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Who We Are Our Team

Our Team

Mike Pierce, Executive Director

Mike is Executive Director and co-founder of the Student Borrower Protection Center. He is an attorney, advocate, and former senior regulator who joined SBPC after more than a decade fighting for student loan borrowers’ rights on Capitol Hill and at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For the past three years, Mike served as the founding Policy Director and Managing Counsel at SBPC.

Before he left government service to start the SBPC, for seven years, Mike was the CFPB’s lead subject-matter expert on higher education and consumer protection. He advised all aspects of the Bureau’s work related to student lending, servicing, debt collection, and oversight of for-profit colleges. From 2015 to 2017, Mike also served as a Deputy Assistant Director of the Bureau, leading the day-to-day operations of the Bureau’s Office for Students and Young Consumers.

Prior to joining the staff at CFPB, Mike served as a policy advisor to Congressman John Sarbanes (MD-03), where he assisted in the passage of legislation creating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and worked on the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. 

Mike’s work on behalf of student loan borrowers has appeared in national print publications and broadcast media, including The New York Times, BBC, National Public Radio, Politico, and The Washington Post.

Mike holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy from George Washington University, and a JD from the Marshall-Wythe Law School at the College of William and Mary. As a law student, Mike worked in the Office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education.


Persis Yu, Deputy Executive Director & Managing Counsel

Persis Yu is the SBPC’s deputy executive director and managing counsel. Persis is a nationally recognized expert on student loan law and has over a decade of hands-on experience representing student loan borrowers.

Persis was previously a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center and the director of its Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, where she led a team of attorneys to advocate on behalf of low-income student loan borrowers. She co-authored NCLC’s legal treatise, Student Loan Law, and was a contributing author to the treatises Fair Credit Reporting, Consumer Credit Regulation, and Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices.

Prior to joining NCLC, Persis was a Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellow at Empire Justice Center in Rochester, New York. Her fellowship project focused on credit reporting issues facing low-income consumers, specifically in the areas of accuracy, housing, and employment. Persis is a graduate of Seattle University School of Law, and holds a Masters of Social Work from the University of Washington, and a Bachelor of Arts from Mount Holyoke College.


Ella Azoulay, Research & Policy Analyst

Ella Azoulay is a Research & Policy Analyst at the Student Borrower Protection Center. Prior to joining the SBPC, Ella was the policy and outreach specialist for Higher Education at the Center for American Progress. She had also served as the program associate at Generation Progress, and managed the Higher Ed, Not Debt campaign. Ella previously organized on electoral campaigns, including Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign in Iowa. Ella earned a B.A. from New York University.


Aissa Canchola Banez, Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy

Aissa Canchola Banez is the Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy at the Student Borrower Protection Center. She brings a decade of experience in Congress, Executive Agencies and advocacy working to advance policy solutions to improve the lives of workers and families and create a more just and equitable society. Prior to joining the SBPC, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) where she led the Congresswoman’s policy work, including efforts to protect borrowers and make student loan debt cancellation a reality.  

Previously, Aissa led outreach and engagement efforts for the Office for Students and Young Consumers at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Prior to joining the CFPB, Aissa served as a Policy Advisor for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee under the leadership of former Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) where she worked on higher education, college access and affordability issues. Prior to joining the staff of the Senate HELP Committee, she worked for Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

Aissa holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and American studies from California State University, Fullerton, where her passion for higher education policy and advocacy began. As a student leader, she helped lead the California State Student Association and helped spearhead campaigns to address the rising costs of college and the need to reinvest in public higher education.

Aissa currently serves on the Board of Directors for the California State University DC Scholars Program which provides professional development opportunities for students to study, live and intern in the nation’s capital.


Winston Berkman-Breen, Deputy Director of Advocacy & Policy Counsel

Winston Berkman-Breen is the Deputy Director of Advocacy & Policy Counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center. Prior to joining the SBPC, Winston was the Director of Consumer Advocacy and Student Loan Advocate at the Department of Financial Services. In this role, he proposed and advanced consumer protection policies and advised on consumer matters across the agency’s business units, including regulatory action and enforcement investigations, with a particular focus on student loan and debt collection policy. He also served as a point of contact for individual consumers seeking assistance, and worked closely with advocacy organizations in New York and across the country.

Prior to joining DFS, Winston worked in legal services, with a focus on affirmative and defensive litigation related to debt collection, student loans, and foreclosure. He was a Justice Catalyst Fellow and Staff Attorney with the Consumer Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group, and was a Fellow with the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.


Amy Czulada, Outreach & Advocacy Manager

Amy Czulada is the Outreach & Advocacy Manager at the Student Borrower Protection Center. Previously, Amy was a Research Analyst at 32BJ SEIU in New York City. Prior to her work at SEIU, Amy was heavily involved in research and activism around wage theft in the greater Denver area and was also part of the Sanctuary movement in Denver. She graduated with her master’s degree in International Studies from the Josef Korbel School at the University of Denver and has a bachelor’s degree English and Spanish from La Salle University, Philadelphia.


