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Dr. Robert Smith Board Chair & Co-Founder

Robert Smith has worked with Masa since its founding in 2001, and has worked with New York City’s Mexican community and in Mexico since the 1980s. His work the Mexican community has included teaching English in labor camps, amnesty counseling, and cofounding the Mexican Educational Foundation of NY, which merged with Masa in 2010.  He has served since its founding on the CUNY Chancellor’s Commission on Mexicans and Education in New York, and  serves as the Lead Faculty in the Baruch College School of Public Affairs Emerging Mexican Leaders/Mexican Consulate Program.  He helped promote the successful effort to get CUNY’s in-state tuition policy made into law.

Robert Smith is a Professor of Sociology, Immigration Studies and Public Affairs at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College and the CUNY Graduate Center.  His 2006 book, Mexican New York: Transnational Worlds of New Immigrants, won the Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association, and several other awards His research on children of immigrants (documented and undocumented) was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009-2010, and a Russell Sage Foundation Fellowship in 2007-2008.  He has been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Foundation, the Spencer Foundation/National Academy of Education, and the Columbia Oral History Research Project. He earned a BA in Economics and Political Science from the University of Delaware, and Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University.

Masa is his favorite work.

Angelo Cabrera Board Member & Co-Founder

Angelo is the founder of Masa. He founded the organization as part of a 2001 campaign focused on attaining the right for undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at CUNY and SUNY schools. As part of this campaign, Angelo and several others held a hunger strike to urge CUNY’s policy of in-state tuition for undocumented students become law. After the law passed in 2002, Masa began to focus its efforts on promoting access to higher education for students of Mexican descent living in New York. This focus was prompted by data indicating an alarmingly high dropout rate among Mexican and Mexican-American students in New York City.

Having immigrated to the United States at the age of 15, Angelo has first-hand experience and understanding of the many complex barriers Mexican youth residing in NYC face today. Since he was a teenager, Angelo has been committed to public service and has volunteered at several non-profit organizations. He has also worked very closely with CUNY officials and the office of the Mexican Consulate to engage the Mexican community in several initiatives through target outreach strategies. He has also served on several committees in the Mexican community and has participated in panel discussions with scholars and politicians, both local and from Mexico. In addition, Angelo is a columnist for El Diario de Mexico USA. He has also appeared in various English and Spanish media outlets, such as the New York Times, ABC Eyewitness News, People Magazine en Español, Primer Impacto, and Despierta America of Univision and Telemundo 47. People Magazine described Angelo’s life in its story, “El Angel de la Educación” (the Angel of Education).

Angelo holds a Masters in Public Administration at Baruch’s School of Public Affairs. He earned an Associates degree from the Borough of Manhattan Community College and a Bachelors degree in Political Science from Baruch College. Angelo is also an alum of CORO’s Immigrant Civic Leadership Project and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Executive Education: Leadership, Organizing and Action: Leading Change program. To learn more about Angelo’s work, visit

Eva Medina Board Member

Born in Brooklyn to Mexican immigrant parents and a product of the New York City school system, Damian understands many of the cultural and educational challenges faced by first-generation and immigrant students and their parents.  Building on his experience, Damian is committed to the educational, professional, and political advancement of Latinos, particularly Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the New York City area. He would like to use his experience as an advocate for Latino and immigrant communities to help Masa achieve its mission.

Damian is the owner of the Law Firm of Damian Vargas, where he focuses his practice on immigration, civil rights, employee rights, and personal injury.  Damian obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Hunter College-CUNY and a Juris Doctor from Rutgers School of Law.

Damian was previously involved with Masa as a mentor to high school students.

Brenda Loya Board Member

Brenda Loya has been involved with Masa since 2011 at various capacities. She chairs Masa’s Fundraising Committee.

Brenda Loya is a Sr Business Development Investment Officer with the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF). She is responsible for driving business growth and building partnerships for NFF that will generate positive social impacts to communities in the eastern region. Prior to joining NFF in 2014, Brenda was a VP at Citi Community Capital where she originated and structured community development lending and equity solutions. Before banking she was in the technology field where she used her engineering background managing client relationships and driving IT strategy projects.

Throughout her career Brenda has been committed to the advancement of Latino communities through education. Brenda is originally from El Paso, TX and has an MBA from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and a BS in Computer Science and Engineering from MIT.

Jessica Coffrin-St. Julien Board Member

Jessica has been involved with Masa since 2008. She first joined the program as an intern at its after-school and mentorship program, and became a member of the Board in 2009. She currently chairs the organization’s Governance Committee, and is also very active in supporting and supervising the development and implementation of programs for parents, students, and young children.

