Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education

Research & Equity Scholarship Institute Team

Led by the center director, Felisha Herrera Villarreal, PhD, the Research & Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE) is a collaborative research center comprised of postdoctoral research fellows, graduate and undergraduate research analysts, and research affiliates. Our mission is to promote scientific and applied research, training, and the exchange of information that contribute to the knowledge and understanding of P-20 educational trajectories and the contexts that engage and support students from diverse backgrounds. The RES Institute unites scholars who research important topics pertaining to equity in education to collaborate on funded research projects.

Felisha Herrera Villarreal, PhD


Felisha Herrera Villarreal, PhD is the Director of the Research & Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE). She is also an associate professor of Postsecondary Education and Community College Leadership and affiliated faculty in the Joint PhD Program at San Diego State University (SDSU). Prior to joining SDSU, she served as an assistant professor of Community College Leadership and affiliated faculty in Public Policy at Oregon State University from 2012-2015. Dr. Herrera Villarreal completed her Ph.D. in Education (emphasis in Higher Education & Organizational Change) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she was a research analyst for the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute (HERI). She also earned a master’s degree from UCLA, master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the University of New Mexico (UNM) and an associate’s degree from UNM-Taos (branch community college). Her scholarship is enhanced by nearly two decades of experience as a higher education professional at two- and four-year institutions, several Minority-Serving Institutions/Hispanic-Serving Institutions, including faculty and professional positions in student affairs, institutional research, and administration.  Her work is also informed by her own educational history as a community college graduate, low-income, first-generation college student, and motherscholar.

Dr. Herrera Villarreal is a consummate scholar, who has published in top tier, peer-reviewed journals, including: American Educational Research Journal (AERJ), Journal of Higher Education (JHE), Research in Higher Education (RIHE), and The Review of Higher Education (RHE), and has procured over $14 million in funding to support her research. She serves or has served as the PI for several large-scale research projects, including NSF funded projects—ED-SYSTEMS (NSF DUE-1644990) and HSI-STEM (NSF DUE-1832528)—investigating the role of community colleges and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and as Co-PI for ADAPT: A Pedagogical Decision-Making Study (NSF HRD-1759947) and NSF INCLUDES Alliance: ALRISE – Accelerate Latinx Representation In STEM Education with Institutional Intentionality and Capacity Building for Experiential Learning (NSF HRD-2120021). To inform system-wide change, her research employs advanced statistical techniques, including multilevel modeling. spatial analysis and social network analysis, to examine contextual factors—institutional (structure, process, and policy), geographic, demographic, political and economic contexts—that impact postsecondary outcomes for students of color. Her work encompasses several strands of scholarship including student mobility; community college pathways; underrepresented students in STEM; and a critical examination of policy issues related to diversity & equity in education.

Postdoctoral Research Fellows

Victoria C. Rodriguez-Operana, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Fellow / Co-Lead

Victoria C. Rodriguez-Operana, Ph.D. (she/her/hers) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE). Dr. Rodriguez-Operana co-leads RES-ISTE on multiple NSF-funded projects examining the role of community colleges and minority-serving institutions such as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in the STEM pathways and experiences of minoritized students of color: ED-SYSTEMS (NSF DUE-1644990), HSI-STEM (NSF DUE-1832528), and NSF INCLUDES ALRISE Alliance (HRD-2120021). She also teaches courses in Human Developmental Sciences at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). 

With more than a decade of research experience in education, psychology, and human development, and publications in the Hispanic Educational Technology Services Online Journal,  Journal of Early Adolescence, Journal of Adolescent Research, and Asian American Journal of Psychology, her research examines how social identities and relationships within proximal contexts (e.g., family, school) influence the developmental outcomes (e.g., academic, social, psychological) of students of color. Prior to joining RES-ISTE, Dr. Rodriguez-Operana was a member of UCLA’s Children’s Understanding of Economic and Social Inequality Lab and worked on several projects, including studies examining: persistence among community college students in CalWORKs, psychosocial benefits of racial/ethnic diversity in urban schools, children’s social identity development, and an elementary school dual-language immersion program. Her mixed-methods dissertation examined how family, peer, and school-based relationships shape the academic achievement and psychological adjustment of Filipina/x/o American adolescents, an understudied segment of the Asian American/ Pacific Islander population. Dr. Rodriguez-Operana’s research reflects her commitment to understanding how to best serve students in the community, including how institutions and institutional agents support the academic success and well-being of individuals from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. 

