Default LEAD

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.

LEAD Awards


LEAD Diana Herrera

Diana Herrera

Claire Trevor School of the Arts | Graduate Student Excellence Award 

Diana Herrera is a first-generation Latinx MFA student and daughter of a single immigrant parent. She will receive her MFA in Lighting Design from Claire Trevor School of the Arts in June 2023. During her time at UCI, Diana has designed various productions, including New Slate, The Seagull, Physical Graffiti, Dance Visions, and the upcoming production of Rent. She also has had the honor to dedicate her time working alongside Brown Bag Theatre Company (BBTC). Brown Bag is the only Lantix theatre company at UCI, and Diana served as the company’s lighting designer, lighting mentor, and supervisor to tell the stories of our community. Being able to use the craft of the arts to support the voices of our gente and celebrate our culture is a catalyst and reminder why she continues to pursue the arts and why the arts are incredibly important. After graduating from UCI, Diana hopes to continue presenting the stories and culture of this community while also reaching under-resourced communities as an artist and educator. One thing that keeps her going is her mother’s saying: “Echandole ganas!”

LEAD Catalina Medina

Catalina Medina

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

Catalina Medina is a fourth-year Statistics PhD student and is the first in her family to pursue a graduate degree. She works in Dr. Volodymyr Minin’s lab to expand statistical methods to investigate infectious disease dynamics utilizing viral genomic data. Reported cases data for a disease of interest is commonly used in infectious disease research because it is more accessible, but a key issue is that this data is only representative of those who have access to and get tested for that disease. Alternatively, viral genomic data can provide insights into the whole population of people infected with the disease. Catalina has also worked with UCI public health professor Dr. Daniel Parker on several projects including researching factors related to COVID-19 testing positivity and mortality among Orange County residents. As a student representative for her department and a mentor in the Statistics Department DECADE mentoring program she works to make it easier for students to navigate and succeed in their pursuit of a graduate degree in statistics. Catalina works Professor Mine Dogucu, who helps to educate and prepare Catalina to become a teacher who actively supports accessibility and inclusion in statistics and data science education.

LEAD Aaron Ramirez

Aaron Ramirez

Henry Samueli School of Engineering | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Aaron Ramirez is the proud son of two Mexican parents. Aaron’s infatuation with science started at a very young age. From the simple curiosity of mixing things like sand, water and oil, grew a participation in science fairs, and eventually matured into an admiration for genetic and protein engineering. Aaron attended UC Riverside where he completed his BS in Chemical and Environmental Engineering. While at UCR he participated in undergraduate research focusing on therapeutic inhibitory antibody engineering for diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. He also was actively involved with organizations such as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Aaron works in Dr. Szu-Wen Wang’s lab in UC Irvine’s Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department. As an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Aaron’s research focuses on vaccine development using a protein nanoparticle scaffold capable of eliciting a targeted adaptive immune response towards antigens of infectious disease. In his time at UCI, Aaron has been active in mentoring and outreach programs such as Fabrication Camp (FABCamp), an event where graduate students lead groups of underrepresented local middle school students and introduce them to engineering disciplines through projects that teach STEM concepts. Aaron has said, “The reason why these events are so special to me is because of the joy and genuine interest I see from the students. To see their fascination in science and learning is truly a sight to be seen.” In addition, Aaron has mentored numerous high school students for science fair projects and currently advises two undergraduate students in the lab. Along his journey, Aaron has been a part of 7 publications and has been a recipient of the Rose Hills Foundation Science & Engineering Fellowship and Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellowship.

LEAD John Javier Schlenz

John Javier Schlenz

Paul Merage School of Business | Leadership Award

John Schlenz is a second-year full-time MBA student at the Paul Merage School of Business. John received his bachelor’s degree in business administration at Cal Poly Pomona. Prior to attending Merage, John worked for BNSF Railway as a Trainmaster and at Los Angeles Metro as a Project Manager for highway construction. At Merage, John has received the Paul Merage Fellowship, Hispanic Scholarship Foundation Scholarship, and the LatinX Initiative Scholarship. John also participates through being a LatinX Initiative mentor, co-president of Challenge 4 Charity, co-president for Strategy and Operations Management Association, and a regular volunteer at Junior Achievement of Orange County where he hopes to promote higher education/financial literacy to underserved communities. After obtaining his MBA degree, John plans to work at Southern California Edison where he hopes to implement a net-zero future for Southern California.

