National Hispana Leadership Institute - Celebrating 27 Years of Latina Leadership  

Executive Leadership Program

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Sponsored By:

Anheuser Bush


Center for Creative Leadership


Miller Coors




Graduates of the Institute

Class of 2003


Alice Alvarez is Vice President of the San Jose Grail Development Corporation, which provides housing, child care and educational services in a low income, underserved Hispanic community. Prior to retirement, the focus of her work was designing and implementing linguistically and culturally appropriate health education programs for Hispanic communities. A Registered Nurse, Ms. Alvarez holds a Masters Degree in Public Health. She founded The Association of Chicana/Latina Nurses, which focuses on the recruitment and retention of Hispanic students in nursing programs in local colleges.


Janine Chapa is an Agency Field Consultant with State Farm® Insurance Companies in Austin, Texas. She has held this position since July 2001. In 1986, she graduated from Pan American University with a degree in Business Administration. She earned her Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation in 2002. Ms. Chapa has a worked with Habitat for Humanity and educates young families in life, health, and homeowner’s insurance issues. Her vision is to educate Hispanics on the importance of achieving financial independence.


Adriana Comellas-Macretti is a Marketing Analyst for State Farm® Insurance Companies at their headquarters in Bloomington, Illinois. She has been with State Farm® Insurance for three years. Ms. Comellas-Macretti has an extensive community service record, which includes being a member of the National PTA’s Hispanic Advisory Board, Board Member of the Western Avenue Community Center in Bloomington, Illinois, and past President of the League of Women Voters of Miami.


María de la Fuente is the County Director and Farm Advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, working with a diverse population in Santa Clara County and serving the Hispanic growers and their families through research based educational programs. She received her B. Sc. from Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in México, and her Ph.D. from Iowa State University. Ms. de la Fuente currently serves on advisory boards of Santa Clara County Office of Education Regional Education Program and the Morgan Hill District English Learner Advisory Committee.


Cecelia M. Espenoza was appointed to the Board of Immigration Appeals as a Board Member in August of 2000. She was the first Latina and the first Mexican American to hold this position. Prior to her appointment, she was an Associate Law Professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. She received her B.A. and law degrees from the University of Utah. Ms. Espenoza and acts as the Coordinator for the Spanish Immersion Parent Network, which monitors and supports dual immersion education in Arlington.


Gerlinda Gallegos Somerville is a Public Health Analyst with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading the Capacity Building Assistance HIV Prevention Migrant Network. Ms. Somerville received her Master in Public Health from the University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey School of Public Health and is a certified Health Education Specialist. Ms. Somerville serves as a volunteer translator for the Día de la Mujer health fair and Emory University Physician Assistance migrant farm worker clinic.


Perla Gheiler has recently left Burt Automotive Company to pursue a career as an Emerging Markets Development Manager with American Family Insurance. Ms. Gheiler is very active in her community working as a Co-Chair of the Anheuser-Busch Ski Fiesta Foundation, a volunteer for Mi Casa Resource Center for Women, Cystic Fibrosis, Latin American Research & Service Agency, and the Museo de las Americas.


Erika Raye Hizel is Director of Housing Programs and Interim Texas State Director for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). Ms. Hizel received her MA from the University of New Mexico and her BA from Pomona College in Claremont, California. Ms. Hizel has been with NCLR for the past three years working with 35 housing affiliates in 15 states nationwide to increase the Hispanic homeownership rate. Ms. Hizel is active in promoting Latino presence at regional and national conferences for housing and community development.


Maria Luisa Lauf is a counselor at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Ms. Lauf received her M.A. in school counseling from Roosevelt University in Chicago. She is co-adviser of Latinos Unidos, a club that promotes Latino culture and community service and serves on the Diversity Steering Committee, a group that promotes diversity on campus and throughout the community. Ms. Lauf serves as director at large for the McHenry County Latino Coalition and volunteers for other community agencies.


Johanna Leyba is an Associate at JVA Consulting where she serves as an Executive Director Coach in the areas of task supervision, board development, and strategic planning. Ms. Leyba currently serves as a Board Member of the Community Shares of Colorado, a member of the Latino Cancer Prevention Network, and the Leadership Team of ClinicNET of Colorado. She has worked on several local campaigns for local school board and city council members. She graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver with a Master’s in Urban Planning.