As the granddaughter of Filipino and CHamoru families who arrived in San Diego by way of the U.S. Navy, Dr. Rodriguez-Operana was born and raised in San Diego. She grew up attending schools in the South Bay Union School District and Sweetwater Union High School District. With some general education courses completed at Southwestern College, Dr. Rodriguez-Operana earned her B.A. in Psychology from UCSD and completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in Human Development and Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). 

SDSU Postdoc Spotlight (September 2022)

Julio Fregoso, PhD

Postdoctoral Researcher

Julio Fregoso, Ph.D. (he/him/his/el) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE). Dr. Julio Fregoso is part of the NSF INCLUDES Alliance: ALRISE – Accelerate Latinx Representation In STEM Education with Institutional Intentionality and Capacity Building for Experiential Learning (NSF HRD-2120021), examining the role that community colleges play in STEM pathways for Latinx students’ Experiential Learning outcomes. Prior to joining RES-ISTE, Dr. Fregoso was a research analyst for the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) housed within the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). As a doctoral student researcher for CIRP, he collaborated with other CIRP faculty and staff on survey (re)designs, publications of descriptive reports from CIRP surveys, and provided support for yearly CIRP Data Institutes to higher education professionals looking to understand the design, analysis, and reporting process of CIRP data. Additionally, Dr. Fregoso was on an NSF-IUSE Grant (Award 1432804) that sought to support pedagogical approaches for Underrepresented Racial Minority Students (URM) and their retention within STEM disciplines at UCLA. Dr. Fregoso served as an adjunct faculty counselor for California community colleges for seven years and has been in the field of higher education (professionally) for 10 years. 

Dr. Julio Fregoso’s research interests focus on community colleges, transfer student outcomes, and contingent faculty experiences, particularly those for contingent faculty of color. Dr. Fregoso is interested in using critical quantitative approaches to both study and survey (re)designs in efforts to create, discuss, and provide accurate measures for racialized experiences of: community college and transfer students, as well as contingent faculty of color experiences. 


Dr. Fregoso, a first-generation college student, began his undergraduate journey at Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) where he earned two Associate of Art’s Degrees, followed by completing his baccalaureate program in Sociology from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Dr. Fregoso has a Master of Science in Counseling: Student Development in Higher Education from Long Beach State (LBSU/CSULB). He completed his second Master’s (M.A.) and Ph.D. in Education, with an emphasis in Higher Education and Organizational Change (HEOC) at UCLA. His Master’s thesis study focused on the associate and transfer aspirations for Black and Latinx Males enrolled in California Community Colleges. His dissertation examined the graduate degree aspirations of community college transfer students of color across the United States.

Krystal Lira, PhD

Postdoctoral Researcher

Amalia (Krystal) Lira, Ph.D. (she/her/ella) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE). Dr. Krystal Lira is currently part of the ALRISE project (Accelerate Latinx Representation In STEM Education with Institutional Intentionality and Capacity Building for Experiential Learning (NSF HRD-2120021). The goal of this project is to understand the role that community colleges play in STEM pathways for Latinx students’ experiential learning outcomes. Prior to joining RES-ISTE, Dr. Lira was a lead research assistant on two federally funded projects (NSF & NIH) investigating the effects of motivation, curriculum, and campus support programs on students’ persistence and achievement outcomes in STEM fields. During her doctoral studies at Michigan State University, Dr. Lira served as the equity graduate assistant in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology program where she worked with the program director to implement equitable program structures and interrupt various forms of systemic oppression. Dr. Lira is passionate about teaching and mentoring and has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses for over 5 years and has served as a mentor for various undergraduate research training experiences (e.g., SROP at MSU; UURAF at MSU). Dr. Lira’s research focuses on understanding how social and personal identities, and the intersection of those identities, can help broaden participation of diverse student in STEM fields.

Dr. Lira is a first-generation, Mexican American woman from Los Angeles, CA. She initially pursued her interests in education and psychology at Cerritos Community College, and later transferred to California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) where she earned her B.A. in Psychology. Dr. Lira earned her PhD in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology from Michigan State University (Go Green!). 

Research Analysts

Melissa Cabrera

Research Analyst

Melissa Cabrera (she/her/hers) is a first-year Master’s student at San Diego State University in the Postsecondary Educational Leadership: Student Affairs program. Melissa is a recent graduate of the University of San Diego, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Communication Studies. As an undergraduate student, she was involved in student leadership through her role as a resident assistant, first-generation student club president, and other club executive board roles. Melissa also participated in the McNair Scholars program, during which she had the opportunity to conduct research projects with faculty mentors. Her first research project investigated the communication strategies people are most likely to employ to reduce uncertainty in face-to-face interactions, and how that might be impacted by demographics. Her second research project focused on the ways students from marginalized groups are impacted by diversity initiatives in higher education. This research sparked her interest in higher education and the experiences of students with marginalized identities in postsecondary institutions. As a Latina first-generation student, Melissa is a strong advocate for accessible and equitable education and she is eager to be able to conduct education-focused research with the RESISTE team.


