Invitation for the 7th Annual LEAD Gala on a blue background. There are festive white and yellow decorations for latino heritage.

Latino Excellence and Achievement Awards Dinner

The Latino Excellence and Achievement Awards Dinner (LEAD) honors key leaders, graduate students, staff and faculty who support and champion student success and research excellence in the Hispanic/Latinx community at UCI and in Orange County. The Latino Excellence and Achievement Awards was the inspiration of PhD in Education graduate Verónica Ahumada Newhart, who believed the time had arrived to celebrate the accomplishments of UCI’s Latinx community.

The 7th Annual Latino Excellence and Achievement Dinner (LEAD) on Thursday, April 4, 2024 at the Pacific Ballroom, UCI Student Center. We are honored to host Alumni Regent Designate Alfonso Salazar as the keynote speaker.  The reception followed by dinner and program will begin at 6 p.m.

LEAD Awards



Johanna Romo for LEAD. Black and white photograph of Johanna smiling and leaning to the right while wearing a denim jacket

Johanna Romo

Claire Trevor School of the Arts | Graduate Student Excellence Award 

Johanna Sophia Romo is a first-generation Latina MFA student, and the first in her immediate and extended family to be earning a Master’s degree. Her graduate training involves theoretical and practical experience in theatrical stage management, which involves coordinating and communicating with several departments, supervisors, faculty, design elements and designers, cast, crew, and director(s) of every production. Prior to attending and while attending UCI, she has worked at the following companies: Los Angeles Opera, South Coast Repertory, Disney+, Hashtag You’re It, Music Academy of the West, the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theatre (REDCAT), About…Productions, Boston Lyric Opera, The Wayward Artist, The Industry LA, and more. She will earn her MFA in Drama, emphasis in Stage Management, from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts in June 2025. 

Daughter to her Peruvian mother, Diana, and Mexican father, Javier, Johanna is keenly aware of how much the arts impact and shape people’s perspectives of the “other”, and how theatre can make a difference in portraying stories that are not always white/Anglo-centric. Johanna hopes to engender easier pathways for People of Color to share their stories through the arts without fear of repercussion.


Photo of Barbara Martinez Neda for LEAD. Barbara has long blonde hair and a black winter jacket while posing in front of a tunnel of white holiday lights

Barbara Martinez-Neda

Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences | Excellence in Research Award

Barbara Martinez Neda is a PhD Candidate in the department of Computer Science. She  works in the Teaching and Learning in Computing lab under the mentorship of Dr. Sergio Gago Masague and Dr. Jennifer Wong-Ma. Inspired by her own experiences as an undergrad, her research focuses on understanding and developing computational tools for early identification of  students’ challenges in CS. 

Barbara is also part of multiple mentorship programs. In the TLC Lab, she mentors undergraduate Dream Project Fellows as they begin their journeys with research in CS. Outside  the lab, Barbara is a Scholar-in-Residence mentor at the UCI Dream Center, where she supports the post-graduation and professional development of students impacted by immigration laws and  policies.


Photo of Cody Gonzalez for LEAD. Cody has short, dark hair and wears a white polo sweater while posing in front of an air plane with an American Flag and large text that says "United States"

Cody Gonzalez

Henry Samueli School of Engineering | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Cody Gonzalez grew up a SoCal native in San Pedro, California, the son of hard-working Salvadorean and Mexican immigrant parents; a seamstress and a handyman. He graduated from Cal Poly, Pomona with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, and went on to work in aerodynamics for Team Penske and Chevy before returning to academia. He is currently a fifth-year PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC Irvine, specializing in fluid mechanics in Professor Haithem Taha's Aerodynamics, Dynamics and Control Laboratory. While at UCI, Cody has been distinguished as a Eugene Cota-Robles Scholar, awarded a NASA Fellowship, and twice recognized for his contributions alongside Professor Taha in the articles "Pursuit of `Useless` Knowledge Leads to New Theory of Lift," and "Taha Extends New Theory of Lift to Fluid Mechanics," respectively acknowledging the widely-read article in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics: "A Variational Theory of Lift," and the Physics of Fluids article "A Minimization Principle for Incompressible Fluid Mechanics." As a non-traditional student, Cody credits his father's influence towards nurturing independent thought, creativity, and curiosity that would underly his philosophy as a scientific researcher.


