Rockefeller’s Rising Stars 2020

40 Under 40
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ALBANY, N.Y. — Graduates of the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy accounted for six of City & State’s 2020 Albany 40 Under 40 Rising Stars list as Philip Bolen, Joseph Garba, Aaron Gladd, Jonas Neri, Ben Parsons, and Joseph Storch earned recognition.

Every year, City & State recognizes 40 individuals under the age of 40 who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields, and are on their way to amassing accomplishments well beyond their age. 

Rockefeller College's 2020 City & State Rising Stars
(Profiles by City & State)

1. Philip Bolen, MPA ’15

Associate Lobbyist, Bolton-St. Johns

Philip Bolen has always loved airports. His parents were divorced when he was growing up, and as a kid, during his unaccompanied trips between them, he loved spending time in those transitional spaces, talking to people he had never met before. Lobbying gives him a similar satisfaction. “There’s a bunch of different narratives, and you work with people who have things that are completely unrelated, but they’re all trying to make someone’s life better in the process,” he says.

As an associate lobbyist at Bolton-St. Johns, he worked on the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, which legalized medical marijuana in 2014. More recently, he has worked on increasing pay for direct care workers who care for the elderly and people with disabilities. Bolen’s mother is a home health aide. “Being able to go around the last few years to really talk about the conditions that those workers are in and how they serve more for the work that they do – that’s exciting,” he says.

Securing personal protective equipment for essential workers, making sure clients’ businesses were deemed essential, and working to limit unnecessary out-of-home labor were among the tasks Bolen did for his clients as the coronavirus crisis swept through New York.

“Going from constantly texting and emailing in the Capitol to COVID posturing was, oh, now I am sending emails at 2 in the morning, getting up for calls starting at 6 in the morning and then just fielding calls all day,” he says.

2. Joseph Garba, BA ’02, MPA ’05

Secretary to the Speaker for Intergovernmental Affairs, New York State Assembly

While some stumble into public service by accident, for Joseph Garba, nothing could be a more natural fit. Garba’s father, Joseph Nanven Garba, was a Nigerian diplomat who served as president of the United Nations General Assembly from 1989 to 1990. Growing up shuttling between Westchester County and Nigeria, inspired by the work his parents did, sealed his fate. “Everything they did was something that was beneficial to our community in Nigeria when we were there, and the international community in my father’s case, with his work with the United Nations, and then his work in the Nigerian government,” Garba says of his parents. “I grew up with that sort of mindset that service to others and public service was just kind of natural and was always part of me.”

While the younger Garba may not be traveling the globe in his public service work, his career has taken him on an extensive tour through New York government, with high-level roles under Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer – and a stint on Bloomberg’s presidential campaign. 

With almost two decades of experience working at virtually every level of government, Garba is the ideal liaison for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, helping elected officials, advocates and local leaders stay connected through one of the most challenging and history-making sessions in recent memory. “I like to think I’m a problem solver – able to help people navigate the issues they’re having,” Garba says.

3. Aaron Gladd, BA ’08, MPA ’10

Chief of Staff, SUNY Empire State College

Aaron Gladd knows that for most people, a college education is not something to take for granted. “I’m the first person in my family to graduate high school, let alone go to college,” the Saranac Lake native says. After running an unsuccessful campaign for state Senate in 2018, Gladd, an Army veteran and former deputy director of policy for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined the staff of SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras. Most of the 18,000 students taking classes at the college are older than 25 and pursuing higher education while also raising children or working. Forty percent are first-generation college students. Recognizing that many of these students have already gained expertise in their fields, the college offers credit for work and life experience.

Gladd says he and Malatras have adopted an attitude of “bias for action.” The college recently launched a Women’s Corporate Leadership Academy to prepare women for executive leadership roles, a project Gladd is passionate about.

“My daughter’s growing up in a world where the chances of her becoming a board member on a corporation are much, much smaller than my son’s, by no fault of her own,” he says. “How do you fix that from a public policy perspective?”

Other recent initiatives have included support programs for students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, partnerships with community colleges, and a center dedicated to serving students with autism.

“We’ve delivered for a different kind of student,” he says. “Which is what really kind of drew me here.”

4. Jonas Neri, BA ’18

Legislative Director, Brown & Weinraub

Jonas Neri says he draws motivation from his superiors at Brown & Weinraub. “There are some serious people at my firm who have done some serious things in their career, and I think just watching them and where they are now, I want to get to that point in my life,” he says. After entering the political world as a student courier at another firm, the young legislative director has already begun that climb at the government strategies and strategic consulting firm. He completed an internship at Brown & Weinraub after graduating with a political science degree from the University at Albany in 2018. He then helped to delineate a new full-time position for himself after carefully observing what work was needed. “I took it upon myself to give myself my own opportunity,” he says. He’s had to learn rapidly along the way, absorbing all the regulatory processes and procedural information he can while closely watching his colleagues at the top-ranked company. “There’s so many people that have senior government expertise,” he says. “I just try to be around them as much as I can.”

Neri grew up outside Albany and was a defensive back on his high school football team. Today, he sees parallels between the sport and his budding career, including that they are both deeply collaborative. “In football, if one guy isn't doing their job, then the whole team sucks,” he says. “And it’s pretty competitive, the lobbying industry.”

5. Ben Parsons, BA ’11

Legislative Representative, CSEA Local 1000

Ben Parsons majored in history and minored in political science at the University at Albany – he knew he wanted a solid background in writing and research – but he hadn’t considered a career in politics until his senior year, when he met a Civil Service Employees Association representative at a job fair.

“I literally went up to him, and I said, ‘What is CSEA?’ And the rest is kind of history,” Parsons says.

His career at CSEA – a labor union that represents employees in state and local government, school districts and the private sector – began with an internship in 2011. In recent years, he has mostly focused on health and safety issues.

“We were able to make sure that school bus drivers and other school transportation personnel have a voice on their school safety teams,” he says. “What we’re currently working on is trying to do something to improve the safety in the state’s highway work zones.”

While Parsons has been telecommuting for the past few months, many of the union members he represents – people who work in health care, first responders and sanitation workers, among others – have continued going to work throughout the coronavirus pandemic. He’s been working to ensure union members have sufficient personal protective equipment and the necessary support during this stressful time.

“What we’re looking at right now is the potential for huge losses (in) state funding to a lot of local government services and state services,” Parsons says. “There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

6. Joseph Storch, MA ’14

Associate Counsel, State University of New York

Joseph Storch says his work overseeing violence prevention programs at the SUNY Office of General Counsel goes beyond simple solutions.

“We try to consider the impact of violence beyond the surface,” he says. “We also know that not everyone is impacted by violence equally.”

Adolescents and post-adolescents are most at risk when it comes to sexual violence and interpersonal violence, but women have a higher risk than men, Storch says. The risk is higher still for Black trans women.

The programs Storch oversees – which have brought in about $9 million in grants and external funding – include various violence prevention training programs as well as SUNY’s Got Your Back program, which provided more than 100,000 bags filled with personal care items for survivors of violence in New York during 2019.

Working for a school system with about a half million students and some 90,000 employees, Storch says, “You can really have an impact.” Having spent most of his career at SUNY, he says he measures his success by the success of SUNY’s students – and he is glad to play a role in helping them complete their education and have successful careers.

Storch’s goal for the future? He says he wants to do his job so well that by the time his two children, who are now ages 6 and 4, reach college, “It’ll be a completely different world.”

He added, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

To read City and State’s complete list of Rising Stars, click here.