2021 - University of Houston
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2021 Biographies

Michelle Avalos
Co-Founder, Dir. of Operations, Impact Hub Houston 

Michelle Avalos empowers changemakers by equipping them with tools to transform their vision into action for good. She currently serves her community as one of the Co-Founders and Director of Operations at Impact Hub Houston. She is also the Co-Founder of Creative Vida.

Michelle has a BBA in Supply Chain Management from The University of Houston and has used her degree in both the nonprofit and energy sectors. With 2 years of entrepreneurial experience, 5 years of LNG analyst experience, and 8+ years in nonprofit board leadership & governance, Michelle is redefining pathways for first-generation college graduates. “You can do good and do well for your family without having to sacrifice your unique gifts. We just need to help you get there!” 

In 2019, Michelle was selected to share her first-generation story on the TEDxHoustonWomen stage. Her talk was titled "The Role of the First" and can be found on the TEDx YouTube channel. #CambiaElMundo


Cecilia Ballí
Journalist, Founder & Principal, Culture Concepts 

Cecilia Ballí is a magazine journalist and a cultural anthropologist who has written about the U.S.-Mexico border and Latinos in Texas for more than twenty years. She is the founder and principal of Culture Concepts, a strategic and creative consultancy that provides ethnographic research, cultural analysis, storytelling, and strategic messaging. Ballí is also a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly and has written for various other publications, including Harper’s Magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, and The New York Times. As an anthropologist, she was a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and has conducted research on Mexican American expressive culture, the sexual killing of women in Ciudad Juárez, the U.S.-Mexico border wall, and Latino voter participation. She has won various journalism awards and her writing has appeared in multiple anthologies, including Hecho en Tejas: An Anthology of Texas Mexican Literature and Best American Crime Writing. She was a 2015 Jesse H. Jones Dobie Paisano Fellow and has held writing residencies with the Lannan Foundation, the Lanesboro Arts Center and the Headlands Center for the Arts. A native of Brownsville, she began her reporting career at The Brownsville Herald and the San Antonio Express-News. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Stanford and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Rice University. 


Mary Benton
Director of Communications, City of Houston, Office of the Mayor 

Unable to attend due to President Biden’s visit!


Abby Blachman
Product Engineer, The 19th 

Abby Blachman is the full-stack product engineer for The 19th, an independent, nonprofit news organization reporting on the intersection of gender, politics, and policy. She helped the organization build and launch its website and publishing platform in August 2020 and continues to work as the solo engineer on staff. Her focus on the product side of news was born out of her experience as a data reporter for Injustice Watch in Chicago where she spent the first two years of her career. There, Abby explored and developed a passion for using technology to make information accessible, to expose injustice, and to hold those in power accountable. She is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, but is a born and raised Texan.


Claire Bocchini, MD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine 

Claire Bocchini is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine. She is passionate about child health advocacy. She is involved in multiple non-profits such as Children at Risk and Doctors for Change and is a member of the Texas Children's Center for Child Health Policy and Advocacy. Her diverse research interests include immunizations, immunocompromised children, and addressing social determinants of health such as food insecurity in children and families.


Barbie Brashear
Executive Director, Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council 

Barbie Brashear is the Executive Director for the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, a non-profit organization that works to coordinate a community response to domestic violence in Harris County, Texas.  She attended Indiana University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in social work, and the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work where she earned her MSW.  She has worked in the domestic and sexual violence field for 28 years and has provided leadership to sexual assault programs, domestic violence programs, and long-term housing programs for over 20 years.  She has served as an expert witness in domestic violence cases since 2018. She is an expert trainer in a variety of issues around Domestic Violence, including case management, risk assessment, and crisis intervention, among others.  She has presented and trained at multiple local and statewide conferences on domestic violence for over 15 years and has provided training to hundreds of law enforcement professionals, health care professionals, advocates, social service providers, criminal justice system professionals, teachers, students, and general public. She currently serves as Vice President for the Way Home Steering Committee and as adjunct faculty for the Graduate College of Social Work.


