Meet the Current Class

Alex McDonald is a San Diego local who attended middle school and high school in the South Bay community of San Diego. After high school she attended San Diego State University, and then went on to receive a juris doctorate from California Western School of Law as a Kennedy Scholar. During her time at California Western, she served as an executive editor on the law review, and worked for local non-profit organizations including Think Dignity and the California Innocence Project. Since law school she has worked as a Deputy Public Defender defending the rights of the San Diego community within the legal system. Alex is excited to be a part of the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute to learn how to better serve her community.


Brenda Aguirre Arnold is originally from Tijuana, Mexico. She immigrated to the United States over a decade ago and became a citizen in 2014. A graduate of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) Business Program, member of several community and political activism groups, Brenda is a dedicated activist for the LGBTQ communities, immigrant rights, and health care reform among many other concerns. She is a social media advocate and feels the often-underutilized tools can reach a broader audience. Brenda serves as membership coordinator and social media director for the grass roots organization ACLU South Bay People Power and is on the board of the Eastlake-Bonita Democratic Club as the public relations officer. She is also a member of Mi Familia and PFLAG, two organizations serving as support groups for LGBTQ families, allies and communities, and recently joined South Bay Alliance. As a married mother of four, Brenda and her family have set roots in Chula Vista because of the diverse and rich cultures and inclusive nature of the communities. Brenda believes in modeling for her children a path to becoming stronger as a person, community, nation and world.

Cristina Marquez is a low voltage electrician apprentice born and raised in San Diego County. After she graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in Sociology she moved to Las Vegas for 12 years, where she worked in hotel guest services and as a private driver.

She is currently in her 4th year in the apprentice program at the San Diego Training Center accredited through Palomar College and will graduate in June 2018. Cristina has always liked to be active in any type of work she does and thrives in fixing and putting devices together.

She is also very active with the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) local union 569 and sits on the board for Electrical Workers Minority Caucus (EWMC). She volunteers on a regular basis including but not limited to:

  • Walking and talking at numerous precinct walks
  • Helping facilitate career fairs
  • Engaging with school kids brought into the training center to show them apprenticeship opportunities
  • Going to various communities in San Diego County school districts to educate kids about the apprenticeship program.
  • Being a member of the legislative committee

Her love of Southern California called her back and will keep her here. Once she graduates from the apprenticeship program she looks forward to staying involved with the community and keeping San Diego the best place to live.

Gala Ledezma is currently completing her last year at UC San Diego, working towards a B.S. degree in Social Psychology and a Minor in Public Service. As a Chula Vista resident, Gala worked as a tutor for the Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood Initiative at South Bay Community Services. In 2018, she looks forward to interning for a city council campaign, as well as participating in UCSD’s community-based research and outreach program. Gala is passionate about youth, education, and the U.S-Mexico border region.


Latisha Hill is a graduate of the School-Based Family Counseling Masters program at CSU, Los Angeles. After many years working in the public sector, Latisha started to recognize the need to promote and encourage strength-based dialogue surrounding mental health at the state, county, community and individual levels. Latisha hopes to be the voice for “everyday” citizens by one day serving in the state senate. 

Leanna Augustus is a queer child welfare advocate, feminist and science enthusiast. She graduated from the University of California Los Angeles with a B.S. in Biology in 2010. She currently works at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest in Community Engagement. She is currently a board member with the Coalition for Reproductive Justice. Leanna is heavily involved in the foster care community and currently volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate through Voices for Children.

She is fiercely passionate about women’s rights and fair access to healthcare and education for people of color.


Natasha Anderson-Moncrieffe lives by the motto “Art is Life is Art”. The Brooklyn, New York native loves calling San Diego home and utilizes every opportunity to submerge herself in the local art culture. Her background in News Editorial Journalism highlights her penchant for writing, while her career transitioned into creating marketing and public relations campaigns for corporate brands and various nonprofit organizations. She currently serves as the Product Marketing Specialist for Rio SEO, a marketing automation software company based in San Diego. She is also the Advocacy Chair for Rising Arts Leaders of San Diego, and membership chair for the San Diego Regional Arts & Culture Coalition. She was recognized for her contribution to the LGBT Center’s Young Professional’s Council with two awards from Senator Toni Atkins, and former mayor of San Diego and Assemblymember Todd Gloria.

She looks forward to joining CPI’s Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute in preparation for serving on a city board and expanding her dedication and service to improving equality, accessibility, community equity, art, and human rights advocacy for San Diego.

Noreen WoodsNoreen Woods is an IHSS caregiver, mother and grandmother who was born and raised in San Diego, California. She is very active in her union, United Domestic Workers. Noreen is currently elected County Representative of San Diego and sits on the statewide bargaining team. She is also a local board member and a culinary board member for UDW. Noreen is passionate about working with her fellow union members to defend the In-Home Support Services Program. Noreen is committed to doing that by being an active member in her community and by being an IHSS Advisory board member where she can provide ongoing advice and recommendations regarding the IHSS program.


