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.
Valerie Mendoza is a resident of Escondido who is actively working on creating a positive change in her community while learning how to advocate for others. She is currently an account clerk for the County of San Diego with goals of obtaining a degree in Sociology. She enjoys spending much of her time with her family, practicing photography and volunteering within North County as much as she can.
Recently, Valerie served as a Kitchen member and photographer for newly-elected, City-Council Member, Consuelo Martinez’s 2018 campaign. During that time, she learned about social issues within her community and the importance of civic engagement. Valerie is passionate about ending homelessness in her community and has volunteered for The Regional Task Force on the Homeless. She is also passionate about immigrant rights and is an active member of the North County Immigration Task Force. She has also volunteered for The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) focusing on efforts to educate the Latino community and youth within Escondido on the importance of voting and how to successfully register. Valerie hopes to fully embrace and better support the organizations and resources at her finger-tips while creating a more impactful change in her community.
Melissa is originally from Lynn, Massachusetts and, in 2016, graduated with a B.A. in Cinema from Denison University in Granville, Ohio. After college, she volunteered in the Peace Corps focusing on HIV prevention with youth. In 2018, Melissa moved to Vista, California, where she is currently working on alcohol and tobacco prevention at Vista Community Clinic. Melissa is passionate about immigrant empowerment, public health, education, and policy advocacy to help people and our communities thrive. Melissa also has an interest in healthy and active lifestyles through nutrition, fitness, and accessibility to good healthcare.
Ibrahim Ahmed graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Political Science and shortly after received a Masters Degree in Public Administration. Ahmed is a product of the City Heights area where he has resided for over 20 years. Ahmed is a first-generation Somali-American and has been strongly involved in various communities throughout the City of San Diego. Ahmed believes that it is extremely important to embrace and give back to the community you come from.
A fledgling entrepreneur, Dike Anyiwo is a first-generation American born and raised in Southern California. Dike attended UC Riverside where he initially studied Chemical Engineering before transitioning to Business Economics in pursuit of a career in the soccer industry. After relocating to San Diego in 2012, Dike worked in community relations and human resources roles, before finding his feet in the marketing department of a local, family-owned company, soccerloco. At soccerloco Dike advanced from a Marketing Assistant to Customer Service Manager, to Editor in Chief of the company’s news website, SoccerNation.com, where he specialized in digital content creation across a range of channels, including written content, social media and podcast/video production.
In 2018, Dike founded his first company, Threeke Media Inc and launched The San Diego Chronicle, bringing him closer in tune with civic affairs in San Diego. An active member of his community, Dike joined the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Board in October 2018 and is also a member of the Communications, Education and Marketing sub-committee for the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County. Dike was also instrumental in the founding of the Manchester United Supporters Club of San Diego and remains active in adult recreational leagues.
Daniel Carrillo is a Senior Internship Counselor with the Academic Internship Program at UC San Diego. In this role, Daniel works with campus and community partners to develop community-based learning opportunities for students. As a first-generation college student, Daniel is passionate about working with students to discover their interests and how to make a positive impact in their communities. Originally from San Bernardino, Daniel began his career at the University of Washington in an early childhood education program that connected college students as mentors in Head Start preschool classrooms.
While living in Seattle, he joined a city commission to work on technology access issues and volunteered with grant-making committees and advocacy organizations to address disparities in all levels of education. Daniel continues to work to improve the campus community on issues of diversity, sustainability, and access. He hopes to apply the knowledge and skills he has gained to advocate for underrepresented communities in the San Diego region.
Ariana Criste is the Grant Manager for the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito, where she assists the organization in fundraising and public relations for its seven Clubhouses and seven specialty programs. Originally from the Sacramento area, she graduated with Honors from UC San Diego with a BA in Political Science and a Minor in International Migration Studies in 2016. While at UCSD, she was involved in the A.S. Office of Local Affairs and wrote for a student-led international affairs journal. As a member of the AmeriCorps JusticeCorps program, Ariana assisted self-represented litigants at the court-based, Family Law Facilitator’s Office in South County.
