Meet the Team

Leah Clapman

Founder, Executive Director

Leah Clapman created Student Reporting Labs in 2009 as an experiment to engage middle and high school students with current events and reimagine public media for tweens and teens. Under her leadership, Student Reporting Labs has grown from 6 pilot sites to 180 schools in 46 states with partnerships extending from major media and online platforms to international education and youth initiatives. Leah has developed education products such as PBS NewsHour Classroom for teachers, Teachers Lounge and “Making the Grade,” a weekly focus on education issues, policy and practice. A Princeton graduate, she serves on the Education Writers Association journalism advisory, Education Innovators and Library of Congress TPS council.

Christine Zirneklis

Interim Sr. Collaborations & Engagement Project Manager

Christine Zirneklis is SRL’s interim Sr. Collaborations & Engagement Project Manager—she manages the Gwen Ifill Fellowship program, events, and relationships with local stations and other partners. Christine joins the team from the National Geographic Society, where she spent nearly five years building a global community of Explorers—6000+ educators, journalists, researchers, and scientists. Previously, Christine was an SRL station partner and led community engagement programming with PBS SoCal, and spent six months on the road with Roadtrip Nation. Born and raised in southern California, Christine earned her B.A. in Global Studies and English from UCLA.  After some time in DC, she now lives in Brooklyn where she is finishing her M.A. in Engagement Journalism at CUNY’s Newmark School of Journalism. In her spare time she can be found outside—climbing rocks, exploring bike trails, and telling stories around campfires.

Victor Fernandez

Director, Youth Media Program

Victor is the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs Director of our Youth Media Program. He makes sure that student pieces are ready for publishing on our website, social media platforms, and on the NewsHour broadcast. He gives technical feedback and detailed demonstrations on how to polish your video in the post production stage. He recently received the 2018 Instructional Media – Engaged Learning award from the National Educational Telecommunications Association where he was the editor for the SRL Level Up tutorial series. Victor worked as a Career and Technical Education teacher for 15 years in Miami-Dade County Public Schools where he prepared students for the Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Photoshop certifications. What Victor enjoys most about his job is visiting SRL schools and providing students with hand-on learning experiences. During his time off work he serves as the Student Production Awards Coordinator at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Suncoast Chapter and participates as a judge on college and high school film festivals.

Briget Ganske

Youth Media Producer

Briget is a multimedia storyteller and educator. She grew up in Iowa, exploring life with the Kodak camera her grandparents gave her. She earned her B.A. in English, creative writing from Northwestern University, studied documentary photography at The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, and received her Ed.M. in arts in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education. For the past eight years, Briget has been a freelance photographer and video storyteller. She’s led photo and video workshops with youth in New York, South Africa, Boston, Maine, and Richmond. Before joining SRL, Briget was a videographer at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. She lives in Richmond, VA with her husband and two young sons. Briget also is the lead producer for SRL’s podcast on teen mental health, On Our Minds.

Rawan Elbaba

Digital Producer

Rawan is a Digital Producer at the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs. She leads digital content strategy and manages SRL’s social media platforms. Rawan received her master’s degree in journalism at Georgetown University. She was born and raised in the Washington, DC area to Lebanese parents and is a first-generation American.

Marie Cusick

Editorial Director

Marcus Markle

Senior Communications Manager

In his communications role, Marcus works to celebrate the transformative breadth and impact of the PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs, primarily through relationship-building and social media channels. Marcus was drawn to this opportunity after having been a public school teacher and, most recently, a communications manager for Geffen Academy at UCLA, a new, innovative school serving grades 6-12 that seeks to challenge traditional school models. Marcus has long been an advocate of expanding opportunities for disenfranchised communities and has worked to empower them to achieve greater, especially in his previous roles that span the non-profit sector and government. Born in Los Angeles, Marcus lives in Washington, D.C. with his partner, who is a journalist.

Emily Anne Tkaczibson

Sr. Manager, Grants Administration

Emily Anne Tkaczibson is a grants professional and theatre artist who specializes in education programming for children, teens, and adults. She has worked with arts and culture organizations including Center Theatre Group, Literary Arts, South Coast Repertory, Inner-City Arts, and Public Media Group of Southern California (PBS SoCal). Emily currently resides with her husband in Portland, OR, where she spends her free time playing board games, reading books, and taking hikes. She also makes killer cheese and charcuterie boards.

Becky Wandel

Youth Media Producer

Becky Wandel is a journalist and educator who joined the Student Reporting Labs team as a production assistant after starting as an intern last year. She is from the Boston area and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in Journalism and concentrations in French and English in 2019. Having worked as a writing tutor, theater educator, and radio news director, Becky has a passion for spreading effective and creative communication skills as widely as possible and loves working with young people. She relocated to DC to join the SRL team but is always ready to talk all things Boston to anyone who will listen.

