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2010 Participants

Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and a Faculty Fellow at Northwestern‟s Institute for Policy Research. Her research focuses on race and ethnic politics, immigration, campaigns and elections and links race and ethnicity with political psychology to understand how „cognition‟ and „affect‟ shape how individuals process information in dynamic political environments.

In 2008, Dr. DeFrancesco Soto served as a primary expert and analyst for CNN en Espaňol‟s Presidential Election coverage, and was Northwestern University‟s principal investigator for the Big Ten Battleground Poll, a public opinion survey of voters for the 2008 election.

Dr. DeFrancesco Soto earned a B.A. in Political Science and Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona and a Masters and Ph.D. in Political Science from Duke University.


Emanuel Pleitez is currently a special assistant in the U.S. Department of the Treasury for the President‟s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. During the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition, Emanuel served as a member of the U.S. Treasury Department Agency Review Team. Prior to joining the Administration, Emanuel was the Director of Investor Relations at EDM Capital Partners and a candidate in California‟s 32nd Congressional District 2009 Special Election. He also served as a special assistant to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa during his L.A. City Council tenure and Mayoral candidacy. Most recently, he co-founded Hispanic Majority PAC, a federal non-connected political action committee dedicated to electing Latino candidates across the country.

Emanuel graduated with a B.A. in Urban Studies from Stanford University. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Alumni Foundation of his alma mater, Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles, and the Salvadoran American Leadership and Education Fund.


Xochitl Yaňez is a communications professional with twelve plus years of experience in strategy, development, and implementation of public relations efforts. She currently manages State Farm Insurance‟s national Hispanic community relationships, where she leads a variety of issues including corporate positioning and reputation, particularly as it relates to corporate social responsibility and communications.

Prior to joining State Farm, Mrs. Yaňez led the communication and community strategies for the City of San Jose Office of the Independent Police Auditor. She also worked for Texas State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer.

Mrs. Yaňez earned a B.B.A. in Economics from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a M. S. in Public Administration from the City University of New York. She is a National Urban Fellow and a participant of the Institute for Public Relations Leadership Forums.


Cynthia Carrasco, Esq. possesses expertise on the issue of Latinos, education pipeline programs and increasing diversity in top corporate offices and law firms. She recently founded The Carrasco Group, LLC, a strategic non-profit and political fundraising and communications firm to empower individuals and the organizations they serve. Currently, she serves as Executive Director of Levitt LA, a non-profit organization that brings arts, music and culture to the heart of Los Angeles.

Ms. Carrasco has served as the Executive Director for the Hispanic National Bar Foundation. As Executive Director for the Hispanic National Bar Foundation, Ms. Carrasco led the Foundation‟s efforts on diversity retention within firms and corporate counsel offices and established collaborative partnerships to launch the Hispanic National Bar Foundation Corporate Law Fellowship program.  

Ms. Carrasco earned a B.A. in Communications and Political Science at Syracuse University, a J.D. from the University Of La Verne College Of Law, and a certificate in Transnational Law from Duke University. She serves on the CentroNia Board of Directors, the District of Columbia Public Defenders Service Board of Trustees, the Esperanza Fund Scholarship Committee and is Co-Chair of the Hispanic Bar Association of DC Membership Committee.

Karla Acevedo is a CHCI public policy fellow, working in the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), where she leads youth leadership development and advocacy workshops. 

Ms. Acevedo is a youth development practitioner with over ten years of experience in program management, outreach, conflict resolution and coaching/mentoring. Prior to joining CHCI, Karla worked at the Boston Center for Community and Justice (BCCJ) as the Youth Programs Associate.

Ms. Acevedo earned a B.A in Human Development and Women‟s Studies from Boston College. She currently serves on the Summer Search Alumni Board, and is a part of the street outreach team at Courtney‟s House.


Ryan Garza is a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) public policy fellow, working in the Honorable Congressman Pastor from Arizona, Mr. Garza works with legislative assistants that deal with labor and education issues. Born and raised in Chicago, Mr. Garza works with non-for profit organizations that works with high school students to address high school dropout rate and gang activity. He is one of eight participants chosen to participate in CHCI‟s first ever semester long congressional placement program.

