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

Graduate Student Awardees

Jesús Enrique López Vargas

Claire Trevor School of the Arts | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Jesús Enrique López Vargas is a Master of Fine Arts candidate for the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Drama Department, where he has exercised and strengthened his work as an arts administrator & developer, artistic director, production stage manager, storytelling & behavioral theorist and as a community leader.

Jesús has worked and studied throughout his life in both the United States and his native country of México. While at UCI he has been honored as one of the six campus-wide Chancellor’s Club Fellows, as a Public Impact Fellow, an Inclusive Excellence Ambassador Fellow, and has received multiple other awards, fellowships and scholarships that have supported his research in the development of new stories and formats that seek to heighten the representation of native voices from Latin America. For the past 6 years, he has been working closely with MOON Collective & KB Theatre Company to produce culture-conscious works that challenge the public while providing training opportunities in safe spaces for young BIPOC practitioners of the performing arts. Their latest program- which was one of the first in the nation to react and adapt to the challenges of COVID-19 – took place in the summer of 2020, titled Re-Creating the Stage. Jesús has also written, directed, developed and produced various performance-based shows, short-films and video works, all which share the same goal of challenging and innovating the creative process, the consumerist aesthetics of art and the presentational dynamics of storytelling. While at UCI, Jesús has also proudly led, mentored and produced with Brown Bag Theater Company (BBTC), an affinity-culture group that aims to highlight Latinx’s stories and experiences through community engagement & performance. Jesús dedicates this award to every member and supporter of Brown Bag, for being some of the bravest leaders of our communities.


Elena Dominguez

School of Biological Sciences | Excellence in Research Award

Elena Dominguez is a 4th year PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Stark. As a NIH T32 Predoctoral Fellow, she studies the structural characteristics of the brain using MRI, with the hopes of uncovering biomarkers of successful aging in the elderly population. She is a co-founder of Black in Neuro, an international organization dedicated to Black excellence in neuro-related careers, and currently serves as the Neurobiology and Behavior student rep for UCI’s Inclusive Excellence Task Force and Diverse Educational Community and Doctoral Experience (DECADE). As a first-generation afro-Latina, she learned very quickly how easy it was to be discouraged by the lack of representation in STEM. As a result, she began to lead science outreach events with organizations such as Girls Inc. and local middle schools to serve as a mentor for the next generation of BIPOC scientists and bridge the disparities that many students of color face. In order to reach the population that her research benefits most, she has served as the Older Adults Events co-chair for the Center for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, and has organized & led community talks in local libraries and nursing homes.


Florencio Portocarrero

Paul Merage School of Business | Leadership Award

Florencio is a Ph.D. student in Organization and Management and a Eugene Cota-Robles Fellow. His research agenda examines issues related to the interface between businesses and society, and to emotions in work-life. He is a published scholar currently working on several field, archival, and meta-analytic research projects that examine the effects of employee participation in socially responsible initiatives on a diverse set of outcomes. These consequences include employees’ well-being and adaptive behaviors at work, and organizations’ impact on local communities and the environment. His research has won prestigious accolades such as the Best Paper Award at the 2019 Annual Conference of the International Association for Business and Society. Florencio is committed to increasing Latinx representation in the business academic world. To this end, along with other management scholars and the support of the PhD Project (a non-profit dedicated to increasing the diversity of business school faculty), Florencio created “La Familia –– Latinx Scholars in Management,” a national community of like-minded scholars united in intellect and their Latinx identity.


Yenda Prado

School of Education | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Yenda Prado is a Community Research Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in the School of Education. Her work centers on the ways that communities and schools can use digital technologies to support children’s inclusion, promote interdependent collaboration, and amplify student voice. Yenda’s research forms the basis of her first-authored book, Voices on the Margins: Inclusive Education at the Intersection of Language, Literacy, and Technology, to be published by MIT Press. Yenda’s experiences as a migrant, language learner, and special education student turned scholar, inform her approach to equity and inclusion in her scholarship, teaching, and service. This year, with funding from the Office of Inclusive Excellence, Yenda co-designed the Community Education Fellows program, partnering with schools in under-served communities across Orange County to place undergraduate students with families in need of support with their children’s remote learning during the COVID crisis. She is a founding member of the UC Office of the President Family Engagement Taskforce and a Peer Mentor in the School of Education’s Diverse Education Community and Doctoral Experience program. Prior to UCI, Yenda earned a B.A. in Psychology from Stanford University and an Ed.M. from Harvard University. She has been interviewed and featured in the Wall Street Journal and Science News. 


