Conversaciones con Líderes Series

Each week during Hispanic Heritage Month the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics is joining the White House and federal agencies in celebrating Latino leaders and ways in which they’re working within, and with, the Biden-Harris Administration to build prosperous and healthy communities. We’re proud to launch our weekly Conversaciones con Líderes zoom series featuring Biden-Harris Administration officials and community leaders sharing their inspiring personal journeys and updates on federal opportunities that uplift the Latino community. Check back on this page for updates on the weekly webinars.


Conversaciones con Líderes Webinar on Advancing Educational Equity and Investing in Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Friday, October 7

On Friday, October 7th, we invite you to join our Conversaciones con Líderes zoom featuring Biden-Harris Administration appointees and career staff working at the U.S. Department of Education. 

This will be a special opportunity to meet, and hear from, some of our outstanding colleagues who’ll share their inspiring personal journeys and updates on their work advancing educational equity, supporting Latino and English language learners and strengthening the capacity of our nation’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions. 

JOIN US 

SPEAKERS INCLUDE: 

  • Melody Gonzales, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics 
  • Joaquin Tamayo, Chief of Staff, Office of the Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education 
  • Montserrat Garibay, Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary & Director for the Office of English Language Acquisition and Senior Advisor for Labor Relations, U.S. Department of Education 
  • Chris Soto, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education 
  • Beatriz Ceja, Senior Director for Institutional Service, Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education 
  • Ashley Harrington, Senior Advisor, Office of Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education 

BIOGRAPHIES:

Melody Gonzales, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics

Melody GonzalesMelody joins the U.S. Department of Education from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union representing 3 million educators. Her prior experience includes serving: on the Biden-Harris transition team’s Office of Personnel Management Agency Review Team; as a Senior Executive Service-level appointee in the Obama-Biden Administration — serving first as the U.S Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration Chief of Staff and then as Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; as a Legislative Assistant then Director of Member Outreach for former Congressman Xavier Becerra and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus; and as the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda’s Founding Director of the Latino Appointments Program.   

Joaquin Tamayo, Chief of Staff, Office of the Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education

Joaquin Tamayo

Joaquin Tamayo, a former high school teacher and principal, is Chief of Staff in the Office of the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and a proud LGBTQ+ member of the Biden-Harris Administration. In this capacity, Joaquin supports Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten’s leadership on national PreK-12 policy and departmental budget, operations, and management. Joaquin also leads ED’s STEM and innovation portfolios as well as the Administration’s National Partnership for Student Success. Previously, Joaquin was a Senior Policy Advisor at EducationCounsel where he helped create and lead the Science of Learning and Development Alliance, and co-founded and was National Director of the Middle School Kindness Challenge (now Teach Kindness) at Stand for Children. Between 2014 and 2017, Joaquin served in the Obama Administration, first as special assistant to the assistant secretary and then as Director of Strategic Initiatives for Elementary and Secondary Education at ED. Joaquin was also a member of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Federal Taskforce. Prior to his Obama Administration service, Joaquin was assistant director of the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program, where he managed the Aspen Congressional Education Staff Network.  And, in 2005, he led a team of educators to found the Urban Assembly Academy of Government and Law (AGL), a small, government and law-themed public high school in New York City’s Lower East Side. Joaquin began his career in education as a social studies teacher and student activities director in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where his mother has taught middle school children for 41 years. Joaquin holds a B.A. in political science from Columbia University, a master in public affairs from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and is a graduate of the New Leaders for New Schools urban principal residency program. 

Montserrat Garibay, Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary & Director for the Office of English Language Acquisition and Senior Advisor for Labor Relations, U.S. Department of Education

Montserrat Garibay

Montserrat Garibay is the Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary & Director for the Office of English Language Acquisition and Senior Advisor for Labor Relations, Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. She was the Secretary-Treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO. Previously, she served as Vice President for Certified Employees with Education Austin, a merged union local with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the American Federation of Labor Congress of Industrial Organizations. Garibay came to the U.S. from Mexico City as an undocumented immigrant and became a citizen 20 years later.. A bilingual pre-kindergarten teacher for eight years and National Board-Certified Teacher. She is a graduate of the National Labor Leadership Initiative with the Worker Institute at Cornell University. Garibay is a University of Texas -Austin graduate with a Master of Education. 

