Meet our summer interns: Mayan Essak, Nathan Niemeyer, Davin Skalinder, Lucas Swank, Alex Zacharczenko, Jill Zhe Zhang

FFRF has six new interns working at its Madison, Wis., office this summer, including five in the legal department. (Missing is Chris Line, here this summer but featured previously.) Here are their profiles.

Name: Mayan Essak.
Where and when I was born: Madison in 1996.
Family: Parents Sam and Jen (former plaintiffs!), younger brother and sister.
Education: Sophomore at Lawrence University with double major of piano performance and mathematics.
My religious upbringing was: Jewish.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: Wanted a summer experience away from home (Milwaukee) and love FFRF — a perfect fit!
What I do here: Research projects for attorneys.
What I like best about it: The positive atmosphere! Everyone here believes in the cause and takes pride in working for it.
My future goals: To come up with some good future goals.
These three words sum me up: Indecisive, thoughtful, lucky.
Things I like: Running, biking, eating, thrift shopping.
Things I smite: Walking, inefficient group interactions.
I wish you’d asked me: Cats or dogs?

Name: Nathan Niemeyer.
Where I was born: Jefferson City, Mo.
Family: Parents Les and Brenda; siblings Zach, Michaela and Allie.
Education: B.A. in philosophy and anthropology from UW-Stevens Point, currently at UW-Madison Law School.
My religious upbringing was: Very Catholic.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: UW-Law’s Wisconsin Public Interest Interview Program.
What I do here: Research and draft legal complaints.
What I like best about it: Learning random trivia about the country, such as that Arkansas has quorum courts instead of county boards.
My legal interests are: Civil liberties litigation and legal history.
My legal heroes are: Louis Brandeis and Hugo Black.
My future goals: Work for individuals’ right to privacy, visit all of the New Seven Wonders of the World (already have checked off Machu Picchu).
These three words sum me up:
Epistemology, sesquipedalophile, zymurgy.
Things I like: Bikes, cooking, brewing.
Things I smite: 24-hour cable news networks.

Name: Davin Skalinder.
Where and when I was born: Fortuna, Calif., in 1976.
Family: Sister, Brenna.
Education: Undergrad: Columbia University 2004–08; JD: University of Michigan 2015–18.
My religious upbringing was: Atheist.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: It offered me the job!
What I do here: Write letters to schools and police departments asking them to stop dragging Jesus into everything. I hope it works.
What I like best about it: Keeps me off the streets during the day. I would only get into trouble.
My legal interests are: Contracts, compliance, arbitration and mediation.
My legal heroes are: The Sioux Nation, for refusing to take the money they won in a lawsuit against the United States for violating the Fort Laramie Treaty and stealing the Black Hills.
My future goals: Survive law school, get a truly decent job, and buy a really nice car — like a Bentley.
These three words sum me up: Misanthrope, indigent, outraged.
Things I like: Ice cream, rain squalls, Oregon coast, Chief Joseph, road trips, Bentleys.
Things I smite: Racists and other “-ists” of that ilk.
I wish you’d asked me: How many M&Ms can I fit in my mouth at one time? (Hint: It’s a lot. Like, a LOT).

Name: Lucas Swank.
Where and when I was born: Wisconsin in 1993.
Education: B.A. in history and political science with certificates in Southeast Asian and European studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
My religious upbringing was: Occasionally going to church when we visited my grandparents on my mom’s side.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: I have an interest in First Amendment litigation and thought it would be a good place to get my feet wet in the area.
What I do here: Draft complaint letters and research a variety of topics for projects FFRF is working on.
What I like best about it: I have been able to work on issues in various areas of the law, which helps to keep the work from becoming monotonous.
My legal interests are: I am currently torn between criminal law and First Amendment work — free speech in particular.
My legal heroes are: There is no one I emulate, but characteristics of certain figures I respect. For example, I agree with FDR’s approach to constitutional interpretation and appreciated Justice Scalia’s candor on the bench.
My future goals: Use the skills I am developing in law school to eventually help people, whatever form that might take.
These three words sum me up: Not dead yet.
Things I like: Everything Wisconsin, English folk-punk, battle rap, wearing a suit.
Things I smite: Selfishness and hypocrisy.
I wish you’d asked me: To discuss the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Name: Alex Zacharczenko.
Where and when I was born: Albany, N.Y., in 1991; grew up in Ballston Lake, N.Y.
Family: Parents Dr. Nicholas (dentist) and Sherelyn (pharmacist); sister Brigette Zacharczenko.
Education: B.A. in history from Brown University; currently attending Duke University School of Law.
My religious upbringing was: Totally secular. I don’t remember my parents ever bringing up religion, either for or against. Neither of my parents are atheists, although my sister and I are. The only times I went to church were for funerals.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: I think that the separation of state and church is extremely important, and pursuing the kind of work that FFRF does is what primarily drove me to go to law school.
What I do here: Research and draft complaint letters. Also, background legal research for staff attorneys.
What I like best about it: Having an actual impact on keeping religion separate from government.
My legal interests are: Constitutional law, the First Amendment, the Establishment Clause, separation of state and church.
My legal heroes are: Any lawyer who advocates for complete separation of state and church.
My future goals: To significantly strengthen the wall of separation between church and state as a lawyer.
These three words sum me up: Legally blind atheist.
Things I like: FFRF, sprinting, reading fiction, gaming, Star Wars.
Things I (would like to?) smite: Religious fundamentalists, especially megachurch pastors and creationists.
I wish you’d asked me: What my favorite color is. (I don’t have one, because I’m totally colorblind.)

Name: Jill Zhe Zhang.
Where and when I was born: China in 1994.
Family: Parents and three siblings.
Education: Sarah Lawrence College.
My religious upbringing was: Buddhist.
How I came to work as an FFRF intern: I noticed the work in Career Services at Sarah Lawrence College. I’m interested in human rights and a lot of social issues.
I grew up in a Buddhist family but the education system in China in general doesn’t provide any religion education, partly because Marxism promotes atheism and the Chinese government highly encourages a separation of religion and education. Governors and party members have to be atheists and free from religion. Even though there are some religious events in my hometown, it is more like a tradition and celebration. After studying in the United States, I encountered people with different religions and diverse backgrounds. I started to notice the impact of religion and am interested in the notion of atheism.
What I do here: As editorial intern, I write and compile Freethoughts of the Day and help the editor with an archiving project.
What I like best about it: I really appreciate reading the freethinkers’ and atheists’ speeches and about their experiences.
My interests are: Art and architecture, reading and writing.
My future goals: I’m planning to study architecture and continue my social sciences studies.
These three words sum me up: Composed, weird and skeptical.
Things I like: Arts, literature, sports, good food with close friends, vacations!
Things I smite: Boring movies, annoying upstarts and a gloomy and inefficient day.

Freedom From Religion Foundation