Mr. Garza is currently studying Political Science, Sociology, and Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He plans to attend law school and become a practicing civil rights lawyer.


Jose Echevarria Acosta is a former U.S. House of Representatives Page for Congressman David Wu and graduate of the Hispanic National Bar Foundation Future Latino Leaders Law Camp. He was a participant at the Oregon Leadership Institute and is President of Glencoe High School‟s El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (M.E.Ch.A).

Mr. Echevarria Acosta will attend Stanford University in the fall of 2010.

Andeliz N. Castillo directs outreach communications for Republican leadership at the House Republican Conference, where she provides communications and coalitions outreach support. Ms. Castillo has also spearheaded the GOP‟s first Spanish language response to the State of the Union and the President‟s address to the Joint Session of Congress. Ms. Castillo served as Director of Outreach Communications for the Republican National Committee in 2008. Prior to working for the House Republican Conference, she worked on the Washington, D.C. staff of Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL).

Ms. Castillo earned a B.A. in Political Science and Hispanic Studies from Brown University. She is a graduate of the Women and Politics Institute's WeLEAD training program at American University. Ms. Castillo also founded and directed the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute‟s Mentorship program.

Ana Martinez has served as Founding Principal for the new Rowe Elementary School since July 2008, and is primarily responsible for its development and success.  Ms. Martinez is dedicated to closing the achievement gap and leveling the playing field for our students through our school–providing a quality education aimed at setting up our students for long-term success.

She left teaching in June of 2006 to work at Teach For America to build her management skills while continuing work on closing the achievement gap. There, she served as the Program Director for the Miami-Dade region, where she facilitated the professional development of the 100-member teaching corps across all grade-levels and content areas throughout Miami-Dade Public Schools. She also served as the Director of Talent Recruitment and was responsible for fueling the organization with talent from the corps member and alumni base and managing multiple organizational teams to achieve the desired outcomes.

Ms. Martinez taught elementary school within the Los Angeles Unified School District, during which time she received a Masters in Elementary Education, a multiple-subject teaching credential with an endorsement in bilingual education, and an administrative credential through the state of California.


Christina L. Martini, Esq. is a partner with DLA Piper. She is Vice Chair of the Chicago Intellectual Property Practice Group and is a member of the Policy Committee. Ms. Martini focuses her practice on domestic and international trademark and copyright law, as well as domain name, Internet, advertising, unfair competition and entertainment law. She has extensive experience in counseling, prosecution, enforcement, due diligence and licensing matters, and in assisting clients in protecting their intellectual property rights through litigation and other means, including the courts and uniform dispute resolution procedures.

Ms. Martini is committed to making a positive difference in the careers and lives of others. For five years, she served as the Chicago office's Hiring Partner. She has managed all aspects of law student and associate recruiting, including summer programs, on-campus recruiting and lateral associate hiring initiatives. In addition, for the past several years, she has been an integral part on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms, the National Diversity Committees, the National Steering Committee of DLA Piper's women's initiative, and the Leadership Alliance for Women (LAW).


Jorge Quintana, Esq. serves as a Deputy Secretary of State and Chief Legal Counsel for the Office of the Montana Secretary of State. He is currently responsible for the legal issues that arise in the office, including questions concerning elections law and business law. He also represents the office in front of the Montana Legislature.

Prior to working for the Secretary of State, Jorge Quintana operated the Quintana Law Office, a private law practice. He previously worked as a prosecutor at both the county and State level. Jorge is also the chair of the Lewis & Clark County Democratic Central Committee. He is also on the executive board of the Montana Democratic Party where he is also the Chair of the Rules Committee.

Quintana earned his J.D. from the University of Montana and a B.A. from the State University of New York, Stony Brook.


Robert Rodriguez Ph.D, is one of the leading experts on Latino diversity in corporate America and his book, "Latino Talent: Effective Strategies to Recruit, Retain & Develop Hispanic Professionals" has provided a framework for dozens of Fortune 100 companies looking to enhance Latino diversity initiatives. He is a frequent speaker at diversity conferences and often presents to senior executives. His passion however involves speaking with Latino professionals on how to leverage their uniqueness and ethnicity as a source of strength and as an asset in the workplace.