Jackie Filson, Head of Communications

Jackie Filson is head of communications at the Student Borrower Protection Center. She oversees the team’s press strategy, content creation, digital outreach, and messaging. Previously, she spent her time going after monopolies as communications director for the Open Markets Institute. Before that, she was at Food & Water Watch, communicating about the need for safe and affordable water for all people and the crimes of factory farms. 

She has a bachelor’s degree in English and Human Rights from the University of Connecticut (because in-state tuition was a better option than a lifetime of student debt!). She is now based in Brooklyn, NY. For media inquiries, you can reach her at jackie@protectborrowers.org or (917) 310-4938.


Brandon Herrera, Communications and Digital Coordinator

Brandon Herrera is the Communications and Digital Coordinator at the Student Borrower Protection Center. Prior to joining SBPC, he was a Digital Assistant at GMMB, focusing largely on the Biden-Harris 2020 digital paid media account. Before GMMB, he spent time in organizing as Regional Organizing Director of Arizona’s sixth congressional district for Organizing Together 2020, Field Organizer in Iowa and Michigan for Elizabeth Warren, and Field Organizer in Iowa for Kamala Harris. He started out his political career at Subject Matter as a Government Relations intern and in the Connecticut General Assembly as Legislative Assistant Intern to CT Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey. Brandon holds a B.S. in Political Science (Political Theory concentration) and Economics from Trinity College.


Chris Hicks, Senior Policy Advisor

Chris Hicks is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Student Borrower Protection Center. Prior to joining the SBPC, Chris worked at the American Federation of Teachers and Jobs With Justice. His work focuses on intersection of consumer and worker protections, and how corporations and financial institutions impact working people. He has authored numerous policy papers and reports that evaluated the Department of Education’s oversight of financially troubled for-profit colleges, highlighted the need for robust state oversight and enforcement on student loan servicing, and investigated state laws that revoked teaching and nursing licenses due to student loan defaults. Originally from Wichita, Kansas, Chris earned his BA from Wichita State University.


Ben Kaufman, Director of Research & Investigations

Ben Kaufman is the Director of Research & Investigations at the Student Borrower Protection Center. At SBPC, he previously worked as Head of Investigations & Senior Policy Advisor, and as Policy & Research Associate. Before joining SBPC, Ben worked as a Director’s Financial Analyst at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and in investment banking at JPMorgan. Ben earned his BA and MA in Public Policy at Stanford, writing undergraduate and graduate theses on issues in consumer finance.


Amber Saddler, Counsel

Amber Saddler is Counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center. Prior to joining the SBPC, Amber was the Dorot Fellow at the Alliance for Justice. In this role, she researched and prepared reports on the records of potential judicial nominees, monitored Congressional proceedings for confirmations to the federal judiciary, and wrote about Supreme Court and lower federal court decisions affecting civil rights and access to justice issues. Amber joined AFJ after graduating from the Howard University School of Law in May 2020. As a student-attorney with the Howard Clinical Law Center, she represented low-income adults charged with criminal misdemeanors in the District of Columbia Superior Court and advocated for education policy reform for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland. She also spent semesters working on education law and policy at KIPP DC and the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education. Prior to law school, Amber worked on policies to improve higher education access and quality at a consulting firm off Capitol Hill, investigated for The D.C. Public Defender Service, and designed programming to support low-income students in the Washington metropolitan area with education non-profits, including AmeriCorps.


Claire Torchiana, Counsel

Claire Torchiana is a Counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center. Prior to SBPC, Claire was an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) where she focused on issues around federal student loan debt. She engaged primarily in direct legal services; in addition to impact litigation and policy advocacy. Prior to working at HERA, Claire provided direct services for a year at her law school’s Community Law Clinic, in addition to completing internships at the California Attorney General’s Office; the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office and the National Housing Law Project in San Francisco. Claire earned her J.D. at Stanford Law School.


Kat Welbeck, Director of Advocacy & Civil Rights Counsel

Kat Welbeck is the Director of Advocacy and the Civil Rights Counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center. She was previously an Outreach and Engagement Specialist in the CFPB’s Office of Public Engagement and Community Liaison. Prior to her work at the Bureau, Kat taught fourth grade in Houston, TX as a Teach for America Corps Member.

Kat currently serves as a DC Program Director of Rising Leaders, Inc., a nonprofit mentoring program that empowers middle school students through high-quality mentorship and leadership development training. Kat is also the Director of Engagement on the Rising Leaders, Inc. Board of Directors. She holds a B.A. from Princeton University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.


Claire Stein-Ross, Senior Advisor for Operations and Strategy

Claire Stein-Ross is a consultant to the Student Borrower Protection Center, advising on operations, planning, and strategy. Through her firm, CSR Operations LLC, she works with political and non-profit clients to maximize their organizational and human resources. In 2018, Claire served as Operations Director for the DCCC’s independent expenditure program. She previously  worked for Senator Martin Heinrich, first in New Mexico on his campaign and then for more than five years in his DC office, after beginning her career in political polling at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.


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