Carissa Balderas, Ph.D.
Mental Health Coordinator
Carissa Balderas received her B.A in psychology from Westmont College, her master’s degree in Couples and Family Therapy from the University of Oregon and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Georgia. Carissa recently completed her doctoral internship at Emory University. Her research and clinical interest include Latinx psychology and mental health for immigrant and minority communities living within the United States. Carissa is currently a postdoctoral psychology fellow in private practice and is honored to serve as Freedom University's mental health coordinator to ensure that undocumented students have access to affordable mental health care. Carissa has also served as a volunteer driver for Freedom University students for the past three years, ensuring that students have safe transportation to and from classes. Carissa is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico.
Laura Emiko Soltis, Ph.D.
Emiko joined Freedom U as a faculty member in 2013. Emiko was appointed the organization's first Executive Director in June 2014. In this capacity, Emiko introduced a human rights framework and a horizontal leadership structure with an elected student committee and Board of Directors. She also established a movement leadership training program and expanded the curriculum to five courses in academic disciplines chosen by students. As an experienced social movement strategist, Emiko works to advance the undocumented student movement by building bridges between undocumented and documented student groups, advocating for fair admissions policies in higher education, and cultivating intergenerational relationships between undocumented students and veterans of the Black Freedom Movement. Emiko continues to serve as the Professor of Human Rights, teaching classes in international human rights, social movement theory, and immigration history. As an active public scholar, she writes and lectures frequently on topics such as human rights advocacy, undocumented student activism, workers' rights and economic justice, music and mobilization, and student movements. Emiko is also an accomplished photographer and violinist, and sings in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus.
Valentina Garcia Gonzalez
Valentina is a 2015 graduate of Freedom University. She immigrated to the United States from Florida, Uruguay when she was six years old. She is currently a sophomore undocumented student at Dartmouth College pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences. She is a member of Dartmouth's CoFIRED (Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality, and DREAMers), NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and was a Student Coordinator for the Latinx Community at Dartmouth. Valentina is dedicated to fighting for educational equity for undocumented youth and learning about injustices other marginalized communities face in North America.
Violeta Hernandez Padilla
SAT Program Coordinator
Violeta is currently a student leader at Freedom University. In the fall of 2016, Violeta attended Freedom University and Kennesaw State University, where she studied Electrical Engineering. After witnessing a presentation from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Alliance for Fair Food during class at Freedom University, Violeta was inspired by the farmworker-driven fight against injustices in the agricultural industry, and was later accepted in the CIW internship program for the Spring 2017 semester. She is now putting into practice all that she learned about organizing, campaign-development, horizontal leadership, solidarity-building, and allyship to protect and advance the human rights of immigrants and working class people in Atlanta.
2017 Summer S.A.T. Instructors
Hodari-Sadiki James, M.Sc.
Professor James is a first generation college graduate and an immigrant. Hodari came to the US as an international student from Jamaica in 2008. He received a B.A. in Physics from Berea College and a M.Sc. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Cincinnati. Hodari is currently a PhD student in Astrophysics at Georgia State University, and his research focuses on the detection and study of exoplanets. Hodari has been tutoring math and science for the past seven years and has experience preparing students for the SAT & ACT exams. He strongly believes that education is a human right and should be accessible to all.
PhD Student, Astronomy, Georgia State University
Brii Rivera, B.A.
Professor Rivera currently serves as the Lead Clinical Implementation Specialist with DeKalb Medical. She works daily to leverage technology to improve health disparities in underserved populations. Brii is a first generation college student and attributes much of her success in higher education to the preparation she received from Fordham University’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP). As a tutor and counselor at STEP, Brii prepared and encouraged low-income and minority students to attend college and pursue careers in the sciences. Brii attended Emory University received her Bachelors of Arts in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
Pamela Barba, B.A.
Professor of Graphic Design
Professor Barba received her Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design from Georgia State University. Pamela was born in Ecuador and immigrated to the United States at the age of ten. As an undocumented high school student in Georgia, Pamela was empowered by design and the idea of being able to imagine and build a better world. Pamela was an undergraduate student when Policy 4.1.6 was implemented and is eager to share the knowledge she learned at a university where undocumented students are now unjustly banned.
Lecturer, Graphic Design, Georgia State University
W. Alex Escobar, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Professor Escobar received his B.S. degree in Genetics from the University of California at Davis and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He has approximately 20 years experience teaching a variety of courses including: general biology, genetics, biochemistry, experimental biology, and most recently a course in perception. He is innovating in the classroom and has recently developed both a flipped and online model to teach biochemistry.
Senior Lecturer, Department of Biology, Emory University
Nicola Graves, Ph.D.
Professor of Health
Professor Graves holds an MA and Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Emory University, and a BA and MA in English from Auburn University. Nikki, who has 15 years of college-level teaching experience and course development, teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in writing, presentation skills, and corporate communication at Emory University. Nikki is also an active yoga practitioner who is committed to empowering undocumented youth with self-care techniques to improve their mental health, physical well-being, and happiness.
Assistant Professor in the Practice of Management Communication
Emory University Goizueta Business School
Cindy Lutenbacher, Ph.D.
Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing
Originally from New Orleans, Cindy has been teaching composition and creative writing at Morehouse College since 1990. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University and her Ph.D. in Theater from Northwestern University. From the early days of the United Farm Workers to the Black Lives Matter movement, her central purpose has been simply: justice. A single mother of two through adoption, she remembers that at the very moment her first daughter was being born in Texas in 1995, she was in downtown Atlanta with a group of protesters, all carrying signs and walking in a circle, chanting, “No human being is illegal.”
Professor, Department of English, Morehouse College
Ryan Maltese, M.A., J.D.
Professor of Political Science
Professor Maltese received his juris doctor degree at North Carolina Central University, and became a member of the Georgia Bar in 1999. Ryan spent much of his career in higher education administration, serving as Executive Director of Student Activities at North Carolina A&T State University, where he also served as a professor in the Political Science Department, where he taught American Government, State Government, and African-American Politics. Ryan holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict and Peace Studies from UNC Greensboro. He served as a Graduate Fellow for the Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute. His research explores access to higher education for undocumented students.
PhD Candidate, Educational Policy Studies, Georgia State University
Laura Emiko Soltis, Ph.D.
Professor of Human Rights
Professor Soltis received her bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia, where she was awarded the Foundation Fellowship. Emiko received her PhD from Emory University and wrote her dissertation on the role of global human rights strategies and local music practices in the mobilization of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an interracial farmworker organization in South Florida. Her research and teaching interests include social movement theory, global studies, music and social movements, U.S. immigration history, and racial formation theory. Having served as a longtime student activist, Emiko is committed to mentoring undocumented youth and providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to be effective leaders in their own freedom struggle.
Executive Director, Freedom University
Yanna Yannakakis, Ph.D.
Professor of Latin American Studies
Professor Yannakakis received her B.A. in History from Dartmouth College, and her Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research and teaching interests include the histories of Mexico, colonial Latin America, and indigenous peoples in the Americas. Her current research focuses on the interaction of native and Spanish forms of law and justice in indigenous communities in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca from the middle colonial period through the first decades following independence from Spain.
Associate Professor, Department of History, Emory University
Daniel M. Deocampo, Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry and Geological Sciences
Professor Deocampo received his B.S. in Geological Sciences from Tufts University, and his MS and PhD in Geological Sciences from Rutgers University. He is an internationally known geologist and geochemist, and an expert in the mineralogy and chemistry of earth materials. His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Petroleum Research Fund, among others. Dan is the child and grandchild of immigrants from the Philippines, Italy, and Hungary.
Professor, Department of Geosciences, Georgia State University
Lauren Johnson, Ph.D.
Professor of College Preparation
Professor Johnson received her BA and MA degrees from Columbia University, and her PhD in Applied Anthropology from the University of South Florida. Her research and teaching interests include ethnic, class, and gender relations, migration, tourism, and diversity in education. Lauren has taught and conducted research in Jamaica, Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, China, New Zealand, and at various institutions in the United States.
Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Diversity & Recruitment Initiatives, University of North Georgia
Brii Rivera, B.A.
Professor of College Preparation
Professor Rivera currently serves as the Lead Clinical Implementation Specialist with DeKalb Medical. She works daily to leverage technology to improve health disparities in underserved populations. Brii was a first generation college student and attributes much of her success in higher education to the preparation she received from Fordham University’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP). As a tutor and counselor at STEP, Brii prepared and encouraged low-income and minority students to attend college and pursue careers in the sciences. Brii is committed to reproductive justice, homeless rights, immigrant rights, and LGBT rights movements in the greater Atlanta Community. Brii attended Emory University received her Bachelors of Arts in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
Karen Stolley, Ph.D.
Professor of Latin American Studies
Professor Stolley received her B.A. in Spanish and French from Middlebury College, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish from Yale University. Her research and teaching interests include colonial and eighteenth-century Latin American literary and cultural studies, the transatlantic Hispanic eighteenth century, and the history of citizenship in the Hispanic (Spain, Spanish America, and Latinx) world. Her current research project involves the negotiations of subjects, citizens and labor in eighteenth-century Spanish America.
Professor, Department of Spanish and Portguese, Emory University
Benito Thompson, M.S.
Professor of Mathematics
Professor Thompson earned his bachelor's degrees in Physics and Violin Performance from Emory University, and his master's degree in Medical Physics from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Benito is an accomplished classical violinist, vocalist, and dancer, and performs regularly in Atlanta. Raised in the Bahamas by Jamaican parents, Benito is a first generation immigrant in the United States, and is committed to empowering immigrant youth through both STEM and arts education.
Freelance Math and Science Educator
Subha Xavier, Ph.D.
Professor of French
Professor Xavier received her Ph.D. in French Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research and teaching interests include Migration and Diaspora Studies, Francophone African, Canadian and Caribbean Literature and Film, and Postcolonial and Literary Theory. Subha's first book, The Migrant Text: Making and Marketing a Global French Literature brings together recent novels by immigrants to France and Quebec. She is honored to introduce undocumented students in Georgia to the French language and to intersecting histories and literatures of migrants around the world.
Assistant Professor, French, Emory University