The SDLA posts profiles of our Fellows at the time they are admitted to the SDLA Institute. After graduation, many Fellows change advance in their careers or have other accomplishments, which are not reflected here. Accomplishments of SDLA Institute alumni can be found here.
Nikki Weil is an attorney, trained in communication, mediation and conflict resolution. Through her (non-legal) consulting practice, Empowered Communication by Nikki Weil, she offers communication and conflict resolution courses and private coaching to professionals, individuals and parents. Nikki is a certified instructor with Gordon Training International. She teaches people how to talk so others will listen, how to listen so others will talk, how to confront others when problems arise and how to solve problems so that everyone gets their needs met.
With these skills, Nikki helps professionals accomplish more and stress less, she helps women feel confident and assertive in their personal and professional lives, and she helps parents reconnect with the joy of parenting and raise confident, independent and empathetic problem-solvers. Nikki has owned and managed a private law practice since 2012. She also has professional experience in sales, marketing and advocacy. Nikki earned a J.D. from University of San Diego School of Law, Cum Laude, in 2011 and is a member of the State Bar of California. She earned a B.A. in Public Policy, Planning and Development, Cum Laude, from the University of Southern California in 2005.
Throughout her professional career, Nikki has held several leadership positions in local and national nonprofits and consistently meets with elected officials to discuss important issues. Her strengths include writing, problem solving and event planning. Nikki loves to meet people and learn about different cultures. She enjoys walking, yoga and spending time with family and friends. Nikki is also fluent in Spanish.
Paola Aracely Ilescas is a Community Health Specialist at Vista Community Clinic, a non-profit health care center that serves the North County region. She currently coordinates a group of community leaders, known as Poder Popular, who spearhead advocacy work surrounding public health issues. She co-facilitated a curriculum focused on clarifying social inequalities that contribute to health disparities. With the curriculum completed, Paola was able to welcome and enlist a new set of community leaders that helped expand Poder Popular.
Paola assists in guiding the group to advocate for policy changes that enrich and support disenfranchised neighborhoods. Through this, Paola continues to investigate methods that capacitate Poder Popular in different realms, including negotiating, organizing skills, and leadership. Being first generation and Zapoteca, Paola continues to support her community outside her professional work. As a member FIOB, Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales, Paola documents the events and the work that is centered on the indigenous migrant experience and addresses issues pertaining to the community, such as interpretation and cultural revitalization.
She also works internationally with other bases in Mexico and is able to mediate meetings that ultimately serve to minimize the disparities in indigenous migrants’ experiences. As a resident and activist in Vista, she has observed that there are opportunities to expand the network and coordination in North County. She is excited to be part of a progressive group and of the 2018 SDLA cohort looks forward to her growth.
Ryan is the Director of Strategic Advancement at San Diego Grantmakers, a regional association of more than 115 foundations, corporate philanthropy programs, giving circles, donor-advised funds, grantmaking public charities and government funders where he leads the expansion of SDG’s efforts in membership growth, resource development, public policy, and communications.
Previously leading the San Diego Center for Civic Engagement at the San Diego Foundation, Ryan’s career in philanthropy and community organizing has leveraged over $2.5bn in infrastructure funding and directly raised $15m for local charities. Ryan moved to San Diego from Brisbane, Australia, where he spent five years as a policy and media adviser in the federal government on the portfolios of financial services, industry and innovation.
An active writer and thinker about future directions in philanthropy, Ryan has authored thought pieces and OP-EDs in numerous national publications and has been a speaker at internationally renowned conferences such as South By South West (SXSW), the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference (PRSA ICON), Social Media Week, and more locally at Politifest and the Cause Conference on themes focused on civic technology and immersive storytelling.
Born in London, Kaison spent his early years in Tokyo and grew up in the DC metropolitan area. He studied mathematics and computer science at Williams College. Since then, he has launched or helped grow social enterprises in food, education, and environment.
Kaison is currently the managing director of Impact Without Borders, an organization that serves social enterprises in the San Diego-Tijuana region through accelerators, human-centered design workshops, and innovation management services. He has been in San Diego since 2014, where he has served as program lead for the San Diego Startup Leadership Program, Steering Committee member of Leaders2020, and senior analyst for Tech Coast Angels.
Randy Van Vleck has been with City Heights Community Development Corporation since 2010, where he works as the Transportation & Planning Manager. In 2008, he graduated with Honors from UC San Diego with a BA in Sociology and a Minor in Urban Studies & Planning. In his work, Randy connects residents to decision making opportunities, helps facilitate community-based transportation planning, advocates for policies that achieve transportation justice, and works with agencies to advance walking, biking, and transit projects in the City Heights area.