Research Analyst

Griselda Paredes (she/her/ella) is a Ph.D Student in the Joint Doctoral Program with Claremont Graduate University and San Diego State University. A daughter of Mexican Immigrants, she was raised in a small agricultural town in Northern California (Sutter County), and was the first in her family to go to college. No stranger to demanding academic settings, she has devoted the past eight years to a successful career in student affairs working at a variety of higher education departments around the country. These institutions include University of Rochester, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Stanford, the College of San Mateo and Cañada College. Her dedication to service has helped develop notable student affairs programs. As a Lecturer at Chico State, a Hispanic Serving Institution, she teaches an upper-division, sociology course in grant writing focused on developing social service initiatives.  

Griselda is proud to be serving as a Research Analyst in the Research & Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE) at San Diego State University.  Griselda is committed to work centered on fostering culturally engaging campus environments and advancing educational equity in higher education. In her free time, Griselda enjoys jaripeos, live music, traveling, and spending time with her familia. 

Griselda holds a Master of Science in Education Administration w/specialization in Higher Education Student Affairs From the University of Rochester, a Bachelor of Arts in Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from California State University, Chico, and Sociology from California State University, Chico, and an Associate of Arts and Social Sciences from Butte Community College. Griselda is a recipient of the San Diego State University College of Graduate Studies University Graduate Fellowship (UGF) and the California State University Chancellor's Doctoral Incentive Program (CDIP).

Elizabeth Vazquez

Research Analyst

Elizabeth Vazquez (she/her/hers) is a first-year master’s student in the Postsecondary Educational Leadership: Specialization in Student Affairs program at San Diego State University. Elizabeth received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Chicana/o Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Before attending UCSB, Elizabeth attended community college for three years. It was during this pivotal time where Elizabeth was mentored by and exposed to women of color in the field of Student Affairs for the first time. This moment influenced Elizabeth’s goal to contribute to the retention of underrepresented students in higher education. As an undergraduate, Elizabeth served as a peer mentor for the Educational Opportunity Program, worked for UCSB’s Summer Orientation program, and a mentor for UCSB’s Transfer Student Center. For her senior research project, she examined the key factors of a successful transfer from community college students who participated in the PUENTE program. Elizabeth is excited to continue her research interests (the experience of transfer/ community college students, and other underrepresented students) as she joins the RESISTE team this fall semester!

Research Affiliates

Rosa Tejeda

Research Affiliate

Rosa (she/her/hers) is in the Postsecondary Educational Leadership: Student Affairs Master’s Program at San Diego State University. Rosa recently graduated from San Diego State and received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Rosa is a first-generation college student who spent most of her time working in the Educational Opportunity Program & Ethnic Affairs office. She was a Recruitment Assistant, where she would recruit low-income, first-generation college students into EOP. She also worked with transfer students during the summer for the Transfer Bridge Program. During her time working in the EOP office she discovered her passion for student affairs. As a grad student, Rosa will be working as a Research Analyst for the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE) alongside Dr. Gabriela Kovats Sánchez and Dr. Victoria Rodriguez-Operana. Rosa’s research interests include experiences of first-generation college students’ and transfer students’ transition from a community college to a four-year institution. During her time at RES-ISTE, Rosa hopes to gain more experience working in research and gaining mentorship from women of color in research. Rosa also hopes to gain research experience in hopes of one day pursuing a PhD.