Rae Bryant
Member, Houston Suffragists Project 

Rae Bryant is a member of the Houston Suffragists Project. The Houston Suffragists Project started simply as an effort to find the Houston area women who voted in 1920, the year the 19th Amendment was passed. The Project uncovered a complex story of how thousands of area women worked across social class, diverse interests and color in the final push for woman’s suffrage, including a legal challenge to Texas law in the Harris County Court merely days before the election. Behind the scenes maneuvering by political opponents did not discourage these determined women who even the day before the election, appeared in a second court hearing. Ultimately, an estimated 14,000 Houston area women voted in that first historic election. Approximately six thousand African American women defied Jim Crow culture to vote as full citizens. 

Join Rae Bryant to learn more about the amazing Houston women who courageously battled to vote 100 years ago and the changing Houston culture at the end of WWI. These women faced many of the same questions we face today and their accomplishments and vision in 1920 shaped Houston for the 20th Century and our lives even today.


Vera Bumpers
Chief of Police, METRO Police 

Chief Vera Bumpers has been with the Houston Metro Police Department for more than 30 years and currently leads a team of 194 sworn personnel and 93 non-sworn personnel. She was a pioneer from the beginning, becoming the first woman to be promoted in every rank within the Department. Chief Bumpers received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Texas State University and a master’s degree from Prairie View A&M University. She is a graduate of the 230th Session of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. 

Chief Bumpers has been recognized as a 2016 Top 50 Black Professional and Entrepreneur and has been featured in the African American Newspaper and Houston Women Magazine. 

Chief Bumpers is the Chair of Houston Community College Police Academy Advisory Board, a member of International Association of Chiefs of Police, Texas Police Chiefs Association, Houston Area Police Chiefs Association, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executive, Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, Women Transportation Seminar, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Links Incorporated.


Dawn Burrell
Executive Chef, Pivot 

Traveling the world with the USA’s Track & Field team ignited Chef Dawn Burrell’s deep love for the language of food. The 2000 Olympian eventually traded in her track spikes for a full-time culinary career, cutting her teeth with everyone from Chef Tom Aikens in London to Houston’s Monica Pope before landing a gig with Uchi Houston — a move that led to a sous chef position at its award-winning sister restaurant Uchiko in Austin. An Executive Chef title at modern Southern restaurant Kulture followed, where she honed her signature “global comfort” cooking style. Following three years at the helm of Kulture, Chef Dawn snagged her first James Beard nomination for “Best Chef: Texas” in 2020 before her eventual departure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Burrell has since launched PIVOT, a chef-driven meal preparation service dedicated to assisting families with wholesome food options via prepared meals — an endeavor that will soon morph into a monthly pop-up series, serving as a test kitchen for Burrell’s future concepts and culinary musings. As Partner/Executive Chef of Late August — Burrell’s very first proprietary concept — she brings the soul of Afro-Asian flavors to the table.


Tamarie Cooper
Producing Artistic Director, The Catastrophic Theatre 

Tamarie Cooper is the Producing Artistic Director of The Catastrophic Theatre. She has been performing her entire life. She co-founded The Catastrophic Theatre in 2007 with longtime collaborator and dear friend, Jason Nodler. Originally trained in dance, she began working in theatre at HSPVA and helped to found Infernal Bridegroom Productions in 1993, where she worked for fourteen years. She is a seasoned actor, director, designer, choreographer, and occasional writer, with over 80 production credits with IBP and The Catastrophic Theatre. Tamarie is best known for her original musicals, which enjoy highly successful runs and a cult-like following in Houston. Tamarie has been featured in national trade magazine Stage Directions, named “Best Actress” in Outsmart Magazine’s annual Gayest and Greatest Readers’ Choice Awards and has received various “Best of Houston” awards from The Houston Press and The Houston Chronicle for her performances, direction, and original work.