He currently serves on the board of directors for several non-profit organizations and is the Director of the Center for Corporate Learning at Kaplan University and leads Kaplan‟s Latino diversity efforts. Dr. Rodriguez is also a columnist for Diversity Executive Magazine. In January 2010, Dr. Rodriguez was recognized in Latino Leaders Magazine as one of the top Latinos in the country age 40 and under.

He earned his doctorate in Organization Development and he is a graduate of the Latino Leadership Institute at UCLA.


Jorge Madrid is a research associate for the Energy Policy Team in American Progress, assisting Van Jones in spearheading the Green Opportunity Initiative. Jorge has also worked as a legislative fellow in the Office of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), where he worked closely with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Climate Change and the Green Economy.

As a graduate student, Jorge worked in the office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, providing research assistance and policy recommendations for clean technology business, job creation and antipoverty measures. In addition, he served as a consultant for the Los Angeles Infrastructure Academy, a nonprofit organization focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), education, and green jobs training for inner-city youth. 

Jorge completed a dual master‟s degree program in Urban Planning and Public Administration at the University of Southern California; and received an undergraduate degree in History and Latin America studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.


Noralisa Leo is currently a Managing Director at DCI Group where she brings over 15 years experience in legislative policy analysis, regulatory compliance, strategic communications and non-profit management. Her career includes positions in the government, non-profit and corporate sectors.

Previously, Noralisa served as the External Affairs Officer and Deputy Director for the Smithsonian Latino Center where she led efforts to establish and implement the overall strategic direction of development and fund raising; and, marketing and public relations activity on behalf of the Smithsonian Latino Center in the U.S. and abroad, including all web-related and new media initiatives. In the corporate sector, She advised internal business units and senior management on financial regulatory issues and ensured compliance with agency regulators and housing and banking congressional oversight committees.

Noralisa holds a B.A. from Wellesley College. She earned an MS in International Development Management and an MBA in Finance from American University.


Norma S. Garza serves as executive director to the National Board for Education Sciences for the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education and co-chairs a Federal Early Learning and Development Interdepartmental Initiative study team for the U.S. Department of Education in the area of parent, family and community engagement. She recently served as a commissioner of the White House Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans Commission and the National Reading Panel (NRP).

Prior to this position, Norma served as Senior Advisor to U.S. Department of Education in the area of early childhood education. In 1996, Norma co-founded the Brownsville Reads Task Force, a non-profit organization of community members and educators who have joined together to promote research-based reading instruction in the public and private schools of Brownsville, Texas with the overall goal of creating a more literate community.

She received an undergraduate business degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and has practiced as a certified public accountant for 18 years.


Joseph Guzman, Ph.D., is President of StratGlobal, a research and consulting firm in Northern Virginia. From 2005 to 2009, Dr. Guzman served with distinction in Federal Executive Service as First Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Office of Financial Management & Comptroller, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force and as Director of the Department of Defense Biometric Management Office.  He is an elected representative to the Loudoun County School Board, where he is serving a second term. He is also co-founder of the American Society of Hispanic Economists (ASHE) and Vice President of the Step-Up Now Scholarship Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia.

Dr. Guzman previously served as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Georgetownʼs McDonough School of Business, where he logged the highest teaching ratings on record for every course taught.

Joseph Guzman earned' a Ph.D. in Economic Analysis and Policy from Stanford University and holds advanced degrees in economics, statistics and business research from Stanford together with an MBA and an undergraduate engineering degree from the University of Arizona.


Julissa Arce is member of the Structured Investment Solutions Group for the Americas at Goldman Sachs & Co. where she focuses on the investment needs of high net worth clients. Julissa‟s primary areas of focus are in the creation, structuring, and marketing of structured investment strategies. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for the Esperanza Educational Fund and has passed level I and II of the CFA program.

Julissa joined the team in 2005 after graduating from The McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin with a B.B.A. in Finance with honors.

Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, Ph.D., is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO). He is also Assistant Director of the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies at UNO, and a Senior Research Associate of the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia. He is an internationally recognized scholar of U.S. Foreign Policy and has authored numerous books, articles and reports on U.S. – Cuban relations and broader energy and national security issues in Latin America. 

