2017 Academy Class

Alejandra Aguirre
Alejandra Aguirre

Alejandra Aguirre serves as a Government and Public Affairs Associate at ECA Strategies. A Dallas native, Alejandra began her career in Washington, D.C., where she served in a variety of critical government affairs capacities with both the Competitive Carriers Association, a wireless trade association, and CIT Group, a financial institution for middle market companies.

Alejandra was raised in the Pleasant Grove neighborhood of Dallas, Texas where she became the first in her family to graduate from college. She enjoys mentoring and giving back to the Dallas community by serving as the Secretary for the Dallas Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Chapter, and as the Southern Regional Director for Sigma Lambda Gamma Sorority.

She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs and Human Rights from Southern Methodist University.

Eduardo Carranza
Eduardo Carranza

Eduardo Carranza founded and practices family-based and immigrant law at the Law Office of Eduardo Carranza.

Eddie focuses on immigration law and is licensed to practice in the State of Texas. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. Eduardo then attended Southern Methodist University where he received his Juris Doctor.

He is married to Triana Carranza and has three daughters: Alexis, Isabella, and Victoria. Eddie was born and raised in the Dallas area. Eddie is a huge fan of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys.

Jasmit Dhaliwal-Perez
Jasmit Dhaliwal-Perez

Jasmit Dhaliwal-Perez founded and practices immigration, family and civil law at The Law Office of Jasmit Dhaliwal-Perez.

Prior to opening her own law office, she worked several years in private practice. During law school, Jasmit interned at Catholic Charities where she assisted victims of domestic violence to obtain relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). She received a BA in History from Carleton College where she graduated Magna Cum Laude and went on to receive her Doctor of Jurisprudence from South Texas College of Law.

She was selected to intern for the Department of Justice at the Houston Immigration Court out of a large pool of applicants. She is a member of multiple Dallas and Tarrant County Bar Associations, the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA), and the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Vanessa Fuentes
Vanessa Fuentes

Vanessa Fuentes, Senior Director at the American Heart Association, SouthWest Affiliate, oversees and implements grassroots initiatives and engagement activities for over 42,000 volunteer advocates in six states including Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming. Prior to joining the American Heart Association, Vanessa worked as a committee director at the Texas State Capitol and has experience in political campaigns and local public affairs.

Vanessa is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin and is an active member of the community, serving on the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce board of directors and as state representative on behalf of the Austin Chapter on Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas state board. She is an active member of The Junior League of Austin and volunteers with Dress for Success Austin.

In 2015, Vanessa was honored with the Distinguished Young Leader award by the Young Hispanic Professionals Association of Austin and recognized with the Outstanding Achievement in Advocacy award at the American Heart Association.

Amanda Gallegos
Amanda Gallegos

Amanda Gallegos maintains an active law practice at her law firm, Law Office of Amanda Gallegos, while enthusiastically serving her community by advocating for reproductive justice and immigrant rights.

A native of Albuquerque, NM, she graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2006 with a BA and in 2009 with a JD.

Amanda is a board member of NARAL Pro Choice Texas and an advisory board member of Texas Tenant Union. She relocated to Dallas in 2010 and is a wife and mother of a vivacious toddler.

Amanda Gonzalez
Amanda Gonzalez

Amanda is a Senior Campaign Manager for the San Antonio chapter of a national non-profit, Light The Night Campaign. She was born and raised on the Westside of San Antonio, Texas. She attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas where she began her post-secondary education in Political Science. In the summer of 2010, she was awarded an internship with the House Committee on Public Education.

Amanda returned back to college and applied to the prestigious Bob Bullock Scholars Program. She won this esteemed placement and was assigned to work for the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs. Ultimately, she completed her undergraduate degree in May of 2011.

While completing her Masters degree at St.Mary’s University, she worked full-time on a congressional race, and maintained a position as a graduate assistant for the Department of International Relations. Despite the demands on her schedule, she completed her Masters in International Relations in August of 2012, with a concentration in Conflict Resolution.

As of May 2016, Amanda was appointed as a Board Manager for Edgewood ISD in San Antonio, Texas.

Amilcar Guzman
Amilcar Guzman

Amilcar Guzman serves as the Director of Data and Evaluation at CASA, the largest immigrant rights organization in the Mid-Atlantic region. He leads efforts to evaluate the organization’s programs, policies and practices. Prior to CASA, Amilcar worked in education policy and education research.

Born in New York and raised in Pennsylvania, Amilcar obtained a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from Lycoming College and an M.A. in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park. He is pursuing his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy-Higher Education at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he studies the postsecondary outcomes of Latino college graduates.

Amilcar is serving in his first term as the National President of the Congressional Hispanic Institute Alumni Association (CHCI-AA). He also serves as a Board Member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

Shana Khader
Shana Khader

Shana Khader is the Interim Director of the Employment and Legal Services Program at Workers Defense Project, a member-based organization that empowers low-income workers across Texas to achieve fair employment through education, direct services, organizing, and strategic partnerships.

Prior to joining WDP, Shana served as a judicial law clerk to a federal magistrate judge in the Southern District of New York, and defended low-income income individuals against lawsuits and other aggressive debt collection tactics by predatory lenders as a Staff Attorney at the New York Legal Assistance Group. Shana also has experience in immigration, human rights, and prisoners’ rights law.

Raised in southern California and in Colorado, Shana relocated to Dallas in 2015 and lives in Oak Cliff. She graduated from Columbia Law School with academic honors in 2011.

Cindy Nava
Cindy Nava

Cindy Nava is a graduate research assistant at the University of New Mexico Center for Education Policy Research and is a House Majority Pool Analyst at the New Mexico State Legislature. Her work in policy, advocacy, and civic engagement has led her to lead distinctive statewide and national policy agendas to support access to higher education for minority students.

