Get to Know the Team


Tammy Bolen

Hometown: Reno, NV

Bio: Tammy Bolen is the Nevada GEAR UP Director. Her goal to help students graduate from high school and succeed in college is a driving passion that has led her to Nevada. She comes from a diverse employment background that includes school improvement at the Nevada Department of Education, director of an education service business, and management and trainer in healthcare. However, her roots began as a high school educator and track coach in Alaska. Before moving to Nevada, Tammy lived in the Midwest for six years, so she is excited to be back in the mountains where she can hike and camp with her daughter, who is a high school senior in Reno, and has been accepted into UNR for this upcoming fall.

Favorite Quote: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Lori Botelho
Assistant Director

Hometown: Minden, NV

Bio: Lori Botelho is the Assistant Director for Nevada GEAR UP.  She comes to the program from Bishop, California, where she was Program Manager for Cerro Coso Community College and the Kern Community College District for fifteen years.  She was part of a team that created and implemented the online educational program for Cerro Coso Community College.  Lori began her work with Nevada GEAR UP as a Grants Analyst in November of 2011 and has held her current position as Assistant Director since 2013.  She lives in Minden, Nevada, with her husband and has three grown children.  Lori enjoys traveling, camping, and exploring Nevada.

Favorite Quote: “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in and it will come naturally.” – David Frost

Janet Stake
Mentoring/Outreach Program Director


Janet is the Academic and Student Affairs Officer for the Nevada System of Higher Education. She has held this position for two years following seven years at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her background is in student services and curriculum. Janet is the Project Director/PI for the NSHE subaward which includes participating on the Leadership and Evaluation teams and liaising with the Nevada Department of Education. Janet oversees the GEAR UP Ambassador Program coordination and the communication efforts. Her other responsibilities include planning the CoNVerge Conference which is a conference for all college access professionals in Nevada, managing the GoToCollegeNevada campaign, as well as maintaining the Common Course Numbering system and database, a system-wide program that is part of the student transfer process. Janet earned a Master of Science in Counseling and Educational Psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno. Her bachelor’s degree is in business administration and human resource management.

MinSun Park
Research Administrator Nevada System of Higher Education

Bio: MinSun Park is the Research Administrator managing education grants and sponsored programs for the Nevada System of Higher Education System Sponsored Programs Office (NSHE SSPO). MinSun has had both pre-award and post-award grant administration experience within NSHE SSPO since 2008. In her role, she administers grant application, RFP solicitation, budget, subward monitoring, financial, and reporting. In addition, she is responsible for overseeing the seven-year Nevada GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program) Subgrant awarded to NSHE institutions in the amount of over one million annually. Previously, she had experience in marketing service for a British multi-national company and had worked in tradeshow sales and account management for the convention and exhibition industry in Las Vegas. MinSun holds a Master’s Degree in Hospitality Management from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.

Hannah Fathi
Communications Specialist

Hometown: Stockton, CA

Bio: Hannah Fathi was born and raised in Stockton, California. She graduated from Aspire Langston Hughes Academy and San Joaquin Delta College in the spring of 2015. That fall, she began attending the University of Nevada, Reno to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and French. Fathi will be the first in her family to obtain a bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2018. As a first-generation college student, Hannah wants to give back to others who are also the first of their families to finish college.

On her spare time, Hannah enjoys sewing, playing video games and weightlifting.

Favorite Quote: “To the edge of the universe and back. Endure and survive.” – Savage Starlight

GEAR UP Ambassadors

Daniel Villanueva
GEAR UP Ambassador Coordinator

Hometown: Glendora, CA

Bio: Dr. Daniel Villanueva is a native Southern Californian who left LA for Washington, DC to study at American University after high school, and never quite made it back. Needless to say, he has been a proud Nevadan for over 15 years now. At AU, he was a member of the Honors Program, majoring in German, Western European Studies, and International Relations. After several years in Germany working at the State of California Trade Office, the Aspen Institute Berlin, and the German Parliament, he returned to the USA and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in German Studies from Duke University.