LEAD Daniela Alvarez-Vargas

Daniela Alvarez-Vargas

School of Education | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Daniela Alvarez-Vargas was born in Pereira, Colombia and later immigrated to Miami, Florida with her family. She received her bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in statistics at Florida International University. As an undergraduate she received the MARC U* STAR Award which supported her undergraduate research exploring how parent child interactions may contribute to children’s skill development. Her passion for research on children’s development was originally sparked by her experiences in helping to raise her younger siblings and support their development and academic success. She sacrificed her family ties to move from Miami, FL to Irvine, CA to obtain her PhD from the School of Education. Daniela is passionate about conducting strengths-based research to understand the best practices for ensuring children’s mathematical development from preschool to secondary education. Her research has focused on evaluating, designing, and implementing innovative learning opportunities for students who have been historically marginalized in mathematics. Daniela strives to contribute to the democratization of research through community-based participatory research with ethnically minoritized teachers, students, and families. Her dream is to redesign a school system in which children look forward to learning science, technology, engineering, and math, because they see their histories and interests reflected in the content.

Photo by Luis Antonio Vargas.

LEAD Kathryn Campo Bowen

Kathryn Campo Bowen

School of Humanities | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Kathryn Campo Bowen is a Salvadoran American writer from Miami, Florida, the daughter of a Salvadoran immigrant mother and an Anglo-Californian father. She is currently a second-year MFA candidate in fiction and has dual degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Her novel-in-progress takes up the contemporary experience of a Salvadoran American family, tracking four characters across two intersecting timelines, in order to interrogate: (1) the potential for emigration to create conditions for cultural erasure, both through assimilatory pressures and overt discriminations, and the implications for subsequent non-emigrating generations; (2) the ways in which structural and civil violence—as well as interpersonal traumas and family secrets—reverberate through ancestral networks; (3) the effects of skin color, class, gender, Spanish-language ability, and national origin on perceptions, formation, and performance of Latinidad and, more specifically, Salvadoran American identity; and (4) the question of who can and should tell the multigenerational family romance, a subgenre often associated with Latine authorship, probing questions of authenticity and appropriation.  A segment of the aforementioned work has appeared in Salt Hill Journal and is titled, “There is a man named Rómulo Prudencio Reyes and the truth is.” A different excerpt from the novel titled, “The best moment of our maldita lives” was selected in March 2022 as a finalist for Story Magazine’s third annual Foundation Prize.

Desi Delgadillo

Desiree R. Delgadillo

School of Social Ecology | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Desi Delgadillo is a first-generation college graduate and doctoral candidate in Psychological Science at UCI. Desi graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Saint Martin's University in Washington state. As a graduate student, Desi has earned numerous fellowships and awards including the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship, Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship, Provost PhD Fellowship, Microbiome Initiative Pilot Project Award, and most recently was awarded the President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship. As a health psychologist, her program of research focuses on the interplay between emotions, stress, close relationships, psychophysiology and the composition of the microbiome in both children and adults. Desi’s research has the potential to reveal mind-gut-microbiome connections that improve quality of life across socioeconomic status, ethnic groups, and health statuses across the lifespan. As an interdisciplinary researcher in a relatively untapped frontier, she aims to help create a new, integrated understanding of how microbial and psychological systems may work together to mutually perpetuate wellness.

LEAD Jamie Rae Garcia

Jamie Rae Garcia

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

Jamie Rae Garcia is a first-year student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice/ Family Nurse Practitioner program at the Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing. She is also a practicing registered nurse in the Boyle Heights, Los Angeles community, specializing in the Acute Oncology/ Medical Surgical Unit since 2009. Jamie received the UCI School of Nursing Diversity Equity and Inclusive Fellowship for Fall 2022 and the Dolores DeSoto Grunigen DNP Endowment award for Winter 2023. Jamie has been a volunteer community organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network in Skid Row, Los Angeles, for over a decade. Her community organizing work has focused on exposing the violence of predictive analytics and police surveillance on the Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and its intersection with displacement and gentrification. During the Covid-19 pandemic Jamie partnered with UCLA/CDU Covid-19 Racism and Equity Task Force to address issues of public health surveillance and community trust. Her current volunteer work has shifted focus to include health and wellness issues. Jamie is presently facilitating sustainability and wellness practices within grassroots community organizations, and she is participating in creating and implementing a survey on food access within Skid Row.

