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, and 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.
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. Alex is a first-generation immigrant from El Salvador, and is committed to mentoring immigrant youth and sparking their interest in science.
Senior Lecturer, Department of Biology, Emory University
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
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
Fernando Esquivel-Suárez, Ph.D.
Professor of Spanish Literature
Professor Esquivel-Suárez received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Spanish from Emory University. His background includes training in cultural studies and philosophy at Universidad Javeriana, in his hometown of Bogota, Colombia. His main research interests focus on African American/Latinx relations, overlapping oppression, and solidarity. His current project analyzes the War on Drugs as a hemispheric phenomenon that disproportionately affects both African American and Afro Colombian communities.
Senior Instructor, Department of World Languages and Literature,
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.
Ashley Young, M.A.
Professor of College Preparation
Professor Young is a first-generation college student from Maysville, North Carolina, and graduated from North Carolina State University in 2008 with a B.A. in Interpersonal Communication. In 2011, she obtained a Master’s degree in Student Affairs Counseling from Clemson University. She has nine years of experience in college access and the field of college admissions combined, with a particular interest in supporting under-resourced and first-generation college students. Young experienced a social awakening in a multicultural counseling class that placed a burden in her heart for undocumented students' access to college and most importantly their fight for human dignity. In 2016, with a group of colleagues, Young helped develop SACAC's first "Educators Guide to Post-secondary Policy for Undocumented Students."
College Counselor at Charles R. Drew Charter School
Jasmine Ko, MPH
Jasmine received her B.A. in English from Emory University, where she studied Romantic Era British poetry and health sciences. She then received her Master’s in Public Health at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health, where she concentrated in epidemiology with a global health focus. Jasmine currently works as a data analyst and research regulatory coordinator for the Rwanda Zambia HIV Research Group in Atlanta, GA. As the child of first generation immigrants from South Korea, she is passionate about health equity and access for immigrants and underserved populations. Jasmine has two years of experience teaching SAT/ACT classes as a Kaplan Test Instructor.
Parth is a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, studying Industrial and Systems Engineering. He is interested in the intersection of logistics and humanitarian aid delivery. As a member of a student-led research team investigating student food insecurity, Parth wrote a white paper outlining specific recommendations for Georgia Tech's administration to improve its resources for food insecure students. He currently works in the Corporate Transportation department at United Parcel Service as part of Georgia Tech's co-op program. Since first teaching mathematics in Freedom University's SAT Summer Bootcamp, Parth has been committed to improving the confidence and ensuring the success of undocumented students.