Before joining the GEAR UP team in 2017, Daniel was Assistant Director of the UNR Honors Program, where he was an academic adviser, competitive scholarship mentor, and Honors seminar instructor. Prior to moving to Reno, he was a German professor and Honors College faculty member at UNLV. There, he founded the Honors College SAGE Academy in which several GEAR UP students participated each summer – his first introduction to the amazing work GEAR UP does. When the Ambassador Coordinator position came open, Daniel eagerly applied, since as a first-generation, low-income, minority student himself, he encourages everyone to embrace attending and graduating from college as a concrete goal, not an impossible dream.

Outside of the office, Daniel serves as Secretary/Treasurer of the Western Regional Honors Council, made up of 120 Honors Programs and Colleges in 13 states in the Western USA. He also facilitates professional development training for German teachers nationwide as a member of the Goethe Institute’s USA Trainer Network, and is President of ABN, the American association of former German Parliament interns. In town, he volunteers his time with several community organizations including the Northern Nevada International Center’s refugee relocation project, as well as coordinating the NNIC’s Academic WorldQuest program.

Favorite Quote: “Most people only do what they are asked to do; success comes to those who do a little more.” – Karl Kraus

Irene Zepeda
College of Southern Nevada (CSN) GEAR UP Ambassador

Hometown: Inglewood, CA

Bio: Irene Zepeda is a proud non-native, native of Las Vegas.  She was born in Inglewood, California, back on a brisk February morning.  Brought up in a Nicaraguense household with one younger sister, she was taught at an early age, to be fearless – like her dad, and a fighter – like her mom. A lifelong student and part-time ninja, Irene recently graduated with her Masters of Education in Higher Education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  She also received her Bachelors of Arts in Political Science with a Minor in Latin American Studies from UNLV.  Irene loves her job!  She works full-time at the College of Southern Nevada as the GEAR UP Ambassador, coordinating activities that promote college access and student success.  Irene hopes to one day be a Vice President of Student Affairs and start her own business. Irene is absolutely convinced that being involved is the best way to keep healthy, be successful, and to create lifelong friends.  She is the Curriculum Chair of the Latino Youth Leadership Conference, a member of the Latino Youth leadership Alumni, and a founding sister of Sigma Omega Nu.  To keep happy, Irene loves to help others, learn, drive, teach, facilitate activities and discussions, college stress-balls, and hike.

Favorite Quote: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, and invincible summer.  And that makes me happy.  For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” – Albert Camus

Alex Porter
Great Basin College (GBC) GEAR UP Ambassador

Hometown: Eureka, NV

Bio: My name is Alex Porter and I’m the new GEAR UP Ambassador for Great Basin College. I grew up in Eureka, NV and graduated with the largest class from Eureka County High School; a whopping 32 students. Two of my proudest accomplishments that happened early in my life included the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth and NRA’s Youth Education Summit. In both cases I was selected based from essay submissions for all expense paid trips to the East Coast to learn about our nation’s past.

Attending four years of college at Great Basin College were some of the most exhilarating years of my life. While pursuing my Bachelor of Arts in Integrative Studies with Social Science Emphasis degree I chose to become very active on the campus and with the students, primarily through the Student Government Association. I was very fortunate to serve as an officer for the organization, three years of which were in the position of President and also one term as the Nevada Student Alliance Chair; myself being the first individual from GBC to achieve both accomplishments as a student. As the Nevada Student Alliance Chair I represented all the students in Nevada, many times working directly with the Board of Regents on several issues concerning students across the state, including items such as increasing tuition and fees.

Most recently I moved back to Elko from living in Las Vegas. A transition back to my college town is exciting, but what is even more thrilling is being able to join the college and GEAR UP teams to assist even more individuals in their educational futures.