Nina Butkovich

The Henry Samueli School of Engineering | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Nina Butkovich is a third-year PhD student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UCI. Born to an immigrant mother and raised in a busy household with two brothers and two sisters, she learned the value of family and cultural appreciation from an early age. Growing up in a predominantly white, suburban, Midwestern neighborhood, Nina was very excited to attend the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). For the first time, she could connect to other people of color on a common basis. However, discrepancy in economic status, healthcare, and opportunities for Hispanics and other people of color were still an obvious problem. During her undergraduate studies, she acted as RA for the FSRI program, where underrepresented students were given the opportunity to conduct scientific research and get support from the Caltech Center for Inclusion and Diversity. She continues her appreciation by participating in DECADE at UCI. Her goal of improving healthcare for all, and her personal battle with thyroid cancer, helped inspire her to conduct health- and cancer-related PhD research.  By developing an anti-cancer protein nanoparticle vaccine, she is honored to contribute to the field of medicine.


Carlos Colmenares Gil

School of Humanities | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Carlos Colmenares Gil was born in Venezuela and did his BA in Psychology in Caracas at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. He also has an MA in Philosophy and Critical Theory from Kingston University in London and is currently in the 5th year of the Comparative Literature program at UCI. He is writing his dissertation on literature and cinema that suggest socio-political formations which contest and exist in the margins of the logic of the Nation-State in Brazil and Venezuela. And his general research interests are Latin American thought and its intersections with continental philosophy, anthropology, and psychoanalysis. He has also published a collection of poems titled dos mil nueve (2011), and a short story collection: Versiones de Martha (2016).


Adriana Meza Soria

Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Science | Graduate student Excellence Award

Adriana Meza Soria is a 4th year graduate student in Software Engineering. She works in the Software Design and Collaboration Laboratory (SDCL) under professor André van der Hoek’s guidance. Adriana studies and builds tools for software developers, with her current focus on creating smart tools that preserve important moments in design discussions from one meeting to a next one. Adriana is a UC Mexus fellow, has received the Miguel Velez fellowship twice, and recently became the first recipient of the Rosalva Gallardo Valencia Graduate Award. She feels that giving back to the Latin community is a fundamental aspect of her personal and professional growth. This belief motivated her to volunteer for the Mexican Graduate Research Education Program (MGREP). Through her contributions to this program, she seeks to support fellow Mexicans to come to UCI to further their education.


Erik Jimenez Rodriguez

School of Law | Leadership Award

Erik migrated to the United States from Mexico when he was six. He channels the adversity that he and his family has faced as undocumented immigrants into his advocacy. As a member of the UCI Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, Erik helped secure the release of individuals in immigration detention facing COVID-19 risk. Last summer, Erik interned at Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP, where he continued to secure the release of incarcerated individuals detained at LA County Jail, who also faced COVID-19 risk. Most recently, Erik returned as an advanced clinic student to take the lead in a complex asylum case and drafted the client’s legal brief in support of her asylum claim. Erik is interested in pursuing a career in which he represents vulnerable populations in civil rights, employment, and immigration issues.


Francisco Javier Mercado

School of Physical Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Francisco Javier Mercado received a B.S. in Physics at California State Polytechnic University Pomona and his M.S. in Physics at UCI. As a Ph.D. Candidate in the department of Physics & Astronomy Francisco studies how galaxies form and evolve using state of the art numerical, cosmological simulations. Aside from his main projects, Francisco is advising two undergraduate students from Cal State Fullerton and San Francisco State University in a research project with a goal of understanding the gas content of dwarf galaxies in the Milky Way’s neighborhood. Outside of research Francisco serves as the Co-Chair of the Leadership Team for the UCI Physics and Astronomy Community Excellence Program as well as the Physics graduate student representative for the UCI DECADE program. After Completing his Ph.D. Francisco intends to pursue a career as a faculty member at a teaching institution where he hopes to start a research group of his own.


Yasmin Barrientos Kofman

School of Social Ecology | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Yasmin Barrientos Kofman is a 5th year PhD candidate with a concentration in Health Psychology and Quantitative Methods. She utilizes biological/clinical, community, and national level data to examine how gender-based violence and the social context in which it occurs contributes to chronic morbidity, particularly in low-income and women of color who are disproportionately affected. Among her several ongoing projects, she is currently collaborating with a local emergency shelter to investigate the link between risk and protective factors, including those that can be targeted at a policy level, and maternal-infant health outcomes in violence-exposed, unhoused women. Yasmin has served as the campus student ambassador for the UC Health, Gender, and Empowerment Center of Expertise to help develop, implement, and lead organizing plans across UC campuses to address women’s health and campus-based sexual assault and dating violence. Most recently, she was awarded the Young Scholar Award from the American Psychosomatic Society.