Yolanda G. Martinez, Ph.D. is a Researcher/ Evaluator with the Florida Department of Health. In 1994, she received a Ph.D. in Education from the University of South Florida and three years later completed a second Ph.D. in Anthropology. While at USF, Dr. Martinez worked with and conducted research and provided evaluation consultation for the Florida Migrant Even Start Education Program. She coordinated the successful Hispanic Women’s Health Summit in 2002, the first of its kind in the Central Florida area.


Patricia Mayer-Ochoa is the Vice President for Program Development for the Parent Institute for Quality Education, a non-profit organization that serves the parents of children attending public schools in California. As Vice President, “Paty” is responsible for staff and facilitators development, curriculum design, and program expansion. She has been part of the program since its inception in 1987. She has a Master’s in Education and a Psychology degree from Mexico.


Hilda Ramirez is Managing Director of Ritmos Academy, an organization dedicated to preserving, promoting, and celebrating Latin American culture through the performing arts. Ms. Ramirez received her Master in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She currently serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Education Initiative for Latino Students, and leads a community organizing project called ATREVETE! Latino Youth, a coalition of youth and youth supporters working to empower youth.


Maria Reyes is Director of the NASA Center for Success in Math and Science at Estrella Mountain Community College. The NASA Center serves as a vital link for Arizona students as they successfully prepare for technical careers. She has served in this role for the past year. Previously, Ms. Reyes spent nine years with Arizona State University serving in various capacities, including Director of the Office of Minority Engineering Programs. Ms. Reyes received her Master’s degree from Arizona State University in Geo-Environmental Engineering.


Marie Elena Reyes is a Research Scientist at the University of Arizona working to increase the success of girls and women in science and engineering disciplines. Ms. Reyes is the Director of the Futurebound Program building community for women of color in science and engineering fields, transferring from Pima Community College to the University of Arizona. Marie Elena received an M.S. in Zoology and Physiology and an M.S. in Applied Statistics at the University of Wyoming.


Marlyn Reyes is the Evergreen Division Sales Manager for Avon Products, Inc. She received her MBA from Assumption College and has worked for Avon for seventeen years. Ms. Reyes currently serves on the Board of Directors for the YWCA Central Massachusetts, Founder and Board Member of OISTE: First Latino Statewide Political Organization in Massachusetts, and as an Incorporator of the Worcester State Museum.


Ramona R. Reyes is a Public Relations professional, who provides communication expertise in promoting Hispanic markets and traffic safety for Nationwide Insurance, at its corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Her most recent achievement has been to have el Día de los Niños proclaimed and resolved as a Columbus city holiday on April 30. She has been awarded the Ohio Hispanic Hero award. Ramona is originally from Weslaco, Texas, and received her Bachelor’s of Science from the Ohio State University.


Dr. Silvia Patricia Rios-Husain is the Director of Enrollment and the evening administrator at Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She assumes the duties of the Dean of Students during the evenings and serves an estimated 14,000 students. Dr. Rios-Husain received her Doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. She earned her Master and Bachelor degrees from the University of Florida. Dr. Rios-Husain currently serves on the BCC Hispanic Advisory Board and is a member of the Florida Association of Community Colleges.


Lillian Rodriguez Lopez serves as Vice President of the Hispanic Federation, a membership organization serving 76 Latino health and human service agencies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. As Vice President, Lillian Rodriguez Lopez oversees the day-to-day operation of the organization, including finance, grantmaking, and program implementation. She holds a BA degree in Communications from Fordham University. Ms. Rodriguez currently serves on the Board of Directors of the New York Immigration Coalition and Three Noses Productions.


Catherine Torres serves as Deputy Chief of Staff to Speaker Gifford Miller at the New York City Council, the highest ranking Latina staff member ever appointed. She is responsible for public policy development and legislative lobbying. Ms. Torres earned her BA in English Literature at Pace University and her law degree from Hofstra University School of Law in New York. She has recruited and mentored Latinas who are interested in a career in government. She is a member of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association.