Melo-Jean Yap, PhD

Research Affiliate

Dr. Melo-Jean Yap is the Principal Investigator for “Influential Networks for Women of Color in STEM Community College Pathways”–a grant funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF DUE # 1937777). She is also a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in NSF-funded grant, ADAPT: A Pedagogical Decision-Making Study (NSF HRD # 1759947) at San Diego State. Her research interests include modeling social contagions in complex systems, advocating for equity and inclusion of women and people of color in STEM fields, and developing student-centered critical pedagogical tools in classroomsVersatile Scholar: Dr. Yap’s interdisciplinary training in Biology, Education, and Ethnic Studies shaped her versatility in using concurrent methodologies to advance research on underrepresented groups in STEM fields. At UCLA, she studied the influences to the scientific thinking of women of color STEM majors in the community college via mixed methods approach of qualitative questionnaire and critical network theory. Insightful Insider: Her Biology training via National Institutes of Health (NIH) programs–MARC Scholars Program and MBRS-RISE Graduate Fellowship–and background in teaching Biology prepared her for navigating STEM spaces. Since 2013, Dr. Yap has also been a FASEB MARC Mentor, coaching undergraduates in presenting their research at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. Knowledge Broker: A knowledge broker, Dr. Yap hopes to conduct research that may help empower students and professors, as well as inform STEM praxis and policy. As a Richard J. Riordan Summer Intern at Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), she provided research support evaluating statewide K-12 Math placement policies. She is also the Project Director for STEM is LIT(eracies), a U.S. Department of Education (DOE) grant that trains middle school educators in integrating culturally relevant pedagogy into Science and Math curriculum. A first-generation college student, Dr. Yap earned her B.A. Black Studies (now Africana Studies) & B.S. Physiology from San Francisco State University, M.S. Biological Sciences from California State University, Los Angeles, and Ph.D in Education from UCLA.

Gabriela Kovats Sánchez, PhD

Research Affiliate

Gabriela Kovats Sánchez, Ph.D. (she/her/ella/meeña) is the Faculty Scholar for the Native Resource Center and the Center for Intercultural Relations at San Diego State University. She also serves as a lecturer for SDSU’s department of American Indian Studies. Dr. Kovats Sánchez's body of research highlights the educational experiences of diasporic Indigenous students (Ñuu Savi/Mixtec and Bene Xhon/Zapotec) and how these differ from mestizo Latinx and Chicanx narratives. In addition, Dr. Kovats Sánchez focuses on integrating more nuanced ways to think about Latinidad & Indigenous racial, cultural, and linguistic variability within K-12 curriculum & higher education initiatives. As faculty scholar, Dr. Kovats Sánchez develops innovative educational programming for SDSU’s Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity. She developed a speaker series centering on diasporic Indigenous Latinx communities in the United States and launched the In-Relations Research Methods Seminar Series aimed to address methodological and ethical issues related to conducting research with and for Indigenous Peoples. This work is deeply tied to her long-time collaboration with and for Ñuu Savi communities in California, along with her transnational upbringing in Guerrero, Mexico, and California’s Central Valley. Her work appears in journals such as Diversity in Higher Education, Latinos in Education, AERA Open, Association of Mexican American Educators, and Routledge Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. Learn more about Dr. Kovats Sánchez at and @drakovats on Instagram.

Marlena Wolfgramm, PhD

Research Affiliate

Marlena Wolfgramm, Ph.D. (She/Her) is the Postdoctoral Research at the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C. working on the Career Pathways Project. She earned her Ph.D. at San Diego State University and Claremont Graduate University Joint Doctoral Program in Education, where she was a Senior Research Analyst at the Research & Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RESISTE) for Dr. Felisha Herrera Villarreal. Marlena earned her B.A. in Psychobiology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and returned to her hometown of Oakland, CA and taught secondary science, where she also earned an M.A. in Education with an emphasis in teaching at Mills College. Her research interests include Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders, STEM, Pacific Islander Studies, Career Pathways of Graduate Students and Graduate Education. 

Diane Gaskin

Research Affiliate

Diane Gaskin, M.A. (They/Elle/She) works in Residential Education as a Resident Director at UC Davis. Diane in partnership with various departments and centers supports three Living Learning Communities (LLC’s) Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) LLC , African & African American (AAA) LLC, and Health Sciences LLC. In addition to their professional role, they serve as a Directorate member and Co-Chair for the Foundations Mentoring Program (FMP) through ACPA’s Pan African Network, a Co-Chair for Latinx Inclusion in partnership with NASPA’s Gender & Sexuality Knowledge Community (GSKC) and Latinx/a/o KC, and a Member at Large for ACPA’s Latinx Network. Previously, they served as a Research Analyst at the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute (RESISTE). Their research interests are focused on the educational journey from junior high through higher education for students of color, LGBTQ+, low income, and first-generation student populations. 

Their lived experience and undergraduate involvement as a student leader influenced their student activism and current research interest. Since completing their bachelor’s degree at UC San Diego, Diane has taught a First-Year University Seminar for commuter students pursuing a degree in psychology through Student Life & Leadership at San Diego State University. Their goal is to pursue a doctoral degree, and help institutions become student ready by improving policies and resources for marginalized and underrepresented populations through research.

Diane obtained their B.A. in Psychology from UC San Diego and their Master’s in Postsecondary Educational Leadership with a Specialization in Student Affairs from San Diego State University.