He has helped secure $180 million in infrastructure for walking, biking, and transit projects in the Mid City area and co-led a campaign to change course on a freeway expansion project on the Martin Luther King Jr. SR-94 which will now implement a community-supported Bus-On-Shoulder Pilot Project. Randy stays rooted in the community he grew up in – Castle Park, Chula Vista. He founded Bike Walk Chula Vista in 2012. Under his leadership, Bike Walk Chula Vista was able to generate community, business, and political support for the implementation of four miles of bike lanes on Broadway Ave.
He also founded and co-organizes Los Cruzadores which has led transnational bike rides from San Diego to Tijuana since 2006. Randy serves as an appointed member of the City of San Diego Bicycle Advisory Board, and served on the SR-15 CenterLine BRT Stations Study, University Avenue Working Group, and San Diego County Bike Coalition Board of Directors. He is a 3rd generation San Diegan, and a 2nd generation Brazilian-American.
Katie Penninga works as the Clinical Services Manager in the HIV department at San Ysidro Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center providing comprehensive health care services at multiple sites throughout the South Bay, South San Diego, and East County. In her role, Katie manages the operations of two HIV medical clinics, including the administration of two federal grants that support clinic medical services and demonstration projects.
With bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Social Work from Calvin College, she began as a frontline social worker directly interacting with clients and families. After obtaining her master’s degree in Social Work from Grand Valley State University, Katie moved into supervision and management of public health programs. Initially, her efforts concentrated on maternal-child health and early childhood programs, but she has now moved her focus to HIV/AIDS.
Originally from Grand Rapids, MI, Katie first experienced San Diego when she moved to the area shortly after college. After working in the area for about a year and a half, she left to take an opportunity to live and work in rural Peru. Returning to Michigan from Peru, Katie began working for a community health care organization and completed graduate school. After experiencing several brutal Michigan winters while building her management expertise, Katie returned to San Diego in August 2015 and has been happily making the city her home.
Rachel Stevens is the Development Assistant for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. Rachel joined the ACLU in 2017 and is responsible for managing the donor database and assists in donor cultivation and stewardship.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Economics and Women and Gender Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder, with a focus on the economics of inequality and discrimination. Her experience with nonprofits began in college, where she led a fundraising and community engagement committee for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA).
Rachel serves as the Marketing and Communications Chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and is passionate about engaging emerging leaders and developing impactful programs to serve the nonprofit community. Rachel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts and lived in Boulder, Colorado for six years before relocating to San Diego in 2016. In her free time she enjoys listening to political podcasts, exploring new restaurants, and hiking national parks.
Matthew Hunter is passionate about socioeconomic justice and improving people’s lives through organized labor. Having only a G.E.D, he began his career with San Diego Gas and Electric at the age of 25. From there, he progressed from a general laborer to a registered Cathodic Electrician with the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (N.A.C.E) over a 13-year period. Matthew is presently the subject matter expert and lead trainer in regards to corrosion control at San Diego Gas and Electric.
Not long after his initial hiring, Matthew found himself engaging with the local union and advocating for others through the collective bargaining agreement. In 2017, he became the Political Registrar and a Shop Steward for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 465. In taking the role of the Political Registrar, Matthew advocates for working families locally and in Sacramento along with engaging local union memberships concerning the importance of political participation.
Matthew is a native to San Diego, California who grew up in East County. He is committed to building alliances that strengthen the ability of all working class people, no matter their race, religion, or sexual orientation to better their lives and the lives of their families through their labor.
Liliane serves as the Operations Manager for Blair Search Partners – a retained executive search firm specializing in placements for San Diego-based nonprofit organizations – where she is involved in almost every aspect of the firm’s daily operations. Liliane began her career in technology, providing IT solutions for school districts throughout San Diego County, with clients such as Rancho Santa Fe School District, Cajon Valley Unified School District, and San Marcos Unified School District.
Current community involvement includes Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP), LEAD San Diego, Lotus Credit Fund, Women Give San Diego, and Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN). In addition, Liliane is a professional flautist and has taught both privately and for award-winning music programs in San Diego County for over five years. Liliane received her BA with summa cum laude honors. She also holds a MBA from California State University San Marcos, where she graduated valedictorian of her class and was the recipient of the faculty-nominated “Outstanding Graduate Student” award within her specialization of International Business, which included work in Germany.
Born and raised in San Diego, Satomi Rash-Zeigler left her beloved hometown to pursue a degree in Psychology at UCLA. After several years of working as an organizer around the country, including a short stint in Cleveland as an organizing director for a local community based organization, she returned to San Diego where she currently works at University Professional and Technical Employees, Communication Workers of America Local 9119 (UPTE-CWA 9119) as a Leadership Development Coordinator for the Student Services Professionals Campaign at UCSD.
Outside of her work with the union, Satomi is part of the core committee for APALA San Diego where she works collectively with the other activists and leaders to address issues that revolve around immigration, labor, affordable housing, and racial and economic justice. She is also collaborating with community members in East County SD to shift the political landscape to reflect the ideological diversity held by East County residents.