Photo of Zachary Velazquez for LEAD. Zachary wears a black button up with a black tie and jacket, and gray pants. The background is an outdoor hallway with columns

Zachary Velazquez

Paul Merage School of Business | Leadership Award

Zachary Velazquez is an ambitious and dedicated Masters of Finance student at the Paul Merage School of Business. Born to a vibrant family with roots in both Mexico and Portugal, Zachary carries the rich tapestry of his heritage with pride, allowing it to shape his worldview and fuel his passion for fostering growth within the Latinx community. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics with a concentration in finance, from California State University Long Beach. He has embraced the role of a graduate ambassador, utilizing the position to reach out and connect with various Latinx communities. His efforts have been centered on encouraging and guiding students to explore the myriad opportunities available at the business school, demonstrating a deep commitment to lifting others as he climbs. Zach's engagement as a section representative highlights his commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive environment for all students. It reflects his understanding of the importance of nurturing close-knit communities for academic and personal growth. Through this role, he has been instrumental in organizing events, facilitating discussions, and serving as a liaison between students and faculty, ensuring that the voices of his peers are heard and valued. This comprehensive approach to leadership and community engagement embodies Zach's holistic vision for the Latinx community at UCI and beyond. He is driven by a desire to give back to his community, aspiring to be a beacon of support and inspiration for Latinos interest in the realm of business and beyond. His journey is marked by resilience, dedication and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

Headshot photo of Alysia Cruz for LEAD. Alysia wears a black shirt and burgandy lipstick while posing in front of a rustic brick wall

Alysia Cruz

School of Education | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Alysia Cruz is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). She is a first-generation college student, born and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent. Alysia earned her Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Drexel University and her Master's degree in Developmental Psychology from Lehigh University. Her research focuses on how caregivers, families, and cultural values shape the social, emotional, and moral development of U.S. Latine children and adolescents. She strives to comprehend prosocial and moral development in ethnic-racial minoritized youth in order to address existing social disparities and injustices faced by these youth. Alysia has published six research publications, book chapters, and has seventeen professional, domestic and international conference presentations. Alysia's dissertation centers on developing and evaluating a new measure of bien educado, a core Latine cultural value, to deepen our understanding of its influence on youth development. Alysia has dedicated herself to leadership, mentorship, inclusive excellence, and sustainability efforts at UCI, participating in the UCI Zot Exchange, the Palo Verde Residents Council, UAW2865 School of Education Department Steward, Competitive Edge, The Peoples Coalition, Diverse Educational Community and Doctoral Experience (DECADE) campus-wide representative, and the DECADE Inclusive Excellence committee.


Photo of Jeanie Toscano for LEAD. Jeanie wears a green blazer and gold earrings while posing in front of a flowering plant

Jeanie Toscano

School of Humanities | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Jeanie Ruth Candelaria Toscano, a doctoral candidate in Spanish & Portuguese at UC Irvine, originates from Culiacán, Sinaloa, México, where her early imagination was shaped by cultural narratives grappling with the complexities of drug trafficking and related violence in Northern Mexico. Inspired by this cultural backdrop, her research delves into contemporary Mexican narco-themed narratives, including narcocorridos (traditional folk ballads about drug trafficking) and narcoliterature (novels about the drug trafficking underworld), as platforms for expressing dissent, disenchantment and longings for empowerment in a postmodern, late-capitalist society. Her work critically examines the contestatory potential of these controversial genres against hegemonic discourses surrounding systemic geopolitical violence along the US-Mexico borderlands.

Jeanie is a recipient of the Fletcher Jones Foundation Fellowship, Graduate Completion Fellowship, UC Regents Fellowship and Fulbright Fellowship. Her poetry has been featured in the California Quarterly of the California Poetry Society and Goldscript Publishing.

At UCI, Jeanie has been an advocate for inclusion, serving as a DECADE Representative, DTEI Pedagogical Fellow, Higher Education Fellow, and Graduate Peer Mentor. Through her involvement in the Chicanx Latinx Staff Association, she has provided mentorship to first-generation Latinx undergraduates and organized informative sessions on navigating graduate school applications and securing funding. Additionally, Jeanie collaborated with peers in her department to launch UCI's first Spanglish Creative Writing Contest, celebrating linguistic innovation and hybridity in Latinx identities.