Chloe Dao
Fashion Designer, Chloe Dao 

Fashion designer and entrepreneur Chloe Dao discovered her love for the world of fashion at the age of ten while watching CNN’s Style with Elsa Klensch. After earning her degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, she returned to her hometown of Houston, Texas to open the Dao Chloe Dao Boutique, formerly known as Lot 8. She was catapulted to international fame after winning Project Runway Season 2. Chloe’s signature flair, as noted on Project Runway, demonstrates her expert understanding of women’s bodies. Her garments are carefully constructed to flatter every body type and give every woman a wardrobe that’s as one of a kind as she is. Chloe has partnered with several businesses over the years, which includes Nuo Tech and QVC. She was also invited to design a special dress for the premiere of the award winning Crazy Rich Asians for the Austin Asian American Film Festival. In late 2020, Chloe and her team designed the HoUSton T-shirt, showcasing all races and identities, celebrating the city’s diversity. 

Chloe serves on the fashion advisory boards at Houston Community College and the Art Institute. In January 2019, Chloe and Houston Chronicle Fashion Editor Joy Sewing, co-hosted the first annual Houston Designer Platform. She’s worked alongside Community Cloth and Crime Stoppers. Chloe also designed a t-shirt, Always Aim for Love, in which proceeds of the sales would be donated to the Houston Area Women’s Center. Chloe was on the forefront of mask making when Covid-19 made it to the US. To date, she has donated almost 5,000 masks to medical professionals and the general public.

Chloe plans to continue using her voice and influence to inspire and to contribute to every community she’s a part of, be it local or global. 


Regina Deadrick
Assistant Vice President, AON 

Regina G. Deadrick is an Assistant Vice President with Aon’s Health and Welfare practice group based in Houston, Texas. Her career began in 1981 and she has spent 39 years as a broker/consultant in group insurance and has worked with small fully insured groups as well as larger self-funded employers.  Ms. Deadrick is well versed in state mandates and effectively performs in multiple service areas including plan design, document/contract review, detailed claim analysis, renewal and new case marketing, plan implementation, and enrollment/employee meetings.  Additionally, her client service background facilitates consistent successes in the areas of claims resolution (PHI sensitive), and client administrative (eligibility and billing) issues.  She has served as a panelist for a Goldman-Sachs sponsored workshop for small business owners navigating the nuances of the Affordable Care Act and has been a presenter at several industry-based and client forums.  

She was educated at the University of North Texas. She is active in civic and social organizations as well, including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Continental Societies, Inc., The National Council of Negro Women, The Links, Incorporated (Texas Spring Cypress Chapter), The National Council of Negro Women and Jazz Houston.  She is a Sunday School Teacher and is exploring the formation of a “storytellers” project, to preserve and share her family’s legacy of love and service.  A ready volunteer for a variety of causes, she is often called upon to offer hands and support to various non-profit groups.  She has been recognized by Biltmore Who’s Who in Business and The National Association of Professional Women. 


Dr. Shelly deZevallos
President, West Houston Airport 

Dr. Shelly Lesikar deZevallos is president of West Houston Airport, a privately-owned public use airport in Houston, Texas.  She grew up sweeping hangars and is a licensed and active pilot with over 4,500 hours of flight time including her IFR, Multi-engine and Commercial.  She previously worked for Cessna Aircraft Company and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Dr. deZevallos was appointed to the US Department of Transportation Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee (SOCAC) last year by Secretary Chao and is on the Board of Directors at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).  She serves Texas on the TxDot Aviation Advisory Committee and just completed her term on Texas Southern University’s Aviation Advisory Board. She is actively involved in numerous charitable efforts including the Girl Scouts of America Women’s Leadership Network and the Woman’s Club of Houston. 

She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, her EMBA from Texas A&M and her Doctor of Education in Aviation and Space Science.  She continues to be involved in research and academia by participating on the National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C. 

In her free time, she makes presentations to students and audiences focusing on STEM and aviation as a career choice and advocates the importance of business aviation across the state of Texas and the country. Dr. deZevallos and her husband are both pilots and live in Houston, Texas with their twin daughters.