LEAD Victoria Rodriguez

Victoria E. Rodriguez

School of Population and Public Health | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Victoria E. Rodriguez is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Program in Public Health, Department of Health, Society and Behavior. Victoria is a first-generation college student who was born and raised in Los Angeles (El Sereno), California. Her research focuses on cancer disparities, cancer treatment, cancer survivorship, and health outcomes among marginalized populations utilizing quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods approaches. Specifically, she is interested in the structural, racialized, and gendered processes that contribute to women’s health outcomes. Victoria’s dissertation focuses on endometrial cancer survival outcomes and survivorship experiences among Latina women in California utilizing a mixed methods approach. Victoria has been awarded the Eugene-Cota Robles Fellowship, the Faculty Mentor Program Fellowship, the Inclusive Excellence Fellowship, and the Public Impact Fellowship in support of her doctoral studies. She is also a recipient of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research. Victoria has dedicated herself to mentorship and inclusive excellence at UCI, participating in the Diverse Educational Community and Doctoral Experience (DECADE), DECADE PLUS, the Chicano Latino Staff Association, Competitive Edge, and the Association for Women in Science.

LEAD Cindy Ventura

Cindy Ventura

School of Law | Leadership Award

Cindy Ventura is the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants and grew up in South East Los Angeles. She graduated cum laude from UC Irvine in 2017 and received her bachelor’s degree in Public Health. During law school, Cindy worked with the Civil Rights Litigation Clinic, where she was committed to representing individuals and groups to vindicate their civil and human rights in state and federal court. She has worked extensively on cases involving police accountability and assisted with litigation involving family separation cases at the border. Her efforts included participating in the LA District Attorney’s review efforts of past officer-involved shootings and being part of the litigation team that fought to have Miranda rights protected before the United States Supreme Court. She has held several leadership positions at UCI Law, including serving as the co-chair for the Latinx Law Student Association, articles editor for the UC Irvine Law Review, and research fellow for the first-year students’ writing course. Cindy looks forward to being a resource and a mentor for aspiring Latinos interested in law school.

LEAD Olga Graciela Jaime Orozco

Olga Jaime

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

Olga Jaime is a third-year PhD student and a California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) fellow in the department of Physiology and Biophysics. She studies skeletal muscle stem cell biology under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Hicks. Olga was born in Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico and raised in the low-income communities of Long Beach by a single mother. She attended Long Beach Community College and transferred to California State University, Long Beach where she earned a B.S. degree in Molecular Biology and a post-baccalaureate in biotechnology. She discovered her passion for regenerative medicine and stem cell biology at UCI by working with human embryonic stem cells. Her work has important implications for understanding how congenital birth muscle defects and later-life muscle degenerative conditions develop. Olga is committed to K-12 outreach programs such as Reach-Out Teach-Out and SoCal BioEYES, in which she serves to lead and train graduate students to bring developmental biology lessons to underserved middle schools in Santa Ana. She serves as a representative for the Diverse Educational Community and Doctoral Experience (DECADE) program and is devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion by organizing events that facilitate a sense of belonging for all at UCI. Her contributions to both research and outreach at UCI led to nomination and award for the Dynamic Womxn graduate student of the year award.

LEAD Emily M. Castro

Emily M. Castro

School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Emily Marie Castro is a PhD student in the Pharmacological Sciences program in the lab of Dr. Shahrdad Lotfipour. Emily’s research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms impacted after drug exposure during adolescence. Throughout her academic journey, she has consistently made serving her community and outreach a priority. She has volunteered as a Spanish speaking tutor at her public library. She has worked at the UC Irvine Student Success Initiatives as a student mentor for underrepresented minority students in STEM majors. Her outreach endeavors include giving lectures and talks in neighboring schools to promote STEM education for under-represented student population. As a graduate student, she serves as a student representative for her school's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity committee. She is passionate about ensuring sustainable practices are in place to enhance the training and educational environment for students from diverse backgrounds.

