Fellows elect officers from among themselves to act as liaisons to the Blackburn Institute staff and the Advisory Board. These officers serve two-year terms, based on the academic calendar (August to July of even years). Officers are expected to participate actively in Institute events and attend Advisory Board meetings, as well as build programs and opportunities to support the mission of the Blackburn Institute.


  • Acts as the official spokesperson for the Fellows.
  • Provides general leadership and presides over all meetings of Fellows.
  • Responsible for overall coordination of the network’s activities, goal-setting, fundraising plan, and reporting.
  • Serves as the liaison between Fellows and communicates regularly with the institute staff and Chairperson of the Advisory Board.
  • Provides updates to the Advisory Board at its semi-annual meetings.
  • Solicit volunteers for and create positions (e.g. Regional Coordinators and/or Class Coordinators) as necessary to extend the reach and impact of the Fellows Involvement Network.
  • Assumes responsibility for the Fellows’ continued development through participation in Institute activities.

Akiesha Anderson

Mrs. Akiesha Anderson (akiesha.anderson@gmail.com) is a Montgomery, AL native that received her law degree from the University of Alabama in 2017. She currently serves as the Policy Director for Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. In this role, she focuses on policy development, legislative advocacy, coalition building, and engaging with elected officials. Prior to attending UA, Akiesha received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Alabama State University and a Master’s in degree in Public Administration from Auburn University-Montgomery. Upon completing her J.D., she also received a Certificate in Government Affairs from UA Law. Over the years, she’s had the honor of working with several civil rights organizations, elected officials, a university, and a think tank: the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Human Rights Campaign (HRC), U.S. Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (AL-07), the Montgomery County Commission, UCLA School of Law, and the Williams Institute. Beyond the Blackburn Institute, Akiesha is a member of several other community and service-oriented organizations including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; she also serves as co-chair for the Alabama Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and as Legal Redress Chair for the Montgomery Metro Chapter of the NAACP.

Internal Vice-Chairperson

  • Manages activities that are related to events intended solely for Fellows.
  • Coordinates with institute staff on the assessment of the network and Fellows’ activities.
  • Coordinates the gathering of information for use by institute staff on the website and in publications.
  • Internally publicizes all Institute activities and personal achievements of Blackburn Fellows through social media and, with the support of the Chairperson, e-mail.
  • Works closely with the Chairperson of the Student Selection Committee of the Advisory Board to encourage the involvement of Fellows in the selection of new students and scholarship and award recipients.

Olivia BensingerPhoto of Olivia Bensinger

Olivia Bensinger (ofbensinger@gmail.com) is from Troy, Alabama and a 2014 graduate of the University of Alabama. Olivia received a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from New College, for which she focused on Ecological Economics. She also majored in Spanish and minored in Latin American Studies. While at UA, Olivia was involved in the Environmental Council, working primarily to bring local, organic food to campus dining halls. Immediately after graduation, Olivia attended Harvard Law School, where she served as a managing editor of the Harvard Environmental Law Review. Right after law school, Olivia spent a little over two years as a litigation associate at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP in New York City. Then she moved to Huntsville to clerk for Judge Lynwood Smith in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama for about eighteen months. Olivia has most recently moved with her husband, Andrew Key, and two dogs, Rosie and Ellie, to Hanover, New Hampshire, where she works as an attorney at Shaheen & Gordon, P.A.

External Vice-Chairperson

  • Manages activities that are related to events involving students and other non-Fellows. (This would include, for example, opportunities for involvement at the summer networking event. Additionally, this individual would be responsible for promoting campus-based institute events open to Fellows.)
  • Provides appropriate external individuals, departments, and media with relevant information (e.g. press releases, event descriptions, and post-event summaries) regarding Fellows’ activities and events.
  • Works closely with the Chairperson of the Policy and Finance Committee of the Advisory Board to encourage the involvement of Fellows in identifying external sources of financial support for the institute.

Aaron HowardPhoto of Aaron Howard

Aaron Howard (aaron@cloudfinancial.com) graduated from UA in 2016 with a double major in Finance and Economics.  Upon graduation he was a part of a leadership and entrepreneurship training program at Chick-fil-A back in his hometown of “The Shoals” in northwest Alabama.  However, instead of pursuing store ownership, as he originally planned, he decided to stay in Alabama and pursue a career in financial advising.  He now works at a local firm in Huntsville, Alabama called Cloud Financial that specializes in retirement planning.  He is also involved in his local church, Chapel, which has a strong focus on making an impact in the local community through its food bank, drug rehab, and student tutoring/mentorship programs. He and his wife, Layla, live in Tuscumbia and are proud owners of two German Shepherds, Mozart and Mona Lisa. Their family is about to get a little bit bigger! They are expecting a baby boy, Caanan Ray Howard, in late August 2020.