Nick Mathews
Nevada State College (NSC) GEAR UP Ambassador

Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Bio: Nicholas Mathews is currently the GEAR UP Ambassador for Nevada State College in Henderson, Nevada. He was first introduced to the GEAR UP program as a freshman in high school at Mojave High in North Las Vegas, Nevada. His high school was more known for having students that were sent to juvenile detention centers or behavioral schools rather than having students actually graduating and going on to college. His graduating class had a staggering graduation rate of approximately 45% and only a handful matriculated to any post-secondary educational institutions. Without GEAR UP, Nick may have very well been a part of the majority of students that did not graduate from high school, let alone earn a college degree.

GEAR UP introduced him to to his college campus when he took a field trip to UNLV. The program exposed him to things outside of his community that led him to believe that he could strive for much more. By participating in GEAR UP activities and after school tutoring, Nick was able to stay away from the distractions that his peers would succumb to so easily. GEAR UP acted as a support system and motivation to perform his best in school. Nick was able to graduate from Mojave High School as the first African-American male to earn the honors of being the class valedictorian. Without the support and direction from his GEAR UP family, he felt that he would have never been able to earn a 4.72 weighted GPA and earn a full academic scholarship to UNLV. I was able to serve as the President of the Theta Sigma Undergraduate Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., Parliamentarian of the Black Student Organization, and participated in the Honors College Student Government for two years before earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.

As a former GEAR UP student, Nick was afforded the opportunity to participate in the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy in Washington, DC. He learned so much about the power of his own voice and using his story to advocate for others. As a GEAR UP student at Mojave High School, Nick would have never thought that he could travel to Capitol Hill to simply tell his story. As a GEAR UP Alumni Leader, Nick has advocated for GEAR UP on Capitol Hill to a room full of congressional representatives and personally in front of Nevada State representatives. Today, he is able to use what he has learned to serve over 5,500 students in the state of Nevada as a GEAR UP Ambassador for Nevada State College. It is truly an amazing feeling to give back to students that need guidance and support just as he did along the journey to higher education. Nick is also acting in two other leadership positions at NSC that he commits to after regular business hours. He is currently the Committee Chair for the Men of Color Committee that was created to increase enrollment, retention, and degree completion rates for Men of Color in Nevada. He is also the Faculty Advisor for the Black Student Organization, which is a culturally based student-lead organization on campus.

Mari Jimenez-Ortiz
Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) GEAR UP Ambassador

Hometown: Bishop, CA

Bio: Mari Jimenez Ortiz has been working for the GEAR UP grant for the past four years. She is originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, but grew up in California. She relocated to Nevada to attend college. Upon graduating with her Bachelor’s degree in Education and Psychology, Mari started working at Vaughn Middle School as the GEAR UP Student-Parent Involvement Facilitator (SPIF). She recently graduated with her Master’s degree in Counseling and Educational Psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). She enjoys working in education and find it to be one of the most noble and rewarding professions. She has always had a passion for school. She loves to learn and pass down the knowledge she has learned. Mari loves traveling, meeting new people, and learning about different cultures. On her free time she enjoys spending time with her family and being outdoors.

Favorite Quote: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” – Cesar Chavez

Layla Nix
University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) GEAR UP Ambassador

Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Bio: I am a CCSD student myself that graduated and received my BS in Civil Engineering at UNLV. I came back to work at UNLV and serve the community that I grew up in!

Emily Crawford
University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) GEAR UP Ambassador

Hometown: Reno, NV

Bio: Emily has been with the Nevada GEAR UP program for almost 9 years. She is currently the University of Nevada, Reno GEAR UP Ambassador. She began as a GEAR UP student at Wooster High School in Reno, NV. She then became a GEAR UP Alumni Leader, representing the state of Nevada in Washington D.C. in 2014. Through the mentorship she received from GEAR UP, she became inspired to apply to graduate school and give back to her community. Her passion for college access comes through in many parts of her life. On her spare time Emily enjoys to read, play with her dog, and spend time outdoors.

