Meet our inaugural class
This first class is comprised of 50 women leaders from eight states — doctors, nurses, entrepreneurs, teachers, lawyers, community activists and veterans who seek to serve their community in the political arena.
The program kicked off virtually in June 2020, with monthly trainings through December.
Monica R, Alonzo — Dallas, TX
The Honorable Monica R. Alonzo is a community development collaborator, social reform activist, elected and appointed official who has spent many years leveraging her family's political roots to contribute to low-income communities, elderly and Latino populations. Among numerous organizations, Alonzo is a member of the Hispanic 100, St. Cecilia's Council of Catholic Women, Regional Hispanic Contractors Association as was a Troop Leader for Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas validating her interest in diverse organizations. Recognized for her tireless strategic coalition-building efforts within the Dallas area, she was the first Latina from the West Dallas area elected to represent the district, enabling her to become a strong contributor for all communities of North Texas.
Beth André — Austin, TX
Beth André is an advocate who specializes in field organization, communications and activism. She is passionate about increasing access to voting and has been elevating the voices of underrepresented people in government by working solely with women leaders' campaigns. She was a lead organizer for the Women's March on Austin in 2017, bringing over 100,000 people together in Austin to demand women's voices be heard. She is a volunteer deputy registrar and a precinct chair. André earned her bachelor's degree in political science and international relations from Florida State University, and a master's degree in college student affairs administration from the University of Georgia. She currently works at Google as an active channels specialist and spent six years working at The University of Texas at Austin as an academic adviser and advocate for students in crisis situations. She lives in Austin with her cat, Novella, who also wants you to vote.
Marie Appel — Dallas, TX
Marie Appel is a dedicated public education advocate and data analyst, known for her user-friendly data dashboards, involvement in local politics and commitment to mentorship of younger women. As a first-generation college student and former public school teacher, Appel has dedicated her life to increasing education equity in America.
Whitney Armstrong — Dayton, OH
Whitney Armstrong is an award-winning philanthropist, nonprofit executive, military family advocate and teacher who has dedicated herself to advancing organizations and classrooms, empowering others to mobilize for change, and working collaboratively between sectors to structure a better tomorrow. Known for her passion, inclusion and visionary approach, Armstrong's service has positively impacted the lives of thousands, beginning with the students in her secondary education classrooms and spanning to her involvement with several global nonprofit organizations focused on the education, empowerment and support of military families. Her dedication to serving others has been recognized by top leaders of the United States Air Force, the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program and her continued success through the Harvard Kennedy School Public Leadership program.
Mary C. Bagwell — Amarillo, TX
For 25 years, Mary Bagwell has been committed to serving the public with her career in communications, public relations and crisis management. For many of those years she served as Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's chief of staff, official spokesperson and ultimately led all communications and marketing efforts across the state and now owns a private marketing and public relations firm. Bagwell spearheaded the university's award-winning "Your Life, Our Purpose" campaign and also created the top-ranked iTunes app MommyMeds — an integral part of the Infant Risk Center, which is the leading resource worldwide for mothers and health care providers seeking facts about medication, breastfeeding and pregnancy.
Cristina J. Bazaldúa — San Antonio, TX
Cristina J. Bazaldúa is highly involved in several nonprofit organizations including Urban Soccer League Academy (USLA), Rey Feo Consejo Educational Foundation, Rey Feo LXXII Court, San Antonio Parks Foundation, The San Antonio / Bexar County Complete Count Committee-Census 2020, and is currently co-chairing Leadership San Antonio (LSA) Class 45 for 2020 and 2021. She served four terms for the Mayor's Commission on the Status of Women, has been part of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center board, San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside and The Women & Girls Development Fund (WGDF), among others. She champions civic engagement and women empowerment initiatives, but her passion is fueled by improving access to higher education for minorities and underserved communities.
