather High School near Devon Avenue.

Karan’s wants to shine light on healthcare disparity issues regarding the South Asian community in Chicagoland by helping plan town hall events and creating effective social media material, including posts and visuals. In his free time, he loves being with friends and families as well as playing and watching sports.

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