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 received her Ph.D. from Emory University in 2012. 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 courses in wide-ranging 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, mobilizing diverse documented allies, 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.
Alma is a student leader at Freedom University. She immigrated to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico when she was four years old. After receiving an Associate's Degree in Education, Alma began working for Cobb County School District as a middle school teacher. Alma is deeply committed to ensuring undocumented student access to quality higher education and is excited to use her expertise as an educator to advance the undocumented student movement in Georgia.
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 during class at Freedom U, 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, solidarity-building, and allyship to protect the human rights of immigrants in Atlanta.
Claire Bolton, MA
Claire Bolton is a PhD candidate and grants professional at the University of Georgia. She has been involved with Freedom University since its founding in 2011, starting as a volunteer driver. She now coordinates Freedom University's grant applications and donor stewardship, with the goal of funding living wage positions for organizers. Claire is deeply committed to defending human rights in the US South.
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
Luis González-Barrios, Ph.D.
Professor of Spanish Literature
A specialist in contemporary Spanish literature and culture, Dr. González-Barrios completed his B.A in Humanities from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and his Ph.D. at Indiana University-Bloomington. He has worked as a Visiting Professor at The College of William and Mary and Bennington College, and has taught a variety of courses with a special emphasis on literature, cultural studies, film, and media. Most of his research has focused on the relationship between avant-garde art and politics, particularly during the two decades that preceded the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and its ramifications to the present. Luis' research interests also include border studies, social ecology, and film and media studies, which have inspired a wide array of courses on contemporary topics such as immigration, mass media, and social activism through art.
Assistant Professor, World Languages and Literature, Spelman College
Laura Emiko Soltis, Ph.D.
Professor of Human Rights
Professor Soltis graduated summa cum laude in 2006 with a 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,
Maira Goytia, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Professor Goytia obtained her B.S. degree in Biochemistry from the University of Paris VII, in Paris, France, and her Ph.D. in Parasitology from the University of Paris VI. After completing her research on Trypanosoma cruzi, at the Institut Pasteur, in Paris, she moved to Atlanta, to study molecular mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance in the sexually-transmitted bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, at Emory University School of Medicine. She currently teaches Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Genomics, and Animal Behavior, at Spelman College. At Spelman, she mentors undergraduate students who study the microbial evolution of commensal and pathogenic Neisseria species, including their interaction with the human host. Maira is Franco-Argentinian, and speaks Spanish at home. Maira is passionate about biological sciences and education, and thrives teaching at Spelman and at FU Georgia.
Assistant Professor, Biology Department, Spelman College
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.