Maricela Bañuelos

School of Social Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Maricela Bañuelos is a first year Sociology PhD student in UCI’s School of Social Sciences who is also pursuing a graduate emphasis in Chicano/ Latino Studies. She graduated from UCSB in 2016 with summa cum laude and with distinction in her sociology major. She then went on to earn her master’s in Educational Policy and Social Context from UCI’s School of Education (SoE) in 2020. Her research interests include educational equity, access and persistence in higher education, Latin/a/x/o in higher education, and social mobility. She is particularly interested in studying ways of making higher education institutions more accessible, inclusive, and beneficial to first-generation college students, underrepresented students of color, and low-income students. Throughout Maricela’s undergraduate and graduate studies, she has strived to break down barriers for historically marginalized students in higher education. As an undergraduate, she was an officer for an organization called La Escuelita [The Little School], a non-profit organization, whose primary objective is to promote higher education for low-income students of color in K-12. As a graduate student, she became part of SoE’s Higher Education Outreach Team, which is a committee within the Diverse Educational Community and Doctoral Experience (DECADE). Maricela and her colleagues developed and facilitated workshops for undergraduates and high school students related to college access, research involvement, and professional development.


Francisco Gutierrez Carranza

Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences – School of Medicine | Excellence in Research and Health for the Latino Community Award

Francisco Gutierrez Carranza is a PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. His thesis work is supervised by Professor Klemens Hertel and his research aims to elucidate the underlying mechanisms that drive gene expression. Specifically, Francisco studies mRNA stability and the pre-mRNA architectural features that dictate splice site usage. He has received the prestigious NSF Bridges to Doctorate award and NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. One of Francisco’s passions is giving back to the community. He served as the campus coordinator for grad division’s DECADE executive council and as the school of medicine’s DECADE representative. His goal in these roles was to help create a more inclusive and supportive environment for the whole graduate community. He has spent his time mentoring local high school students through UCI’s Cancer Research Institute summer fellowship program and undergraduates through UCI’s Minority Science Program. Francisco plans to continue his research career by pursuing a postdoctoral position. Francisco’s life goal is continue mentoring and promoting the sciences to underrepresented minorities.


Sarah Rodrigues

Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences – Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Sarah Rodrigues is a third year Nursing Science PhD student in the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing who is also pursuing a Graduate Feminist Emphasis through the UCI Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Sarah is a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse, and her research interests include family-centered and trauma-informed care, embodied knowledge and narrative methodologies.

Sarah graduated from UC Davis with a BS in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, and from UC Irvine with a BS in Nursing. She currently serves as a UCI Inclusive Excellence Ambassador and peer mentor to incoming graduate students who are first-generation and/or from a minority-serving institution and as a peer mentor for the Competitive Edge Summer Research Program to support entering graduate students from diverse backgrounds. Prior to attending graduate school, Sarah served in the AmeriCorps as a community health educator and mentor to at-risk youth.

Sarah immigrated to the United States at age 7 with her parents and brother. She lives in San Juan Capistrano with her teenage son, parents and yellow lab, Darwin.


Diana Carreño

Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences – Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Diana Carreño is a current PhD student in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in the lab of Dr. Shahrdad Lotfipour.  Her research project focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of adolescent drug addiction. She has received the UCI Office of Inclusive Excellence Ambassador Summer Fellowship. In addition to research, she mentors undergraduates in STEM to help them achieve their career and personal goals. She has worked closely with the UCI Dream Center as a Co-lead Scholar-in-Residence to provide professional development to undocumented undergraduate and graduate students. Further, she is a Leadership Coach for Diverse Educational Community and Doctoral Experience: Partnering in Leadership for Undergraduate Students (DECADE PLUS) Program by mentoring Chancellor’s Excellence Scholars.


Emilia Fields

Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences – Program in Public Health | Graduate Student Excellence Award

Emilia Fields is a 2nd year PhD student in the College of Health Sciences’ Program in Public Health. The granddaughter of Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants, Emilia is passionate about improving health disparities as they relate to infectious diseases in the Latinx community. Her research interests lie in better understanding vaccination behaviors and the vaccine decision making process for the Influenza, HPV, and COVID-19 vaccines. Her research interests originate from her academic background in microbiology and her previous global health work in the city of Maclovio Rojas located in Mexico. She is interested in intervention design, mixed methods approaches, and health communication strategies as ways to address health disparities. Her current work is focused on investigating COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Orange County Latinx parents and adolescents.


