Ariana Cernius (J.D. ’17, ’21)
Public Interest Attorney
This isn’t her first fellowship. While she was a student at UCLA School of Law, Ariana Cernius authored several research papers on disability, discrimination and economic justice. Upon graduating, she accepted a prestigious two-year Skadden fellowship to fund her work at legal aid organization Bet Tzedek, where she represented low-income developmentally disabled adults in subsistence benefits claims against the Social Security Administration.
That work prompted Cernius to take a harder look at housing equity and fairness for disabled individuals, and she chose to earn her MBA at UCLA Anderson in large part because of the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate’s focus on affordable housing initiatives. Having worked for homelessness prevention and now striving to prevent developmentally disabled people from experiencing homelessness, Cernius knows first hand that safe, supportive permanent housing has to be advocated for.
Cernius’ inspiration is her autistic younger brother Andrew, who is also a brain cancer survivor. “He lives the wisest, fullest life of anyone I know,” she told Poets & Quants. He reminds her of Coach John Wooden, an unconventional basketball coach whose legacy is the positive ripple effect that just one life gracefully lived can have on so many others. “Being authentically yourself and living with fortitude and friendship,” she says, are her brother’s strengths as well.
Cernius sees how people with “invisible disabilities” are underestimated when they become adults. “These individuals are capable of so much but have fallen through the cracks and are struggling to find appropriate options,” says Cernius. She is now working with HUD-assisted participants in the Family Self-Sufficiency program to connect them with job opportunities that will increase earning capacity so they may overcome housing constraints.