This experience prompted her to complete UCSD Extension’s Paralegal Program and she worked as a Legal Assistant for a year. In 2017, she reaffirmed her commitment to a career in service and entered into the Boys & Girls Clubs Movement. She is proud to be a part of an organization that turns no child away and that is shaping the next generation of citizens, dreamers, and doers. Ariana is passionate about educational equity, women and children’s issues, food justice, and sustainability. In her free time, she volunteers with the League of Women Voters San Diego and listens to current events podcasts. She is a self-avowed pop-culture lover who enjoys trying new things (currently- improv comedy) and exploring San Diego’s food and beer scene.
Jasmine Mallen serves the City of San Diego through her role as Grants and Contracts Analyst in which she aids Council Offices in allocating funding to over a hundred local nonprofit organizations and public agencies that provide critical programs and services to San Diego residents. Before this role, she served as an intern with Council Districts 4 and 9, which include some of the City’s most culturally diverse and underrepresented neighborhoods. Throughout her educational and professional career, Jasmine’s interests have included gentrification, low-income neighborhood identity, community development and planning, local immigration, and exploring the government’s impact on society. Outside of work, Jasmine has most recently volunteered her time with MANA de San Diego, Border Angels, and the International Rescue Committee. In her free time, she enjoys attending community meetings focused on the Barrio Logan and Logan Heights neighborhoods and spending time with her family and friends.
Jasmine identifies her strong family roots in Logan Heights, upbringing, and past opportunities to study abroad in Madrid and Munich as responsible for her current interests, motivation, and long term goals. Jasmine is a first-generation college graduate and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of San Diego and a Master of Public Administration from San Diego State’s School of Public Affairs.
Jaqueline Hess is a Development Associate at People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) working to end homelessness in San Diego. She oversees PATH’s kitchen and food service program, volunteer department, community engagement, and donations.
As a San Diego City College student, Jaqueline began volunteering at Feeding San Diego (FSD). During this time, she witnessed the impact she could have on both individuals and the community. She transferred to San Diego State University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. Following graduation, she served one year of national service as an AmeriCorps Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA) at Feeding San Diego where she worked to increase access to healthy food for low-income San Diego communities and expanded FSD's internship and outreach programs. Through these opportunities and experiences, she found her passion for community service and social justice.
Jaqueline was born and raised in Upstate New York and moved to San Diego in 2008. She currently resides in North Park and is committed to making a difference in her community by continuing to work on issues related to hunger, housing, and poverty. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, trying new foods, and road trips.
Jenny Lybeck is the Climate Action Plan Program Manager for the City of La Mesa where she works with the community and regional partners to create a healthier, more sustainable La Mesa. The City’s CAP calls for 100% renewable energy community-wide while cutting emissions in half over the next 15 years.
Jenny started her career in the climate and sustainability space more than 10 years ago at the Port of San Diego where she helped develop and implement one of the first climate action plans for a port. Most recently, Jenny worked at The 11th Hour Project, a Bay Area foundation working to advance progressive climate and social equity efforts.
Last June, Jenny returned to local government after four years in philanthropy. She wanted to bring the bold ideas and concepts she observed while working with climate and clean energy leaders back to her own community, while also being part of the positive change happening within the climate space in the San Diego region. Jenny believes that climate and clean energy work is about more than just reducing greenhouse gas emissions; it can be a powerful mechanism to unite people and build community.
Jenny is a Seattle native who moved to La Mesa more than 10 years ago. She earned her B.S. in Biology from the University of Washington.
Javier Gòmez works as a Field Representative for the Honorable California Assemblymember Todd Gloria. In the 78th Assembly District Office, Javier manages the constituent management system, is in charge of the internship program, and proudly represents Assemblymember Gloria across the 78th district communities. Some of his policy area assignments are immigration, refugees, California Utilities Commission, insurance and California Energy Commission. Javier previously worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as the Field Director for CA 49 in 2016. There he learned the power of grassroots organizing and the importance of community involvement. As well as the mechanics and foundation for building a grassroots campaign. Getting involved with a political campaign allowed him to get more involved with the San Diego Democratic Party. He is currently the President of the San Diego Young Democrats.