Campus-Wide Awardees


Community member who develops and champions UCI and the UCI Latinx community

José Mayorga, MD

Assistant Clinical Professor of Family Medicine, Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences – School of Medicine

Chief Medical Officer, Federal Qualified Health Centers (Santa Ana and Anaheim), UCI Health

Dr. José Mayorga is a Board-Certified Family Physician leader with extensive professional experience in the for-profit and non-profit sectors.  He has dedicated his Family Medicine and administration career to providing high-quality care to the medically underserved. In July 2018, he joined the UCI Health, Department of Family Medicine and is an Assistant Clinical Professor.  He leads the UCI Health Family Health Centers (the oldest FQHC in Orange County) as their CEO & CMO, he is excited to return to the clinic where his passion for underserved medicine began as a student 23 years earlier. In 2020, the UCI FQHC cared for 24,000 patients who are predominantly Latinx and monolingual Spanish. Ninety-nine percent of the patients lived below 200 percent of Federal Poverty Level. Of those served, 32 percent were children.  Dr. Mayorga believes the safety-net network of care is the best kept secret in healthcare and is committed to making community health centers the medical home of choice. He lectures on population health and social determinants of health.  During the COVID19 Pandemic, Dr. Mayorga has been leading care innovation to ensure the underserved communities have access to care.  He has served as a COVID19 medical expert in English and Spanish media outlets and townhalls in Orange County.  He looks forward to teaching the future doctors of this country and hopes to empower them to become leaders in primary care and advocates for health justice.


Staff or postdoctoral researcher who displays strong leadership on behalf of UCI’s Latinx community

Burt Álvaro Slusher, MS

Director of Recruitment and Admissions for Specialty Masters Programs, Paul Merage School of Business

Burt Álvaro Slusher is the Director of Recruitment and Admissions at UC Irvine’s Merage School of Business Specialty Masters Programs. In his role, Burt manages the development and implementation of annual recruiting goals and provides strategic oversight for the admissions process in consultation with the Assistant Dean of Specialty Masters Programs and Academic Directors. Prior to joining the Specialty Masters Program team, Burt served as the Director of Recruitment and Admissions for the Master of Professional Accountancy program where he also was the Admissions Committee Chair. With nearly two decades of higher education and business school experience with undergraduate and graduate students, Burt has worked closely with Merage students, alumni, corporate outreach, and marketing to recruit and develop globally talented students that value inclusion and will serve as future business leaders in our community.

Born in East Los Angeles, Burt was the first in his family to go to college. His involvement with the Latinx community includes being Treasurer and Co-Chair of the Chicano/Latino Staff Association, serving as an advisor for the Association of Latino Professionals for America, being an active member of the First Generation Staff Association, and currently working on the Merage School Latinx Initiative.

Burt holds a Master of Science degree in Counseling with an emphasis in Student Development in Higher Education from Cal State Long Beach, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Social Behavior from UC Irvine with a minor in Management, and is certified as a Master Career Development Professional.

Burt currently lives in Irvine with his wife and two daughters. He is an avid basketball fan and enjoys weightlifting and yoga on his free time.


Faculty members who mentor and encourages the success of Latinx graduate students and junior faculty

Leo R. Chavez, PhD

Distinguished Professor and Chair of Anthropology, School of Social Sciences

Leo R. Chavez is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropology. He maintains strong relationships with the Department Chicano/Latino Studies and the School of Medicine PRIME-LC Program. Dr. Chavez received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Stanford University. His research has focused on various aspects of the migration experience: families, work, immigration status, access to health care, cancer and Latinas, and media representations.

In addition to scores of academic articles, he is the author of Shadowed Lives: Undocumented Immigrants in American Society (1st edition 1992; 3rd Edition, Wadsworth/Cengage Learning 2013); Covering Immigration:  Popular Images and the Politics of the Nation (University of California Press 2001); The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation (Stanford University Press, 1st edition 2008; 2nd edition 2013); and Anchor Babies and the Challenge of Birthright Citizenship (Stanford University Press, 2017). His current research examines the effects of political rhetoric, especially anti-Latino and anti-immigrant rhetoric, on emotions and psychological well-being.

Dr. Chavez has received a number of awards over his career. In 1992 he received UCI Lauds and Laurels Award for Distinguished Teacher. He received the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology in 1993, the Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists’ Book Award for The Latino Threat in 2009, and the Society for the Anthropology of North America’s award for Distinguished Achievement in the Critical Study of North America in 2009. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2018. The Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists (ALLA) gave him the Distinguished Career Award for 2019. The Society for Applied Anthropology gave him the Bronislaw Malinowski Award, 2021, for distinguished lifetime contributions. He is currently President-Elect of the Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists, the American Anthropological Association.


Regina Ragan, PhD

Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Henry Samueli School of Engineering

Against the odds, Prof. Ragan is an internationally recognized scholar. As a low-income, GED recipient attending community college, she quit an office job at a trucking company to commit to full-time study at UCLA, where, by chance, she soon discovered her love of quantum mechanics. She unexpectedly went on to obtain a PhD at Caltech and become one of the few Xicana faculty in engineering. Her research involves chemical-assembly for devising new routes for manufacturing devices requiring nanoscale elements. She focuses on addressing critical societal needs, including design of low-cost, rapid diagnostic devices.