Judith Hernández Chapar, PhD

Research Affiliate

Judith Hernández Chapar, Ph.D. (she/her/hers) serves as Dean of Student Support at Bellevue College. Previously, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow of the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE).  Dr. Hernández Chapar completed her Ph.D. in Education from Oregon State University with an emphasis on Community College Leadership. Her dissertation focused on the engagement experiences between Institutional Agents and Students of Color who were enroll at two-year community colleges. She earned her Masters of Social Work from Eastern Washington University and a Bachelors of Art in Women Studies as well as a Bachelors of Art in Psychology from Washington State University. Prior to joining the RES-ISTE team, Dr. Hernández Chapar served as an educational leader in the community college setting, serving as an Associate Dean of First Year Experience directing a Federal Title III grant at South Puget Sound Community College. Formerly, she worked as a Director of TRiO Programs at Lower Columbia College, where she secured over 1.8 million dollars in grant funding.  


Research Affiliate

Arlyn Y. Moreno Luna, MPP (she/her/hers) is currently a doctoral student in the Critical Studies of Race, Class, and Gender program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. Her scholarly interests include access and equity in higher education for students of color, student experiences when transferring from community college to four-year institutions, and bachelor's degree attainment for students who begin post-secondary education at a community college. She previously served as the program manager of the Diversity and Inclusion Science Initiative at Arizona State University. She received both her Honors Bachelor of Science in BioResource Research in 2013 and a Master of Public Policy, Social Justice (focus) degree in 2015 from Oregon State University.


Research Affiliate

RESISTE Team Bio coming soon…

Melissa A. Navarro Martell, PhD

Research Affiliate

Melissa A. Navarro Martell (she/her/hers), Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education in the College of Education at San Diego State University, a Hispanic Serving Institution in the land of the Kumeyaay. Her research and teaching center the need to prepare critically conscious educators on the sociopolitical, ideological, cultural, and linguistic aspects of teacher preparation in general, and K-8 equitable science and dual-language education specifically; pushing the need to decolonize science education. Her experiences as an immigrant 6th grade student from Tijuana, México, inspired her path as an educator who understands bilingual learners. Dra. Navarro Martell is a former 4th and 8th grade social-justice math and science Spanish/English dual-language teacher who currently teaches math and science methods courses in the bilingual teaching credential program.

Toni Parsons

Research Affiliate

My legal name is Michelle Antoinette Trejo Parsons – please call me Toni (she/her/hers). I am a Latina from East Los Angeles, but moved down to the San Diego area when I was 19 years old to finish my degree at SDSU (I ended up with three) – the most recent being my Doctorate in Education with an emphasis in Community College Leadership. I defended my dissertation in May 2020. My research focused on the degree aspirations of STEM majors that started their post-secondary education at a community college.

 I have been a contract faculty member at San Diego Mesa College in the mathematics department since 2005. During that time I have served as a faculty leader through various positions including Curriculum Chair, Senate Treasurer, Department Chair, Basic Skills Math Coordinator, New Faculty Institute Mentor, Department Outcomes Coordinator, and Mesa Pathways Coordinator. I have also served at the state level on the Basic Skills, Curriculum and CTE Leadership Committees as well as the BOG Strong Workforce Task Force in 2015. Outside of my professional realm, I am a mother of two amazing children. They keep me very busy and feeling young. My husband and I couldn’t be prouder.


Research Affiliate

Samantha (she/her/hers/ella) is a PhD student in the Education Studies program at UC San Diego. She is a first-generation college student and second-generation Mexican-American. As a result of struggles commonly faced within the Chicanx/Latinx community, Samantha obtained her GED and began her college education at San Diego City College. She successfully transferred to CSU San Marcos where she completed her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Sociology. She has over 12 years of teaching experience at the continuing education, community college, and university levels. Samantha has gained great satisfaction by serving her community and helping students from underrepresented backgrounds to obtain their education. Samantha’s goal is to use her education, experience, and skills to reach equitable outcomes in higher education for underrepresented student groups. 