A first-generation college graduate, Javier earned his Bachelor of Science in Political Science from San Diego State University. There he served as the Vice President of External Relations, President of Phi Gamma Delta, Representative of the California State Student Association, Representative on the College Area Community Council and a member of Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity. Javier grew up in Ventura County where his parents, two sisters, and brother currently reside. Having been in San Diego for ten years, Javier looks forward to advancing his progressive values. He looks forward to taking what he learns and giving back to the progressive community.
Maryan first aimed to be a biomedical researcher, studying biology and biochemistry at San Diego State University. But through her involvement in health education, she grew frustrated with apparent health disparities and the structural barriers that produced them. After graduating, she switched routes to the nonprofit sector, interested in working directly with the community to create a more just and healthy life for all. In 2017, she started out as a policy intern with Mid-City CAN before transitioning to her present role as a coordinator for Mid-City CAN’s events and leadership programs, where she helps inform and empower leaders in the community.
Maryan is also passionate about building electoral power in communities of color and other marginalized groups. She joined a local campaign in 2017, primarily working with youth on college campuses for over a year as they organized and engaged neighborhoods across the city of San Diego.
When she’s not delving into the world of electoral politics or building leadership opportunities, you can catch her drinking a chai latte at the beach or in the library obsessing over books (especially that one amazing series called Harry Potter).
Eric Morrison-Smith is rising community leader with a strong commitment to equity and justice. He currently works at the San Diego Workforce Partnerships as a Strategic Partnerships and Events Specialist. His primary responsibility is to lead the OpportunitySD initiative, which mobilizes community partners to reduce youth disconnection in San Diego County dramatically.
Eric has planned and executed a very successful conference for 150 youth and 650 community partners; leads communications and outreach efforts for OpportunitySD; gives speeches about youth disconnection to high-level political and business leaders in the region. He helped conceive, organize and execute a summit for 750 African American youth to help them transition successfully to higher education or employment. He has built productive relationships and partnerships with funders and other nonprofit organizations; and convened a youth council to help advise the Workforce Partnership in all of this work.
He is passionately interested topics such as school segregation, college and career access, early childhood education, unequal school quality and the impact of racism and systemic structures that drive that inequality.
Eric is originally from Chula Vista but attended college in Nebraska. After graduating, and receiving a bachelor’s degree in Business Management, he came back to San Diego to work at RISE San Diego, where he was a Program Manager. Eric also sits on the Steering Committee for San Diego County's Restorative Justice Program.
Eric intends to build the knowledge, tools, and resources needed to serve and advocate with underrepresented groups, while also pushing the region to increase opportunity and decrease poverty for all.
Imani Marshall is the Evaluation and Learning Analyst at Mid-City Community Advocacy Network (CAN). She evaluates the organization’s programs and supports organizing and advocacy efforts with research.
Imani is a proud Chicago native and new San Diegan. Both places have taught her about the intersection of identity, power, health, and place. From a young age, Imani sought to address injustice in her community. She volunteered with several organizations to improve her neighborhood and worked as an Organizing Fellow for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
To better understand how power could be wielded to advance justice, Imani studied Political Science at Amherst College. Through leadership roles with GlobeMed and the Roosevelt Institute at Amherst, she worked on both the international and local levels to support equitable community development. These pursuits also developed her advocacy, policy analysis, organizing, and coalition-building skills. Professionally Imani has applied these skills to new issues, broadening her understanding of change-making.
As a Bill Emerson Nation Hunger Fellow, Imani developed programs and conducted research to improve low-income mothers’ access to breastfeeding support and healthy foods in New Orleans. She also conducted research to evaluate WIC’s national participation and retention rates. Now, as Mid-City CAN’s Evaluation and Learning Analyst, Imani applies her research and evaluation skills to support positive, resident-led change in City Heights.
Imani is excited to engage and grow with other young local Progressives as a member of the 2019 SDLA cohort.
