Panelists and Facilitators


Dr. Elisha Smith Arrillaga

Dr. Elisha Smith Arrillaga

Elisha Smith Arrillaga, Ph.D. has worked with communities in moving practice and policy change at both the state and national level throughout her more than 20 years of leadership in the for-profit, non-profit, and philanthropic sectors.

Dr. Smith Arrillaga is currently the Vice President of Research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) where she leads the creation, development, analysis, and release of various research projects and initiatives relevant to the philanthropic sector’s most pressing issues. Dr. Smith Arrillaga is also a faculty fellow and professor of practice in philanthropy and education policy at the University of Texas at Austin.

Prior to CEP, Dr. Smith Arrillaga led work to shift K-12 and post-secondary math education policy in over 35 states while serving as the Managing Director of the Charles A. Dana Center, a national center on STEM equity at the University of Texas at Austin. She also led several statewide research and advocacy initiatives as the Executive Director of the Education Trust—West, the California branch of a national research and advocacy nonprofit committed to advancing policies and practices to dismantle the racial and economic barriers embedded in the American education system. She also held various leadership roles in organizations such as the Foundation for California Community Colleges’ Career Ladders Project, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Mathematica Policy Research.

Dr. Smith Arrillaga has additionally served on a range of state and national advisory groups including Google’s Equitable Artificial Intelligence Research Roundtable and has spoken widely at conferences such as South by Southwest, published articles and op-eds on educational inequities and philanthropic effectiveness, and has been interviewed by various media outlets, including the LA Times, USA Today, and CNN. Dr. Smith Arrillaga holds a doctorate from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, a Master of Science in Survey Methodology from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from Smith College.


Opening Panel: Movers and Shakers: Demonstrating Solidarity in Leadership

Despite an enduring lack of diversity in the top levels or leadership of many organizations, we recognize that several people of color (POC) hold positions of power in professional spaces. This panel will feature some of our esteemed alum who hold such positions of power, leaders in their fields or organizations. Panelists will discuss their experiences navigating their industries and workplaces, the obstacles they've faced as POC, and the strategies they employ now as leaders to promote diversity, equity, and inclusivity. Via insights and perspectives from panelists in positions of power, this panel aims to inspire and empower POC to advocate for change and create more inclusive environments

Moderated by

 Ebonie Simpson

Ebonie Simpson, MPP ’24



The Hon. Deni Tevares

Deni Taveras, MPA ’03, Member of House of Delegates, Maryland





Toni DeMello

Dr. Tanya (Toni) De Mello, MPA ’08, Vice President, Equity and Community Inclusion, Toronto Metropolitan University




Ambassador James Gadsden

Ambassador James Gadsden ’85, Retired Ambassador, U.S. Foreign Service





Panel: Sustaining Movements: Creating Harmony From Discord

In a system built to foster and uphold white supremacy, marginalized groups have long turned to civil organization and social movements to demand policy change and justice. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #FreeGaza and #LoveWins have found global traction and nurtured solidarity across disparate groups and identities. Yet these movements face common struggles: communities are not a monolith and have different expectations for outcomes. Institutions are slow to create change, and dominant groups are reluctant to surrender power. Fervor trickles away as time goes on, limited attention spans stretch and snap, and a community that found global support can find itself standing alone once more as those not directly affected find other causes more worthy of support. 

This panel will explore the ways in which people of color (POC) can sustain social movements, foster solidarity across diverse racial and ethnic communities, and build bridges across intersectional identities to inspire collective action. The panelists will discuss strategies for combating movement fatigue, burnout, and disagreements, while emphasizing the importance of building unity among individuals from different backgrounds. Through sharing their experiences and insights, the panel aims to empower POC to work together effectively, strengthen movements, and create lasting change.

Moderated by

Keiana West, MPA ’25

Keiana West, MPA ’25



Susan Ragheb

Susan Ragheb, MPA ’22, US Policy Manager, Center for Countering Digital Hate




Maribel Hernández Rivera

Maribel Hernández Rivera, MPA ’10, Director of Policy and Government Affairs for Border Immigration, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)




Vivian Chang

Vivian Chang, MPA ’17, Executive Director, Asian Americans United






Panel: Access at Every Level: Navigating a Post-Affirmative Action World

This panel will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by people of color (POC) navigating a post-affirmative action world. The Supreme Court decision to strike down race as a consideration for admission to secondary education institutions is causing race-blind ripples across workplaces and industries–even those outside academia. As POC who have gained access to elite institutions and spaces of power, what do we owe to our community members on the outside? How do we keep the doors of access to power and resources open to others while facing our own challenges? Panelists will discuss their experiences overcoming barriers to entry, the implications of recent shifts in affirmative action policies, and strategies for increasing access to these institutions for young people and peers who may now face greater obstacles. Through sharing their insights and perspectives, this panel aims to inspire action and advocacy to promote equity and inclusion in higher education and other spheres of influence.

Moderated by

Tony Solis-Cruz, MPA ’24

Tony Solis-Cruz, MPA ’24


George Brady

George Brady, MPP ’22, AVP, Strategy & Stakeholder Engagement, Assistant Corporate Secretary




Andy Wong

Andy Wong, MPA ’10, Managing Director of Advocacy, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA)




Natasha S. Alford

Natasha S. Alford, MPP ’24, Journalist, TV Host, & Author, CNN Political Analyst






Panel: Integrity in Power: Holding Leaders Accountable

In the ‘Movers and Shakers’ panel, we focused on POC in positions of power, and how they can uplift members of their own and other marginalized communities. This panel recognizes that most institutions and spaces of power are still led by people who don’t identify with or understand the struggles of marginalized peoples. Yet as POC in the policy space, we will go on to serve in these public and private organizations. How can we hold leaders in these spaces accountable to the needs and concerns of our communities? How do we maintain our own integrity in such spaces when the decisions our leaders make don’t align with our own personal values and moral or political stances? What can we accomplish by continuing to enter and work within these spaces of power under leadership who may or may not take into account the needs of marginalized communities?

This panel will bring together speakers from diverse backgrounds to discuss the importance of holding leaders and individuals in positions of power accountable to the needs of communities of color. The panelists will explore strategies for maintaining integrity in workspaces while advocating for the interests and concerns of marginalized communities. Topics of discussion will include navigating power dynamics, addressing systemic inequities, and promoting social justice in various sectors and industries. Through sharing their experiences and insights, the panel aims to inspire actionable solutions for advocating for communities of color while advancing personal and professional integrity.

Moderated by

Rita Fernandez

Rita Fernandez, MPP ’24


Amber Greene

Amber Greene, MPP ’12, Special Assistant to the President for Racial and Economic Justice, Domestic Policy Council, The White House




Rody Damis

Rody Damis, MPP ’22, Senior Legislative Analyst, Executive Office of the President (OMB)




Steven Siqueira

Steven Siqueira, MPP ’05, Former Canadian Diplomat & Government Official, currently serving in the United Nations