Prof. Ragan is Associate Director of the Institute for Design and Manufacturing Innovation, Education Director of the Center for Complex and Active Materials, a NSF MRSEC, and holds the Stacey Nichols Endowed Chair for Diversity in Engineering Education. She has created programs linking underrepresented undergraduates with graduate students, faculty and industry professionals, and mentored female and URM faculty across the disciplines in Engineering resulting in an increased number of junior faculty receiving national awards. During her tenure as the School of Engineering Faculty Equity Advisor, she effectively worked with departmental search committees to more than double the number of women faculty and triple the number of URM faculty in Engineering.


Alumni who develop and champion UCI and the UCI Latinx community

Héctor Tobar, MFA

UCI Alumni and Associate Professor of English and Chicano/Latino Studies, School of Humanities and School of Social Sciences

Héctor Tobar is the Los Angeles-born author of five books, including the novels The Tattooed Soldier, The Barbarian Nurseries, and The Last Great Road Bum. His non-fiction Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of Thirty-Three Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle that Set Them Free, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize: it was also a New York Times bestseller and adapted into the film The 33The Barbarian Nurseries was a New York Times Notable Book and won the California Book Award Gold Medal for fiction. Tobar’s fiction has also appeared in Zyzzyva and in Best American Short Stories 2016. He earned his MFA in Fiction from the University of California, Irvine, and has taught writing at Pomona College and the University of Oregon. Currently, he is an associate professor of Chicano/Latino Studies and English at UC Irvine. His other books include the nonfiction Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States, and the novel The Tattooed Soldier. His books have been translated into fifteen languages, including French, German, Portuguese, Italian, and Mandarin. As a journalist, he was a foreign correspondent with the Los Angeles Times in Buenos Aires and Mexico City, and a part of the reporting team that earned a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Tobar has also been an op-ed writer for the New York Times and a contributor to The New Yorker, Smithsonian and National Geographic. In 2020, he received a Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard University. He is the son of Guatemalan immigrants.

Graduate Student Awardees

LEAD is the only celebration and awards event in the University of California system focused on Latinx graduate student success.  Currently, Latinos are 39.3% of the state population in California but are only 11.8% of the graduate student population at UCI.  LEAD aims to raise awareness of challenges in the graduate community, increase visibility of success, and inspire the Latinx community to advance in graduate and postdoctoral programs.

Luis Moreno-Napoles

Claire Trevor School of the Arts

Born in Mexico and misplaced in Long Beach, California, Luis Moreno-Napoles curves time and space to make the overwhelming capitalist pressure recede enough for him to catch his breath. A small but charged resistance carried out. His practice often unravels into an unruly sort of rambling, the kind where he incoherently speaks out loud to himself as he desperately searches for a way to keep the decaying fragments of indeterminable forms from slipping through his fingers. There is no romancing his approach; it’s just what happens. His ideal welcome mat would read, “If you want some then come and get some” (Fred Moten). The lingering low hum he carries in his chest are the lyrics to la Llorona, “Yo soy como el chile verde. Picante pero sabroso.”

Evelyn Valdez-Ward

School of Biological Sciences

Evelyn Valdez-Ward is a fourth year, formerly undocumented, PhD candidate and Ford fellow studying the effects of drought on plants and soil microbes. As a Research + Practice Collaboratory Fellow, she studies marginalized scientists and their use of science communication for social justice. Evelyn was named one of 2020’s Grist 50 Fixers, a list of emerging leaders across the U.S. who are working on solutions to the biggest challenges. She has published articles in Science and Scientific American, was an invited speaker at the 2018 March for Science rally, named a 2018 UCS Science Defender, voted best of Story Collider 2018 in LA, awarded UCI’s Dynamic Womxn’s Award for Outstanding Social Justice Activist and the Svetlana Bershadsky Graduate Community Award for her advocacy for undocumented scientists.

Diana Ramos, M.D.

Paul Merage School of Business

Dr. Diana Ramos is a well-recognized national public health expert, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist and adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor at the Keck USC School of Medicine. She is a Public Health Medical Officer for the California Department of Public Health, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health, where she is California’s women’s health expert. Dr. Ramos serves as the incoming chair of the California American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology executive committee and other women’s health committees providing leadership and guidance throughout the U.S. Dr. Ramos is currently completing her Executive MBA at the Paul Merage School of Business and through her MBA she is bringing healthcare, public health and business to gamify health. She is developing Teen MindGames, a game played by teens that screens for depression. She has recently won the UCI Entrepreneur Class Shark Tank competition and has been selected as a participant for the UCI Wayfinder Incubator Programs.