Minal Patel Davis
Director, Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence 

Minal Patel Davis currently serves as the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence and previously served as Special Advisor to the Mayor on Human Trafficking. Appointed in July 2015, Davis was charged with making a local impact on human trafficking in the 4th largest city in the U.S. from a policy-level perspective and by advancing systems change. She developed and is currently implementing Mayor Turner’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategic Plan, which is the first comprehensive municipal response to human trafficking by a U.S. city. Davis is passionate about helping other cities in their own anti-human trafficking efforts and designed and delivers the city’s Ten/Ten Human Trafficking Response Municipal Fellowship, a 2-day immersion program for Mayors and their executive staff to develop their own municipal approaches. 

Davis has spoken on several local, national, and international panels to present the City of Houston’s approach. She is a past speaker at the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit, The U.S. Conference of Mayors and recently traveled to India and Canada at the request of the State Department to discuss municipal leadership in trafficking with government officials. In 2018, Minal was awarded the prestigious Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking. In 2020, Davis was promoted to Director and now also oversees ending domestic violence with an equity and economic security lens in response to the pandemic. In addition to these duties, Davis chairs the Houston 2026 Bid Committee’s Human Rights Sub-Committee for the World Cup. Her work has been covered on NPR, in The Washington Post, The New York Times and other national and international media outlets. Davis received her J.D. and M.B.A. from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. from New York University.


Guadalupe Fernandez
Policy & Advocacy Manager, Tahirih Justice Center 

Guadalupe Fernández joined Tahirih in 2015. As the Houston Office’s Policy and Advocacy Manager, she is responsible for leading the development and advancement of Tahirih’s local and state-wide advocacy projects and campaigns to transform the policies and practices that impact immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. Guadalupe is committed to addressing interpersonal violence within the larger context of institutionalized violence and oppression that impacts our communities by building collective power among survivors, advocates, and allies. 

Prior to Tahirih, Gudalupe worked at Catholic Charities Houston as the Lead Legal Caseworker for the Child Advocacy and Legal Services Program. Currently, Guadalupe serves on the Public Policy Committee for the Texas Council of Family Violence, the Immigration and Racial Equity taskforces of the Texas Family Leadership Council, the Harris Co. Housing Stability Taskforce, and on the Community Working Group advising the Monitor Team for the O’Donnell Consent Decree. She is a graduate of the Advocacy Learning Center hosted by Praxis International and Camp Wellstone. 

Guadalupe is the proud daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college graduate from Georgetown University. She is a Fully Accredited Representative through the Department of Justice and is allowed to practice before both DHS and the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which includes the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals.


Dr. Jamie Freeny
Director, Center for School Behavioral Health, Mental Health America of Greater Houston

Dr. Jamie Freeny is a dedicated public health practitioner with a desire to make a difference for the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents. She earned her doctorate in Public Health with a focus in the Community Health Practice division from the UT Health School of Public Health. Her areas of research include adverse childhood experiences, adolescent mental health, trauma informed care, and collaborative engagement. Dr. Freeny currently serves as the Director of the Center for School Behavioral Health at Mental Health America of Greater Houston which works collaboratively with school districts, public and nonprofit child-serving organizations, institutions of higher learning, and community stakeholders to develop and implement equitable projects and policies that promote the well-being of school-age children. She has spent the last fifteen years working through multiple avenues, including a healthcare system, residential behavioral health center and non-profit organizations, to educate and advocate for adolescent health and has presented on adolescent mental health and wellness and social determinants of health in numerous professional conferences.


Hon. Phyllis Randolph Frye
Associate Municipal Judge, City of Houston 

Phyllis is an Eagle Scout, a former member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, a veteran (1LT-USA), a licensed engineer, an attorney, a part-time municipal judge, a father, a grandmother, and a lesbian wife. Having lived over sixty percent of her life as the woman she always felt herself to be, Phyllis remains on the cutting edge of LGBTQ and especially transgender legal and political issues. In 2010 Phyllis was sworn-in as the first out transgender judge in the nation, as a City of Houston Associate Municipal Judge: she requested the part-time, associate judge status to allow her to retain her senior partnership of Frye, Steidley, Oaks and Benavidez, PLLC, which is an out LGBTQ-and-straight-allies law firm. 

Phyllis has received the Stonewall Award from the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity of the American Bar Association; a “Premier Woman In Law” award from the Houston Association of Women Attorneys; and a “Civil Rights Leader” recognition from the Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League. 