LEAD Heriberto Flores Zuleta

Heriberto Flores Zuleta

School of Physical Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Heriberto Flores Zuleta is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the department of Chemistry. Hailing from a line of laborers on both sides of his Puerto Rican and Guatemalan ancestry, he is the first in his family to receive bachelor’s and master’s degrees. At UCI, his research investigates the fundamental energy storage capabilities of low-cost electrodeposited inorganic nanomaterials for use in sodium-ion batteries. He is part of Professor Reginald Penner’s laboratory and is supported by the Nevin Graduate Endowment Fellowship. His research has received the attention of the National Academy of Sciences, which awarded him two honorable mentions for the Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship. Before coming to UCI, Heriberto became active in the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and continues his work with that society. He was fully funded to attend the 2018 national SACNAS conference in San Antonio, TX and presented his work at other conferences. His work with SACNAS at UCI reflects his desire to establish a community across all the sciences so that individuals may bring their whole selves and identities into being scientists and uplift those who are first-generation and may not have guidance. Recently Heriberto participated in UCI Graduate Division’s Fellowship Mentor Program, in which he assisted graduate students working on a variety of fellowship applications.

LEAD Caroline Martinez

Caroline Martinez

School of Social Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Caroline Martínez is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the UCI Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on how local communities, social movements, and governments draw racial boundaries and assign meaning to racial categories. Her work centers on Indigenous and Latinx identification in the United States and on the particular contexts that may lead to greater or lower identification as Indigenous in Latinx communities. As someone who grew up in Ecuador and the United States, Martínez seeks to create greater understandings between the distinct racial ideologies that emerged in both areas and that inform how we think about racial categories and boundaries, and, thus, determine the allocation of resources and rights. Martínez has used her skills as both a qualitative and quantitative researcher to lead research projects related to the rights of women and Indigenous peoples for various organizations, such as UNICEF, The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers and Workers (CLAC), and the Confederation of the Kichwa Nationality of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI). Her academic publications have been featured in the SAGE Handbook on the Sociology of Education, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Journal, and the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) – Ecuador Library. At UCI Martínez has been involved in multiple initiatives to support underrepresented students, providing mentorship and engaging in inclusive teaching practices. She is a pedagogical fellow in the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI). Martínez also leads a graduate student writing group through the Cascading Mentorship program.

Abbey Houchin

Lauren Abigail (Abbey) Houchin

Biological Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Lauren Abigail (Abbey) Houchin is an M.D./Ph.D. student in Dr. Mike Yassa’s lab in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. She is originally from Central Florida and received her B.S. in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Medical Sociology from the University of Central Florida. Abbey is passionate about using her skills as a future physician-scientist to support the health and well-being of underserved and minoritized communities. Her research centers on using neuroimaging to characterize changes in vascular health in the aging brain and determine how these changes relate to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) risk. As key aims of this work, because of her interest in health equity, Abbey seeks to increase the representation of Hispanic/Latino communities in AD research and examine social and structural factors – such as socioeconomic status, social support/stressors, or food insecurity – alongside her biological findings to better understand how these factors can contribute to brain health and disease. In support of these efforts, Abbey is also pursuing a graduate emphasis in Chicano/Latino Studies.  Outside of the lab, Abbey spends much of her time striving to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, both at UCI and in the broader academic community. During her first two years of medical school, in addition to serving as co-president of the UCI Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) chapter and mentoring underrepresented high school and pre-medical students, she served on the planning committees for the UCI LMSA/SNMA Conference and the National M.D./Ph.D. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit, both of which focused on supporting the success of underrepresented students in medical and physician-scientist career paths.


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

LEAD Maritza Salazar Campo, PhD

Maritza Salazar Campo, PhD

Assistant Professor of Organization and Management, Paul Merage School of Business

Maritza Salazar Campo, Ph.D., M.S.W. is an Assistant Professor of Organization and Management at the Paul Merage School of Business. Her research explores the impact of talent and team development interventions to foster organizational effectiveness. Her research has been cited by the National Academies of Science and the National Institutes of Health to support collaborative science and innovation.  She has consulted with the Army Research Office, PwC, the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning and Healthcare Centers to foster improved teamwork and patient outcomes. She also served as the chair of the UCI/OC Healthy Schools Restart group, which helped all children in the region to return to school safely during the COVID pandemic. Most recently, Maritza founded the Latinx Initiative at the Paul Merage School of Business and proudly serves as a member of the UCI-OC Alliance.