Jeanie is the founder of Académiques Latinxs, an interdisciplinary academic support network for Latinx graduate students and alumni, for which she earned recognition by the Office of Inclusive Excellence. This initiative aims to foster community and belonging among Latinx scholars through peer-mentoring and structured writing sessions. This multilingual space embraces Spanish, English, and Spanglish as vital components of fluid and multifaceted Latinx identities in academia. 

Photo of Veroncia Gonzalez for LEAD. Veronica wears a dark blue blouse and blue jeans while posing in front of a plain gray background

Veronica Gonzalez

School of Social Ecology | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Veronica Valencia Gonzalez, a Social Ecology doctoral candidate at the University of California  and the eldest of six born to Salvador and Liduvina Gonzalez who migrated from Michoacán,  Mexico to California’s central coast for agricultural work. Her research, inspired by her family's  roots, focuses on the impacts of colonialism and globalization on marginalized communities in  Latin America. This impactful work has garnered accolades from the American Association of  Hispanics in Higher Education, the National Science Foundation, UC MEXUS, and various  criminology societies. 

At UCI, Veronica has contributed to the Department of Criminology, Law & Society, the  DECADE Plus program, and the Associated Graduate Student Board. She’s also involved with  several professional organizations, including the American Sociological Association’s Latina/o  Section, American Society of Criminology, and the Latin American Studies Association, with a  strong commitment to mentoring young scholars from minoritized backgrounds. 

Her community work in Michoacán’s rural areas includes establishing a recycling program  converting plastics into building materials, creating community food gardens, and enhancing an  afterschool program for girls, including parental education on the value of girls’ education. Her  advocacy efforts contributed to revising the Fulbright-Hays Fellowships criteria, promoting  inclusivity for native and heritage language speakers. 

Recently, Veronica accepted an assistant professor position at an R1 institution, continuing her  dedication to mentoring youth from underrepresented backgrounds and researching the  experiences of Latine populations in the rural US South.

Photo of Josue De La Cruz Sevilla for LEAD. Josue wears a black jacket and crosses their arms while posing in front of sting lights at night.

Josue De La Cruz-Sevilla

Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Josue De La Cruz-Sevilla is a second-year master’s student in the Master’s Entry Program in  Nursing (MEPN). Born to Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants, he is a first-generation college  student fueled by a deep-seated passion for helping others. Raised in Long Beach, CA, he  remained in Sothern California for his undergraduate education and attended UCLA graduating  in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a minor in Chicana and Chicano Studies. He also  obtained a certificate in Biotechnology from CSULB in 2020 which included a year-long funded  research internship studying neurodegenerative disease at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.  Additionally, he currently serves as a Scholar-in-Residence (SIR) at the UCI DREAM center,  where he assists undergraduate students dealing with a variety of immigration challenges and provides them with academic and professional development support and guides them through  the exploration and application processes for graduate school. With an unwavering  commitment to compassionate care, community service, and empowerment, he eagerly  anticipates the opportunity to positively impact the healthcare field and continue serving as a  beacon of hope for those in need as a registered nurse. 


Photo of Celina Morales for Lead. Celina has long dark hair and a black blazer while posing in front of a tie-dye blue background

Celina Morales

Program in Public Health | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Celina Morales, a third-year doctoral student in the Public Health Program, is a first-generation American born to Salvadoran and Mexican immigrants. Early in life, she encountered the complexities of the US healthcare system, recognizing the various barriers limiting access to quality care. These formative experiences serve as the cornerstone of her research agenda, which focuses on the delicate interaction between social-ecological and sociocultural factors in health behaviors and outcomes among underserved communities. At UCI, Celina’s doctoral studies explore how adults utilize both formal and informal strategies to manage common chronic health conditions. Her academic contributions include published articles as well as presentations on this topic. Driven by a commitment to effecting meaningful change, Celina hopes her research findings will inform the development of culturally sensitive interventions and policies urgently needed to address health disparities. 