She and her wife have two rescue dogs named Sally and Charly.


Mia Gradney
Evening News Anchor, KHOU 11 

For two decades, two-time Emmy Award winning journalist and native Houstonian Mia Gradney has reported on some of the most significant headlines.  She has covered everything from hurricanes, to Hollywood red carpet events, major sporting championships and title games, medical breakthroughs and compelling environmental issues. Currently Mia anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts weekdays on KHOU 11 News. When she is not in front of the camera, Mia is serving the community.  She is a longtime volunteer and Advisory Council member for Dress for Success Houston and Co-Founder of the young professionals’ group Women of Wardrobe.


Jessica Green
Artistic Director, Houston Cinema Arts Society & Festival 

Jessica Green is the Artistic Director of the Houston Cinema Arts Society and the Houston Cinema Arts Festival. She is also is curating the Sundance Film Festival 2020 in Houston which will take place in cities throughout the US this year, in collaboration with the Sundance Institute. She is also curating a film and speaker series for the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City titled "The Afro Future's So Bright I'm Pessimistic." She was the Cinema Director of the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, founded by legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles, from 2008-2018.  Jessica is also a former founder, owner and Editor-In-Chief of the New York based, independent Hip-Hop magazine Stress (1994-2001), which was the first magazine to put Jay-Z on the cover, as well as the former Executive Editor of BET.com (2000-2005). Green has an undergraduate degree from Lang College at the New School for Social Research in Black Studies and Writing and Literature. She was born and raised in New York City, and her father Ernest Green, is one of the Little Rock 9.


Carol Haddock, PE
Director, Houston Public Works 

Carol Ellinger Haddock is Director of Houston Public Works, the largest American Public Works Association accredited agency in the nation.  Carol leads almost 4,000 employees in transforming the culture and operations of the Department, with the purpose: “Together we create a strong foundation for Houston to thrive.” Carol has been at the City for fifteen years and was promoted to Director in 2017.  She has led the organization through a cultural transformation by providing resilience training for all employees. Streamlining operations and equipping employees with new skill sets, has allowed the Department to move forward from Hurricane Harvey, set records for treatment of drinking water in a day, reduced environmental impacts in both the wastewater and stormwater systems, maintain a next-business-day pothole repair program 99% of the time and support more than $6 billion in development. 

Carol is a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of Texas with a Civil Engineering Bachelor’s degree from Rice University and has a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Houston.  Prior to joining Houston Public Works, Carol worked in private consulting, for the Harris County Flood Control District, and as a Congressional Fellow for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. She is married to Will Haddock, a Houston bankruptcy attorney. 


Deborah Hirsch
Sr. Director of Development, Houston Grand Opera 

Deborah Hirsch has served as Senior Director of Development at Houston Grand Opera since March of 2006. In that role, she is responsible for coordinating a well-orchestrated fundraising effort across the programming areas of individual donor giving, institutional giving, and special event fundraising, with emphasis on major gift giving in each of these areas.  She is also responsible for devising and executing special project campaigns. In the last several years, that special project campaigning has included fundraising for Hurricane Harvey and COVID relief.  

Deborah is a member of Houston Grand Opera’s senior management team. Prior to joining Houston Grand Opera, Deborah served as Vice-President for Development for DePelchin Children’s Center. Before her time at DePelchin, Deborah worked at the University of Houston Law Center for over twenty years – as Assistant Dean for Career Services, building and growing the career advising and resource division of the law school for its students and alumni, and then, as Assistant Dean for External Affairs, the law school’s arm for fundraising and alumni activity.


Antoinette M. “Toni” Jackson
Principal, The Banks Law Firm 

Antoinette M. (“Toni”) Jackson is a principal with The Banks Law Firm practicing in the area of affordable housing and community development financing.  Toni’s practice has been the perfect marriage of practicing law and serving the community. The developments she works on have increased the number of affordable housing units and revitalized communities.  Ms. Jackson focuses her practice in mixed-finance transactions. Toni also works on tax exempt bond transactions and transactions utilizing disaster recovery funding.  