Mariela Rivas

School of Education

Mariela Rivas is a doctoral candidate at the UCI School of Education. Her service accomplishments include serving in previous LEAD committees, showing leadership within the School of Education, and taking part as a Scholar in Residence at the UCI Dream Center, mentoring undocumented undergraduates. Her research projects consider and investigate the effect of educational interventions on underrepresented minorities in higher education. She has published papers that look at the relationship between college students’ study habits and achievement. Her dissertation work studies the effect of an intervention created to improve study skills in face-to-face and online courses.

Edgar Ramos Muñoz

The Henry Samueli School of Engineering

Edgar Ramos Muñoz worked under the guidance of Prof. Faryar Jabbari at UCI. His dissertation research was focused on developing smart-charging strategies for large numbers of electric vehicles via optimization methods. By using “octopus chargers” (stations with multiple cables), the protocols he developed were able to manage the demand load for a workplace parking structure, while reducing the number of installed charging stations. As a graduate student, Edgar mentored students by giving free tutoring sessions, guiding undergraduate research projects, and assisting students with graduate school applications. He has also organized various information sessions for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. In the future, Edgar plans to pursue a career in academia to continue his research in the advancement of transportation technology and mentor students.

Martha Torres Méndez 

School of Humanities

Martha Torres Méndez’ dissertation rearticulates an important topic in contemporary Mexican literature, specifically literature that focuses on the northern desert areas of the country: that of violence. Instead of focusing directly on narco-violence, as has much of recent scholarship on the subject, Martha focuses on slow violence, a move that enables her to broaden the existing discussions to encompass questions that relate to daily structures of oppression as well as ecocriticism. This is an original and important turn that Martha anchors in a richly diverse array of primary sources, including canonical authors and little known visual artists and filmmakers.

Neftali Watkinson Medina

Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Science

Neftali Watkinson Medina is advised by Professor Alex Nicolau. As a Fulbright-Garcia Robles Fellow and recipient of the UC Mexus Scholarship, ICS Innovation Fellowship, and the Miguel Velez Fellowship for Latin American students, Neftali’s research is at the conjunction of artificial intelligence and art. He focuses on compiler optimization and pedagogical research in computer science. Currently, he is working on predicting illnesses with the use of deep learning. Neftali was part of the first team from UCI to present a project at the Venice Biennale in 2019. As a graduate student, Neftali has worked with non-profit organizations for humanitarian aid and the arts. He also volunteered to teach English to children in at-risk communities and help fellow Mexicans come to UCI to further their education.

Viridiana Chabolla

School of Law

Viridiana Chabolla immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was two years old. She grew up in East Los Angeles as part of a large family headed by strong, hard-working women. She graduated from Pomona College in 2013 and went on to work at Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law Project, working with students and families throughout Los Angeles for education equity. As a formerly undocumented person and daughter of immigrants, Viridiana is passionate about immigrant rights, working families, and access to education. During law school, she has worked with the Immigrant Rights Clinic and is committed to pushing for comprehensive immigration reform and due process for immigrants. Her efforts include participation in litigation pending (https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/our-futures-are-being-tossed-coin) before the United States Supreme Court challenging the current administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. On her off time, she enjoys “bad” TV and spending time with her cat, Kiko.

Katy Rodríguez Wimberly

School of Physical Sciences

Katy Rodríguez Wimberly, a PhD candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the UCI Physics & Astronomy Department, studies galaxy evolution using optical telescopes and cosmological simulations. Katy has contributed to multiple published works, including a first-authored paper confirming the ancient history of the smallest known galaxies. She has presented her work at numerous conferences and as an invited seminar speaker. Additionally, Katy is on the Board of Directors for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific working to extend astronomy outreach and science communication opportunities to young, diverse astronomers. At UCI, Katy co-created and leads a “near-peer” mentoring organization (https://uci-pace.github.io) in its second year, in which two programs focus on normalizing a holistic approach to success for first year graduate students, and strengthen the community through trained mentors.

Deyanira Nevárez Martínez

School of Social Ecology

Deyanira Nevárez Martínez, a PhD candidate in the Urban Planning and Public Policy Department at UCI, conducts research on housing justice, housing precarity, colonias and the role of the state in domestic informal settlements. Her publications include the co-authored article “Los Olvidados/The Forgotten: Reconceptualizing Colonias as Viable Communities,” Progress in Planning (2019). Her work is interdisciplinary and has been published in criminology and public health journals. She is the 2019 recipient of the Gilbert G. González Graduate Student Paper Prize in Chicano Latino Studies at UCI. She serves as a Senior Policy Fellow for the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA and is a two-term graduate student representative to the University of California Faculty Senate Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs.