Ariana Romero

Research Affiliate

Ariana Romero, a Sally Casanova Scholar, is a master’s student at San Diego State University in the Postsecondary Educational Leadership: Specialization in Student Affairs program. Her research interests focus on college pathways, first-generation and low-income students, peer mentorship, and Hispanic Serving Institutions. She transferred from community college to California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) and graduated with a B.S. in Human Services. During her time at CSUF, Ariana worked closely with a newly developing peer mentor program. This became a watershed moment in her academic career and led Ariana to seek opportunities to expand her knowledge on the process through which peer mentorship may influence academic trajectories. As a McNair Scholar, she embarked on her first research project, “Undergraduate Peer Mentoring: Do Relationships Matter for Latinos and Others?” To further expand her knowledge and develop her research skills, Ariana participated in the Summer Research Opportunity Program at the University of Michigan. Ariana is currently working with Dr. Herrera Villarreal as a Research Analyst for the Research & Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education. During her time at SDSU, Ariana has worked to develop and implement a peer mentor program that serves first-year LGBTQ+ commuter students who are predominantly people of color and is serving as interim Pride Center Coordinator for the 2018 Summer session. Ariana plans to pursue a doctoral degree. She aims to build a body of meaningful research and to mentor young scholars with the intent of increasing the presence of currently underrepresented groups in academia.

Michelle Ruiz, MA

Research Affiliate

Michelle Ruiz (she/her/hers) guides instructors through the design process of developing online courses at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. Michelle also oversees the implementation of educational technology in the online courses of both, the Online Masters of Public Health and the University of California – Mexico Health Initiative. Before joining Berkeley Public Health she was an instructional designer at the University of San Francisco where she designed online academic programs about Climate Change, Health, and Nursing. Prior to moving to the bay area, Michelle was a research analyst and designer for RESISTE at San Diego State University. She supported the development of RESISTE’s logo and branding elements. She is now pursuing a doctorate in learning technologies (EdD) from Pepperdine University. Michelle earned her MA in digital technologies for teaching and learning from the University of San Francisco, and her BA in Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts from UC San Diego


Research Affiliate

Beto began his academic journey as a student at San Diego City College before transferring to UC San Diego where he acquired a BS and MS in biology and where he researched SES and environmental impacts in urban settings. His  current research is focussed on 4-year STEM faculty attitudes toward URMs. 

Although he had many challenges growing up (school dropout, homelessness, incarceration and addiction); he is committed to being a role model; to his four children, his community and as a professional in higher education. He is an educational advocate for marginalized groups and a great proponent of diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) fields.

Beto has worked in local government, education and the non-profit sectors and is currently employed at UC San Diego where he leads STEM engagement and community efforts through various roles as; 1. Community Outreach & Engagement Coordinator for the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE), 2. Associate Director of STEM Engagement and Institutional Relations for the Academic Outreach Program (EAOP); and, 3. Associate Director of Educational Equity with the San Diego Nanotechnology Infrastructure (SDNI). Beto is also an adjunct community college faculty member in biology

Beto spearheads intra- and inter-institutional efforts to increase STEM diversity, access and engagement to disenfranchised communities throughout Southern California by developing P-20 programs, curriculum, initiatives and collaborations. He is very active in the community and has assisted with designing programs and events (supporting education, social justice, justice reform, formerly incarcerated populations and underrepresented groups in STEM).

Anthony Villarreal

Research Affiliate

Anthony Villarreal is a second year PhD student at San Diego State University and Claremont Graduate University’s Joint Doctoral Program in Education. He earned a master's degree in Counseling from Lewis and Clark College and a bachelor's degree from Portland State University. Prior to pursuing a PhD, Anthony’s seven-year career in education primarily entailed working with students promoting college access, guiding students in the transition from high school to college, particularly for underrepresented, low-income, and first generation students. His professional experience includes school counseling at the middle/high school level in both Oregon and California; college outreach through GEAR UP, Upward Bound, and SDSU’s Compact for Success; educational policy development at the local/state level as an active member of the Oregon High School Emerging Bilingual Consortium and as a data specialist analyst for the Oregon Migrant Education Service Center; and as a residential counselor working with undocumented youth. Drawing from professional and personal experience as the eldest son of immigrant parents from Nayarit and as a low-income, first generation college student. His dissertation research is focused on promoting educational outcomes for students in “new Latino destinations”. His broader research agenda investigates several strands of inquiry pertinent to Latino communities. He currently is involved in research studies examining on peer-mentoring for Latino youth; defining educational spaces that promote Latino student outcomes; and STEM pathways for underrepresented students.

Maria-Jose Zeledon-Perez, Ed.D.

Research Affiliate

María-José began her teaching career at SDSU while pursuing her Master’s in Communication Studies at that same Institution.  For the past 18 years, she has been teaching at San Diego community colleges. Currently, she is an associate professor in the Communication Studies Department at San Diego City College. In addition, she is the Academic Senate President and the American Federation of Teachers Guild Mentors and Mentees Program Coordinator for City College.