Celina is deeply appreciative of the support she has received throughout her academic journey, especially through the intensive research training provided by the MARC U-STAR, MBRS-RISE, and MHRT fellowship programs.  Currently, she is a Eugene Cota-Robles Fellow and an Environmental Racism and Health Equity Fellow. Celina is deeply committed to giving back to her community and paying it forward, with a strong hope that future generations of scholars with similar backgrounds can thrive in higher education. She currently serves on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for the Public Health Program at UCI. Additionally, Celina readily serves as a resource to students considering public health careers or pursuing higher education.

Photo of Brenda Rosas for LEAD. Brenda wears a black shirt and black jacket with slicked back hair and poses in front of a plain gray background

Brenda Rosas

School of Law | Leadership Award

Brenda Rosas (she/her/ella) is a third year law student at UC Irvine Law and the proud daughter of Isabel, who migrated from Mexico to Santa Ana, CA and Anaheim, CA where Brenda was born and raised. She is first-generation from high school to law school and her own experiences with the public education system ignited her commitment to challenging systemic issues in education that lead to the pushout of historically excluded students. Brenda is a product of higher education pipeline programs, including the UC Irvine Early Academic Outreach Program and the UC Irvine Law Pre-Law Outreach Program. She understands the importance of mentorship for Latine students who want to pursue higher education and has been involved in and piloted programs with the goal of making higher education accessible and equitable. She has been a leader with the UC Irvine Law Saturday Academy of Law since 2017, a program that introduces ninth grade students from her own community to higher education and the legal profession. She piloted a mentorship program and office hours program between the UC Irvine Latinx Resource Center and the Latinx Law Student Association to support Latine undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing law school. 

Brenda’s approach to lawyering is rooted in community–centering and amplifying directly impacted voices. Brenda’s legal work during law school has focused on education equity, immigrant rights, and issues with policing within Spanish-speaking communities. Her work with these communities led her to advocate for UC Irvine Law to offer a Legal Spanish course. Brenda will begin her career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at ACLU SoCal. She will work alongside the Inland Empire community, a region that is predominantly Latine, immigrant, and Spanish speaking, to challenge the school-to-prison pipeline and the school-to-deportation pipeline. During her fellowship, Brenda will represent students and parents in school discipline proceedings and will advocate for less punitive, supportive, and restorative measures. Through this direct representation, she will identify systemic issues disproportionately affecting Latine and immigrant students and challenge them by leading impact litigation. In addition, she will work with community organizations to develop and advance campaigns to eliminate harmful policies disproportionately affecting Latine and immigrant students. Additionally, she will conduct know-your-rights trainings in English and Spanish to empower students, parents, and the community to enforce their rights. She is proud to work with a community that mirrors her own and is looking forward to joining the 2% of Latina attorneys.


Photo of Alexa Tierno for LEAD. Alexa has red hair and wears a blue striped shirt while posing in front of a marsh with water, grasslands, and cliffs.

Alexa Tierno

School of Medicine | Excellence in Research and Health for the Latino Community Award

Alexa is a fourth year PhD candidate in Dr. Robert Hunt’s lab. Prior to attending UCI, she  received her BS in Neuroscience at UCLA where she worked with Dr. Reggie Edgerton studying  forelimb recovery following spinal cord injury using epidural stimulation. She then earned her  master’s degree in physiological science under the mentorship of Dr. Patricia Phelps at UCLA, continuing her research in spinal interneurons and spinal cord injury. At UCI, Alexa’s PhD work focuses on understanding the structural and functional circuit changes after traumatic brain  injury. She has earned several awards, including the Carl Storm Underrepresented Minority  (CSURM) Fellowship to give a talk at the Gordon Research Conference on Epilepsy in  Barcelona, Spain, and an NINDS F31 fellowship. Outside of lab, Alexa strives to give back to  her Hispanic community; at UCLA, she participated in an outreach education program designed  to teach local high school students at traditionally underserved schools about the effects of  drugs of abuse on the brain. At UCI, she has volunteered at events hosted by ReachOut  TeachOut, an organization designed to immerse local underrepresented high schoolers in  STEM research and careers. Alexa is currently finding ways to establish outreach programs  through the UCI Epicenter and hopes to set an example for aspiring Latinos interested in  pursuing STEM careers.


