Mike Pierce, Executive Director
Mike Pierce is Executive Director and co-founder of the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC). SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance racial and economic justice. Mike is also co-founder of the Student Loan Law Initiative at University of California, the nation’s only academic center focused solely on student debt and the law.
Mike is an attorney, advocate, and former senior regulator who co-founded SBPC after more than a decade fighting for student loan borrowers’ rights on Capitol Hill and at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 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.
Mike is licensed to practice law in Maryland.
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.
Persis is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts and New York, and is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States, the District of Massachusetts, the Western District of New York, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
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 Bañez, Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy
Aissa Canchola Bañez 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, Legal Director
Winston Berkman-Breen is the Legal Director 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.
Winston is licensed to practice law in New York.
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 in 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 firstname.lastname@example.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. He leads SBPC’s work on employer-driven debt, where he focuses on intersection of competition, consumer, and worker protections. Prior to joining SBPC, Chris worked for several labor unions and workers’ rights organizations in various capacities. Originally from Wichita, Kansas, Chris earned his bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University.
Khandice Lofton, Counsel
Khandice Lofton is Counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center. Prior to joining SBPC, Khandice was a Staff Attorney at Legal Aid of West Virginia where she represented low-income, vulnerable West Virginians in a variety of civil cases involving housing, divorce, child custody, and unemployment issues. Khandice joined LAWV after graduating from the University of Dayton School of Law in May of 2021, where she was a recipient of the Brother Raymond Fitzgerald Student Leader for Justice Award and the Graduate Student Showcase Award for Outstanding Community Service. As a student, Khandice worked as a Legal Intern with the University of Dayton Civil Law Clinic where she represented low-income adults and adolescents with immigration and juvenile matters. Khandice also worked as a Legal Extern with the Supreme Court of Ohio in then-Justice Sharon Kennedy’s chambers, conducting research and drafting legal memorandums on a variety of criminal and civil legal issues that were in front of the Court. She spent time during law school interning with Legal Aid of North Carolina, volunteering with Legal Aid of Western Ohio, and mentoring minority students with the Law and Leadership Institute.
Khandice is licensed to practice law in West Virginia and Ohio.
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.
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. Prior to joining the SBPC, she worked in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s External Affairs Division.
Before beginning her legal career, Kat taught fourth grade in Houston, Texas. Kat currently serves as a DC Program Director and Board Member of Rising Leaders, Inc., a mentoring and leadership development program for middle school students. She holds an A.B. in Sociology and Certificate in African American Studies from Princeton University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Kat is licensed to practice law in Texas.