Paola Martinez-Montes has lived in San Diego for nearly 20 years, growing up here since arriving from Mexico with her family in 1997. She is the daughter of immigrant parents and was undocumented herself for many years, giving her a unique worldview and sensitivity to the injustices and inequalities that many people face. Being raised in San Diego, she harbors a deep love for the city and the people who live here and it was that love that led her to organizing.

She began her organizing as a student at San Diego City College where she obtained a degree in Sociology, during which time she organized around ending budget cuts, increased tuition costs, violence against women, and immigrant rights. She was a teacher’s assistant in Gender Studies, and interned for the American Federation of Teachers Local 1931. All this experience allowed her to further understand inherent interconnections between the importance of social justice, unionism, and community organizing.

In 2011, she joined the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerments (ACCE), as a member of a civic engagement team, where her leadership and organizing continued to develop leading her to the position of Director of ACCE for San Diego County. As Director of the San Diego chapter of ACCE, she has engaged her community, run civic engagement programs, facilitated community-led campaigns, developed local community leaders as well as new organizing staff, and participated in numerous coalitions to develop policies and organizing campaigns aimed at improving the lives of low-income community members and people of color with a focus in Chula Vista and National City. Paola is currently serving as the Chair for the City of Chula Vista Human Relations Commission.

Philomena Marino is proud to be a third-generation resident of Barrio Logan. Growing up in this family neighborhood taught her how the actions of good neighbors’ support and add to the enjoyment of the community. Many of the long-time residents are the same neighbors who watched over her as a little girl and were part of the deeply nurturing atmosphere that is Barrio Logan.

She takes a personal interest in the elderly and is actively working with the Environmental Health Coalition to improve the Barrio Logan community. She has been instrumental in the community-based research project working towards the implementation of truck routing there and in a truck ordinance for residential San Diego. This ultimately improves the health of all residents regardless of age.

She’s a quality systems/project management professional with 25 years’ experience in the biotech industry. As a graduate of UCSD and National University, Ms. Marino earned a BA, BS, and MBA, as well as a Health Education Specialist Certification. With her education and passion, she advocates and supports egalitarian principles.

Sofia Nelson-Ferezi is currently an undergraduate student at UCSD, working towards a double major in Urban Studies and Planing and International Studies-Econ. She was raised in Tijuana but decided to finish her High School education in Chula Vista in order to follow her dreams and go to college in the US. Being exposed to the constant contrast of two clashing cultures brought to her attention the importance of planning in developing cities and believes that she can bring a new perspective in planning because of her bicultural background. She worked with City Heights Community Development Corporation where she had the opportunity to explore the impact that public policy can have in the lives of citizens. She hopes to continue to grow and learn both inside and outside the classroom walls in order to give back to her community.

Tannia Montesinos is a Native of Mexico City and has lived in San Diego, California since the age of 4. She graduated from San Diego State University and San Diego City College with degrees in Social Work and Chicano Studies. With a passion for cultural issues, social justice and volunteer work, she has volunteered at Urban Corps of San Diego, Unite Here Local 30, Mid City Pediatrics and Kearney Mesa Juvenile Hall Detention Facility. Currently, Tannia is working for Community HousingWorks (CHW) as a Community Building Coordinator to coordinate free services and programming to families living in CHW affordable housing.


Tazheen Nizam is an accounting and finance professional. She holds an MBA degree in Finance and Organization Management.

She is a strong proponent of social justice and Immigrants Rights. Tazheen heads the North County Immigration Task Force. She sits on boards of organizations that work towards Civil rights, Immigrant rights and Interfaith Collaborations. She is a mother, a wife and a small business owner.

Yessica Diaz-Roman has been fully engaged in promoting diversity, inclusion, and health equity within the San Diego community, since relocating to this area after completing her doctorate in public health from Columbia University.  Dr. Diaz-Roman served on the board of directors for MANA de San Diego, and Imperial Beach Health Center, and was a 2016-17 RISE Urban Leadership Fellow. Her current leadership roles include serving as Chair for MANA de San Diego’s Health Committee, board member for Columbia University’s Alumni Association of San Diego, and contributing to STEAM-related initiatives as founder of the STEAM Global Network.  Yessica is a faculty member at Southwestern College.  She is the eldest of four and a first-generation college student.  Originally from New York City, Yessica is passionate about the arts and increasing access to higher education and STEAM careers for women of color.  In addition to her doctorate in sociomedical sciences from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, she has joint master degree’s in public health and social work from the University of Michigan.