Alyssa Cervantes Benavides — El Paso, TX
Alyssa Cervantes Benavides is a recognized business administrator, policy strategist, community advocate and leader who has worked toward the advancement of Texas communities for the past 20 years. Having begun her career as a legislative analyst for the Texas House of Representatives' Mexican American Legislative Leadership Foundation, she has progressively filled critical roles at various levels of government, contributing to projects in the areas of education, health, public infrastructure, and regulatory processes. Cervantes Benavides's commitment to serving originates and is inspired by her passion for her hometown community of El Paso, Texas. Ensuring the economic and social prosperity of El Paso is the basis of her doctoral research, her work as a Texas Education Policy Fellow, mentor to college students, community board membership, and work in community advocacy organizations at the national, state and local levels.
Anna R. Brooks — Austin, TX
Anna Brooks is an Austin native and health care worker who specializes in senior and disability services, pursuing the dignity, longevity and independence of these populations. Brooks studied government at St. Edward's University and has worked in law and education before finding her mission in health care. She is most proud of her volunteer accomplishments, as an aide to Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer and a member of the USO.
Briana Burns — Austin, TX
Briana Burns is a longtime Austin activist, having spent years advocating for refugee families and marginalized communities. She has also worked for a variety of campaigns, ranging from city council to, most notably, the U.S. congressional race in TX-10, where she began as a volunteer and now serves as campaign manager, having worked in every role in between.
Kara Cook-Schultz — The Woodlands, TX
Kara Cook-Schultz is an author, researcher, political strategist and fundraiser who has been a mover and shaker in the campaign and nonprofit world for a decade. Her research on behalf of public health and the environment has been featured in numerous national publications and she is a frequent guest on national news media. Her career in public service began as a community organizer in Colorado, and has continued into the political and nonprofit arenas as she advocates for a green and equal world.
Nelly Cuenca — Dallas, TX
As the CEO and founder of MaaPaa.org, Nelly Cuenca works with mothers and their children. Growing up in Dallas, she saw the inequality — individuals struggling with poverty, housing, loneliness and hunger drove her to pursue a degree in social work and a Masters in Health Care Administration. She recently became certified as a mental health aid instructor, and is in charge of all mental health and wellness initiatives for two major ZIP codes in Dallas county. In this role, Cuenca has witnessed firsthand the correlation between mental/physical illness with poor food intake, especially in low-income communities. She also serves with several community centers, and is on the board for a local human trafficking nonprofit. She was appointed by Dr. Elba Garcia to the Dallas Children's Welfare Board.
Jessica Davila-Burnett — Boerne, TX
Jessica Davila-Burnett is a highly educated communications strategist and certified executive coach with more than 20 years of experience in working in public relations and public affairs. She has been recognized internationally, nationally and locally for her achievements in public service: she has been named a Community Trailblazer by the League of Women Voters; has received an Outstanding Advocacy Impact Award from Food Allergy Research and Education; has been named one of Latina Magazine's Top 10 Most Amazing Women; and received the Alumni of the Year award from the University of the Incarnate Word.
Mary Davis — Houston, TX
Mary Davis is the deputy district director for Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), and specializes in immigration and international affairs as she resolves high-level international issues and advising and overseeing all district office operations. She uses her tireless energy to encourage others to work hard and succeed regardless of political affiliation. Davis is active in various nonprofits throughout the greater Houston area, including the League of Women's Voters, University of Houston Alumni Association and more.
Pamela Foster Davis — Austin, TX
Pamela Foster Davis is a board-certified attorney who has spent the past 22 years as both a private attorney representing clients in numerous areas and a government attorney representing the state in child support matters and managing the state/federal relations for the Texas Office of the Attorney's General Child Support Division. Immediately after graduating from law school, Davis worked with friends to start a free legal clinic for a community center in Houston. Even now, she remains passionate about providing services to the less fortunate and in her spare time you can find her volunteering her services for the Volunteer Legal Services, Pflugerville ISD school district and several other organizations within the community.
Amy G. Fiedler — Madison, WI
Amy G. Fiedler is a Harvard-trained cardiac surgeon who specializes in heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support. With a passion for service, health equity, and human rights, she has spent the past 15 years dedicated to global health and providing safe surgical care throughout Africa. Recognized for her innovative approach and leadership skills, Fiedler was selected to be a member of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Class of 2020.