María-José graduated with a doctorate in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Community College Leadership (CCLEAD) at SDSU. Her dissertation is titled Bridging Success for STEM Students of Color: Factors that Predict Interactions With Institutional Agents at Community Colleges HSI and Non-HSI. She is a research affiliate for the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RESISTE) at SDSU and has been a guest editor for the Community College Journal of Research and Practice (CCJRP), graduate student’s special edition. She also volunteers as the past-president for the SDSU Community College Leadership Alumni Group.

María-José was born and raised in Costa Rica. Her native language is Spanish although she is also fluent in French and English. Her passion is helping students reach their goals by utilizing a holistic approach to meet students’ needs inside and outside of the classroom and by humanizing her teaching online and in person. María-José is a transformational leader who collaborates to ensure that our institutional systems and culture are based on social justice and equitable practices.

Undergraduate Research Fellows

Aileen Cerrillos

Undergraduate Research Fellow

Aileen Cerrillos is an undergraduate student at San Diego State University, who is pursuing her Bachelor's degree in Sociology. Aileen works as an undergraduate research fellow with Dr. Herrera Villarreal and her team at the RES Insititute. Aileen is a student activist at SDSU and served as the 2017-18 Chairperson for the Association of Chicana Activists (AChA). She led AChA's annual high school conference designed to empower young Latinas through higher education. She also helped create many events for Chicanx students to explore cultural and political issues on campus. Currently, Aileen works for the SDSU Pride Center as a Peer Educator Lead, where she creates programming by and for the QTPOC (Queer and/or Trans People of Color) community. Her research interests are informed by her work and lived experiences as a first-generation Latinx student, including reforming the public higher education system, navigating academia as a student of color, and understanding the role of student activism at universities and educational institutions. Aileen hopes to continue pursuing her commitment to the success of diverse students by pursuing a Master's in Post-Secondary Education Leadership and a Doctorate in Education.

Pablo Cuellar

Undergraduate Research Fellow

Pablo Cuellar is an undergraduate student at San Diego State University, who is pursuing their Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies with minors in Biology and Sociology respectively. Pablo is working as an undergraduate research fellow with Dr. Herrera Villarreal, Dr. Rodriguez-Operana, and their team at the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE). Their research interests stem from their early days at SDSU as a biology major working at The Pride Center and informed by their Women’s Studies major and lived experience as a first-generation queer Latinx student. This includes how students of color, low-income, first-generation, queer individuals navigate STEM fields in higher education, as well as the decimation of scientism and neoliberalism in the current day, and how it affects trans folk, POCs, and queer individuals. They currently are involved in the Dignified Learning Project, a group that aims to make education equitable for all students through advocacy, training and outreach activities. Pablo is also part of Pride House mentor program at the Pride Center at SDSU where they work with and mentor LGBTQ+ identified first-year, commuter students in addition to organizing programs per their needs. They hope to continue their education by pursing a Ph.D. in Feminist Studies at UCSC as well as an MD to pursue work addressing the health needs of low-income LGBTQIA communities.

Princess Dela Cruz

Undergraduate Research Fellow

Princess Dela Cruz is an undergraduate student at the University of California, San Diego where she is pursuing her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Developmental Sciences and a minor in Ethnic Studies. Prin is working as an undergraduate research fellow with Dr. Herrera Villarreal, Dr. Rodriguez-Operana, and their team at the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education. Her research interests include social development among children and adolescents, cultural and familial influences in education, experiences of first generation college students, and supporting community health among underrepresented minorities. She is currently a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta, a pre-health honor society at UCSD, where she is involved with community service at the Bannister Family House. Princess plans on taking a gap year after completing her undergraduate education to work in the community health field serving low-income communities before applying to graduate school to pursue her master’s degree in Public Health.

Ana Hernandez

Undergraduate Research Fellow

Ana Hernandez is an undergraduate first-generation transfer student at San Diego State University, who is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Chicana & Chicano Studies. Ana is working as an undergraduate research fellow with Dr. Herrera Villarreal and her team at the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE). Her research interest includes educational experiences and outcomes of first-generation, low-income, students of color in community colleges as well as the disproportionate representation of school administrators/staff/and teachers in relation to the students that attend those institutions and what must be done to ensure equitable opportunities for all. Ana currently works for San Diego Continuing Education in English as a Second Language (ESL) department as an Instructional Assistant as well as at TLC Social Services as an ILS and Respite Care coach. Ana plans on applying to graduate school to earn her Master’s degree in Education & Counseling with hopes of returning to her educational roots at the community colleges.

