Meet the SAAPRI Team

Shobhana Johri Verma

Executive Director

Shobhana brings to South Asian American Policy and Research Institute (SAAPRI) 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 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 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 Stalker 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.

Maya Lakshman

Policy & Community Partnerships Lead
Maya Lakshman 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 Masters degree in Public Health and Bachelors 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

Development & Communications Specialist

Kartik Ramkumar 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.

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.

Varsha Kalangari

Research & Civic Engagement Intern

Varsha Kalangari 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.

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.

Karan Gowda 

Research & Special Projects Intern  

Karan Gowda 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.