Meet our second cohort
This second class is made up of 70 women leaders from more than 13 states — veterans, nonprofit leaders, business executives, teachers, entrepreneurs, lawyers and community activists who seek to serve their community in the political arena.
The program kicked off virtually in April 2021, with monthly trainings through November.
Elvia Aguilar's passion for public service started in elementary school, when she often accompanied her dad to city council meetings and helped him write letters to the editor in hopes of getting more city services to the Southside of McAllen. She also was elected mayor of her fifth grade class. Aguilar uses her career experience as a journalist, public relations consultant, marketing director and alumni relations professional to help improve the Coastal Bend. She credits her parents for showing her how to prioritize the things that matter most—God, family/friends and service to our community.
Kassandra Aleman’s interest in politics developed after a Texas law gave her the opportunity to pursue an education by granting in-state tuition to DREAMers like herself. She is passionate about advocacy, policy, and helping people realize their political power.
Angelica Alfaro has dedicated nearly a decade to working across communities of Chicago on improving access to high-quality education, summer college programs and scholarships for thousands of families while leading policy, fundraising, community organizing and advocacy efforts. In 2016 she ran for state Senate, garnering 47% of her district's votes. After a very close race, she drove cross country to work on the 2016 presidential campaign in Nevada. She is a strong believer in the potential of Black and Brown communities, and has dedicated her career toward ensuring equity and access to opportunities within education, public health, mental health, violence prevention, environmental advocacy and economic development. A proud alumna of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in 2020 Alfaro joined the office of government affairs at the University of Illinois System — the state's flagship university.
Iman Ali is a proud Kentuckian and daughter of Pakistani immigrants, and she strongly believes that her identity as a WOC living in rural America is a key driver behind her advocacy work. She is humbled to have been entrusted by her community to hold an array of leadership roles, including her most recent appointment by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to the Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention Board, where she serves as the youngest board appointee in state history. Ali’s firsthand perspective on life in the South has allowed her to share the narratives and spread awareness of life in rural America during her academic and professional journey, and she hopes to bolster the experiences of Appalachians by continuing her involvement with national platforms that have goals of forging a moral society through equity, justice and a regard for human dignity.
Caroline Bailey (she/her/hers) is a deaf urban planner with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies and a master's degree in community and regional planning currently working in the field of hazard mitigation. Her passion for sustainable urbanism, resiliency and accessibility drives her advocacy in ensuring Austin is a welcoming place for everyone. She sits on the board of AURA, a local Austin grassroots urbanist advocacy organization; is a full-time member of Austin's Pedestrian Advisory Council; and volunteered as a campaign manager for an Austin City Council District 7 campaign in 2020.
Stephanie Bazan is an award-winning leader, mom, community activist, philanthropist, public speaker and champion for education equity with a long-standing career in communications. Known for her energy and creativity, her work has positively impacted the lives of many leaders through her elevation of the nationally ranked Hispanic Austin Leadership program. A Tejana and native Austinite, Bazan is a Leadership Austin alumna and has been recognized by Dove Springs Proud, Latinitas and St. Edward's University, among others.
Nadia Bettac is a lawyer and a master of trial advocacy both in the courtroom and in the classroom. Volunteering in her community and advocating for diversity has been her passion since childhood and her service through Interact Club led to a scholarship for college. Bettac is an award-winning director for the Austin Young Lawyers Association and continues her passion through various projects with the Austin Young Lawyers Association and the Austin Bar Association.
Prerna Bhat is an Austin, Texas native who, as an environmental professional and skilled researcher and communicator, entered the political world to help elect and support leaders who actually believe in climate change and the need for equitable environmental justice solutions. She is an experienced community organizer and coalition builder, having worked in the field and AAPI organizing across presidential and Senate campaigns. She loves bringing people together, and leads with that sense of inclusion. Bhat continues to be involved in AAPI community organizing, environmental policy and advocacy, and other initiatives in Texas and nationwide, and is committed to building strong coalitions, uplifting underrepresented communities and fighting hard for a better future for our country and our planet.