In her free time, Satomi is a performing member of San Diego Taiko, a traditional Japanese drumming group and the cofounder of The Magnificent, an entertainment and production company. She is also an avid urban gardener, voracious foodie/baker/cook, marathon-runner, and ever-vigilant and unabashed optimist who fights for social justice out of love for her communities.
Estefanía currently serves as a Project Analyst for UC San Diego’s Office of the Vice Chancellor-Student Affairs (VCSA). In this role, she provides internal project management, research, and analytical support to senior administrative leaders. Prior to her position at UC San Diego, she coordinated college literacy programs for high school youth as an Outreach Program Manager for the University of Michigan’s Center for Educational Outreach. Her previous involvements also include research assistantships at the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) and the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public good.
Estefanía was born in San Salvador, El Salvador and raised in Los Angeles, California. At a young age, she learned to embrace her family’s passionate pursuit for a better life and became committed to her academic journey. The first in her family to attend college, she received a Bachelor’s degree from UC Irvine and a Master’s degree in Higher Education from the University of Michigan. Through this leadership program and with a collective of progressive leaders, Estefanía intends to build and harness the knowledge, tools, and resources to serve and advocate with underrepresented, working-class, and immigrant communities.
Juan Vargas is an Escondido resident who is actively seeking change within his community. Currently, he works as the Administrative Assistant to the Assistant Principal and Academic Dean at Del Lago Academy within the Escondido Union High School District. He also serves as part of the Executive Committee for the North County Immigration Task Force. Prior to this, he worked as a project manager and sales representative for a construction company.
Unhappy with the situations his community continues to face in regards various social issues, especially immigrant rights, he left the customer service field in pursuit of a career that would allow him to volunteer his time and be active in the community. He went back to school where he worked to obtain an Associates Degree in General Studies with an Emphasis in Social and Behavioral Sciences and intends to continue towards obtaining a bachelors degree in Sociology.
Juan is also a part of the music and arts community; regularly performing in a band throughout San Diego County. Together with other members in the North County music and arts scene, he is in the process of creating an arts collective who through art and music bring light to issues throughout our communities and revitalizes youth interest in organizing for change. As a first generation Chicano and a father of two, Juan dreams of creating a community that fosters progressive change for generations to come.
Caryl Montero-Adams is originally from a small town in northeast Ohio. As a first-generation college student, she moved across the state to pursue higher education. While in school, her co-curricular involvement introduced her to social issues and the progressive community. Caryl’s transformative collegiate experiences sparked a lifelong passion for service and community engagement, which included tutoring refugees, working on political campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights, lobbying on Capitol Hill for comprehensive sexuality education, and participating in an intensive experiential learning program centered on issues of diversity and inclusion.
Having established roots in San Diego in 2011, Caryl serves as the Assistant Director of Student Life & Leadership for Fraternity & Sorority Life at San Diego State University. Her primary responsibility is leading the Greek community at SDSU with the vision of “collaboration, inclusion and integrity.” At SDSU, Caryl also serves on several cross-campus committees, including the Sexual Violence Task Force, Alcohol and Other Drug Task Force, and the Integrative Diversity Task Force, to name a few. Prior to her role as Assistant Director, she served as a Residence Hall Coordinator and was honored with the Exceptional New Professional award from the Division of Student Affairs at SDSU in 2014.
Caryl earned a Bachelor of Science in Education degree in Health Promotion and Education: Community Health from the University of Cincinnati and a Master of Science degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Indiana University. Caryl is passionate about issues of inclusion, access, gender equality, reproductive justice, community development, and health promotion.
Matthew is an Oceanside native doing his best to create positive change in the communities and spaces he is most passionate about. An unapologetic progressive and LGBTQ advocate, he currently works at Tedstrom Associates, an LGBTQ stakeholder engagement and management consultant firm helping to foster greater equality and equity in business, government, and civil society. Matthew also sits on the Victory Campaign Board, raising money for LGBTQ candidates locally and across the country.
As a history nerd, Matthew holds both his B.A. and M.A. in History from San Diego State University, which allows him to be an enthusiastic adjunct professor at San Diego City College.
During his spare time, Matthew reads the San Diego Business Journal, reviews agendas and minutes from various community planning groups across the city, and periodically calls his elected representatives to support pro-housing policies. A proud affordable housing, smart growth, and YIMBY advocate, he hopes to connect with and inspire others to support housing and transportation justice in San Diego and beyond.
Matthew lives in South Park with his partner, Daren, neither of whom wants children, nor dogs, at this time.
Jennifer V. Kulka began working as a therapist at an outpatient County-contracted mental health clinic in April of 2017. She deeply enjoys providing individual and group therapy services to transitional-aged youth (TAY) experiencing severe mental illness, and assists with redeveloping the TAY program at her clinic.
