Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff

Director – Dr. Gioconda “Gio” Guerra Pérez

Born and raised in Panama, Gioconda joined La Casa in August 2013. Before joining La Casa, she served as visiting assistant professor at Indiana University Southeast (IUS), School of Education and as Socio-Cultural specialist for the New Neighbors Center at IUS. She has taught courses on Multicultural Education, Current Social Issues in Education, and Intercultural Relations. She has developed and delivered professional development/workshops on issues related to institutional barriers affecting Latino/a college students; undocumented/DACA students: policies and practices; as well as intersectionality & identity. Gio has also developed curricula for K-12 schools to work with Latino families and English Language Learners (ELL). She has provided professional development for K-12 teachers on issues related to ELL and Latino/a students and their cultures. She received a M.A in Sociology and Communication and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Organizational Development both from the University of Louisville. She attended the Universidad de Panamá, Panama where she studied Journalism. Her professional and personal interest has been finding ways to help Latino students to achieve higher education.

Assistant Director – Jorge Mena

Jorge Mena was born in Jalisco, Mexico and immigrated to the United States when he was 8 years old. He has recently graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with an MA in Latin American and Latino Studies. His research focused on undocumented and queer youth activism and how the process of ‘coming out’ can lead to individual and collective identity formation. He has also been involved in the undocumented immigrant youth movement since the 2009 formation of the Immigrant Youth Justice League.

As Assistant Director of La Casa, Jorge Mena is dedicated to ensuring that students of color successfully enter, navigate, and graduate from UIUC. He has a personal commitment to engaging youth, parents, and the larger community so as to make college more accessible to first-generation, immigrant, and low-income families. Mena has advised Latinx youth organizations at both the high school and college level and will continue to serve and mentor students and alums.

Assistant Director – Araceli Diaz

Araceli Diaz was born and raised in various neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a major in Sociology and minors in Latina/o Studies and Gender & Women's Studies. After working as a college access advisor at Benito Juárez Community Academy High School in Pilsen, she pursued her master's degree in Education Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and focused her thesis on the importance of first generation student retention in an increasingly diverse nation. She spent time in Hawai'i as a volunteer before moving to Northern California to become the first Coordinator of Humboldt State University's new Latin@ Center for Academic Excellence.

Araceli is happy to return to her alma mater and dedicated to empowering students to pursue their interests at UIUC and beyond. Taking a holistic approach to student success, she looks forward to collaborating across different offices and departments to ensure that all students obtain the support they deserve.

Office Support Associate – Nadja Robot


Meet the Student Staff


Michelle Favela

Hola, my name is Michelle Favela! I am a junior studying History with a Social Science Concentration and a minor in Secondary Education. I am a first generation student from the Southeast Side of Chicago. Aside from always being at La Casa, I am also a new member of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. and will also serve as an LAS 101 Intern. As a Golden Apple Scholar, I hope to be a high school teacher in Chicago once I graduate and eventually pursue a graduate degree. One of my biggest passions is traveling and I spent the month before starting the school year in Chile studying abroad. La Casa has become my home away from home and I hope it can become your home as well! If there is any way I can you, I’d be more than happy to do so. This will be my second year working at La Casa Cultural Latina and I cannot be more excited to continue being part of an amazing environment.

Pedro Flores Jr

My name is Pedro Flores Jr and I am currently a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I graduated from Social Justice High School and was born and raised in Chicago all my life in the community of Little Village. I am currently majoring in Recreation, Sport and Tourism with a concentration in Sports Management. I am also a member of a Co-ed Fraternity, Alpha Psi Lambda National, Inc. Some of my hobbies include playing volleyball, watching/playing many other sports, and spending time with loved ones. I am a diehard Chicago White Sox fan and New England Patriots fan. This is my second year working at La Casa as a Student Staff and I am blessed to be a part of such an amazing staff and family. If you ever see me around La Casa feel free to say hello!