Jazmine Bonner is a product of the "Gateway to the West" — St. Louis, Missouri — and a proud graduate of an Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Throughout her career, she has remained intentional in educating government and community entities about ensuring that barriers for traditionally marginalized communities are constantly considered and addressed in the decision-making process. As a community leader and steadfast advocate for the success of HBCUs, she infuses her personal passion, professional experiences and fearless voice to establish clear pathways for accurate representation in public service on every level of government.
Isis Stephanie Cerda
Isis Stephanie Cerda is an experienced school administrator who has been a longtime advocate for improving health equity and expanding voting access in underserved communities across Central Texas. She is the co-organizer of Edcamp Austin, serves on advisory boards for Austin PBS and SXSWEdu. Cerda holds both a B.A. and M.Ed. from The University of Texas at Austin, and is currently pursuing her Master of Public Health. Her favorite pastime includes blockwalking with her biggest supporters: her husband, four kids, and their Aussie pup.
Tricia Cortez is a community activist who heads an environmental nonprofit in Laredo, Texas. She believes in the power of cultural organizing to create meaningful change, and getting into some good trouble. A native of San Antonio, she received a degree in public policy from Princeton University. For her efforts in mobilizing the community to halt the destructive Border Wall, the Laredo Morning Times recognized her as its 2019 Laredoan of the Year.
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Cecily Cox is a graduate of Dallas Independent School District and Southern Methodist University. She holds a deep passion for politics, civil rights, education and disability rights. While at SMU, she served on the SMU Student Senate as both the diversity chair and the African American senator. Cox also was an active member of SMU's Speech and Debate Team, president of SMU's College Democrats and the political action chair for the Association of Black Students. She has served as an intern at the U.S. House of Representatives for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and for Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton during the summer months of the 2016 presidential campaign. Additionally, Cox has worked on campaigns for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and most recently, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA). She represented the state of Texas as a national delegate at the Democratic National Conventions in 2016 and 2020 and was also a presidential elector for Joe Biden from the 23rd Senate District of Texas. In her personal time, Cox has enjoyed traveling extensively throughout North America, Central America, Europe, Asia and Africa, focusing on relevant civil and human rights issues specific to domestic and international communities. She is also a pianist and pilot, and enjoys film, R&B music and spending time with her cocker spaniel, Nana. She looks forward to many more exploits, explorations and escapades, and will continue to be a prominent activist for equality and social justice.
Molly Cox believes we can reimagine and change the way our systems work. She spent a decade working at SA2020, a nonprofit that drives progress toward a shared community vision for San Antonio, before returning to consulting to help multisector organizations better serve people. With degrees in theatre and political science, Cox sees stories everywhere—in Excel spreadsheets, community data, in our own lived experiences—that can help us illuminate and address the systemic inequities our communities face. She helps tell these stories. Her 6-year-old godson says she's "funny" and "likes to wear Crocs while hanging in her backyard." He gets her.
Karen Courtright Crnkovich is an award-winning business owner, active community volunteer, courageous communicator, quick-thinking connector, and an inspired and inspiring force. She is a visionary leader who has a knack for building bridges between opposing sides to achieve optimal outcomes. She is fueled by a passion to build a better world and strives to create lasting, meaningful and powerful positive change in her community and the individuals who live in it.
Pearl Cruz is an attorney who has dedicated her educational and legal career to addressing the systemic disparities in our state and federal systems. Recognized for her work, she has held notable leadership roles including her service as editor in chief of the Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice. She continues to be a leader in addressing gender equity, immigrants rights, civil rights and support of the LGBTQ+ community.
Christina (Tina) DeMoore
Tina DeMoore is an attorney, facilitative mediator and Athena Award recipient who co-founded two nonprofits — a conflict resolution center providing person-to-person, out-of-court problem solving, and Flowers for Friends, a Governor's Service Award Outstanding Volunteer Program, which has recycled gently used flowers into 63,000+ arrangements delivered to isolated community members in need of a smile. DeMoore is a 2014 Michigan Political Leadership Program Fellow who has served in elected office and translated her passion for voting rights into organizing volunteer voter protection efforts throughout northern Michigan. She has undertaken numerous community service and youth mentorship initiatives, including leading 11 Girl Scouts to earn Gold Awards, coaching high school debaters to five state championships, tutoring candidates in the art of political debate and serving on various nonprofit and professional boards/committees.