A native Californian, he received his B.A. in International Relations at UCLA (1986), an M.A. in International Policy Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies(1991), and a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Georgia (1997).

Mónica Talán is vice president of Corporate Communications at Univision Communications, Inc., the leading Spanish-language media company in the United States. In this position she is responsible for managing the Company‟s strategic communications and media relations efforts and promoting Univision‟s suite of market-leading assets.

Prior to joining Univision, she spent more than 10 years at Fleishman-Hillard, most recently serving as senior vice president and partner, where she served as senior counselor and strategist for general and Hispanic market initiatives. Previously, she was Public Relations manager for Enron Latin America.  Earlier in her career, Ms. Talán served as International Media Coordinator for the Texas Department of Commerce.

Ms. Talán is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. Fluently bilingual in English and Spanish, she was born in Mexico City and grew up in Laredo, Texas.


Benjamin Sauceda is part of the Great American Forum assembling panels of diverse people from all races, ages and genders. He has been politically involved since the age of 13. He served for 5 years as an Associate Pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas.

In 2008, Benjamin and wife of Congressman Todd Tiahrt, Vicki Tiahrt, started the Great American Forum. Through the Great American Forum , he encouraged every American to become educated and involved in the political process, and show the true diversity that exists amongst conservatives in Kansas.


Haydee Caldero is a Principal and co-founder of Dignitas, LLC and is responsible for designing the firm‟s real estate and private asset investment models. She is the co-founder of the Freemen Institute a campaign management and public relations firm specializing in local and federal races. She is an active member of the Urban Land Institute and currently sits on the Finance Committee for the Chicago Young Leaders Group, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School's Leadership Advisory Committee and the Metropolitan Club‟s Women's Connection.

Ms. Caldero was previously at Eastdil Secured, where she advised high net worth individuals and financial institutions on the disposition and recapitalization of over $5.0 billion in trophy commercial real estate throughout the United States. Ms. Caldero has worked on marquee real estate assets including the Sears Tower, John Hancock, Inland Steel Building and Houston Galleria.

Ms. Caldero is a native of Chicago and attended Whitney Young Magnet High School; she received a B.A. in Government and Women‟s Studies fromWesleyan University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


Mariela A. Rodríguez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio where she has worked with master‟s and doctoral students since 2004. 

She served as University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) Convention Planning Committee Co-Chair in 2009 and Plenum Session Representative to UCEA from 2007-2010. Dr. Rodríguez has served as a manuscript reviewer for several journals, and as a conference proposal reviewer for UCEA, the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE). Her research interests focus on school leadership that supports additive bilingual education programs, specifically dual language instruction. Dr. Rodriguez has co-authored articles in the Journal of School Leadership, the International Journal of Leadership in Education, and the Journal of Research on Leadership Education.

She is a native of Brownsville, Texas where she worked as a bilingual educator. Dr. Rodríguez received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration from New Mexico State University in 2003.

Anna Rios is the director of research at Si TV. She most recently was primetime research manager for Walt Disney‟s ABC Television Network and earlier in her career was a national spot sales/research and marketing analyst for Univision Television Group.

During her six years at ABC, Rios was active in pitching, leading and reporting on numerous qualitative and quantitative market research projects for the network’s primetime programming. She joined ABC in 2004 as a senior research analyst and was named to her most recent position, primetime research manager, in 2006. Before joining ABC, Rios was a national spot sales/research and marketing analyst for Univision Television Group in Los Angeles. In that position, she identified and analyzed Latino demographic and consumption trends across all consumer service and product categories.

Rios earned a bachelor‟s degree from Wellesley College, where she double majored in religion and Spanish literature and graduated cum laude. She also studied at the University of Cordoba in Spain and at the MIT Sloan School of Management.


Marcos C. Gonzalez has developed private equity fund management, investment and strategy consulting expertise in both the US and Latin America over the course of his 15+ year career. Marcos began his career with IBM and then joined The Boston Consulting Group (based in Monterrey Mexico) after receiving his MBA. Later, Marcos entered the private equity industry – first with Bastion Capital (Los Angeles) – the first Hispanic owned private equity fund, and most recently at Darby Private Equity (Washington DC), founded by former Treasury Secretary Nicolas Brady.