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

LEAD Marvin J. Maldonado

Marvin J. Maldonado

Assistant Director of Academic Innovation, Partnerships, Engineering Dept. Office of Access & Inclusion

Marvin Maldonado is a first-generation Latino who immigrated from Guatemala at the age of six and settled into life near Koreatown in Los Angeles and then the San Fernando Valley. (8-1-8!) Being an undocumented student, he was unsure if college was even an option until his permanent residency came through during senior year of high school. He is an Anteater through and through, having earned an electrical engineering degree here at UCI with the support of crucial programs like CODE and CAMP that are focused on underrepresented and minority students. That experience kick-started a career in STEM education where he has worked with students, parents, and educators across the full spectrum of the educational pipeline. He is particularly passionate about encouraging and motivating first-generation and low-income students from Spanish-speaking communities to pursue careers in STEM. Throughout his career, Marvin has relied on his own experiences and engineering background to develop curriculum and implement programs through a diversity and equity lens. Some of his most rewarding work has been with the Math, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program supporting local middle and high schools as well as undergraduates. This led to a unique collaboration called STEM on the Sidelines that includes the Los Angeles Chargers and aerospace company Ducommun, Inc. in which Marvin created a football-themed engineering and computer science challenge for high school students in LA and Orange County. Currently, Marvin serves as the Assistant Director for the Office of Access & Inclusion in the School of Engineering where he oversees retention and support programs for historically underrepresented students in engineering and computer science. He often sees himself in the students he advises and engages with daily and is thankful for the amazing colleagues that give him the platform to give back through these efforts. Marvin met his partner in life as first-year student in the Middle Earth dorms, and they now reside in Santa Ana where they are raising their two amazing children with a third on the way.


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

John T. Billimek, PhD

John T. Billimek, PhD

Associate Professor and Vice Chair of Academic Affairs, Family Medicine, Health Policy Research Institute

John Billimek, PhD is a psychologist by training, a health services researcher, and the Vice Chair for Academic Affairs for the UC Irvine Department of Family Medicine. He is co-director of the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC) residency track and directs the HELIOS lab (, an undergraduate mentored health equity research program that has included 93 diverse students since 2017.  With HELIOS, he studies ways trust can be cultivated or undermined between community members and the health care system, and how underdeveloped trust contributes to inequities in health care and health outcomes. He is proud to help community-based organizations as a co-principal Investigator on multiple federal grants with community partners including Latino Health Access, RADIATE Consulting, MPNA GREEN, the OC Asian American and Pacific Islander Alliance, the City of Santa Ana, the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers, and others,   With PRIME-LC, he is one of five faculty leads for the campus-wide UC PRIME Pre-Health Pathways Program, supporting the professional development of future professionals from historically excluded communities.  A former rugby player and the son of a community college professor and a registered nurse, “Dr. B” left Texas to find his dream job in Southern California, where he lives with his wife Donna, and two children Wyatt and Riley Rose.


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

LEAD Marlen Kanagui-Muñoz

Marlen Kanagui-Muñoz

Psychologist, Faculty and Training Director, Kaiser Permanente, School of Allied Health Sciences

Marlen Kanagui-Muñoz, PhD is a bilingual and bicultural, licensed psychologist. She is a founding faculty member and training director in the Masters of Science in Counseling program (MSC) at the Kaiser Permanente School of Allied Health Sciences in Richmond, CA. Born in Mexico and raised in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Dr. Kanagui-Muñoz is indebted to the incredible sacrifices made by her family so that she may pursue her education at UC Irvine. While at UCI, Dr. Kanagui-Muñoz was part of the Campus Wide Honors Program, a founding member and past-president of the Latinx Student Psychological Association (LSPA), a peer educator at the UCI Counseling Center and a Lauds and Laurels Award recipient. Upon graduation from UCI, Dr. Kanagui-Muñoz pursued a doctorate in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Multicultural Psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where her research focused on strength-based therapy approaches for the Latinx population. Dr. Kanagui-Muñoz went on to complete her postdoctoral residency at Kaiser Permanente-Richmond and helped promote culturally competent mental healthcare for Latinx clients within Kaiser Permanente Psychiatry by helping establish the La Clínica program. Dr. Kanagui-Muñoz is a proud mamá, daughter, sister, and partner. She is passionate about teaching, mentorship and scholarship. As a part of the Academic Freedom Train legacy, she is dedicated to raising the next generation of practitioner-scholars to serve the mental health needs of diverse individuals. Dr. Kanagui-Munoz is eternally grateful for the meaningful connections and mentorship she received while at UCI. Zot! Zot!