Andrea Flores — Cedar Hill, TX
Andrea Flores is a first-generation graduate from Texas A&M University in College Station. During her studies at Texas A&M, she was the first Latina to serve as senior class president. Flores is part of an inaugural class for a women of color fellowship called Movement Mujeres, which is a joint initiative between Deeds Not Words, the nonprofit led by former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis (D-10) that stands for women's equality, and Jolt, an organization that increases civic participation of Latinos in Texas to build stronger democracy and ensure that everyone's voice is heard.
Serita Fontanesi — Austin, TX
Serita Fontanesi, MSW, supports Black women and femmes by disrupting the systems that oppress them. She is known as a changemaker because of her ability to advocate for marginalized communities, build coalition, and lead organizations. Fontanesi has a unique insight into how the personal becomes political, which she incorporates in all of her work.
Amanda D. González — Austin, TX
Amanda D. González is a passionate multimedia professional and experienced legislative staffer who is advancing policy understanding and fostering civic engagement in Texas. After earning a degree in journalism and digital media from St. Edward's University, González has worked in and around the Texas State Capitol for the last three years with bipartisan and nonprofit organizations. As a native of the Rio Grande Valley, she plans to remain involved in policy endeavors aiming to elevate the stories and voices of women, communities of color and other marginalized groups that are often underrepresented in media, politics and leadership roles.
Sabrina Gonzalez — Pharr, TX
Sabrina Gonzalez is a tireless advocate for social justice and passionate leader born and bred in the Rio Grande Valley. She has a demonstrated history of working in public policy, advocacy and elections at the state and federal level, contributing her expertise at organizations such as the U.S. Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, the Center for American Progress, Texas CASA and others. Gonzalez is dedicated to serving her community and determined to change the world through transformative legislation and electing the next generation of progressive women into elected office.
Rachel Green — Round Rock, TX
As the CEO of A Brand Called U and founder of Leader Ship Box, Rachel Green is a human capital investor who is passionate about growing, educating and expanding the pipeline of female leaders across the globe. With a passion for serving the community, Green is an avid volunteer. She currently serves as a commissioner on the Austin Economic Prosperity Commission and the president for the Austin Trail of Lights Foundation, making her the first African American to hold this title. When she's not pursuing her entrepreneurial endeavors, Green can be found walking the halls of Google Austin as one of their staffing personnel, and serving as Google Austin Community Leader. In those roles, she works to bridge relationships with the local community and also co-leads two of Google's annual initiatives for the site.
Lesly Gutierrez — Denton, TX
Lesly Gutierrez is the executive director of the Denton County Democratic Party in Denton County, Texas. She has spent the last six years working in electoral and advocacy spaces with a focus on creating systemic change for disenfranchised people through organizing marches, contacting representatives and coordinating fundraisers for low-income communities. She currently lives in Denton with her partner, Billy, and son Oliver.
Terri Hasdorff — Montgomery, AL
Terri Hasdorff is a former congressional candidate and is the president of Capitol Solutions Consulting, a consulting firm designed to help connect nonprofits and faith-based organizations with funding opportunities. She has significant experience with coalition building, community engagement and building public private partnerships at all levels of government including international, federal, state and local. Hasdorff is a thought leader, a program builder and a facilitator/adviser at the intersection of business, government and social entrepreneurship. She is from Montgomery, Alabama, and plans to run for office again in the future.
Mary Taylor Henderson — Austin, TX
Native Austinite Mary Taylor Henderson is board certified in civil appellate law, a trained mediator and longtime litigator, handling cases in state and federal courts across Texas, both in private practice and in public service with five Texas attorneys general. Henderson's devotion to public service began before she could walk, becoming the youngest member of the Travis Post 76 American Legion Auxiliary. As the youngest of eight children, service to our country and community were ingrained in the fabric of life. Henderson has devoted over 35 years to such service, whether as a congressional intern, briefing attorney, assistant attorney general or associate commissioner, or volunteering for worthy causes, she collaborates and negotiates effectively, attacks issues with passion and achieves results that make a difference.
