Board Members

Juan Espinoza


Juan Espinoza is the Director of Diversity and Access Initiatives for Enrollment Management and Associate Director for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Virginia Tech. Prior to joining Virginia Tech University, he was an Assistant Director of Admissions at Radford University from 2004 to 2007. Juan has more than ten years of experience in the admissions profession and strives to reach all underserved populations. He is a member of the Hispanic Faculty and Staff Caucus at Virginia Tech, and has served as VALHEN’s Treasurer since 2011.


Manuel Perez-Quiñones

Vice President

Dr. Perez-Quiñones is a Professor and Associate Dean of the College of Computing and Informatics at UNC Charlotte. Prior to moving to UNC, he was Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science, and a member of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech. He holds a D.Sc. in Computer Science from George Washington University. He was chair of the Coalition to Diversify Computing (2010-2011), serves on the editorial board for the ACM Transaction on Computing Education. At Virginia Tech, he was Chair of the Hispanic Faculty and Staff Caucus, and Multi-cultural Fellow. He is originally from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.

Erin McGrath


Ms. McGrath is a GEAR UP Senior Coordinator/Program Director for the Federal GEAR UP grant administered through the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). After moving to Richmond, Virginia in 2007, she taught Spanish for Henrico County Public Schools. Previously, while in Chicago, she taught ESL, Spanish and Bilingual Education in the Chicago Public School System for seven years. She was also the Program Manager and East Coast Director for Workforce Language Services, a language and culture consulting company and translation agency based in Chicago, IL.

Meriel Martinez


Meriel Martínez is a relative newcomer to Virginia, having moved here from New Jersey in 2013. She received her Master of Arts degree from New York University and went on to develop a career in publishing and higher education. Prior to moving to Virginia, Ms. Martínez was an editor for a major educational publisher, focusing on college-level materials for language learners. She is the Education and Training Coordinator at the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC).

Monica Gomez

Scholarships Co-Chair

Ms. Gomez works as a counselor for the Pathway to the Baccalaureate program and Instructor for the Student Development department at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC). Prior to coming to NVCC, she worked in Student Services at The Universities at Shady Grove, an innovative partnership of several members of the University System of Maryland offering higher education at one central location. She is Co-Chair of VALHEN’s Scholarship Program, and holds a Master of Arts in Counseling and Student Development for Higher Education from Trinity University (DC).

Karina Kline-Gabel

Lecture Series Chair

Karina Kline-Gabel is a Lecturer of Spanish for the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures, & Cultures at James Madison University where she has been since 2003. She received her MA from the University of Virginia. In addition to teaching language and film courses, she is also the Faculty Associate for the Center for Instructional Technology at JMU. Throughout her career of 20 years as an educator, Karina has served as an advocate for the local Latino population in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. She is an active member of the JMU Latin American & Caribbean Studies Committee and is currently serving as the VALHEN Lecture Series Chair.

Mirta Martin, PhD

Past President

Dr. Martin is the President of Ft. Hays State University in Kansas. FHSU has an enrollment of 15,000 and a campus in China with an additional 5,000 students. Dr. Martin is the first Latina university president in the state of Kansas. Prior to joining FHSU, she served as the Dean of the Reginald F. Lewis School of Business at Virginia State University, and before that, as Special Assistant to the Chancellor for the Virginia Community College System, and also as the Executive Vice President of the John Tyler Community Foundation, where she provided leadership in building an effective development and outreach program. She received her Baccalaureate from Duke University, with a triple major in Political Science, Psychology, and French. She has an MBA from the University of Richmond and a Ph.D. from Virginia Commonwealth University with a concentration in Strategic Management and Leadership.