Erin B. Dempsey
Erin B. Dempsey is an activist, attorney, small business owner and mother of two daughters. She spent the first 18 years of her career practicing law in various large U.S. law firms as a commercial real estate attorney, and in 2017 she co-founded Bess & George, a women's clothing company located in Austin, Texas. Dempsey continues to use her legal degree and her business background to support charitable causes that are close to her heart, and she works tirelessly to support and promote voting rights in the state of Texas.
Reena Desai grew up all over the world but knew she had found home when she landed in Texas more than 25 years ago. She is a first-generation graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, where her passion for politics was nurtured working at the Texas Legislature. She is also a law school graduate, a former small business owner, and the parent of two young children. Her free time is committed to advancing opportunities for voter participation and voter education.
Dr. Shelly Lesikar deZevallos is a business owner, board director, pilot, educator, public servant and aviation advocate. Her passion for aviation, education and service is recognized in the industry and through her years of experience in educating and informing policy decision-makers on the benefits of general aviation across the country including workforce development, Advanced Air Mobility, the positive impact of SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuels), and the positive economic impact of aviation. Her dedication to the transportation industry and public service is seen through appointments to federal, state and local levels such as the USDOT Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee, NBAA's Board of Directors, Texas Aviation Advisory Commission and Texas Southern University Aviation Advisory Committee and other philanthropic and nonprofit organizations.
Joy Díaz believes in public service, social justice and investing in the future. She learned about public service from her parents, who were missionaries in Mexico City. Over the last 20 years, she has been a journalist and an educator. Her philosophy is simple: she believes all humans were created equal, but different humans have different needs and the promise of "liberty and justice for all" cannot be achieved in a despair society. In a state as large and as diverse as Texas, it is sometimes easy for people in power to forget that the state is more than the large cities and justice needs to reach every socioeconomic status, every race, every creed, every gender, every age group, and people of every ability. Díaz is a woman of faith, a wife and the mother of two spectacular young Texans.
Zoraima Diaz-Pineda is a practitioner, researcher, policy analyst and advocate committed to creating opportunities for low- and moderate-income households and women of color to achieve financial health and build wealth. She believes the provision of sound financial services and high-quality affordable housing is a human right. In her work she applies a gender and racial equity lens to address the root causes of households' chronic financial instability, and a solution-focused approach to develop innovative financial products, services and policies and drive private sector and philanthropic investment into Community Development Financial Institutions working in long-standing persistent poverty counties, small cities, rural areas and colonias. She has extensive experience designing, implementing and evaluating financial inclusion initiatives and financial capability programs and is a collaborative thought partner with experience building cross-disciplinary teams. Diaz-Pineda is passionate about engaging in community grounded research to reveal the complex financial realities of the families she serves and to inform the intentional use of technology to design culturally and linguistically appropriate mobile financial products and platforms that respond to the episodic nature of their income, smooth the spikes and dips of volatile household balance sheets, and prevent asset striping from the use of predatory alternative financial services. She continues to work on developing a statewide retirement savings program for women in low-wage caregiving professions to accumulate financial reserves as they age out of the workforce as well as examine opportunities within the U.S. income tax code to reduce wealth inequality and close the racial and gender wealth gap.
Lynna Lan Tien Do
Lynna Lan Tien Do is committed to lending a voice to those in her community who may not have one. Compassionate and determined, her dedication to public service threads throughout her personal and professional life. She has held leadership roles advocating for women and children, mental health services, education and diversity and inclusion.
Born in Harare, Zimbabwe, Bukekile Dube moved to Dallas 21 years ago as a teenager. After a 10-year career in finance both in the banking and oil and gas industries and working on four continents, she enrolled at Columbia University, where she earned a Master of International Affairs degree focusing on economic and political development. This was a decision made in an attempt to reconcile her own success in the corporate world with what appeared to be limited opportunities in the roles of women and people of color in her community. She is the founder of the DFW Pan African Network, a member of RESULTS International, and sits on the boards of Impact City Dallas and Miles of Freedom. Along with her mother and sister, Dube is the co-owner of a company, New Horizon Homes a senior assisted living in Dallas. When she's not working or volunteering, Bukekile enjoys traveling and collecting contemporary African art as well as reading fiction by women of color.