Cindy is currently completing an MA degree in Higher Education Leadership and Policy, recently served as the New Mexico State House of Representative’s Legislative Education Analyst and does motivational speaking across the country focused on empowering minority students. Cindy is a blogger for the Huffington Post and recently presented a TEDx Talk.

Through her political engagement, Cindy became the first dreamer/undocumented immigrant to embed herself in Democratic leadership at a state and national level. In 2015, Cindy became the first dreamer to serve as an intern for the Democratic National Committee in DC, and in 2016 became the first dreamer to be awarded the Rising Star Award by the New Mexico Democratic Party.

Nicanor (Nick) Pesina, Jr.
Nicanor (Nick) Pesina, Jr.

Nick Pesina is an attorney and partner at Roberts & Roberts, P.C. in Tyler, Texas. With a strong interest in public service, he previously worked at the city, state, and federal levels of government prior to becoming a lawyer.

Nick serves on the City of Tyler Half Cent Sales Tax Board, People Attempting To Help (Vice President), Niños de Promesa (Board of Directors), Smith County Young Lawyers Association, and as the President of the Tyler-Smith County Chapter of Texas Exes. He is also the Founder of the Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler. Of his various community efforts, Nick is most passionate about empowering and encouraging students.

A first-generation college student, Nick received both his Bachelor’s in Political Science/Spanish along with a Master’s in Public Administration from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX. He received his Doctorate of Jurisprudence from The University of Texas School of Law, where he was inducted into its prestigious Order of the Barristers and was recognized with a Pro Bono Service Award in 2012.

Ana-Maria Ramos
Ana-Maria Ramos

Ana-Maria Ramos is a candidate for Texas State Representative House District 102. She is a native Dallasite and Richardson resident who is both an educator at El Centro College and a litigator at her lawfirm. 

As a litigator, Ana-Maria advocates for women and children. Her extensive experience working with the community served as a catalyst to her pursuing her law degree. She also volunteers with several organizations including the Richardson Indivisible, the West Dallas Chamber of Commerce and the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association.

After many youthful hardships, Ana-Maria proudly obtained her G.E.D. from Dallas Can Academy. Shortly after receiving her G.E.D., she received her Associate’s Degree from the Dallas County Community College System, Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Texas at Arlington, Master of Business Administration from Texas Woman’s University and a Juris Doctorate from Southern Methodist University. Ana-Maria currently practices law at Ramos Law, PLLC, a family and civil litigation law firm in Dallas.

Gonzalo Serrano
Gonzalo Serrano

Gonzalo Serrano became a licensed attorney in 2014 and began his legal career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow and Staff Attorney at the Equal Justice Center in Dallas, Texas. He is currently serving as an Assistant District Attorney at the Dallas County District Attorney’s office.

Gonzalo was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. He and his family immigrated to the United States when he was four years old. Gonzalo was raised in McKinney, Texas and graduated from McKinney High School in 2003. Gonzalo earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, in 2006. After college, Gonzalo was selected by the Texas Senate Hispanic Research Council to serve as a legislative intern for the Senator Gregory Luna Legislative Scholars and Fellows Program during the 2007 Legislative Session.

Gonzalo later served as campaign coordinator for Texas State Senator Judith Zaffirini’s 2008 re-election campaign. From 2009 until 2011, Gonzalo served as Committee Clerk and Legislative Aide at the Texas Senate. In 2014, he earned a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.

Jake Torres
Jake Torres

Jake Torres, from Mertzon, Texas, is a recent graduate of the SMU Dedman School of Law where he graduated cum laude. During his time in law school, he served as a member of the SMU Board of Trustees, the President of the Hispanic Law Students Association, and received a Dean’s Scholarship. At graduation, he was chosen by the graduating class to receive the John Kennedy Memorial Scholarship.

Prior to law school, Jake taught at W. W. Samuell High School in the Dallas Independent School District through Teach for America. At W. W. Samuell he chaired the English department and was the head boy’s soccer coach and an assistant football coach. He earned his undergraduate degree from SMU in 2011 with majors in English and Spanish. During his senior year at SMU he served as the Student Body President.

He will be joining Winstead P. C. in the fall. Jake lives in West Dallas with his wife Laura, and daughter Angie.

Lauren Vargas
Lauren Vargas

Lauren Vargas is the Director of Innovation for the Mayor of the City of Long Beach, California, Robert Garcia. Previously, Lauren served as a Presidential Appointee in the Obama Administration at the Department of Defense. She was a Special Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary of Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, where she focused on the rapid acquisition of defense capabilities.

Prior to this position, Lauren worked as a Legislative Assistant for Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano in Washington, DC focusing on immigration and homeland security policy. Lauren is from Montebello, California. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Whittier College.

She enjoys visiting small historical museums, spending as much time as possible by a body of water, and laughing with her niece and nephew.

Mayrani Velazquez
Mayrani Velazquez

Mayrani Velazquez currently works for Children’s Health as a Behavioral Health Care Assitant.

She is a speaker, dedicated member, and volunteered her time with young adults, Latinos, and women empowerment organizations such as I am Wonderfully Made, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, Prospanica, and Association of Latino Professionals For America.

Mayrani earned an Associate degree from Trinity Valley Community College and Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Child Learning and Development from The University of Texas at Dallas. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration at Texas A&M University – Commerce.

She is a member of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Mayrani continues to serve her community as an appointee for the Terrell City Park Board, Vice-Chair, 2016 Terrell ISD Bond Campaign, committee member, and Terrell ISD Athletics Booster Club.

Sign up for updates on the Leadership Academy