Photo of Esau Ladisola Medina for LEAD. Esau is wearing a blye button up and has a gray hoodie in front of a doorway

Esau Ladislao Medina

School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Esau L. Medina is a first-generation PhD candidate at the School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences. Under the mentorship of Dr. John C. Chaput, his research focuses on the use of synthetic genetic polymers, also referred to as XNA, to produce nucleic acid antibody mimics to bind user-defined targets with high affinity. Additionally, he is also working on using directed evolution techniques to re-engineer DNA polymerases for the synthesis of non-cognate nucleic acids. Esau was born and raised in Orange County, California and attended Fullerton College and UCI for his undergraduate studies, receiving a B.S. in Biological Sciences. As an undergrad, he participated in the NIH-IMSD program which supported him to explore various research topics such as antibiotic resistance in bacteria, spinal cord injury models in rats, and the impact of the endocannabinoid system on age-related memory deficits. Thanks to the guidance and support from the NIH-IMSD program directors at UCI, Esau was able to become the first member in his family to pursue a Doctoral degree.


Photo of Victoria Knapp Perez. Victoria poses with long brown hair and a gray turtleneck shirt infront of a tree and brick wall

Victoria Knapp Pérez

School of Physical Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Victoria was born and raised in Mexico City. Her interest in particle physics began during high school when she started reading popular physics books and participated in the physics olympiad from the high school system of The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Victoria earned her bachelor’s in physics at UNAM in 2020. During her undergraduate  studies, she did a research summer stay at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy, where she studied isocurvature constraints on QCD axion dark matter. She worked on modeling the phase transition of Quantum Chromodynamics as her undergraduate thesis, which became a publication in a peer-reviewed journal. She joined the UCI Ph.D. program in the fall of 2021, where she works with Professors Mu-Chun Chen and Michael Ratz  on neutrino model-building, dark matter, and cosmology. Under their supervision, Victoria has  published three articles and one review in peer-reviewed journals. During her first year, she won  the Outstanding Graduate Student Award in the Physics and Astronomy department, which is  given annually to one or two first-year graduate students for an outstanding scholarship.  Recently, she was selected as a Lindau Nobel Meetings Fellow from the University of  California. This fellowship will allow her to meet Nobel laureates in Lindau during the summer  of 2024. Besides her research, Victoria also mentors first-year graduate students toward a  smoother transition during graduate school through the PACE (Physics & Astronomy Community Excellence) program. In the future, Victoria plans to become a professor at an academic institution where she can create an environment where everyone can pursue a path in academia.


Photo of Julybeth Murillo for LEAD. Julybeth wears a black shirt and sits in in a wood chair in front of a stone wall with books and glass bottles

Julybeth Murillo

School of Social Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Julybeth Murillo is a Sociology Ph.D. student at the University of California Irvine. She is the first in her family to graduate high school and continue her education. Her parents are immigrants who moved to the San Joaquin Valley with the American dream of providing access to education, safety, and stability. Julybeth’s research stems from her identity as a first-generation low-income student (FLI) and positionality. Her research focuses on exploring the mobility and integration of Mexican-origin immigrants in the United States. Recently, she has been studying the decision-making processes of Latinx students and the gendered aspects that lead to alternate career pathways and mobility.

At UCI, Julybeth supports the mentorship of first-generation undergraduate and graduate students through various departments and programs in the Chicanx/Latinx and Sociology department, DECADE, Graduate Division, and UROP. She is passionate about increasing Latinx representation in academia and helping underrepresented minorities achieve their educational goals.

Moreover, as an educator and scholar in the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI), Julybeth is committed to promoting effective teaching practices to enhance the educational experience of students. As a teaching assistant, Julybeth empowers students to reflect on their lived experiences and builds their confidence to be theoretical contributors. 

After completing the Ph.D. program, Julybeth seeks to expand her research on education, mobility, and gender inequities among Latinx origin immigrants and teaching at an institution that supports FLI students and inclusive culturally relevant pedagogical practices.  


Photo of Kathleen Leon for LEAD. Kathleen has curly black hair and a black shirt while standing in front of a blue sky and blue sea.