María Nieto-Shahsavarian

Scholarships Co-Chair

Ms. Nieto-Shahsavarian holds a dual appointment as an Outreach/Development Specialist for the Pathway to the Baccalaureate Program and as a Spanish Instructor for the Department of Languages and Literature at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC). She holds a Master of Arts in Foreign Language and a B.A. in Government and International Politics. She has over 20 years of experience at NVCC, where she has served in various capacities on three of the college’s campuses, including Program Manager and Medical interpreter (Spanish/English) at the Medical Campus. Ms. Nieto-Shahsavarian is a native Peruvian, with extensive multicultural and global experience.

Maricel Quintana-Baker

Maricel Quintana-Baker

Board Member

Ms. Quintana-Baker is currently a principal at MQB-Consulting, where she specializes in research, writing, and training on higher education policy and Latino and women issues. Previously she served as Associate Director for Academic Affairs and Planning at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), where her duties included Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Awards, the Agency’s Statewide Strategic Plan, and research and writing on higher education policy. She is a member of the National Advisory Board for the Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ Higher Education Research Collective (H3ERC)

Brenci Patino

Brenci Patiño, PhD

Middle School Outreach

Dr. Brenci Patiño is an Assistant Professor of Spanish, Latin American, and Latino Studies in the Department of Latin American and Francophone Studies at Mary Baldwin College. She holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include representations of working-class women in Mexican literature and culture, the México-U.S. borderlands, and Latin American music produced by communities in the Diaspora. Always eager to serve the Latino community, Dr. Patiño has created cultural opportunities for her students at Mary Baldwin College; she is the Faculty Advisor to the Latino Culture Gateway and has served in the Board of Directors of the non-profit organization Learn English and Reading Now (LEARN) of Augusta County. Dr. Patiño is a native of Brownsville, Texas who grew up in Matamoros, México. Her bicultural upbringing informs her teaching, scholarship, and service.

Isaac Rodriguez, PhD

HCI Liaison

Dr. Rodriguez is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Memphis, where he conducts research while at the Department of Biomedical Engineering-University of Memphis and Joint University of Memphis-UTHSC-Memphis Biomedical Engineering Program related to the development of bone and cartilage tissue engineered products. This position is designed to collaborate with industry, hospitals, and other academic institutions. In addition, this position encourages community and diversity outreach on behalf of the department and University. He is a Millennium Scholar and alum of the HCI, having returned to the program as a LEAD, a Fellow, and most recently as the Leadership Fellow.

Santiago Vinueza

Student Representative

Santiago Vinueza is currently a junior at Virginia Tech studying civil engineering. He is a recipient of four different scholarships including one of the 2013 VALHEN Scholarships. His current academic and career goals include obtaining a master’s degree in civil engineering with a focus on structures and materials to perform research to develop more sustainable construction materials, with particular interest in concrete. Santiago has been volunteering in youth empowerment programs since 2011 and has been part of every HCI program to date. He is an adamant supporter of higher education and hopes to motivate students to believe in themselves, never give up, and value the importance of education.

Elda Stanco-Downey, PhD

Operations Director (Consulting Staff)

Dr. Elda Stanco-Downey is the Director of Operations for VALHEN. She is the Founder and CEO of Roanoke Spanish, a language and culture services firm located in Roanoke. Languages and communication are at her core – she was born in Venezuela and grew up trilingual, speaking Spanish and Italian at home, and English at the International school she began attending at age 4. Dr. Stanco-Downey earned an Honors Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Romance Languages & Literatures at The University of Chicago. She holds an M.A. and a PhD in Hispanic Studies from Brown University, and has been a Visiting Scholar at the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain and at Harvard University.
Dr. Stanco-Downey has over 17 years of experience working, living and traveling in domestic and international settings. She is currently on the faculty at Roanoke College and at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, with past appointments at Hollins University and Brown University. Dr. Stanco-Downey serves on various Boards, including the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Roanoke and Local Colors. Roanoke has been her very happy home for 11 years. She squeezes time to catch up on urban novels and classic films, or to whip up perfect Italian and Venezuelan dishes, whenever her very active bilingual children give her permission!