Meet The Team

Learn a bit 


We are a group of Central Valley students who are passionate about creating resources within our own communities. On top of being full-time students that work additional jobs to assist with our financial need, we are volunteering our time in order to provide services that we want to see in the Central Valley. Our team consists of People of Color, Black, low-income, working-class, lower-middle-class, Queer, with many more intersectional barriers, and rather than asking other institutions to include us in their spaces, we made our own. 

President and CEO (She/He) 

Michael Piña

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Michael was raised in Kerman, CA, and from the start, has been passionate about giving back to her community, volunteering for the Saint Agnes Hospital, the SPCA, Kerman Floyd Elementary, and much more. Currently a senior at UC Berkeley, Michael noticed the lack of educational resources students from the Central Valley face in comparison to her Berkeley peers. She created Central Valley Scholars to meet this need. Further, as a Queer, Latinx, and fem identifying person, Michael faced tremendous amounts of hardships from community members and school faculty, inspiring her mission of creating an educational space in which all students are supported, admired, respected, and advocated for. 

Events Coordinator (She/Her)

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Kathia Osuna

As a first-generation American, first-generation college student, and Latinx Woman from Fresno, CA, Kathia Osuna advocates for the unique plights of underrepresented communities in the Central Valley. Kathia is a current undergraduate student studying Sociology and Spanish at UC Berkeley. She has been an active member of her community throughout her high school career, organizing for several social justice causes which she brings to her work here at Central Valley Scholars. She will work to demystify institutions of higher education, expand the narrative of who can attend these institutions, and alleviate the college application process for marginalized groups in the Central Valley. 

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Events Coordinator Intern (He/Him)

Dominic Samaniego

Dominic was born and raised in Fresno, California. Itching to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community, Dominic has been involved in his school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club and later applied to the GSA Activist Camp, and later joined the GSA Central Valley Youth Council in 2018. From then, Dominic has been working to combat systemic homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia within his community. He has also been advocating for several social justice issues and is committed to liberation for marginalized communities of color across the Central Valley and California. He hopes to spark change and important conversations through his involvement in a multitude of nonprofit organizations that all center around a wide range of issues. Dominic is a rising first-generation freshman in the Honors Program at California State University, Fullerton. He plans to major in Nursing in hopes of becoming a Registered Nurse. 

Themtor Affairs Director (She/They)

Yadira Hernandez-Figueroa

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Yadira was born and raised in Merced, California. They have been deeply devoted to community building and volunteering through their involvement at their local Boys and Girls Club and Merced City Youth Council. They are a first-generation undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying Political Science and Ethnic Studies. Rooted in their personal experiences they are deeply devoted to creating revolutionary change in the Valley, with an emphasis on educational accessibility and inequality. As the Themtor Affairs Director, they created and developed a themtorship program to guide and support Central Valley students applying to college. They are grounded in family, friendships, community knowledge, love, and a passion for change. Yadira is excited to share their experiences and knowledge with other Central Valley students in the hopes of making higher education more accessible for all.

des jackson

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desmarie jackson is a lifetime resident of Atwater, CA and current student at UC Berkeley majoring in Comparative Literature with a double minor in Education and African American studies. In addition to serving as the Central Valley Scholars Black Themtorship Lead, des is a spoken word poet and writer, an organizer with the Central Valley Mutual Aid and Collective Care Network, and budding abolitionist committed to liberation for our Central Valley communities. des is beyond excited to be providing support, guidance, and resources to marginalized students across the Valley in accessing higher education, in particular Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in rural areas.

Fundraising and Finance Director (She/Her)

Leslie Vasquez

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Leslie Vasquez is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley currently studying Political Science with a minor in Public Policy. Originating from Selma, California, Leslie joined the Central Valley Scholars team because she wants to make an impact on helping students from underserved communities succeed in higher education. As a first-generation college student and Woman of color, Leslie saw first hand the difficulty that comes with applying for college and finding the necessary resources to succeed while in school and will work to ensure students from the Central Valley and with her identities and beyond do not face the same barriers. 

Senior Program Officer (She/Her)

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Ashley Acosta-Para

Ashley Acosta-Para is proudly raised by two Mexican immigrants, in a household with three older brothers, a little sister, and her family's strong belief that achieving higher education is a priority. Ashley is currently a student at UC Davis majoring in Cell Biology with the intention of attending medical school post-grad. As a first-generation college student and Queer Woman of Color, Ashley will use her experiences and struggles as a way to make our services and programming as successful and accessible as possible. 

Media & Marketing Director (She/Her)

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Jazmine Solorzano

Jazmine Solorzano is a rising senior at the University of California, Berkeley, currently studying Neurobiology along with Global Public Health. She originates from Paramount, CA, and as a first-generation college student and Latinx Woman, she aims to bring resources to people with her identities and beyond. Jazmine has over a year of graphic design experience, working for establishments such as The Daily Californian, and has also conducted research projects for UC Berkeley. Jazmine's work holds an emphasis on accessibility, making sure our language and designs are accessible to students with disabilities, and more. Jazmine will bring different designs and infographics that share important educational information for our students, donors, and supporters in a manner that is both legible and engaging.   

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Media & Marketing Co-Director (She/Her)

Diana Arlet Salinas 


Diana Salinas, originally from Bakersfield, CA, is a rising Public Policy sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is determined to spark real change and make an impact on the accessibility to higher education within the Central Valley. When reflecting on her college application process, she realized how intimidating and daunting the application process really was, especially as a first-generation, DACAmented woman of color. So, as a result, Diana has taken the initiative to create her own blog where she shares her experiences as a first-generation, DACAmented woman of color in a predominantly white institution. She also includes various resources that have helped her throughout her journey. Overall, Diana strives to create an inclusive community and a safe space where nobody has to feel alone nor lost. View her blog here & her articles here

Health and Wellness Program Director (She/Her)

Angie Casarez

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Angie Casarez is a rising third-year undergraduate student at Stanford University. Angie is originally from a rural ranching community west of Dallas called Millsap, where she attended high school. She is majoring in Human Biology with a concentration in Reproductive Health & Justice and a minor in Sociology. She hopes to eventually pursue a career in medicine and community health advocacy. She has participated in biological research projects at Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University. Some of her health interests include community-based participatory research, clinical research, and social disparities in healthcare.

Black Student Researcher (She/Her)

Julianna Swilley

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Julianna is proudly from Dinuba, California and a recent graduate of UCLA. She earned her B.A. in Psychology with minors in Education and Visual and Performing Arts Education and is currently working as a teaching assistant at an LA-based elementary school and as an educator at the Hammer Museum. Julianna has a passion for education and is committed to increasing equity and access of higher education for underrepresented communities. As part of the Central Valley Scholars team, Julianna hopes to empower students by seeking out resources and opportunities for communities all across the Central Valley. 

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Rafael Franco

Rafael Franco was raised in the small farming town of Kerman, CA, where he resided until graduating from Kerman High School in 2016. Thereafter, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a double-bachelor’s in English and History at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA), graduating with Departmental Honors in English, Cum Laude latin honors, and Phi Beta Kappa membership. While at UCLA, Rafael developed a passion for critical theory and Romantic literature, and hopes to continue studying these fields at the graduate level. In the past, Rafael interned for UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin. He hopes to use his past experience in journalism as an editor for Central Valley Scholars in hopes of creating valuable resources for students in the Central Valley.