A Chicago area native, Aria Pounaki is passionate about his newfound city and is determined to be a force for good to ensure that San Diego grows in an equitable and environmentally conscious way. With his recent work with the San Diego YIMBY Democrats and time spent in the Urban Land Institute's Young Leaders program, Aria is excited to become an even bigger advocate for issues such as housing affordability, homelessness, and transit.
Working in San Diego's booming Life Sciences industry as a Program Manager with Becton Dickinson, Aria uses his skills to contribute to the innovation cycle of some of the company's most advanced medical devices. Working towards the organization's goal of "Advancing the World of Health", he has the privilege of being a part of the solution to the important issues of medication management and opiate diversion avoidance in our healthcare system. Previous experience in the industry includes a background in international regulations, project management, business process development, and marketing.
A graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Aria has a double major in International Affairs and Spanish. The Jesuit school's emphasis on service and the importance of education were foundational in his commitment to moving our world forward and his motivation to "become a person for others." His education includes a 1-year Spanish Language program at Madrid's Universidad Complutense, a research internship with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in the District of Colombia, and is an alum of the Les Aspin Center for Government, also in Washington, D.C.
Tyler Renner is a Council Representative for San Diego District Three Councilmember, Chris Ward. He began working as a Council Representative after the 2016 election and represents the communities of North Park and University Heights. In his current role, he works on issues related to housing, homelessness, transportation, cannabis, libraries, public health, and constituent services. Prior to working this role, he was a Development Associate for the San Diego LGBT Community Center. There, he helped plan and organize fundraising campaigns and worked as an HIV and Hepatitis C Test Counselor.
After receiving his B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Tyler worked as a behavior therapist for children on the Autism Spectrum. At the height of the debate over marriage equality, he began working as the LGBTQ Program Coordinator for Pacific Pride Foundation, the Central Coast’s largest LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS serving community center. There he ran an after-school queer youth support group and provided LGBTQ+ cultural competency trainings to health and social service providers. He was also one of the founders of Santa Barbara’s PFLAG chapter.
From 2013 to 2016 he traveled the country as a Project Manager for Self-Evident Truths Project, a photography campaign that captured 10,000 portraits of LGBTQ Americans in all fifty states.
Since relocating to San Diego, Tyler participated in the LGBT Community Center’s 2016 Young Professionals Council Academy and served as the 2017 Community Engagement Chair. He has also participated in the Citizens Water Academy and the LeSar Housing Policy Leadership Academy.
Cynthia Sanchez is currently an Undergraduate Advisor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the University of California, San Diego. She obtained a Master’s degree in Higher Education with a concentration in Student Access and Success from the University of Michigan. While at Michigan she had the opportunity to work at the University of Michigan’s Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach. In this role, she supported the diverse engineering student population through mentorship programs and supported statewide initiatives to increase STEM transfer student enrollment at four-year universities. After completing her master’s degree, she moved back to California to be closer to her hometown of Anaheim.
Cynthia’s passion for education stems from her experiences as a first-generation college graduate. As an undergraduate, she attended the University of California, Irvine and became involved in various student programs where she was able to gain mentors that helped her learn how to navigate college and grow as an individual. Grateful for all of the opportunities education has provided her, she is committed to helping students, especially those from traditionally underrepresented communities attain their academic and professional goals. After UC, Irvine she served a year as an AmeriCorp member in City Year New Hampshire providing support to students in the classroom and in after-school programs. As a lifelong learner, Cynthia is excited to participate in SLDA and continue to be an advocate for equitable access to education.
David Vance (pronouns: they/them/theirs) is the PrEP Coordinator at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, one of the largest and most vibrant LGBT centers in the nation. Their role focuses around PrEP, the once-a-day pill that prevents HIV infection; David provides direct PrEP linkage services to a diverse body of clients in addition to conducting general education and community outreach around PrEP, HIV/AIDS, and sexual health. They are also a certified HIV Test Counselor and regularly conduct HIV testing at The Center. They are particularly passionate about raising PrEP awareness and access for transgender and nonbinary communities and helped launch a trans-focused branch of #BeTheGeneration, The Center’s campaign to end new HIV infections in San Diego County by 2024.