Jaylah Moore-Ross

Production Assistant

Jaylah began her journey in film and video production while in junior high when she discovered her passion for the arts and storytelling. She started working with Student Reporting Labs in 2016 as a student journalist in high school, producing stories for Snapchat and PBS NewsHour and participating in SRL’s 2018 fellowship and summer academy. After graduating from high school, she went on to become a 2019 Gwen Ifill Fellow and later joined SRL as a freelance editor and production assistant. Jaylah edits promotional videos, polishes student work, and assists with various aspects of production while continuing to produce her own stories.

Mohammad Pasha

Youth Media Producer

Mohammad is no stranger to the youth media landscape. He comes from GB Youth Media based in Silver Spring, Maryland which provides free media arts programs to over 350 youth participants. He became a youth media instructor after receiving funding from the Shattuck Grant for Entrepreneurship and Social Change and later became a program coordinator and grant writer for the organization. He created new high school programs on video, studio design and documentary, and helped students complete short documentaries on issues including the youth vaping crisis and racial equity. He graduated from the University of Maryland at Baltimore with a BA in media and communications studies, and co-founded a fitness nonprofit, Revamp Fit, to encourage movement in local communities at risk of health complications including seniors and victims of substance abuse.

Anurag Papolu

Graphic Designer

Anurag is a multimedia producer and designer. In his previous role as the multimedia editor at The Conversation, he worked with scientists and scholars around the country to help them communicate their research through text, graphics, and video. His work has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Washington Post, NBC, The Daily Beast, and Fast Company. He loves all things visual art and likes to learn and experiment with new creative techniques.

Chris Schwalm

Youth Media Producer

Chris Schwalm created the media production program at a Central Pennsylvania school district and developed the broadcast journalism and film production classes over his twenty-year tenure. He covered several municipalities as a journalist for the Lancaster News on nights and weekends for twelve of those years, and covered a three-state territory for a national publisher for five years. After a family move brought Chris, his wife, two daughters and two dogs to the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 2021, he served a short stint as the Digital Social Media Marketing Specialist for a large Seattle-Area school district before joining the SRL team as a Youth Media Producer – his dream job!

Emily Hope Dobkin

StoryMaker Community Manager

Emily’s role is to strengthen and build community on StoryMaker, ensuring the best possible user experience and teacher engagement. Emily comes to Student Reporting Labs after several years of connecting people to meaningful experiences within museums, marketplaces, libraries, after-school programs, cultural organizations, and during the pandemic: zoom rooms worldwide via The Meet Cart. In everything she does, Emily cares deeply about creating exploratory experiences that nourish curiosity, celebrates all voices, and sparks storytelling. In her 14+ years working in the realms of education and informal learning spaces, she’s launched everything from teen programs that focus on arts for social change to her own platform called BetterishDenver Westword has identified Emily as a “people person extraordinaire,” and she has further been dubbed a bridge builder, a connector, a joiner, and a facilitator of joy. For such reasons, she’s committed to dressing up as a Connectectasaurus Rex during Halloween season year after year. Rooted in east coast upbringings, expanded by some inspiring years of seafaring adventures along the Pacific coast, Emily now resides on a tree lined street in Denver, Colorado overlooking the Rocky Mountains.

Jasmine Baker

Associate Producer, Social Media

Jasmine is an avid reader and dreamer. She works with social media, which makes sense with all the pop culture references she makes. Before working with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, she helped create multiple programs for high schoolers within Montgomery County. Specifically, the Minority Scholars Program promotes pride in one’s identity and inspires activism. She graduated from Montgomery College and is looking forward to continuing her journey with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs.

Abrahim Karzai

Intern

Born and raised in Silver Spring, MD, Abrahim is a first-generation Afghan-American, whose parents arrived in the U.S in the 1980s. He is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in Media & Communication Studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with family and is a very passionate sports fan, with a specific focus on football and basketball. He values the importance of laughter, which he believes everyone should try to do at least once a day to ensure joy and happiness for themselves and others.

Ryan Mercado

Intern

Ryan Mercado is a second-generation Latino American with roots in Bolivia and Argentina. His academic background is in history and politics. He studied in Baltimore and Montreal for his undergrad and graduate degrees and is now making a career switch to journalism, attending University of Maryland, College Park for a master’s degree in journalism. He’s worked with middle and high school students in Montreal, helping them learn about the history of their city and what issues impacted them.