Favorite Quote: “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t make a difference. If we all work on our little parts of the planet, we will change the world.” – Tara Church, Quinn Emanuel Urguhart Oliver & Hedges LLP

Jason McGill
Western Nevada College (WNC) GEAR UP Ambassador

Hometown: Silver Springs, NV

Bio: Jason McGill now serves as the GEAR UP Ambassador at Western Nevada College. He relishes the opportunity to return home to WNC after having worked for the college in various other roles for nearly 3 years before transferring both as a professional and as a student to the University of Nevada, Reno. During his first stint with WNC, Jason served in many capacities within the department of Student Life but found his niche within their Student Government serving as a student Representative, Senator, and even Student Body President before also taking on the role as the group’s co-advisor when called upon for a brief period in 2011. He then graduated from WNC with an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice and chose to transfer to the University of Nevada, Reno both as a student and professionally.

While pursuing his Bachelors in Psychology, Jason was offered a student worker’s position within their GEAR UP Scholars program, and the rest is history. Jason remained with the GEAR UP Scholars office during the remainder of his undergraduate career and was even granted a Graduate Assistantship with the program while obtaining his Masters in Equity and Diversity studies in Education. With one year remaining before being awarded his Masters degree, Jason was offered and accepted a position within Washoe County School District at Reed High School serving as their Graduation Specialist for the better part of two schools years. He graduated with his Masters in May of 2016.

With the goal of one day returning to higher education to pursue his passion of helping make going to college a possibility for ALL students, Jason left Reed HS to return to Western Nevada College to serve in their GEAR UP scholar’s department. Jason looks forward to working with outlying schools such as those in Lyon County, where he is actually a product of himself and helping each student graduate and achieve their dreams.

Favorite Quote: “Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts”. -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Near-Peer Mentors

Juan Garcia
College of Southern Nevada (CSN) Near-Peer Mentor

Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Bio: Juan Garcia is a near-pear mentor for GEAR UP Nevada at the College of Southern Nevada. When in the high schools, Juan tutors math and mentors the robotics club at Chaparral High School. He also helps facilitate GEAR UP events and builds meaningful relationships with students and parents to help with the college process. He contributes to summer events, such as the King of Spades, College Camp, Heroes Academy, and the CCSD Summer Academy. Apart from working as a mentor, Juan also coaches a girls’ volleyball team and is a youth leader in his church. Juan is currently enrolled at CSN and is pursuing a career in science and technology and seeks ways to improve and contribute to his community.

Juan Villa Lucero
Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) Near-Peer Mentor

Hometown: Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua

Bio: Juan Carlos Villa Lucero, 20 years old, was born in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, in Mexico on October 8th 1996. When he was 3 years old his family decided to move to the United States of America and settled in Nevada. Throughout his childhood his family moved around a lot between small towns but finally decided to stay in Reno. He attended Reno High School. Thanks to Peer Recruiters at TMCC, Juan was able to learn about the Summer Bridge program which helped him with the transition from high school into the college setting and also gave him the opportunity to become a student worker and Near-Peer Mentor at Truckee Meadows Community College. He is currently working to finish his Associate of Science from TMCC then he plans to transfer over to the University of Nevada, Reno to get his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. Juan is very grateful he became a student worker and has a supervisor that is flexible with his work schedule because of his busy class schedule. Juan really enjoys working with the GEAR UP program. He likes helping with all the events and camps they have for the students as well as seeing students working hard to get closer to the academic goals they have set for themselves. Juan is happy that he is able to provide students with the help and information about going to college that he didn’t have when he was in high school.

Favorite Quote: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that’s why I succeed.” – Micheal Jordan

Student-Parent Involvement Facilitators (SPIFs)

Clark County

Joanie Mares
SPIF at Chaparral High School

Bio coming soon…

Barbara Bonilla
SPIF at Del Sol High School, Desert Pines High School & Southeast Career & Technical Academy (SECTA)

Hometown: Illinois

Bio: Barbara Bonilla has been working for the school district for the last 12 years. She is the Student- Parent Involvement Facilitator (SPIF) for GEAR UP at two of the GEAR UP schools in Las Vegas. She has been working with the GEAR UP program since 2012. She graduated from UNLV with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and continued on to complete her Master’s Degree in Secondary Education at Grand Canyon University. As a SPIF, her role is to work with students and parents, helping them prepare for college by gaining early awareness and readiness for undergraduate programs. Ms. Bonilla is a mother of 4 and highly values education. She strives to get information to parents and students to inform them so they are knowledgeable of their options. She believes all students should be informed along with their parents so that they can make the best choice for themselves. Her saying is; be prepared for opportunity so that when opportunity comes, you will be ready and not getting ready!