Kathleen Leon Parada

School of Biological Sciences | Excellence in Research

Kathleen is the oldest daughter to her Salvadorean mother and Guatemalan father who immigrated to the United States. Her parents settled in Long Beach, California where she was born. She grew up in an underserved community facing economic, social, and educational barriers. Despite this, she persevered and was the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree in Molecular Cell Biology and Physiology at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). As an undergraduate she dedicated herself to earning her degree while simultaneously completing two research projects understanding ovarian biology at CSULB and the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign before she decided to pursue a PhD at UCI in the department of Developmental Cell Biology in Dr. Ulrike Luderer’s Laboratory. 

Currently, her thesis is centered on the effects of Benzo(a)pyrene (BaP), an air pollutant produced by tobacco smoke and car exhaust smoke, on prenatal ovarian development. Moreover, she is investigating how heavy ion radiation which is a component of galactic cosmic rays in deep space affect the finite ovarian follicle pool. Her research will be critical for helping NASA understand the effects of spaceflight on the mammalian ovary as they aim to send the first woman to the moon via the Artemis campaign.

She has been deeply motivated by her mentors across her academic journey. It is because of them she is passionate about teaching and community service as she continues to be a dedicated volunteer for UCI’s BioEYEs program that brings a hypothesis driven, genetics learning program to El Sol Academy middle school in Santa Ana. She has served as a volunteer for UCI’s Minority Science Programs and the Long Beach City College Upward Bound program of which she is an alumni. She mentors many undergraduates in her thesis laboratory. These experiences motivate her to become a professor and independent investigator after her PhD. 



Faculty member who mentors and encourages the success of Hispanic and Latino/Latina/Latinx graduate students and junior faculty


Photo of Michelle Digman for LEAD. Michelle is posing in front of a dark blue plain background while wearing a black v-neck and had dark brown hair

Michelle Digman

Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Henry Samueli School of Engineering

Michelle Digman is Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She is currently Co-equity advisor for the Henry Samueli School of Engineering, BME Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs, the Co-I of the Laboratory for Fluorescence Dynamics and Director of W.M. Keck Nanoimaging Lab. She received her MS and PhD in Chemistry from University of Illinois at Chicago and did her postdoctoral work at the University of Illinois, Urban-Champaign in the Department of Physics.

Last year, she was one of two UCI faculty to attend the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities, a meeting to mobilize and build community for Hispanic Women in Physical Sciences and Engineering.  From that conference, she co-led two proposals that were successfully funded. In 2011, she initiated the outreach program for minority community college students and outstanding high school students called Undergraduate Student Initiative for Biomedical Research (USIBR).

Her current research focuses on quantitative spatial and temporal correlation spectroscopy [spec-tros-ko-pe], protein dynamics during cell migration, characterizing metabolic alterations in cells and tissues, and developing novel imaging technologies.

Dr. Digman is a Scialog Fellow and has won the NSF-CAREER award, the Hellman Fellowship, the Biophysical Society’s Fluorescence Young Investigator Award, the Faculty Innovation in Teaching award to name a few. She has coauthored over 90 peer reviewed manuscripts and 6 book chapters.

We celebrate Dr. Digman’s shining example of scholarly excellence, and her commitment to making a positive impact in our community on and off campus, and across academia.



Adria poses in front of a dark background wearing a black dress and several metal necklaces

Adriana Villavicencio

Assistant Professor, School of Education

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the proud daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants and an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of California Irvine. Her research is focused on K-12 educational policy and practice that deepen or disrupt inequities for students who are marginalized because of race, ethnicity, and immigration status. Her award- winning book, Am I My Brother’s Keeper: Educational Opportunities and Outcomes for Black and Brown Boys (Harvard Education Press) examines how policymakers, leaders, and teachers can apply a racial equity lens to transform educational systems. Dr. Villavicencio has received over $12 million in grants from several different funding sources, including the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation. Her work has appeared in a number of peer-reviewed journals, including Educational Policy, Harvard Educational Review, and Teachers College Record. Prior to becoming a researcher, Dr. Villavicencio taught middle and high school English in Brooklyn, New York and Oakland, California. She earned her Ph.D. in Education Leadership and Policy from the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. She also holds an M.A. in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a B.A. in English from Columbia University.