Chris Soto, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Education

Chris Soto

Chris Soto currently serves as Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona. He’s held previous roles in Connecticut state government, first being elected State Representative to the CT General Assembly followed by roles as Governor Ned Lamont’s Legislative Director and Director of Innovation and Partnerships at the CT State Department of Education. Chris entered the education field following his active-duty service as a Coast Guard Officer and returned to the Coast Guard Academy as Assistant Director of Diversity. Soon after, he founded and served as Executive Director of Higher Edge, a college access and completion organization serving Eastern CT’s low-income & first-generation college-bound students. Chris earned his bachelor’s degree in Operations Research from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and his Master’s in Public Affairs (MPA) from Brown University. 

Beatriz Ceja, Senior Director for Institutional Service, Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education

Ashley Harrington, Senior Advisor, Office of Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education

Ashley Harrington

Ashley Harrington is the senior advisor to the Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. In this role, she advises the COO on policy implementation, operations, and external communications related to the $1.6 trillion federal student loan portfolio. Prior to joining FSA, Ashley served as federal advocacy director and senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). Ashley led CRL’s federal advocacy efforts, helping to shape fair lending and consumer protection reforms to address racial wealth disparities. Her portfolio included a range of consumer lending issues, with a focus on student debt reform.  Ashley also previously worked at UNCF (the United Negro College Fund) and in the New York Governor’s Office.  She is the author of articles and reports on student debt, particularly as it affects Black borrowers; a frequent media contributor; and she has provided testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Financial Services Committee and Small Business Committee. Ashley received her B.A. in Public Policy Analysis from UNC-Chapel Hill and her J.D. from New York University School of Law. She is admitted to practice law in New York. 

 


Conversaciones con Líderes Series: Climate and Environmental Justice, Friday, September 30

Graphic for the conversaciones con lideres on climate and environmental justice

On September 30th, we’ll continued our weekly Conversaciones con Líderes zoom series featuring Biden-Harris Administration officials and community leaders sharing their inspiring personal journeys and updates on federal opportunities that uplift the Latino community. Attendees learned more about the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Justice40 Initiative, Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) awards program and other initiatives that are advancing environmental justice, investing in Latino communities, building a clean energy future in America that is creating good-paying jobs, lowering energy costs, and tackling the climate crisis. 

SPEAKERS INCLUDE:  

  • Melody Gonzales, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics 
  • Sara Gonzalez-Rothi, Senior Director for Water, White House Council on Environmental Quality 
  • Alejandra Nunez, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Mobile Sources, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 
  • Sonrisa Lucero, Special Advisor for Stakeholder Engagement, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, U.S. Department of Energy 
  • Andrea Suarez Falken, Special Advisor for Infrastructure and Sustainability, U.S. Department of Education  
  • Mark Magaña, President and CEO, GreenLatinos 

BIOGRAPHIES

Melody Gonzales, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics 

Melody Gonzales

Melody Gonzales, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics . Melody joins the U.S. Department of Education from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union representing 3 million educators. Her prior experience includes serving: on the Biden-Harris transition team’s Office of Personnel Management Agency Review Team; as a Senior Executive Service-level appointee in the Obama-Biden Administration — serving first as the U.S Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration Chief of Staff and then as Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; as a Legislative Assistant then Director of Member Outreach for former Congressman Xavier Becerra and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus; and as the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda’s Founding Director of the Latino Appointments Program.   

Sara Gonzalez-Rothi, Senior Director for Water, White House Council on Environmental Quality 

Sarah Gonzalez-Rothi

Sara Gonzalez-Rothi serves as Senior Director for Water at CEQ, where she leads policy development and coordination of federal interagency initiatives on freshwater, saltwater, drinking water, drought, and toxics. Prior to CEQ, Gonzalez-Rothi was most recently senior counsel on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, where developed legislation and conducted oversight on matters related to oceans, fisheries, clean energy, and other climate issues. Sara previously worked as legislative counsel and Everglades fellow to then-Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla., now NASA Administrator), where she helped craft the RESTORE Act in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. She has also worked with the National Wildlife Federation and with the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition. The 38-year-old Gainesville, Florida native, whose mother is Norwegian and a scientist and father is a physician from Matanzas, Cuba, earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and a law degree from the University of Miami. 