David is a 2016 graduate of The Center’s Young Professionals Council Academy. After serving as Secretary/Treasurer of Young Professionals Council from 2016 – 2017, David served as Co-Chair of the program from 2017-2018. They also currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Hillcrest Town Council, and serve on the Community Advisory Board at the UC – San Diego AntiViral Research Center, one of the world’s most impactful institutions in HIV/AIDS research.
Originally from rural Wisconsin, David graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from Kenyon College and moved to San Diego in 2014. They are dedicated to an intersectional approach to social justice and hope to build connections through SDLA that will help them continue to advocate for marginalized communities and ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.
Born and raised in sunny San Diego, Christopher “Stopher” Vallejo is the proud son of Bolivian immigrants, a first-generation college graduate, and an unapologetic progressive. He is passionate about improving the quality of life for San Diegans through equitable and community-oriented policy and dreams of a San Diego that is the standard bearer for progressivism in California and across the United States.
Stopher currently serves as a Council Representative for San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez, where he represents the Council President in the City Heights, El Cerrito, and Rolando Village neighborhoods. In this role he collaborates with community members and City staff to tackle San Diego’s myriad issues, including housing affordability, homelessness, and equity for the working class. He also currently serves as the Secretary for the Chicano Democratic Association, a long-standing democratic club committed to preserving the history and values of the Chicano community through civic and political engagement. Stopher earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from San Diego State University, where he was affiliated with Associated Students, Residential Education, and Greek life.
Stopher embraces new experiences and has an appreciation for diversity in all its forms. In his increasingly fleeting spare time, Stopher enjoys reading, playing chess, and continuing his search for the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.
Roxanne Suarez is a program manager at 2-1-1 San Diego, and part of the Community Information Exchange (CIE) team. She and her team support the spread of a new movement in health and human services in which service providers from various sectors coordinate their efforts in providing informed and continuous care to clients and patients across agencies. Roxanne’s role as Partner Integration Manager is to develop and deliver training supports to various providers in San Diego County, ranging from clinical social workers to housing navigators and emergency food suppliers. She works in partnership with other program leaders to identify how their teams can leverage CIE technology to improve clients and patients’ access to care in a joint effort to help our community be well and thrive.
Roxanne moved to San Diego County in 2013 when she transferred from Riverside Community College to UC San Diego. There she earned her BA in Bio-Cultural Anthropology and minored in Science, Technology & Society studies. During this time, she gained an interest in public policy and ethics as they relate to persons’ access to care and overall health inequities across populations. Following her graduation in 2015, she decided to make her home here in San Diego and pursue a career in the non-profit sector.
Roxanne is excited to engage others to address social issues including public health, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and immigrant rights.
Brett Weise is a Council Representative with San Diego City Councilmember Chris Ward and represents the communities of Normal Heights, Golden Hill, and South Park. Through his position, he is intent on advocating on behalf of community members for improved public facilities, additional parks & open space, access to local government, and assistance with city services.
Prior to working as a Council Representative, Brett worked as a General Manager for a café in Ocean Beach, helping run the operations of a locally owned business. From his first job as a janitor at Legoland to his current position, he recognizes the inequity that exists in workplaces across the City, and is committed to democratizing the workplace. He is currently working on an initiative to develop a workforce pilot program to incentivize the creation of worker-owned businesses in San Diego.
Within the District 3 office, Brett is often researching housing initiatives to help improve our City’s inventory of affordable housing, as well as protect tenants from prejudice and displacement. He is the liaison between his office and the San Diego Housing Commission, and helps provide policy support for his Chief of Policy for Land Use and Housing items.
Brett is a graduate of San Diego State University with a B.A. in Political Science, and is a lifelong San Diegan. You can often find Brett happily surfing anywhere along the coast of Southern California, or reading endlessly at LeStats in Normal Heights.