Vanessa Garcia

Hola amigxs! My name is Vanessa Garcia. I am a junior here at the University of Illinois, majoring in both Political Science and Latinx Studies with a minor in Communications. I was born in Chicago and raised in Cicero, a Southside suburb. Throughout these past two years, I have been involved with several student organizations such as Moviemiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (MEChA), Mexican Student Association, 2xs Caliente, and helping coordinate META workshops at La Casa.

As an artist, I am a lover of all things music and art. On my free time, you can find me playing the piano at La Casa or dancing with my team 2xs Caliente, a Latin dance group on campus.

As a first generation college student, La Casa has not only provided me with resources to excel in academia, but has also provided a home in a place where I often felt misplaced. These are a few of the reasons why I chose to return as a student staff member this year. I am confident that La Casa will provide you all with the same unconditional love and support to combat your struggles, and achieve all that you are capable of as students and members of our community!

Jocelyne Lopez

Hello everyone my name is Jocelyne Lopez and I am a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I am currently studying Molecular and Cellular Biology with a minor in Spanish and Chemistry. I am a first generation student born in Jalisco, Mexico but raised in the North side of Chicago. My personal goal is to someday become a Pediatrician or a Family Doctor and find a way to help the Latino Community with medical care. I am extremely passionate about helping out the community in any way possible. This is my second year working at La Casa, and it has been the best experience ever. It is my home away from home, and I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from La Casa’s welcoming environment. If you see me around at La Casa don’t hesitate to say hello or ask any questions, I’ll be more than willing to help. I can’t wait to get this year started!

Victoria Mendiola

Hi, my name is Victoria Mendiola. Currently, I am a junior at the University of Illinois. I am working toward a Bachelor of Social Work with a minor in Latina/o Studies. Born and raised on the southwest side of Chicago in the Brighton Park neighborhood, I am the first in my family to attend university. It is my second year as a student staff at La Casa and I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be a part of such a welcoming place surrounded by brilliant individuals. If you see me at La Casa or around campus, feel free to say hello! Welcome to La Casa & don’t forget to make yourself at home. Paz.

Eduardo Martinez

I am a junior majoring in Political Science and English with a Secondary Education minor. My friends from Chicago like to tease me because I’m from a city called Blue Island, which is literally across the street from the south-side border. That’s fine, gas is cheaper outside of the 773. I am the first in my family to attend college, and I’ve chosen to become a teacher. As a Golden Apple Scholar, I have committed to teaching in a school of need after graduation – CPS seems to be on my mind. I consider myself an activist. Be it the abolishment of the School-to-Prison-Pipeline, synergistic community building, or life’s simple choices that can affect others; I’m constantly attempting to better myself and the environments that I thrive in.

When I first entered UofI, I doubted my Latinidad, and felt as if I wouldn’t be accepted into La Casa. But after three Semesters of being involved in organizations such as M.E.Ch.A and The Latino Youth Conference, I’ve come to find that there’s a certain sense of acceptance offered here that is hard to find in other parts of campus. Feel free to say hello if you see me around, mi casa es su casa! (I also like lame jokes.)

Kayla Martinez

My name is Kayla Martinez, and I am a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Born and raised in Hermosa Park, Chicago, I am a first generation college student and proud daughter of hardworking Mexican immigrants. Currently undeclared, I am in the processes of declaring a major in Journalism with a minor in Communications. I strongly believe in uplifting the Latino community and encouraging personal and academic growth, as well as resiliency. I have volunteered tutoring second grade bilingual students at the International Prep Academy in Champaign, and am also part of the writing staff for the campus radio station, WPGU. This will be my first year working at La Casa, and I look forward to being part of this wonderful Latinx community.

Stephanie Ruizesparza

Hey y’all! My name is Stephanie Ruizesparza. A Southside Chicagoan, I was born and raised in the Gage Park neighborhood. I’m a sophomore pursing a major in Global Studies, focusing on government policies and human rights, with a minor in Latinx Studies. I love learning new languages, traveling, and appreciating different cultures. My dream is to work abroad in different embassies doing diplomatic work and to someday work for the United Nations. After accomplishing these goals I’d like to give back to my community and help other Latinx students reach their own.