Guneez Ibrahim — Houston, TX
Guneez Ibrahim is a celebrated public speaker, writer and community activist. Her highly anticipated TED Talk, "Why Should We Strive to be the First?" focused on her experiences as a young Muslim growing up in Louisiana, as well as her notable campaign for student body president at UT-Austin, where she led the first all-woman-of-color ticket at the university. Ibrahim works with refugees throughout Texas to connect them to community resources, aid with the resettlement process, and tutor in English. Her passion for women and human rights developed further through her work with organizations such as Freedom House, Let Girls Learn!, and the Rapoport Center for Human Rights. She hopes to pursue her J.D. in the coming years, focusing on civil rights and serving marginalized communities of color.
Holly Jeffreys — Amarillo, TX
Shaya Kara — San Francisco, CA
Shaya Kara is researcher, policy advocate and fundraiser whose work has been nationally recognized. Her advocacy started as student body president of her alma mater, where she created a scholarship fund for undocumented students, implemented mandatory cultural sensitivity training for faculty and staff, and renamed a building that had carried the name of a xenophobic politician for decades. Since then, Kara has continued to work on uplifting and empowering vulnerable communities through philanthropy.
Susan Vermeer Lopez — Littleton, CO
Susan Vermeer Lopez is an education policy and certified project management professional who over the last 20 years has managed a portfolio of work in the public education sphere worth more than $50 million with funds from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation and Gates Foundation, and through the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. She began her public service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member who went on to help launch the AmeriCorps program. Lopez received her B.A. in English from the University of Colorado, where she was selected into the President's Leadership Class, and she also holds a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Daniella Deseta Lyttle — Austin, TX
Daniella Lyttle is an award-winning attorney focusing her practice in family law matters and social justice law, which includes immigrant rights. She has spent the last 11 years of her career helping families, victims of violence and immigrants overcome obstacles that prevent them from reaching their full potential both personally and as members of our society. Lyttle has been recognized by Super Lawyers and has received an award by the Travis County Women Lawyers Association for Contribution to Minorities, as well as many others. Recognized for her work in the legal community, Lyttle's public service began as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army, where she proudly served as a medic for many years. She has continued her public service through her involvement in philanthropic and volunteer legal organizations.
Shruti Mehrotra — Yorktown, VA
Shruti Mehrotra has been delivering tangible change for the public in even the most challenging political contexts for the past two decades. She has been a special assistant to three heads of state, worked with former Prime Minister Tony Blair to develop his efforts internationally and helped launch a series of high-profile initiatives to engage the private sector for public good, including President Obama's flagship development program PowerAfrica and a major investment initiative by philanthropist George Soros.
Afshi Charania Merchant — Sugar Land, TX
Afshi Charania Merchant has been actively involved in serving the community, never needing a formal appointment to make herself useful and happily working in the background, quietly impacting lives, while also continuing to serve in formal capacities on various nonprofit boards, city and school board steering committees. A successful entrepreneur with over 20 years of business experience owning and managing successful startups, she has received accolades and been recognized as a woman in small business making an economic impact. As a member of the community, Merchant believes in giving back in ways that are viable, bringing to bear her professional and community service experience in the interest of the greater community she lives and volunteers within.
Gwendolyn Miller-Shain — Denton, TX
Gwendolyn Miller-Shain is a proven leader who will always work harder than the person next to her. She has been the president and executive director for multiple conservative organizations, reviving two young conservative groups to become two of the strongest in Denton County. Since the first moment she stepped foot in the political arena, Miller-Shain has overcome any odds and any challenge one might present. She saw politics at the front lines when she led a Texas state congressional campaign, where she learned many new things not only about politics but about herself as well. Her biggest goal is to serve we the people at the highest regard and to deliver on the promises made by any political figurehead. She strives to elect the most upstanding, loyal and transparent individual in any campaign she works with.
Christina Perez — Austin, TX
Christina Perez was raised in Rowlett, Texas. She attended Sam Houston State University and graduated with a degree in political science. She has staffed at the Texas Capitol and is currently a public affairs professional. Perez has been an active member of the Republican Party, both in her local community and statewide.