Alejandra Nunez, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Mobile Sources, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 

Alejandra Nunez

Alejandra Nunez is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Mobile Sources, Office of Air and Radiation at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Ale’s work at EPA focuses on reducing pollution from the transportation sector, including overseeing the development of emissions standards for light- and heavy-duty vehicles, implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Clean School Bus Program, implementation of the Renewable Fuels Standard Program, and the integration of environmental justice in climate policy. Prior to being appointed to her current position at the EPA, she served as a senior attorney at the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, where her work focused on litigation and regulatory advocacy on federal climate regulations. Before the Sierra Club, Deputy Assistant Administrator Nunez worked as associate counsel at the World Bank’s Legal Vice Presidency, advising on public-private partnerships in the energy and water infrastructure sectors. She was also an associate at Morrison & Foerster, representing clients on public trust issues, carbon sequestration projects, and conservation easements, and she taught a seminar on Advanced Energy Law at the Washington College of Law at the American University in Washington, D.C. Deputy Assistant Administrator Nunez holds Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) and Masters of Law (LL.M.) degrees from Harvard Law School, and a law degree (LL.B.) from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. During her studies, she interned at UNESCO’s World Water Assessment Programme and was also a research fellow at Stanford University’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development.

Sonrisa Lucero, Special Advisor for Stakeholder Engagement, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, U.S. Department of Energy 

Sonrisa LuceroSonrisa Lucero is a Special Advisor for Stakeholder Engagement in the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity. Sonrisa Lucero was most recently the Equitable Buildings Decarbonization Manager at RMI where she led the efforts to integrate equity into carbon free buildings policy and advocacy.  Previously she worked to advance equitable sustainability and climate policy at the City and County of Denver in the Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency.  A lifelong activist for social justice, Sonrisa is skilled at building coalitions and guiding diverse stakeholders to equitably advance sustainability and combat climate change.  Sonrisa was born and raised in Denver, CO and graduated from Stanford University with an Individually Designed Major, Environmental Systems Engineering. 

Andrea Suarez Falken, Special Advisor for Infrastructure and Sustainability, U.S. Department of Education  

Andrea Faulken

Andrea Suarez Falken serves as Special Advisor for Infrastructure and Sustainability at the U.S. Department of Education, which includes overseeing the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition award. This award is a communications and outreach tool responding to a widely supported public request that Falken has built from the ground up. Beyond the recognition award, Falken has come to lead the Department on matters related to school environment, sustainability, and infrastructure. Falken began her federal tenure as a Presidential Management Fellow within the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Early in her career, she taught and translated languages in France and Spain and worked in nonprofit international education. She earned both of her degrees — a master’s from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s from Colgate University — with high honors. Since 2014, the Washington, D.C. native has overseen the Department’s environment, sustainability, and infrastructure portfolio from her home in northern Colorado, where her household includes two active boys who are intrigued by the natural world and a state natural resources agency administrator who cultivates their sense of wonder. In her spare time, she enjoys distance running, commuting her boys on electric cargo bikes, skiing, and camping. 

Mark Magaña, President and CEO, GreenLatinos 

Mark Magana

Mark Magaña is the Founding President & CEO of GreenLatinos, a National network of Latino environmental and conservation advocates. Mark is the first Latino to have served as senior staff at both the White House and in Congressional leadership – as Special Assistant to President Clinton for White House Legislative Affairs and Senior Policy Advisor to the House Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair Robert Menendez. Mark also served as a Presidentially appointed Congressional Liaison at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as Legislative Assistant to Congressional Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), as a Federal Legislative Representative for the City of Los Angeles, and as a Research Assistant for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). As an early supporter of Senator Obama’s Presidential Campaign, in February of 2007, Mark founded the National Latinos for Obama. Through Latinos for Obama, he helped build a national grassroots organization and mobilization effort. Originally from Los Angeles, Mark lived in Washington, DC for 30 years and just recently moved to Boulder, CO with his wife and young children, where he serves on the boards of the League of Conservation Voters, Green 2.0, and the Children’s Environmental Health Network.