Kayla Dupler is a mom, U.S. Army veteran, attorney and military family advocate. She has been recognized as a leader for providing pro bono services to the veteran and military communities and has a special interest in improving health care policy, especially for maternity and newborn care. She enjoys her involvement with the Junior League and the Military Spouse JD Network, an organization focused on advocating for attorney licensing accommodations.
Christine Erwin-Jimenez is an advocate for advancing women in politics in Northwest Arkansas. While maintaining a successful corporate career, she has recruited and actively supported dozens of candidates running for local office, including races for school board, city council, county commission and state representative. As an active member of the county and state Democratic Party, Erwin-Jimenez plans to continue to focus on expanding civic awareness in Arkansas and providing community members with opportunities to participate in government at all levels.
Lillian Miess Frei
Lillian Miess Frei is a multilingual marketing specialist shaping the future of the Republican Party through leadership positions at the local, state and national level. Her policy focus to strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society is founded in her Christian faith as a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Frei's philanthropic work includes leading a humanitarian aid response for Honduras, serving as an ordained missionary in Brazil, becoming a certified CASA advocate, and volunteering at the migrant overflow center in San Antonio.
Moriah Garcia is a theatre graduate who transitioned from performing in front of the camera for film and television in Hollywood to performing acts of service for the community. The desire to assist the inner-city youth and houseless demographic, especially during the pandemic, was her turning point from acting to activism. After overcoming gun violence as a child, Garcia now uses her platform to give other survivors a voice and advocates for mental health.
After leaving the classroom in 2018, Julie Gilberg went into working in campaigns because she wanted to fight the anti-Semitism and racism that 2016 election empowered. She has worked as a regional organizer and graphic designer on Julie Oliver's campaign for Congress in Texas 25 and was a volunteer coordinator on the Beto for Senate campaign. Based in Austin, Texas and looking for opportunities in Central Texas, she is seeking positions which bridge her passion for teaching, building relationships with people and using digital and social media to craft interactive messages with organizing.
Dawn D. Gile
Dawn D. Gile is a skilled litigator handling complex cases in the areas of mass tort litigation, insurance defense and other negligence claims in federal and state courts in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Illinois. As a proud Army spouse and award-winning advocate for military families, she has long devoted her time to serving the military community, including having served as president of Military Spouse JD Network and on the board of Vigilant Torch Association and Foundation. Gile earned her J.D. from Loyola University of Chicago and her B.A., Phi Beta Kappa with honors, from Rockford University, where she currently serves on the Board of Trustees.
Kristen Golden is a Houston native, Princeton graduate and a University of Texas School of Law alum, who has been a corporate attorney in the energy and renewables industry for the past 13 years. She volunteers with The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Wine Committee and is a passionate mentor to women through the Women's Energy Network. Golden also sits on the board of Take the Stage, a nonprofit that develops free educational media that incorporates the performing arts, and Row House Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that develops affordable housing in Houston's historic Third Ward.
Jenee Margo Gonzales
Jenee Margo Gonzales, J.D. is a servant leader with a demonstrated history of working in both the nonprofit sector and state government. She has spent the past 17 years collaborating with leaders and organizations to create systemic change to further their mission. Recognized for her willingness to meet and accept challenges, her public service began at a young age when she assisted her mother in her work with World War II veterans and prisoners of war. She is passionate about helping others succeed in service of the common good.
Maritza Gonzalez-Cooper has spent the past 25 years dedicated to public service and civic engagement. She has a long history of service for women and children, having previously served as a Girl Scout leader and founder of a local chapter of MOMS Club, and she currently serves as a trustee for the Boerne Independent School District. Gonzalez-Cooper is an avid volunteer and has a passion for serving her community by utilizing her diverse experience in small business, strategic planning, team building and advocacy to address pressing challenges.
Anna Beth Gorman
Anna Beth Gorman is a longtime and recognized advocate for women and girls, her passion inspired by her experience as a Girl Scout, opportunities presented through participation in programs such as Texas Bluebonnet Girls State, and her undergraduate studies at an all women’s college. Gorman is a committed public servant with a strong belief that inclusiveness, integrity and capacity building through strong relationships and partnerships are essential to any organization's growth. She has more than a decade of experience and success building and leading nonprofits to create more impact in the mission-focused nonprofit arena. Proud of her Southern roots and feminist ideals, she believes in God, family, country and equal access to opportunity for all in her adoptive state of Arkansas, and is a sought-after public speaker on creating economic equity for women and underrepresented communities across the state.