Priya Phillips-Rashid — Columbus, OH
Priya Phillips-Rashid is an activist, attorney and community organizer focusing on intersectional political activism in areas of international law, immigration and climate science. Phillips-Rashid has spent her career working to ensure that technology and innovation are developed for the good of all people — specifically researching how climate mitigation strategies and large-scale geoengineering projects in Asian and Pacific Island communities can be developed using indigenous practice and principles. As a graduate of University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law, she focuses now on bringing novel solutions to complex problems of race and technology in the political arena.
Angelica Portillo — Dallas, TX
Angelica Portillo works as the director of advocacy at Dallas Afterschool. Her passion for education and public policy has led her to become an advocate for the out-of-school time field. Portillo hopes to help increase the impact of local afterschool programs through advocacy at the state and local levels. In 2018, she was honored with the Next Generation of Afterschool Leaders award by the National Afterschool Association (NAA). She is an active volunteer within the Dallas Community. Portillo is a Dallas native and earned a degree in political science from the University of North Texas.
Christina Puentes — Austin, TX
Christina Puentes is a former public school teacher and a proud alumna of The University of Texas at Austin who has spent 10 years advocating for equity and accountability in the arenas of K-12 education and campaign finance reform. Her involvement in and co-founding of various community coalitions in Austin demonstrates her passion of working with local and state government to build equity through community engagement.
Kimberly Robertson — San Antonio, TX
Kimberly Robertson is an award-winning project manager, financial services leader and U.S. Air Force veteran who has advanced integral change over the last 30 years through professional agents and organizations to facilitate their service-oriented mission. Acknowledged for her pioneering paths and disciplined solutions, Robertson's advocacy and community engagement became her passion as a youth. These traits set the tone for her to earn an early military promotion and to continually serve through her involvement in organizations that promote social justice and youth empowerment.
Asia Rodgers — Dallas, TX
Asia Rodgers is a dynamic community leader and the managing partner of Asia Rodgers Consulting, LLC, an independent consulting firm focused on corporate and nonprofit social impact campaigns. She also serves as a high school facilitator for IGNITE National, a nationwide organization helping young women reach their political dreams. But Rodgers's passionate service to the community does not stop there. She also serves in many other leadership roles. She received her Bachelor of Art in Human Rights from Southern Methodist University.
Osmara Santana — Weslaco, TX
Osmara M. Santana is a proud DACAmented Mexicana from Texas's southernmost frontera who has been active in issue and electoral organizing for the past seven years and most recently served as regional field director for Beto O'Rourke's U.S. Senate race. There she spearheaded community outreach operations in Central, West and South Texas. She is the current deputy director for Texas Rising, a project of the Texas Freedom Network, where she co-leads youth civic engagement efforts across the state by building power through young people in a multi-issue, intersectional social justice framework. Santana's work in public service has led her to build on her newfound passion: identifying young people of color that have a desire to change the world and encourage, mentor and train them to run for office to represent the rising young constituency and our marginalized communities.
Madeline Sertner — The Colony, TX
Madeline Sertner is a graduate student of political science at Texas Woman's University, where she transferred after graduating from Collin College. She served as president of the Collin College Student Government Association, and at Texas Woman's University she was selected for a three-month internship in Washington, DC, where she worked in the office of Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX). Sertner's current research focuses on policy priorities of different groups in the U.S. Congress, which she hopes will empirically support the idea that women can and do make their voices heard on all issues — not just health and education.
Ashley Noelle Sharp — Dallas, TX
Ashley Sharp is the executive director of the award-winning nonprofit Dwell with Dignity. She has excelled in leadership positions in the nonprofit sector for more than a decade. Most recently she served as the chief development officer for Interfaith Family Services, where she successfully raised $1.8 million annually to support poverty alleviation for families with children. Currently, Sharp serves as the Engage Dallas chair for the Mayor's Star Council. She is a past president of the Business Council on the Arts Leadership Arts Institute. She holds a B.A. in arts and performance and business administration and an MPA in public affairs with a concentration in nonprofit management from the University of Texas at Dallas.