Jessica has several years of experience in education, youth development, and education research. She has taught at out-of-school-time programs in New York City, including Abraham House, a program that serves children with an incarcerated family member. She spent three years at a small education research and design non-profit, where she both worked with schools on capacity-building projects and conducted city-wide research projects. She is currently the Director of Operations at Steve’s Camp at Horizon Farms, a youth development non-profit.

Jessica holds a Masters in the Sociology of Education and Education Policy from NYU Steinhardt, where her research focused on state-level education and immigration policy. She also holds a Bachelors degree in Metropolitan Studies and Spanish from NYU’s College of Arts and Science, where she graduated summa cum laude.

Aracelis Lucero Executive Director

Aracelis Lucero is the Executive Director of Masa. She has been involved with the organization in various capacities since 2007. After working as a mentor at the organization’s community center in the Bronx, Aracelis decided to lend her financial planning and management skills to the organization as a member of the Board of Directors. During her tenure on the board, she worked on the organization’s budgeting, strategic planning, capacity building, program evaluation, and fundraising initiatives. As a native New Yorker from the South Bronx, born to Mexican immigrant parents, she is deeply committed to the academic and economic advancement of Latinos in the U.S. and in Latin America.

Aracelis attended Middlebury College as a Posse Scholar, earning a Bachelors degree in Economics and French. She worked in finance for six years, first , at Lehman Brothers, as an Operations Analyst/Manager, and later at Barclays Capital as Assistant Vice President of Credit Financing and Emerging Markets. Her work at MASA and on development projects with indigenous communities in Mexico inspired Aracelis to switch careers and move into community oriented and economic development work. In 2012, she earned a Masters in International Affairs with a concentration in economic and political development and a focus on Latin America from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

Cristina Gomez Program Coordinator

Cristina has been working with Masa since January 2014 as a Program Coordinator for our early childhood education and after school programs.

She holds a B.A. in Sociology from CUNY, Queens College and has several years of experience working with youth. In 2001, she was a youth organizer and worked on community projects that addressed issues directly affecting youth in her community. However, it was her volunteer experience as a “Teacher for a Day” where she became aware of her passion for children and education. In 2005, she became an Activity Specialist/Group leader at an after-school program and worked in summer camp. In 2011, she became the Director of a day care center. Lastly, Cristina also has experience as a Therapeutic Support Staff in a Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Services Center, where she helped children through behavioral issues at home and at school.

Cristina was born to Salvadorian immigrant parents and migrated from El Salvador at a very early age. Her families’ experience has made her keenly aware of the many challenges that the immigrant and Latino community face and she hopes to have a lasting impact on the families that she meets along the way at Masa.

Carlos Perez Valle Program Associate

Carlos Perez Valle is the Program Associate at Masa. He joined the Masa family in 2010 as a volunteer, and took on the role of Volunteer Coordinator in September 2011. Prior to joining Masa, Carlos taught at Breakthrough Collaborative New York, a non-profit organization that engages high school and college students to lead summer school and tutoring courses for underserved children. Carlos is a graduate of Monsignor Scanlan High School, where he was Valedictorian. Carlos is an undergraduate student at Lehman College, where he plans to pursue a degree in education, and ultimately to become a teacher.

Janeth Ortega Home Visitor and Outreach Worker

Janeth Ortega recently join Masa this January as part of the outreach team for Fresh Air Fund and DACA. Janeth graduated from The Young Women’s Leadership High School of East Harlem as part of the Honor Society. She is now a undergraduate student in Lehman College, where she plans to minor in Psychology and major in Social Work. She also loves to dance and would like to travel the world one day!

Marcela Torres Knipper Youth Program Coordinator

Native Honduran and Jersey City local at heart, Marcela has been part of multiple community engagement initiatives, most recently as entrepreneur and founder of a fair trade and locally sourced food market & cafe in Downtown JC. A firm believer in the positive impact of mindful practices and leadership programs for young minds, she has served as Spanish teacher in New Brunswick as well as volunteer media instructor at The Boys & Girls Club of Hudson County. Through her service as a certified Community Interpreter (SPANISH) and ESL teacher, Marcela understands immigrant youth’s success as a collaborative endeavor requiring sustained coordination between mentors, families, and community organizations. Marcela holds a B.A. in Communications and an MBA from Georgian Court University, where she currently chairs the Stewardship Committee as part of her service as member of the Alumni Board of Directors.