Favorite Quote: “There is more to life than to watch other people live it.” – Max, from the movie Hitch

Sonza Davis
SPIF at East Career & Technical Academy (ECTA)

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Bio: I grew up in a military family and have had the pleasure of traveling abroad to places like England, Germany, Paris, and etc. I have also lived in various places in the U.S. I am a graduate of UNLV. Additionally, I am a writer & have done some freelance writing that has been published in magazines that seek to inspire women. I enjoy traveling, theater performances, live music, MMA, and reading great literature. I am driven to succeed in providing opportunities for GEAR UP students to further their academic experience and to be the very best person that they can be! Having been a Youth Program Coordinator before becoming an employee of CCSD, the GEAR UP Program has reconnected me with the pleasure of serving students in a unique way. It is an absolute joy!

Favorite Quote: “What I call ‘self’ now is hardly a person at all. It’s mainly a meeting place for various natural forces, desires, and dreams. Some of which come from my ancestors, and some from my education, some from the unique tapestry of my soul. The self you were really intended to be is something that lives not from nature but from God.” – C. S. Lewis

Stephanie Herzig
SPIF at Desert Pines High School & Las Vegas High School

Hometown: Lefkada, Greece

Bio: Stephanie Herzig is a current Nevadan resident from Greece who currently works with GEAR UP as a SPIF. A graduate from UNLV, Ms. Stephanie spends her time assisting students with college awareness, working with students with autism, and developing plans for youth group programs for mental health.

Favorite Quote: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world” – Archimedes

Tonia Rollins
SPIF at Las Vegas High School

Bio coming soon…

Elko County

Michelle Koch
SPIF at Jackpot Combined School

Hometown: Jackpot, NV

Bio: Michelle came to Jackpot from southern Utah in 2011, and began working as a substitute teacher at Jackpot Combined School in 2015. New to the GEAR UP program, Michelle took the SPIF position in October 2016. Michelle has worked with youth in many capacities, including as a staff member in a youth crisis center, a leader in the Boy Scouts of America’s Cub Scout program, and in Christian children’s ministry programs. Michelle has two adult sons, one of whom is currently attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys walking her dogs, researching interesting topics to learn about, and crocheting.

Favorite Quote: “If you have an opportunity in life, say yes first, even if you don’t know how to do it.”

Renata Speir
SPIF at Wells Combined School

Hometown: Warsaw, Poland

Bio: Born and raised in Warsaw, Poland, Renata Speir grew up behind the “Iron Curtain.” This was not an easy environment to grow up in. However, she was able to experience her native country as they began to shake off the chains of oppressive government and gain freedom. With freedom came a lot of opportunities for young people. She was able to work for Danish Ministry of Transportation, PIONEER Investment Company, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Wordwide, Inc in their Warsaw offices as part of the Human Resources team. Renata came to the USA in 2001. While living in Owyhee, NV, she was introduced to the GEAR UP program and saw how much the program helped students achieve their potential. In 2012, she joined the Nevada GEAR UP team.

Favorite Quote: “When civilized people were too sensitive to face evil, than evil would bring down civilzation.” E. Lowell

David Baker
SPIF at Owyhee Combined School

Hometown: Owyhee, NV

Bio: David Baker is a son, a father, uncle, brother, lover and friend. From the Shoshone-Paiute Nation of the Tosawihi (white-knife) clan, and born and raised on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. Graduate of Owyhee High School in 1996 Studied Early Childhood Education from 2009 – 2011. Now coordinates and directs the Owyhee School’s after school program and is part of the school’s ‘College Readiness Team’. Loves what he does and most of all. Enjoys traveling and spending time with family.