Amber Sims — Dallas, TX
Amber Sims is a recognized leadership and development coach, public speaker and racial equity consultant who has worked in the community to re-imagine a more equitable and liberated community. She is a founding member of Young Leaders Strong City, a racial equity conference that empowers youth to organize and take action around dismantling racism and the Imagining Freedom Institute which works with organizations to increase their racial equity capacity. Sims's work centers development and coaching other leaders with emphasis on students, and forging leadership opportunities for Black women and other women of color.
Tori Vogel — Austin, TX
Tori Vogel is a government technologist passionate about expanding affordable housing opportunities. She has extensive volunteer experience with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and is frequently recognized for her spirited attitude and community building skills. Vogel views public service as a positive way to make an impact in her local community and looks forward to the opportunity to apply what she learns from the LBJ Women's Campaign School.
Jordyn Weber — Houston, TX
Jordyn Weber's interest in public service started when she began working with her local congressional representative at the age of 13. Since then, she has continued to develop her passion for public service by earning a degree in political science from Louisiana State University, by pursuing her law degree, and by her involvement in several local and national political organizations. Weber's goal is to one day run for president of the United States.
Victoria Rose Whitehead — Lubbock, TX
Victoria Rose Whitehead is a mom, attorney and impactful advocate dedicated to bridging the gaps between urban and rural Texas. At just over 30 years old, her short but dynamic career has spanned five legislative sessions working for some of the greatest leaders from West Texas, facilitated positive changes for agriculture and landowner property rights, and resulted in numerous awards that highlight her incredible professional work ethic and dedication to serving others in her community. Each day Whitehead strives to empower young women, place more kindness into this world, and exceed the expectations of what it means to be an excellent mom, wife, attorney and friend.
Tina Winham — Rogers, AR
Tina Winham is a true servant leader whose mission in life is to empower women and children to reach their potential. She has a proven track record of success in helping people and organizations increase performance and advance organizational development and effectiveness. Throughout these successful tenures she has been instrumental in helping launch significant projects, lead large teams and key initiatives related to diversity and inclusion, mentorship, leadership development, social learning, community engagement and public relations.
Michelle Woods — Alexandria, VA
Michelle Woods is a resident of Alexandria, Virginia, and the communications director at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, a state-level, grassroots advocacy organization that works to protect and expand access to reproductive health and rights. Formerly, she was the public and legislative affairs manager at Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington and worked on President Obama's 2012 presidential reelection campaign in Petersburg, Virginia. Woods also spent time as a civics educator at the Close Up Foundation, teaching middle- and high-school students the vital importance of becoming active participants of their democracy by equipping them with educational tools to create change in their local communities. She was recently appointed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to be on the Virginia Council on Women and is a member of the Forbes Communications Council. Woods is also on the board of a nonprofit organization, Hope for K.S.A.I., which is a global reproductive health initiative to lift up the most vulnerable, marginalized women and girls in Nairobi, Kenya.
Catharine Young — Alexandria, VA
Dr. Catharine Young has always been drawn to science — the thread that ties her career journey together. She holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and completed postdoctoral training in biomedical engineering at Cornell University, before entering the world of science policy. She has worked at both the U.S. and foreign government level as well as the nonprofit start-up space. Young is a staunch advocate for women in science and science communication and is the founder of a grassroots effort to develop strong relationships between scientists and the public.
Lourdes G. Zuniga — Austin, TX
Lourdes Zuniga is an award-winning leader, journalist and social impact advocate who from a young age has been involved in philanthropy, politics and community work. After she moved to the United States 20 years ago, she has devoted her life to advocating for minority groups, immigrants and quality of life for all. Her work as an influential leader and a strategist has been instrumental in many initiatives related to equity, healthcare and economic development. Zuniga is a proud Leadership Austin alumna and has been recognized by the Excellence & Advancement Foundation, the Hispanic Advocates Business Leaders of Austin, and the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, among others.