Briana Márquez

Undergraduate Research Fellow

Briana Marquez (she/her/ella) is a graduate student at CSU Northridge pursuing her M.S. in Counseling, Option in College Counseling & Student Services. She is a success coach at Pasadena City College. Briana received her undergraduate degree in Communication and a minor in Counseling and Social Change from San Diego State University. Her time at SDSU as the lead Pride House mentor, where she worked and mentored LGBTQ+ identified first-year commuter students, and having worked alongside the RE-SISTE team as an undergraduate mentor, was a pivotal factor in her educational journey. Briana recognized the importance and the influence institutional agents have on a student's journey and success in higher education. Being connected with women of color mentors in the student affairs field helped her realize her potential and hopes to be that for other students. She hopes to become a community college counselor to help students, specifically students of color and LGBTQ+ students, thrive and succeed in academia and beyond.

Maryana Saoor

Undergraduate Research Fellow

Maryana Saoor is an undergraduate student at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) where she is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Human Biology with a minor in Human Development. Maryana is working as an undergraduate research fellow with Dr. Herrera Villarreal, Dr. Rodriguez-Operana and the team at the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE). Maryana moved to the United States from the Middle East when she was fifteen years old. She is a first-generation college student and a second-language learner. Maryana’s difficult moments shaped her character. From a young age, she learned great life lessons that led her to appreciate even the little things in life. Maryana attended several community colleges before transferring to UCSD, allowing her to understand the barriers faced by underrepresented minorities in STEM at 2- and 4-year institutions. Informed by her personal experiences in higher education, Maryana hopes that her work with the RES-ISTE team will help make community colleges a better place for students. Maryana loves sharing her experiences with others, and helping others fulfill their dreams. Maryana’s research interests include human health, cultural and familial influences in education, prenatal health, experiences of first-generation college students, enhancing community health among underrepresented minorities and low-income families. Maryana’s dream career is to become a pediatrician. In addition to her research with the RES-ISTE team, she is currently a researcher at UC San Diego Health- Pediatrics where she works on finding ways to prevent diseases passed to infants through lactation. Maryana plans to apply to medical school after obtaining her bachelor’s degree.

Maria Shoka

Undergraduate Research Fellow

Maria Shoka (she/her/hers) is an undergraduate student at San Diego State University where she is pursuing her B.A. in Social Science with an emphasis on Political Science and a minor in International Security and Conflict Resolution. Maria is working as an undergraduate research fellow with Dr. Herrera Villarreal and her team at the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE). Besides working as an undergraduate research fellow, Maria is employed as a political science tutor at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon and as a paralegal intern for the San Diego Office of the Primary Public Defender, Juvenile Division. She is also the current President of SDSU Refugee Aid Initiative as well as the Social Events Coordinator of the SDSU Middle Eastern and North African Student Association. Her passion for helping people, especially those with diverse backgrounds, and for creating an inclusive community is reflected in her current occupations and her leadership roles at SDSU. As a transfer student, Maria is well-aware of the obstacles many students encounter when transferring from a community college to a university, which is why she wants to provide support to other transfer students during this challenging process. Maria plans to either obtain a Master’s degree or pursue a career in law after completing her undergraduate education.


Undergraduate Research Fellow

Heather Thorogood was an undergraduate student at San Diego State University who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry Emphasis in Biochemistry with a minor in Honors in Interdisciplinary Studies. Heather is working as an Assistant Analytical Scientist at STA Pharmaceuticals. The job consists of a fast paced and cGMP (Good Manufacturing Processes) environment, performing analytical testing, and coordinating with other laboratory associates. Furthermore, she was an Undergraduate Research Fellow that worked directly with Dr. Herrera Villarreal, Dr. Rodriguez-Operana and the team at the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE). She participated in multiple projects and presentations that focused on STEM students’ struggles in two-year and four-year institutions, student trajectories and experiential learning. She was also part of an Undergraduate Research Program in a Bioanalytical Chemistry Lab with Dr. Harrison at SDSU. This research program is involved in analyzing biological mechanisms of gut microbiota using analytical techniques, particularly mass spectrometry (MS) based metabolomics. Heather used to be an Undergraduate Teacher’s Assistant for Principles of Organismal Biology Laboratory. She assisted students to answer questions, find organisms, keep a lab in good, clean, safe conditions, and present pre-lab lectures. Heather is Mexican/American, bilingual (Spanish and English) and has lived in Tijuana, Mexico most of her life. She decided to pursue her dreams in the United States. She is open to speak about her struggles to advance in the STEM field and how difficult it is to adapt to educational differences coming from another country.