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 ( 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 ( 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.

The Latino Excellence and Achievement Award (LEAD) is an annual program. Please check back in fall 2020 for updates on the 2021 LEAD program.

Thank you for supporting Latinx graduate student success at UCI!

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 (, 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.