Ms. Jackson has received a multitude of awards including the Jean MacDonald Lifetime Achievement in Housing and the Carl Umland Humanitarian Award from Houston Habitat for Humanity.  She has been recognized by the National Bar Association Women Lawyers Division as Outstanding Minority Partner in a Minority Firm and received the NBA’s prestigious Wiley A. Branton Award for Civil Rights Advocacy. 

Ms. Jackson serves as an Adjunct Professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Ms. Jackson continues to serve on several boards including the TSU Foundation Board. She also serves her community as a member of the Texas Spring Cypress Chapter of The Links Incorporated.  Toni is a proud graduate of the University of Virginia and Thurgood Marshall School of Law Texas Southern University. 


Dr. Jennifer Litton
VP Clinical Research & Professor, MD Anderson Cancer Center 

Jennifer Keating Litton, MD is Vice President of Clinical Research and a Professor in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology and Clinical Cancer Genetics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.  She holds an additional faculty position in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston.  She attended Duke University, with degrees in English and in History and The University of Massachusetts Medical School.  After completing an Internal Medicine Residency at Baylor College of Medicine, she then served as Chief Medical Resident.  She completed a fellowship in Medical Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center before joining the faculty in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology where she is Chief, Section of Clinical Research and Drug Development.  Her research interests include the treatment of young breast cancer patients, including the treatment of breast cancer during pregnancy, treatment-related infertility, hereditary cancer syndromes, immunotherapy and triple negative breast cancer.  She is the principal investigator for multiple clinical trials.  

She serves as a member of the National Cancer Center Network National Guidelines Panel for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndromes and has been appointed to the Breast Immuno-Oncology Task Force of the National Cancer Institute Breast Cancer Steering Committee and Co-Chair of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) Breast Cancer Subcommittee.  She has authored multiple abstracts, peer-reviewed journal articles, and book chapters.  Dr. Litton has served on the boards of the St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities, the Children’s Fund, Suites of Hope and is an alumnus of the Texas Lyceum.  She lives in Houston with her husband Todd and their three children. 


Isabel Longoria
Elections Administrator, Harris County 

Isabel Longoria, a native Houstonian and proud policy wonk, serves as the first ever Elections Administrator for Harris County, where she oversees elections and voter registration for the third largest county in the nation. Prior to her appointment, Isabel served as a special advisor on voting rights and access to Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins. Isabel has served on the City of Houston’s Planning Commission, which was tasked with creating sustainable growth and development across Houston. A fellow of the New Leaders’ Council in 2016, she was later elected as a member of the organization’s Board of Directors in 2018 where she mentored Houston’s future leaders, providing them with the skills and networks to affect positive change for their communities. She has served on the boards of the League of Women’s Voters, the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, as well as the Mayor’s Housing Transition Team. 

Isabel has been honored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the New Leaders’ Council, the League of Women Voters and Latino Leaders Magazine. In 2018, she was awarded the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Woman of the Year, the youngest and first LGBTQ award recipient.  A graduate of Trinity University, Isabel also holds a Masters in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. 


Kathryn Lott
Executive Director, Southern Smoke 

Kathryn Lott has worked in nonprofit administration and event production for nearly twenty years. In 2016, she co-founded Lott Entertainment, a creative project management and special events firm. She and business partner Allison Lott have produced some of Houston’s largest events, including the University of Houston’s Counter Current Festival and East End Street Fest. During her tenure as director of operations for the Society of Performing Arts, she brought such luminaries as Al Pacino, Lily Tomlin and Anthony Bourdain to the Houston stage. As marketing director for Houston Grand Opera, she founded ON, Houston Grand Opera’s young professional program, the largest of its kind in the world. She’s passionate about elevating the arts scene in Houston and founded Culture Collision to bring young patrons of Houston arts groups together. Kathryn is a past board president of the Catastrophic Theatre and a previous board member of the Fresh Arts Coalition. She joined Southern Smoke as executive director in 2017 and has helped lead the organization to be one of nation’s most renowned in crisis relief funding for those in the food and beverage industry. 