Favorite Quote: “I’m a lover and a fighter, meaning I fight for what I love and love what I fight for.”

Humboldt County

Terrell Callao-George
SPIF at McDermitt Combined School

Hometown: Lovelock, NV

Bio: Terrell lives in a rural community on the border of Oregon and Nevada; his town has one casino, two service stations, a post office, and a library. Mr. T has 28 GEAR UP students and works with a team consisting of former SPIFS to help his young scholars “Dream! Believe! Achieve!”

Favorite Quote: “Kid, you’ll move mountains.” -Dr. Seuss

Lyon County

Shannon Thompson
SPIF for Lyon County

Hometown: Yerington, NV

Bio: Shannon is the SPIF for Lyon County School District and new to this position but very excited for what GEAR-UP has to offer to both Yerington and Silver Springs students and families. Shannon grew up in California and decided to make a life change. With her husband of 12 years and a child at the age of 6 at the time, Yerington was the destination and the best decision to make at the time. She has worked in the school system for 16 years helping students reach their full potential and provide resources that are needed in order for them to accomplish goals they have set. She graduated in 2012 with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology and knows first hand how important going to college and getting a degree nowadays is for the working individual. This year is going to be full of providing tutoring, college visits, job shadowing, and making sure every GEAR-UP student knows how important college and career is and how essential it will be in 10 years.

Favorite Quote:“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” -Chinese Proverb

Mineral County

Meshanna Huntley
SPIF at Mineral County High School

Hometown: Tonopah, NV

Bio: I started life as an only child, but through close friends, and divorce, I now have 3 sisters, 4 brothers, and 9 nieces and nephews. I graduated from Tonopah High School in 2011. After working with law enforcement and mining, I am finally able to follow my dream of helping high school students realize and achieve their dreams. I am currently a student at Western Nevada College and I am planning to graduate next fall. I love being able to show the students at Mineral County High School that some college paths are not standard and even if it takes 10 years, everyone has the ability to earn a college degree. On my days off, I enjoy watching Steelers Football, completing my mountains of homework, reading, baking, working on my truck, hunting, fishing, or driving through the hills and enjoying the scenery.

Favorite Quote: “The things you are passionate about are not random. They are your calling” – Fabienne Fredrickson

Nye County

Crystal Williams
SPIF at Beatty High School

Hometown: Amargosa Valley, NV

Bio: I was born and raised in Amargosa Valley to Mexican-American parents. This is where I met my husband who I have known all my life. We have two daughters together; a preschooler who is four years old and a baby who is one. Therefore, my hands are pretty much full all the time. I have one younger brother who just graduated college. We were the first in our family to go to college, but I am still currently attending Great Basin College and will hopefully graduate in the next year. I graduated from Beatty High School in 2010 and now I work there with my former teachers, who are now my colleagues. I love being able to come back to my community and try to help them understand the thing I didn’t in high school. It is also fun working with the students because many of them are siblings to my classmates. Thus, I am cable to connect with them really well. Despite working and having a family, I think it is very important to make time to go attend school. I tell my students all the time that if I can go to school while having two little ones at home, being married and having a job, then they can do do it. Its all about how hard you want to work for it.

Favorite Quote: “All our dream can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” -Walt Disney

David Dispensa, School Principal
SPIF at Gabbs Combined School

Bio coming soon…

Lisa Hamrick
SPIF at Pahrump Valley High School

Hometown: Pahrump, NV

Bio: I was born and raised in Pahrump with five brothers and sisters. My parents were farmers so I know the true meaning of hard work and good ethics. Growing up, I had a passion for the outdoors as well as sports. I have always love working with children and the elders. It is truly a blessing to be able to work with students and assist them in shaping their futures. I cherish spending time with my daughter who will graduate with honors from Colorado State University in May with a degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering. Some of my favorite hobbies are traveling, golf, and spending time with family and friends.

Favorite Quote: “The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Patrick Mulkerns
SPIF at Tonopah High School

Hometown: Wayne, PA

Bio: I am a K-12 school counselor for all the schools in Northern Nye county, I serve as a social worker for the elementary schools and assistant principal for the high school. One wears many hats in rural Nevada.