Melanie Hawkins has spent the past 20 years of her life serving as a math teacher and school administrator in Dallas schools that service students of the highest need. She has dedicated her life to serving in high-need schools to give students access to quality instruction, have a positive and direct impact on student success, and showcase the excellence of students in the most impoverished communities. After participating in a policy and advocacy cohort in 2019, Hawkins realized how she could use her voice outside of the classroom to continue to fight for equity and accessibility in education on a broader spectrum.
Camden Hunt is a nonbinary artist, writer, activist and community organizer. They have committed the past six years of their life to creating spaces for Black women and Black femmes and marching for racial equality. They are passionate about harm reduction and ensuring that every child in their community has access to fair education, food and mental health resources. They plan on running for the school board in Atlanta in 2023.
Tanisa Jeffers practices family and criminal law in the state of Texas, with an emphasis on those diagnosed with an MHMR condition. She is a certified mediator and uses negotiation strategies routinely in garnering the appropriate outcomes for her clients. Representing individuals with a mental health and mental retardation (MHMR) diagnosis requires going the extra mile to insure they are treated fairly and receive the special treatment they need in both family and criminal law cases. Jeffers works very hard to make sure a successful outcome can be had by looking at all aspects of the case: the need for housing, whether Social Security Disability has been awarded, medication compliance and case management services. In March 2018 she was appointed by the Austin City Council to be an associate judge of the Austin Municipal Court. She has also been appointed to the State Bar of Texas Committee on Legal Services to the Indigent and recently took on a role as an assistant attorney general with the Crime Victims' Compensation Division of the Office of Attorney General. She is very proud to serve her community in this capacity.
Jill E. Jester
Jill E. Jester is a Denton native, an award-winning attorney, certified mediator, advocate and community leader. She is devoted to her clients and public service having served as the ninth woman to chair the board of directors in the 110+ year history of the Denton Chamber of Commerce, as chair of the Board of Regents and as a Minerva Fellow of Texas Woman’s University, Vice-Chair of the City of Denton’s Economic Development Partnership Board, member of KERA’s board of directors and more. She is a champion through public speaking and volunteering for increased civic engagement, women empowerment initiatives and public education.
Azhalia Leal is a young undocumented American and lifelong Dallasite. Raised and educated by Dallas ISD, she is committed to public education and will begin her first year of public school teaching as a Teach for America Corps member in the fall of 2021. Leal graduated with honors from the University of North Texas at Dallas with a degree in political science. Under the Pink Dome, Leal now serves as Chairwoman Victoria Neave's communications director.
Jenna King Lewis
Jenna King Lewis is a public interest attorney with a passion for civic engagement. Her work has led her to serve around the world, including Uganda, Washington DC, China, and her local neighborhood council. Her chief goals are to be a voice for the voiceless and to advocate for effective policies that help her community thrive.
Swetha Maddipudi is a dedicated policy advocate who has a vested interest in increasing the voice of medical professionals in policy discussions and political movements to improve health outcomes for patients. As a champion for health, she seeks to improve health equity for all through giving voice to efforts devoted to implementing structural changes to improve the health of communities and underserved populations. She earned her bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from UT Austin and will soon be completing dual-degree studies in the MD/MPH program at UT Health San Antonio, after which she will pursue residency training as an obstetrician and gynecologist.
Jennifer Marshall is a mother, wife, passionate veteran advocate and proud military veteran who served for five years, deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She is also the executive producer for veteran-centered mental health public service announcements through the Department of Veterans Affairs' "Make the Connection" campaign and was recognized as one of the "Hill Vets 100" for excellence in television and film, alongside Adam Driver (USMC). A proud member of the American Legion, Marshall volunteers in her community by mentoring veterans, delivering food to homebound seniors and through raising funds through an award-winning nonprofit to donate much needed rehab equipment for our nation's veterans.