Martha Morales Hernández

School of Social Sciences

Martha Morales Hernández’ research agenda aims to identify ways to better support and promote the educational success and wellbeing of undocumented college students. She has five co-authored peer-reviewed journal articles. All make critical theoretical contributions about the specific ways that immigration status functions as a source of social inequality. She has also co-authored four research briefs that outline how universities can mediate the consequences of illegality. She has worked closely with the UCI Dream Center to use her research findings to inform program development, including the creation of a Scholar-in-Residence program to provide professional development to undocumented undergraduate and graduate students. As the Center’s graduate student fellow, she led the recruitment of 36 on campus fellowship sites, securing $133,200 from campus partners to fund professional development opportunities for undergraduate students without work authorization. She actively mentors undocumented students, drawing on her own experiences as a pedagogical tool to inform and encourage students. She received a 2020 Ford pre-doctoral fellowship.

Brenda Gutiérrez

Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences – School of Medicine

Brenda Gutiérrez is a passionate MD/PhD student who is committed to improving health disparities for the Latinx community. Her dynamic research has uncovered critical interactions between brain cells and blood vessels that could be harnessed to lessen disability after stroke. Brenda is dedicated to increasing underrepresented minority groups in science. She is active in the Program for Medical Education in the Latino Community (PRIME-LC), introducing students to exciting science careers. She is also a role model in an after-school science program with Girls Inc., helping to prepare girls for future careers. She attends the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and successfully recruits students to pursue science. Her goal is to continue to be a mentor for minority students at all stages of their careers.

Norma Hernández-Ramírez

Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences – Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing

Norma Hernández-Ramírez is a DNP-FNP student who is an ER nurse working with underserved populations. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a BS degree in Physiology, and from the University of San Francisco with a MS in Nursing in the Clinical Nurse Leader program. During her time in graduate school, she organized medical missions locally and abroad. She hopes to decrease health disparities and create change in healthcare, particularly in Latino communities, by obtaining her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree with a Family Nurse Practitioner concentration at UCI. She was recently interviewed by Univision about Covid-19 and her role as an ER nurse.

Anjélica Cárdenas

Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences – Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Anjélica Cárdenas is a current PhD student in the Pharmacological Sciences program in the lab of Dr. Shahrdad Lotfipour. In the Lotfipour Lab, Anjélica has independently initiated a research project assessing molecular mechanisms mediating drug addiction, which has translated into two publications in Translational Psychiatry (impact factor: 5.182) and Psychopharmacology (impact factor: 3.424). She has also received prestigious NIH and Ford Foundation Fellowships. In addition to research, Anjélica is the President of the UCI Chapter of SACNAS, and she has mentored undergraduate students in the Campuswide Honors Collegium, UROP, and the Minority Sciences Program. Anjélica’s career goals include increasing ethnic and racial diversity within the student population, thereby enhancing the educational benefits of diversity, and ultimately increasing the number of professors with diverse backgrounds.

Samantha García

Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences – Program in Public Health

Samantha García’s research identifies and models social determinants of Mexican American women’s vaccine hesitancy in adopting HPV vaccination that effectively prevents cervical cancer and disproportionately burdens Mexican American women. She works with UCI’s Family Health Center that serves a low income predominantly Hispanic/Latino population to collect data through interviews and surveys. A Mexican American woman herself, she was born and raised in southern California and is pursuing a doctoral degree to advance the science around Latino health disparities. Her research advances health disparity and communication science around understanding and informing public health approaches and use of communication strategies to more effectively reach Latina women to increase preventive health. This research will inform public health intervention strategies to attenuate gaps in preventive health among Mexican American women.

Campus-Wide Awardees


Community member who develops and champions UCI and the UCI Latinx community

Lonnie Alcaraz

Professor of Drama, Claire Trevor School of the Arts

Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz is a Professor at UCI, where he is the head of the lighting design program. He is also a professional lighting designer. He has designed at various regional theatres, such as The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Portland Center Stage, South Coast Repertory, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Laguna Playhouse, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Pasadena Playhouse, The Great River Shakespeare Festival where he is the Resident Lighting Designer, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Syracuse Stage, Arizona Theatre Company and East West Players. Lonnie has built much of his career designing Latinx theatre. He has had a long time relationship with Culture Clash (a Latinx Theatre Group) and has designed their productions of The Birds at both South Coast Repertory and Berkeley Repertory; Culture Clash in AmeriCCa at South Coast Repertory and San Diego Repertory; and their national touring show, Radio Mambo. He has also designed Latinx Productions such as Mojada, Oedipus El Rey, La Posada Magica and American Mariachi. In 2011 he helped form Brown Bag Theatre Company (https://brownbagtheatre.wixsite.com/brownbagtheatre), a Latinx theatre company at UCI giving voice to Latinx students at UCI. BBTC has produced more than 9 full productions, numerous Variety shows and smaller original productions. They have also toured to local high schools for the past 5 years. He is particularly proud of this group and is honored to mentor them in their work. Lonnie is an Associate Artist with critically acclaimed Cornerstone Theater Company which has given him the opportunity to create site-specific lighting designs throughout California. In addition to his theatrical experience, Lonnie designed for Universal Studios Islands of Adventure for Universal Studios, Japan. He is a member of the United Scenic Artist /IATSE – Local 829.


