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Scholarship Committee

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Blanche Wright, PhD

Blanche Wright is a first-generation college student and is currently a Ph.D. student in UCLA's Clinical Psychology program (expected graduation: June 2022). She conducts policy-relevant studies on disparities in the quality of mental health care; she has specialized expertise in the engagement of racial/ethnic minoritized parents in their child's mental health treatment. She has received clinical and public health research training from Harvard and funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Melissa Landeros, M. Ed.

Melissa Landeros was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism with a minor in Humanities from San Francisco State University and her Master's of Education in Leadership in Higher Education from the University of Washington. 


Melissa has dedicated the last 6 years of her career and counting to serving underrepresented students by fostering purposeful, inclusive and engaging student experiences outside the classroom within the higher education setting. Currently, she serves as a Student Organization Advising Coordinator for Cultural and Identity based groups at UC Berkeley's Leadership, Engagement, Advising and Development (LEAD) Center. 


She is looking forward to serving on the scholarship committee to support students in their college going experience and giving back to her community.

Jaqueline Cortez, Psy.D.

Dr. Cortez earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She earned her master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology from Alliant International University (California School of Professional Psychology). Her educational career was inspired by her community, as she desired to contribute to the mental health field as a Spanish-speaking, first generation, daughter of immigrants, Latina psychologist.

Dr. Cortez is currently completing her post-doctoral residency at Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center in Florida where she works with criminally involved men and completes evaluations ranging from risk of violence, malingering, and competency to proceed. She, also, conducts neurodevelopmental evaluations at the Regional Center for children, teenagers, and adults. Prior, she completed her doctoral internship in Miami, FL where she matched at South Florida State Hospital. Her goals are to provide culturally responsive and trauma-informed forensic and clinical services to historically underserved populations and to complete forensic evaluations for criminal courts.


Dr. Cortez was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley. She understands first-hand the challenges that minority students face in this educational system, and how isolating it can feel to be a minority in higher education. She would like for everyone to know that, Si Se Puede!, and use her experiences to help students succeed in their educational journeys.

Leonardo Ayala, M.S.

Leonardo Ayala currently serves as the Assistant Director of Student Life at Bakersfield Community College. Growing up in Southern California (San Fernando Valley and the Antelope Valley), Leo attended the University of California at Santa Barbara where he double majored in Sociology and Chicana/o Studies and minored in Education Studies. He continued his studies at Colorado State University, Fort Collins earning his Master’s in Student Affairs in Higher Education. Leo recently joined Bakersfield College after serving 10+ years at various institutions, across the K-20 pipeline. Through this time, Leo has worked in Student Housing, Student Conduct, Fraternity and Sorority Life, Academic Counseling, Student Retention, and as a K-12 Instructional Lead. He believes schools and colleges allow students to unearth and discover their best version of themselves. His focus is creating the necessary conditions for students to do just that. When he’s not in the office, you can find him cooking, running, biking or hiking with his loving partner and their dog.

Priscilla Guzman, B.A.

Priscilla is a Human Resources Professional who aims to humanize impersonal systems and continuously improve employee engagement, development, and retention. Priscilla graduated from California State University Northridge with a B.A. in Communication Studies in 2013 and received her Professional in Human Resources Certification in 2019. She is passionate about people and creating a culture that is inclusive and diverse. Priscilla was born and raised in Los Angeles, specifically the San Fernando Valley. Her background also includes working with young adolescents and how their school environment influences their health behaviors and attitudes. She loves working with people and traveling. She thoroughly enjoys planning and executing trips and events. Priscilla is an animal lover and has an albino pet cockatiel named Lily.

Luis De Santiago, B.A.

Luis is currently an Emergency Response Social Worker for Los Angeles County. He had started a very different path early on, training as a chef at the Art Institute in Santa Monica and working in the food industry. After some time, he made the decision to return to school while working full time and graduate from California State University Northridge with a B.A. in Psychology. Luis then furthered his education by taking Substance Abuse Counseling courses at UCLA Extension. Working as a Counselor at a treatment facility, he developed a passion and high level of empathy for those who were often disregarded. Now he brings his vast background to his current career, working with the children and families of Los Angeles. He also practices self-care by competitive powerlifting and coaching younger athletes. Luis still loves cooking and can be caught throwing it down on the smoker or grill on rare occasions.

Chad Kidd

Chad is a LA native born in Hollywood, CA. they attended Sylmar High School and spent their 20's as a full-time DJ. Their love for technology led them to learn computer science. They spent a few years as a web developer and currently hold a position as a Project Manager (CSM) for Bitwise Industries (Bitwise Tech Consulting). They currently reside in Echo Park with their wife Barbie and son Bowie. 

Aida Cortez, MSW

Aida was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley and currently resides in the South Bay. She completed her Masters of Social Work with an emphasis in Child Welfare from the University of Southern California. Currently, Aida’s professional role is serving as a Children Social Worker for LA County Department of Children and Family Services.

Edwin Serrano, Ms. Ed. 

Edwin was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley. He completed a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at UC Santa Barbara in 2013, and a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration from Florida International University in 2015. Edwin has recently transitioned into the Learning & Development world, serving as a Corporate Training Specialist at Vallarta Supermarkets where he helps professionally develop the talent at over 35 locations throughout the state of California. Prior to this, he dedicated six years to supporting students from marginalized backgrounds transition into higher education through housing and dining, multicultural/LGBTQIA+, and conference services at various universities.  


Edwin has served as the Treasurer for Her Vaga Bound Roots since 2018, and uses his education, professional network, and privileges to better serve Black, Indigenous, and women of color pursuing academia and their professional goals. He believes HVBR represents the dreams and aspirations every older brother has for their sisters and is honored to be a part of the great team. 

Edwin would like to see this movement of educated + professional BIPOC women reach even the most rural parts of the U.S. He also hopes to one day see a *Champions Dinner* for scholarship recipients of The Her Vaga Bound Roots non-profit organization, in order to give more women the opportunity to reach their highest potential. 

Vanessa Cortez, MPH

Vanessa was born and raised in Los Angeles. She completed her Bachelor’s of Art in Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master’s of Public Health at the University of Southern California.


Since graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree in 2013, Vanessa’s professional roles have been dedicated to grant management, research, implementing evidence-based initiatives, and serving as the liaison to community partners. Currently, her professional responsibilities as an Analyst include pre-award grant writing and the coordination of grant applications and materials. 


Vanessa is an advocate for health and educational equity. As a Director of HVBR, Vanessa will support initiatives that promote educational equity through her role as a member of the Scholarship Committee, as well as with researching and pursuing grants to secure scholarships for future college-bound (vaga-bound) generations.  

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