Jennifer graduated from her Master of Social Work program in 2016, during which she worked for Planned Parenthood facilitating a Youth Organizing and Policy Institute, a Youth Leadership Academy, and providing direct patient care. In between work and class, she interned as a therapist at Center for Community Solutions, a non-profit that provides services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse.
Jennifer also interned at The Association for Community Housing Solutions, a nonprofit permanent-supportive housing provider for adults with severe mental illness. It was during her degree that Jennifer felt she had planted the seeds to become a catalyst for community change. After her degree, Jennifer moved to Australia where she gained experience in international social work and chased koalas, but she resolved to make San Diego her permanent home. Jennifer is interested in affecting policies that impact her clients and acting as a voice for those that she serves. Her passions are mental health, trauma, women's issues, and transitional-age youth.
Carolyn Winn is passionate about improving access to healthcare and education for all communities. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Minor in Theatre, and a Certificate in College Counseling from the University of California, San Diego. By coordinating and providing internship placements, personal and professional skills workshops, mentorship, and college and career guidance, she empowers hundreds of high school students from diverse backgrounds to imagine and attain their highest career aspirations.
Prior, Carolyn worked to improve access to sexual health information and services through her work at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest (PPPSW). There, she held positions in clinical settings as well as administrative departments including marketing, community engagement, and volunteer program management. During this time she founded and ran a progressive public speaking club called “Toast 4 Choice” and was elected to the governing body of Mid-City Community Advocacy Network.
After eight years of service at PPPSW, she pursued her lifelong dream of travelling the world for one year. With her husband, she visited several countries in Latin America and Europe. Together, they had many transformative experiences such as participating in work exchanges, language programs, organic farming, and hospitality services. She resides in Ocean Beach and is an active member of the OB Town Council and other local grassroots initiatives.
As a Program Manager for Cleantech San Diego, Alyssa oversees the San Diego Regional Energy Innovation Network, a state-funded incubator program that provides innovative clean technology startups in the San Diego region with access to free commercialization services through a number of partner organizations.
Alyssa graduated with a B.A. in Community Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Community Studies is a unique program that blends sociology, anthropology, and politics in the study of community organizing, social movements, and the nonprofit sector. Since graduating, Alyssa has worked for nonprofits, startups, and business advisors in a variety of roles that have nurtured her passion for social and environmental impact. These diverse experiences feed her desire to facilitate collaboration whenever possible between the public, private, nonprofit and academic sectors on complex social and environmental challenges.
A native San Diegan, Alyssa loves craft beer and cruising around Balboa Park. In her free time, she enjoys visiting art museums, photographing the world around her, and getting lost on road trips.
Luis Montero-Adams was born in Los Angeles and is the oldest child of two undocumented immigrants. Concerned about increasing violence, the family moved to San Diego when Luis was a young child. Years later, after his parents obtained United States citizenship, Luis’s family moved to back to Tijuana to be closer to their extended family. Choosing to continue attending school in San Diego, Luis joined his father as a member of the international commuter community. Although Luis has lived in San Diego since September 12, 2001, his binational roots have shaped his perspective and how he engages the region.
Soon after graduating from San Diego High School, Luis began his 10 years of service at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest. There, he held positions in each of the three pillars of the agency’s mission: education, health services, and advocacy. Introducing him to the San Diego progressive community, his time at Planned Parenthood also ignited his passion for community organizing, coalition building, and volunteer engagement.
In 2015, Luis enrolled at San Diego State University. In December 2017, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Women’s Studies with a minor in Latin American Studies. Having recently graduated, Luis has now shifted his focus to returning to the progressive community and is excited that SDLA will play a large role.
Brendan Dentino works as an Americorps VISTA member within the City of San Diego’s Economic Development Department working to increase economic opportunity and decrease unemployment and poverty in the federally-designated San Diego Promise Zone.
A New Jersey native, Brendan received a BS in Exercise Science from the George Washington University, at which he participated in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC). After graduating, he accepted a commission in the United States Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer.
Upon being stationed in San Diego, Brendan quickly fell in love with his new home and became increasingly aware of and interested in the economic injustices facing his fellow San Diegans. After coming across the literature of urban theorist Mike Davis in 2016, he decided to commit to a career path advancing progressive causes. Before transitioning out of active duty service in early 2018, he volunteered for progressive candidates running for the San Diego Community College District Board of Trustees, and attended many progressive training sessions and organizational meetings.
Brendan enjoys reading and writing about Southern California society and culture, doing crossword puzzles, working out, and listening to his holy triumvirate of favorite bands—Avenged Sevenfold, Bruce Springsteen, and David Bowie. He is currently working toward a Master of Science in Integrated Design, Business, and Technology at the University of Southern California.