Staff or postdoctoral researcher who displays strong leadership on behalf of UCI's Hispanic and Latino/Latina/Latinx community


Paulina poses in front of trees while wearing a blue blouse and black jacket

Paulina Raygoza

Director, Student Outreach and Retention (SOAR) Center at UCI

Born and raised in Orange County, Paulina Raygoza is a first-generation Mexican American. Throughout her career she has dedicated her work to the unwavering commitment to educational equity and social justice. As an advocate for student agency, recognizing the transformative power of education in breaking cycles of inequality. Her passion led her to immerse herself in Student-Initiated Program spaces, where she worked tirelessly to address systemic barriers hindering historically underrepresented and low-income communities from accessing post-secondary institutions.

As the Director at UCI, Paulina continues to pave the way for student leaders to become catalysts for change in society. Her leadership extends beyond administrative roles; she actively engages with various initiatives, amplifying marginalized voices and fostering inclusive environments. Her involvement in numerous organizations includes her tenure on the leadership board of the Chican@/Latin@ Staff Association as the Mentorship Co-Chair. Currently, she is co-chair of the systemwide Student-Initiated Programs Collective and a member of the K-14 Academic Preparation Leaders Council. Is a part of the Dynamic Womxn’s and the Latino Excellence Achievement Award Dinner planning committees. Additionally, she has served as the Nuestra Grad advisor, UCI’s largest cultural commencement ceremony on campus. She received her M.A. in Education with a concentration on Student Affairs and Educational Justice from Claremont Graduate University. 


Community member who develops and champions UCI and the UCI Hispanic and Latino/Latina/Latinx community

Eva poses in front of a plain gray background while wearing a black shirt and a pendant necklace

Eva Sandoval

Health Equity Coordinator, Getting Residents Engaged in Empowering Neighborhoods – Madison Park Neighborhood Association

Eva is a Mexican American graduate student at the University of California, Irvine, pursuing a master’s in public health. Eva aims to continue making a meaningful impact and fostering healthier, happier communities. Currently serving as the Health Equity Coordinator at GREEN-MPNA (Getting Residents Engaged in Empowering Neighborhoods - Madison Park Neighborhoods), Eva is just one small piece of the puzzle for the resident-driven, community-building organization, collaborating closely with Director Jose Rea, Progra Managers Leonel Flores and Sarahi Gutierrez, and 12 Promotoras. Together, they work on four pillars focused on improving the quality of life for all residents in the Madison Park Neighborhood and surrounding South-East Santa Ana: youth initiatives, safe and clean environment, health equity, and community empowerment. 

Eva's collaboration with PRIME LC, an organization where she worked closely with several physicians to share information about mental health, healthy cooking, and overall wellness, has been a rewarding aspect of her work with GREEN-MPNA. Additionally, GREEN-MPNA partners with various entities such as UCI researchers and community organizations like Abrazar, OCPSC and OCEJ. These collaborations assist on research, events, and community outreach to inform and educate residents about addressing the pillars of GREEN-MPNA's work. This collective effort furthers their mission to enhance the quality of life for all residents in the Madison Park Neighborhood and surrounding South-East Santa Ana.


Alumni who develop and champion UCI and the UCI Hispanic and Latino/Latina/Latinx community


Headshot photo of John in front of a blurred naturescape while wearing a light blue button up shirt and dark jacket

John Tracy

Retired, Chief Technology officer and Senior Vice President of Engineering, Operations & Technology for Boeing 

John J. Tracy started his career in 1976 as a high school math and science teacher in Los Angeles and continued to work and attend school until he graduated from UCI in 1987 with a Ph.D. in Engineering.  From 1981 through his retirement in 2016, he worked for The Boeing Company.  From 2006 through 2016, he was the Boeing chief technology officer and senior vice president of Engineering, Operations & Technology. He was responsible for leading several functions and business organizations comprising more than 100,000 employees.  He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2013 and is an elected Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).  Tracy was named the national Hispanic Engineer of the Year in 2006 and is a member of the Hispanic Engineering National Achievement Awards Hall of Fame.  In 2015, he received the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Renaissance Award.  Since his retirement he has served as a volunteer math tutor at Taller San Jose (Hope Builders) in Santa Ana and at the Orange County Rescue Mission homeless shelter where he also works as a special services coordinator.