Alyson Martinez is an attorney and community advocate who works to provide social justice to her clients, neighbors and city. She practices law in her hometown of Laredo, Texas, where she is also involved in a number of community organizations aimed at furthering the growth and development of this beloved border town. Martinez's journey into public service began as president of the Laredo-Webb County Bar Association, and she still has more ground to cover.
A public servant for 27 years, Leticia Peña Martinez advanced in leadership roles under three Texas governors and an attorney general, quickly becoming a "go-to" person especially in times of crisis, helping to lead strategic systemic change and innovation in public policy and administration and in the execution of public safety, homeland security, criminal and juvenile justice, and youth, family and victims' services grants and programs. Moving into private sector business development and management consulting, Martinez was committed to business and profitability, advising on strategic solutions for U.S. Air Force and Army leaders and other government stakeholders, always keeping the public's interests in focus. After returning to the governor's office, her blended background in business and public policy led her to the state's chamber and then back to San Antonio to advocate on business issues impacting local economic growth. Her desire to serve also extends through community involvement, with her experience serving on nonprofit boards and city and school district committees.
Amy Miller is a proven and passionate leader with nearly a decade of experience in educational, nonprofit and political spaces advocating for more equitable education systems. Recognized for her achievements in fostering global competencies among students and educators, she began her career as an ESL teacher while earning a master’s in international education in Spain. Miller's political career has taken her from Texas to New Hampshire and Alaska as a grassroots organizer working with presidential and Senate races to advance leadership centered on equity and inclusion.
Chelsea Miller is an award-winning political consultant, nonprofit leader and community organizer with over a decade of experience supporting progressive moments in North Carolina and Arkansas. As a collaboration enthusiast, she loves connecting others and building coalitons to do meaningful work in her community.
Susan Motley is a lawyer and leader committed to ensuring justice for all, not just for some. Recognized by her peers for her ethics and effectiveness, she has more than 20 years of experience representing individuals and businesses in civil trials and appeals and more than a decade of service in the community, in volunteer roles such as president of the League of Women Voters of Irving, a director on the Irving Heritage Society, and prior positions on the Irving Parks and Recreation Board and the Irving Advisory Committee on Disabilities. Motley knows her own path was made possible by the public servants who educated her, and she remains committed to serving our community so that even more paths can be opened more widely for more people.
Texas native Emma Niewald is the founder of The Campaign Catalyst, a progressive fundraising and general consulting firm. An organizer above all else, Niewald is passionate about empowering others to harness their own ability to create change. Niewald graduated with honors from Austin College; her experience includes organizing, fundraising, and communications on races ranging from school board to U.S. president.
Megan Ortiz is a sixth-generation Houstonian originally hailing from Cut 'n Shoot, Texas, who has spent the past 15 years leading messaging and campaign strategy to activate behavior change initiatives across multiple industries. As a first-generation college graduate, Ortiz is passionate about making education more accessible and affordable to first generation families. She currently serves on numerous nonprofit boards, and her community impact has been recognized by the Houston Business Journal, Houston Women's Magazine, League of Women Voters and Rodeo Houston.
Karen Raskopf is a senior corporate communications/marketing executive with 30+ years of experience spent developing omnichannel communications and marketing strategies to enable brands and individuals to tell their stories — and as a result, enhance market value, support growth and promote/protect their image. In addition to her experience as a communications strategist and developer of communications campaigns for big-name brands, Raskopf is a savvy media spokesperson and media trainer and has also worked extensively as a lobbyist and led countless nonprofit fundraising initiatives. She has also developed an extensive national network of women in leadership positions.
Hannah Reinhard has amassed an impressive resume from her community service to on-campus leadership roles and has demonstrated a remarkable work ethic throughout her professional career. Originally determined to become a dentist, she realized her passion for giving back to her community while at Northwest Vista College, and upon transferring to The University of Texas, she switched her ambitions to become a civil servant. Since then, her professional experiences have ranged from registering voters through a grassroots organization, working on political campaigns and serving the Texas State Legislature, thus providing her with a unique political process perspective.