Most recently Marcos has embarked on the creation of The New Hollywood Fund – a venture/private equity fund that will seek to make investments in a portfolio of independent films that reflect a multi-cultural America. In addition, the fund will seek to support talented professionals of color in front of and behind the camera. The Fund seeks to harness business creativity, analytics and broad strategy and investment experience to create a film portfolio that makes sense for investors, talent and markets.

Marcos graduated from Brown University in Providence RI (B.A. 1989) and Harvard Business School in Boston MA (MBA 1994).

Alida M. Garcia-Okoebor, Esq. is a recipient of the Los Angeles City Fellowship, a program to bring members of the private sector into Los Angeles City Hall. As a participant in the inaugural class of the LA City Fellows, Alida works in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Office of Economic and Business Policy primarily focused on business attraction and retention in the City of LA. She currently sits on the Executive Committee of Hispanic Majority PAC, which strives to increase the presence of Latinos in federal elected office.

After law school she worked at K&L Gates LLP law firm as a litigation associate with a practice primarily focused on commercial disputes and employment litigation, including wage and hour class actions. Later, while studying at Columbia Law School, she received the Equal Justice America Fellowship to work for Public Counsel Law Center in their Children‟s Rights Project‟s Special Education Law practice. Alida has continued her community involvement through California Democratic politics, serving as the Deputy Director of Latino Vote in California for President Obama‟s Presidential campaign, the Co-Chair of Young Professionals for Kamala Harris, and Latinos for Kamala Harris.

Mrs. Garcia-Okoebor received her B.A. in Communication from Stanford University and her J.D. from Columbia Law.

Yovany Jerez works as a sales/marketing professional for the manufacturing industry, the packaging/logistics industry, the publishing industry, and the telecom industry. Through his work with “Trekking for Kids”, he has helped more than 300 orphans around the remote areas of the world. He is an avid world traveler, marrying his thirst for new adventures/experiences/knowledge with his constant desire to help others.

Born and raised in Havana, Cuba. his family arrived to the USA when he was twelve-years old.  He started the 7th grade in Boston, attended East Boston High School, was awarded a scholarship to Phillips Academy, and graduated in 2003 from Dartmouth College with a double major in Sociology and Spanish Literature.


Ricardo Velasquez is a legal professional that presently serves on various political and judiciary boards. In addition, Velasquez is the publisher of La Conexion, the oldest Spanish language newspaper in North Carolina. After receiving his law degree from North Carolina Central University he went into private practice and now has the largest Latino law practice in North Carolina.

From a military family, he received a Presidential Nomination to the U.S. Air Force Academy and later earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in Economics and Materials Engineering from North Carolina State University. Furthermore, he is a fellow of Leadership Triangle and the Institute of Political Leadership.


Dr. Melissa Vargas currently serves as the Illinois State Leader for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry - Head Start Dental Home Initiative, and sits on the Boards of the Illinois Society of Pediatric Dentistry and the Greater Chicago Hispanic Dental Association. She is board certified by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, is on the medical staff of the Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, and provides care in both English and Spanish in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago and in Winnetka. 

Prior to founding City Kids Dental North Shore, LLC in 2009, Dr. A. Melissa Vargas spent over 7 years providing oral health services to pediatric and special needs patients in private practice offices and not-for-profit clinics. Dr. Vargas has also been an active member and held various leadership roles with the High Jump Enrichment Program and the Auxiliary of the Infant Welfare Society.

Kennie Blanco is a portfolio manager at BlackRock in San Francisco, California and a member of BlackRock's Scientifically-Driven Active Equity team. He is responsible for managing the Scientific Equity portable alpha strategies. Kennie also manages currency hedging, beta hedging, and capital activity for the North American Scientific Equity funds. Prior to joining Blackrock, he was a program trader at UBS Investment Bank in Stamford, Connecticut before becoming a hedge fund consultant in Manhattan, New York. 

Kennie earned a BA in economics and BBA in finance from the University of Texas at Austin.