Conversaciones con Líderes Series: Economic Empowerment, Thursday, September 22 

Graphic for conversaciones con lideres on economic empowerment

On September 22nd, we launched our weekly Conversaciones con Líderes zoom series. This week’s theme is on economic empowerment. Attendees learned about how the efforts like the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Student Debt Relief Plan, Inflation Reduction Act and other initiatives are supporting the economic well-being of Hispanic community and how you can tap into key federal resources. 

SPEAKERS: 

  • Melody Gonzales, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics
  • Carlos Monje, U.S. Department of Transportation, Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy
  • Marlene Cintron, U.S. Small Business Administration, Regional Administrator, Atlantic Region
  • Calvin Mitchell, U.S. Department of Education, Director, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization
  • Domenika Lynch, Executive Director, Latinos and Society Program, Aspen Institute

BIOGRAPHIES:

Melody Gonzales, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics

Melody GonzalesMelody joins the U.S. Department of Education from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union representing 3 million educators. Her prior experience includes serving: on the Biden-Harris transition team’s Office of Personnel Management Agency Review Team; as a Senior Executive Service-level appointee in the Obama-Biden Administration — serving first as the U.S Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration Chief of Staff and then as Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; as a Legislative Assistant then Director of Member Outreach for former Congressman Xavier Becerra and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus; and as the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda’s Founding Director of the Latino Appointments Program.   

Carlos Monje, U.S. Department of Transportation, Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy

Carlos MonjeMonje managed the agency review process for domestic agencies for the Biden-Harris Transition. Monje previously served as Acting Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation where he oversaw implementation of surface transportation programs, the discretionary grant programs, and efforts to promote equity and economic development. Monje is the first in his family born in the United States. His family is from Argentina.

Marlene Cintron, U.S. Small Business Administration, Regional Administrator, Atlantic Region

Marlene CintroneAs Region II Administrator, Marlene Cintron will oversee SBA programs, offices and operations in the SBA’s Atlantic region, serving New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.   Ms. Cintron was born and raised in The Bronx. During her trajectory, she has worked for Congressman Robert Garcia, Mayor David N. Dinkins, Governor Pedro Rosello of Puerto Rico, and New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. In 2010, she was named President of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and The Business Initiative Corporation of New York where she utilizes her government relations and financial acumen to support current and prospective Bronx businesses. Ms. Cintron received her bachelor’s degree from SUNY College at Old Westbury, her Master’s in Education Administration from Fordham University and her Juris Doctorate from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC.

Calvin Mitchell, U.S. Department of Education, Director, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization

Calvin MitchellIn 2020, Calvin J. Mitchell, Jr. joined the U.S. Department of Education (ED) leadership team as the Director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). As Director, Mr. Mitchell is responsible for implementing policies and initiatives throughout the Department to ensure that all socioeconomic categories of small business are afforded opportunities to compete for contracts.  Prior to joining the Department, Mitchell served as the Branch Chief of the Accounts Management Division at the General Services Administration. Mitchell led the organization toward meeting Government-wide strategic goals to support all 24 CFO Act agency vision, mission, and strategic goals. Separately, Mr. Mitchell served as a Congressional Fellow for the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. In this position, he served as the Principal Procurement Advisor to Committee leadership and provided guidance and oversight to Members and Committee staff on procurement, small business programs, and related acquisition issues within the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Mitchell has also held leadership positions at the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. 

Domenika Lynch, Executive Director, Latinos and Society Program, Aspen Institute

Domenika LynchDomenika Lynch is the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program (AILAS). Lynch has overseen strategic planning, policy advocacy, and public affairs campaigns for nonprofits and corporations, increasing donor and stakeholder support and raising millions of dollars for organizational endowments.  Lynch currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Management Foundation and serves on Bank of America’s National Community Advisory Council which advises the bank on community development, environmental and consumer policy issues. From July 2016 to May 2019, Lynch served as president and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), the preeminent Latino leadership institute founded by Hispanic members of Congress in Washington, DC.  A graduate of the USC Price School of Public Policy, Lynch holds a master’s degree from the USC Rossier School of Education.

RESOURCES:

U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Transportation

U.S. Small Business Administration

Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program


Learn more about the Hispanic Heritage Month weeks of action and resources. 

View additional events on the White House Hispanic Initiative Calendar.