Alex Rose is a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin pursuing a Master of Public Affairs degree at the LBJ School. A sixth-generation Texan, Rose has lived and worked in places like Austin, New York City and Los Angeles as a project manager and digital producer for companies like Disney, Netflix, GSD&M and Domino Records & Publishing. While she works to translate her work into a career in public service, Rose is also an independent musician who writes, releases and performs music under the name Canyon Counterpoint. Rose's current research at the LBJ School focuses on national security studies as it dovetails with cyber security and the media. She's particularly interested in understanding the effects of information confrontation like hacking and disinformation on the current landscape of media and public discourse in America.
Erin Rowe has a strong passion for politics, marketing and aviation, and a huge heart for serving others. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in communications, and she was actively involved in political organizations on campus. Currently, Rowe is a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, working as legislative director for Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-59), and pursuing her master's in marketing at the University of Houston. Rowe loves serving her community; her favorite community activities include campaigning, volunteering with the elderly, delivering food through Meals on Wheels and cooking for families at the Ronald McDonald House.
Danielle Rugoff is an award-winning community builder, foreign policy advocate and coalition curator with over two decades of nonprofit management, civic engagement and government affairs experience. Recognized for her passion and grit, Rugoff's statewide advocacy began when she established the first statewide student lobbying agenda for all public higher education colleges and universities in Texas. As part of this effort, Rugoff and her coalition successfully established a permanent student seat on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Concerned about the lack of civility in our politics and political leaders, she actively works to bring private and public sector leaders together from across the aisle through values-based, solution-oriented conversations and Jeffersonian Dinners.
Carolina Salmeron is a first-generation American, public health professional and fierce human and reproductive rights advocate serving the state of Texas. As a native Houstonian, she grew up experiencing firsthand the effects of rising income inequality and lack of access to affordable health care, inspiring her to pursue a career in public health and organizing to create positive change in her community. Her leadership and vision were recognized early on and she served as vice president of her alma mater, Johns Hopkins Latino Public Health Network, and she has continued her invaluable work with the nonprofit sector serving vulnerable populations and those most affected by systems of oppression. Salmeron is committed to innovating, collaborating and continuing to fight for social, racial, economic, reproductive and environmental justice. She also is passionate about creating spaces for women, where they can not only exist but thrive!
Tamira Samuel is an award-winning educator, nonprofit executive, philanthropist, social impact strategist, child advocate and author who has spent the past 15 years in education, nonprofit and public policy sectors helping to create equitable learning environments and outcomes for Black and Brown children through effective school design, student intervention support and talent development. Recognized for advocacy, coalition and connection building, and strategy, Samuel’s policy service began as a Peace Child International World Youth Congress United States delegate for former General Governor of Canada Michaelle Jean, and has since continued her service in several capacities through organizations and entities such as Teach for America, Texas Charter School Association, City of Houston Commission for People with Disabilities, The Beacon Center of Tennessee and Nashville Metropolitan Government. The former Miss Black Kentucky USA, is the recipient of Leadership Houston Class XXXV Patrice Yvonne Johnson Distinguished Alumnus Award and the REEP Founder’s Award in her MBA Business Fellowship Program Class at Rice University.
Erin Shank has been representing Texans in federal courts in Texas for almost 40 years. An attorney practicing bankruptcy law with offices in Waco and Killeen, Texas, she is also passionate about making a difference in her community through political activism. A strong advocate for voting rights, Shank is a precinct chair and has served as a poll worker, election judge and on the Ballot Board in her community. Shank and her husband have restored several homes in Waco and surrounding communities, and she currently chairs the Waco Historic Preservation Commission.
Susan Smith is a recognized leader in destination marketing management who has spent several years monitoring industry trends, leveraging insights and advocating for the tourism industry at local, state and federal levels. Recognized for her vision and strategic insights, she also has been a highly visible industry spokesperson. She has a proven track record of success with helping organizations increase performance and advance organizational development and effectiveness.
Jennifer Storm is a South Texas native who passionately advocates for education, community and economic development. She is a veteran nonprofit association and government relations professional with innate abilities to find and build common ground connections. Storm is active in her community serving on a variety of boards as well as working on local campaigns. From a young age, she learned that being involved is the only way to make a difference in your community, state and the world. By watching the examples of many of her family members, she feels a strong personal responsibility to take active roles in her community because she believes "there is a price tag on democracy; it's called participation."