Favorite Quote: “Everyone is fighting a battle that you may know nothing about. Be kind always.”

Pershing County

Lisa Pontius
SPIF at Pershing County High School

Hometown: Lovelock, NV

Bio: In addition to my work with GEAR UP, I am in Title I at the middle school, so I know my two cohorts and their parents well. Many of them I also cared for when I was director of the local day care center; Lovelock is a small town with many and varied connections, most of which help to offset the lack of wide experiences for our students. GEAR UP helps with this as well. This is my second go-round with the program–my first cohort are now college seniors; some have even graduated. As the mother of two college graduates who worked their way through school, I know the value of this program and the opportunities it affords.

Favorite Quote: “What if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?”

Washoe County

Mariluz Garcia
Director of Dean’s Future Scholars

Hometown: Elko, NV

Bio: Mariluz Garcia was born and raised in Elko, Nevada, but her father is from the Basque Country and her mother is from Mexico. After high school, she moved to Reno and attended the University of Nevada, Reno and eighteen years later she is still continuing her education. Mariluz has twelve years experience working with low-income, first-generation students in a variety of settings. She was an Americorps volunteer for one year in Colorado, worked with Dean’s Future Scholars as a graduate assistant for three years, was a middle school counselor at Dilworth STEM Academy for four years, and an elementary school counselor at Glenn Duncan STEM Academy for one year. Mariluz has had the honor and pleasure of serving as the Director of the Dean’s Future Scholars program for three years and she is proud to have partnered with GEAR UP for two grant cycles.

Favorite Quote: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” -Oscar Wilde

Angela South
SPIF at Hug High School

Hometown: Reno, NV

Bio: Angela South was born in Sacramento, California but Reno has always been her home. She is currently the SPIF at Hug High School, where she graduated from in 2008. She then attended the University of Nevada, Reno and graduated in 2013. Angela was a Dean’s Future Scholar and later became a tutor and mentor for a cohort of twenty at Vaughn Middle School and followed them until they graduated from Wooster High School. Her passion is working with first-generation students and she is grateful for the opportunity of working with GEAR UP. On her free time, she loves spending time with her family, hiking, running, traveling, and the outdoors.

Favorite Quote: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Christine Ortegon
SPIF at Hug High School

Hometown: Palmdale, CA

Bio: I grew up in Palmdale, a small city in Southern California. After graduating high school in 2009, I moved to Reno to attend UNR. Once I graduated, I started working as a Psychosocial Rehabilitation Worker with at-risk youth and then became a SPIF at Hug High School. I enjoy being outdoors, baseball, and spending time with my son.

Favorite Quote: “The days are long but the years are short.”

Ana Villegas
SPIF at Wooster High School

Hometown: Sparks, NV

Bio: Ana Villegas was born and raised in Sparks Nevada. Ana currently works as a Student Parent Involvement Facilitator at Wooster High School in Reno, Nevada. After graduating high school Ana attended Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) to pursue a degree in nursing. After receiving an Associates of Arts and Science Ana transferred to the University of Nevada Reno (UNR). After assisting her father through the many hoops of receiving a kidney transplant and working with families in the Washoe County School District Ana decided to change her career goals and become a Social Worker. In the Spring of 2016, Ana graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from UNR. Ana has worked with assisting families of Washoe County for 5+ years and has enjoyed it very much. She hopes to one day create a youth center for our community. On her free time Ana enjoys traveling, photography, makeup, and most importantly spending time with her family and friends.

Favorite Quote: “Day by day, step by step I will change the world”

Reeya Shah
SPIF at Wooster High School

Hometown: Sparks, NV

Bio: Reeya works as a Student-Parent Involvement facilitator at Wooster High School. She has been working for Washoe County School District for over a year. Reeya graduated from University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She is very dedicated to her work, and loves to find creative techniques to help her students.  Reeya is very family oriented and sees positive in every picture of life.

Favorite Quote: “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”