Staff or postdoctoral researcher who displays strong leadership on behalf of UCI’s Latinx community

Kimberly Ayala

Director, Undergraduate/ Undeclared Advising Program

I was the first in my immediate and extended family to attend college. My high school counselor discouraged me from applying to colleges by saying, “People like you (Mexican-Americans) don’t go to college.” I applied anyway and once here at UCI, I was afraid he might have been right. My first quarter, fall courses were challenging, and I felt alone and overwhelmed. It just took one connection to the Early Academic Outreach Office, during the first quarter of my freshman year and I made friendships and mentors and not only succeeded but thrived!

As a Psychology major here at UCI, I was an active member of the UCI community. For most of my four years, I worked as a student coordinator for the Early Academic Outreach Program assisting low-income and first generation high school, and junior high students learn about the opportunities available to them in college. In addition, I was a Peer Academic Advisor in the School of Social Sciences, an Administrative Intern working in the Dean of Students Office, a member of the University Center Board, worked as an after school counselor for elementary school students, and was the co-chair of the Chicano-Latino Graduation. I kept myself very busy and did not let my grades suffer. I learned the criticality of time management and always making sure that all of my supervisors thought they were my number one priority.

As Director of the UCI Undergraduate/Undeclared Advising Program, my primary responsibility is to ensure that all U/U students’ academic counseling needs are met. In addition, I ensure advisors can answer all student questions, monitor student progress, develop interactive ways to assist students in their transition to UCI and mentor and coach students in developing their leadership skills. I’ve been on campus for decades, and I love assisting our U/U students transition to UCI and giving students strategies for academic success, personal success, developing their academic and career goals, and seeing them grow as Anteaters.


Faculty member who mentors and encourages the success of Latinx graduate students and junior faculty

Belinda Campos, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Chicano/Latino Studies, School of Social Sciences

Belinda Campos is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies and an affiliate of the School of Medicine PRIME-LC Program and the Department of Psychological Science. Dr. Campos received her Ph.D. in Social-Personality Psychology from UC Berkeley. After completing her Ph.D., Dr. Campos held postdoctoral positions at UCLA in the Department of Psychology and at the Center for the Everyday Lives of Families in the Department of Anthropology.

Relationships can bring happiness and protect health. What is less understood is how people arrive at high quality relationships that bring happiness and protect health. Dr. Campos’ research examines the role of culture in shaping relationship experience and health. She is particularly interested in U.S. Latino culture, which places a special emphasis on close family relationships and expressing positive emotion. The findings of her work show that cultures that emphasize prioritizing others before the self (e.g., Latino and East Asian) can be beneficial for relationships and protective of health. Dr. Campos’ work seeks to better understand U.S. Latino social experiences and health outcomes in ways that bring attention to (a) sources of resilience and (b) a better understanding of how to reduce risk and disparities in health outcomes.

Dr. Campos publishes in highly regarded peer-reviewed journals including Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Emotion, Journal of Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, Journal of Family Psychology, and Hispanic Journal of the Behavioral Sciences. Her work has been supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Mental Health, and UC Mexus. Her teaching and mentoring have been recognized with awards for outstanding mentorship and excellence in fostering undergraduate research.


Alumni who develop and champion UCI and the UCI Latinx community

Ricardo Hernández, M.P.A.

UCI Alumni

Ricardo Hernández graduated from UCI with B.A.s in Political Science and Spanish Literature. Ricardo was born and was, with the exception of a couple of years when he lived abroad as a child, raised in Los Angeles, CA. He grew up in an economically and culturally diverse community, which helped to shape his formative years.

While attending UCI as an undergraduate in 1996 he co-founded the first Latino Greek Letter organization, Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity, opening the doors for other Latino Greek Letter organizations to be part of the UCI community.

After graduation, Ricardo worked in several non-profit organizations in the Los Angeles County and Orange County area focusing on community organizing and advocating for different social issues in disadvantaged areas. Ricardo then went on to the University of Washington where he earned a Master of Public Administration.

Currently he works in the philanthropic field as a Director for Casey Family Programs, a national foundation focused on improving the child welfare system at the local, state, and federal level. Ricardo oversees activities for the foundation in Los Angeles County, Santa Clara County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and Puerto Rico.

Ricardo currently lives in the West LA area with his wife, son, and daughter. He is an avid traveler and soccer enthusiast.

Thank you to the 2020 LEAD Planning Committee

The Latino Excellence and Achievement Award (LEAD) is an annual program. Please check back for updates on the 2021 LEAD program.