Brooke Knudtson Stroud
Brooke Knudtson Stroud is a native of Amarillo and a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, where she obtained her B.A. in political science and MPA and served as student body president. She has previous experience working in the Texas Legislature, the U.S. Congress and on multiple high-level political campaigns in Texas. She currently serves as an education policy consultant, volunteers for several local community organizations and strives to be a transformational leader for young women.
Lori Swann is a Houston attorney who has spent the majority of her 32-year legal career as an assistant district attorney prosecuting criminal cases in one of the largest counties in the country and a private attorney representing individuals or small companies taking on big business. Her interest in education and government has led to her extensive volunteer work, which includes board service in the health care and criminal justice areas and teaching on behalf of the National Advocacy Center, the Texas District and County Attorney's Association, the National College of District Attorneys and the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University. Swann is most proud of her over 40-year affiliation with the American Legion Auxiliary Texas Girls State program, including as director since 2014, where she has had the privilege of educating thousands of outstanding young women from across the state of Texas in leadership and the duties and responsibilities of an informed citizenry.
Lacey Pittman Tomanek
Lacey Pittman Tomanek has dedicated her career to public service and fighting for systemic equity. She was a White House intern, a public high school school teacher in New Orleans, a campaign coordinator in Baltimore, a parent and community engagement professional in Washington DC, and for the last nine years she has been a nonprofit senior leader working in her hometown of Dallas at the intersection of public education transformation, leadership development and systems change. Tomanek is known for her high-energy, people- and community-centered, strategic and equity-minded approach, and is an active volunteer with Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District as well as local campaigns and PTAs.
Talan Tyminski is a community activist and public affairs professional with a passion for social justice and gender equality. She excels in public speaking, crisis communications and media relations. She is a member of the inaugural Emerge Young Leader's Cabinet, Executive Women in Texas Government and the League of Women Voters, and she currently serves on the City of Austin's MBEWBE/Small Business Enterprise Procurement Program Advisory Committee.
Ana Paula "AP" Velasco
AP Velasco is a young Chicana professional who works in nonprofit and gender equity spaces in Washington, DC. Recognized for her leadership and ethical thinking by her university, Velasco's passion for public service began while working in her district's congressional office and continued on Dr. Jill Biden's team during the Biden for President campaign. As a 2021 college graduate, Velasco spent the last year of her undergraduate career in the Women and Politics Institute's WeLead Program as one of the youngest members of the cohort.
Juana Véliz is a purpose-driven leader and strategist with over 15 years of experience in designing and leading initiatives for major nonprofits, foundations, government and global corporations. She believes that change begins at the local level, with collaboration and with people at the heart of it, thus dedicating her time to boards that serve her community of Oak Cliff in Dallas, Texas. As a champion for voting rights, women's empowerment and with a vision for a more equitable society, Véliz also serves as a Jolt Initiative board member, co-founded The Eres Collective and supports a number of philanthropic causes.
MaryEllen Veliz is an experienced political operative with a demonstrated history of advancing progressive change. Skilled in nonprofit organizations, communications, policy analysis, politics and campaigns and government, Veliz is focused on to moving San Antonio forward and serving the community. Her commitment to building power rooted in equity to social justice is evident in her board service with organizations like New Leaders Council, Annie’s List and Planned Parenthood South Texas.
Deidre Woodard is a graduate of Stanford University who subsequently researched gestational diabetes at Case Western Reserve University prior to starting an M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Woodard successfully completed the first two years of medical school and spent nearly three years as part of a team doing preliminary research for what is now known as "artificial skin" before a crisis altered her path to becoming a surgeon. That crisis, coupled with her faith and her core values of passion, integrity and excellence are what fuel Woodard's drive to advocate for those who often go unheard and to champion causes that create tangible change within the local community where she serves.
Alexandra Zepeda graduated cum laude from St. Mary's University with a bachelor's degree in criminology, and has since established a passion in fighting for the rights of domestic violence and child abuse victims. She obtained her Juris Doctor degree in 2018 and is dedicated to the members of her community through the practice of law as well as through volunteer service engagement. Zepeda is a recognized finalist in multiple national advocacy competitions. She is a passionate trial attorney with the tenacity to seek justice in the criminal justice system.