Maria Montes
Boards & Commissions, City of Houston 

Maria Del Pilar Montes is a Native Houstonian. She was appointed as Director of Boards and Commissions by Mayor Sylvester Turner in July of 2018. The director of Boards and Commissions oversees the process of receiving nominations for individuals to serve on boards and enhances the panels’ collaboration with city departments.​

Before joining the Mayor’s team, Montes worked with Transwestern as an administrative associate and property manager. Through her position, she oversaw meetings, special events and lease administration, along with fostering positive relationships between management teams, tenants and owners of the property. Montes has also worked in administration with the Ayrshire Corporation and former State Senator Rodney Ellis, now a Harris County commissioner.​

Montes is a KIPP alumna who graduated from Hollins University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Houston-Downtown. She currently serves on the board of Houston Classical and the Houston Northeast CDC. Additionally, she is a member of LULAC District 8 and Eastex-Jensen Super Neighborhood #46. 


MaryJane Mudd
President, League of Women Voters of Houston 

MaryJane Mudd is President of the League of Women Voters of Houston (LWV-Houston) and a longtime advocate for voter empowerment, women’s rights and the rights of the disabled. Her interest in government advocacy grew when, in 1992, her one year old baby was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), a rare disease causing devastating neurological and health challenges. For 18 years, MaryJane has joined other advocates on Capitol Hill to lobby for research funding impacting not only people with TSC, but those with associated disorders like autism, epilepsy and kidney disease. Nearly $90 million has been appropriated thus far due to this grass roots campaign and the fierce advocacy of parents, physicians and legislators. 

During the 2020 Election Season, MaryJane led LWV-Houston in its voter registration, outreach and “get out the vote” efforts. This included the nonpartisan LWV Voters Guide which was made available to all Houstonians in four languages, more than 40 voter registration events and multiple presentations and media interviews. When the League’s Voter Services team was met with opposition when trying to legally distribute voter registration forms in area post offices, MaryJane wrote an opinion article for the Houston Chronicle that called out the importance of empowering voters and defending democracy. 


Dr. Bakeyah Nelson
Executive Director, Air Alliance Houston 

Bakeyah S. Nelson, PhD, is the Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston - a research-based nonprofit organization working to reduce the public health impacts of air pollution and advance environmental justice. Dr. Nelson has been working to reduce environmental inequities in Houston communities for 15 years. 

She was recently honored as the 2020 Texas Energy Summit’s Clean Air Champion of the Year.  In 2019, she was selected as one of the Aspen Institute’s Health Scholars and was honored as one of the Texas Organizing Project’s 2018 Community Champions of the Year.  Dr. Nelson currently serves on the Board of the National Recreation Foundation. 

Dr. Nelson’s Doctorate in Public Policy, Master’s in Applied Sociology and Bachelor’s degree in Psychology all come from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. 


Lynsey Owens
Founder & Designer, Lynsey Creative 

Lynsey Owens is a brand strategist, problem solver and professional pixel pusher. She guides business owners in leveraging their core genius to help them solve big problems for their dream clients through the power of intentional branding. Lynsey received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design and Photography from Texas Tech University and worked for a variety of creative agencies before taking the leap into full-time entrepreneurship in 2015. When she's not creating, Lynsey enjoys playing board games, dancing out her feelings, and adding to her plant collection. She lives in Katy, Texas, with her husband and pup.  


Annise Parker
CEO, The Victory Fund & the Victory Institute 

LGBTQ Victory Fund and Victory Institute President & CEO Annise Parker is the first former elected official to lead the organizations, having served six years as a Houston City Council member, six years as City Controller, and six years as Mayor of the city. She is one of only two women to have been elected mayor and is the only person in Houston history to have held the offices of council member, controller and mayor. She was the first openly LGBTQ mayor of a major American city. In addition to her duties as mayor, Mayor Parker was a member of President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, chaired the U.S. Conference of Mayors Criminal and Social Justice Committee, and served on the boards of the Texas Environmental Research Consortium and Houston Galveston Area Council. She is a past Fellow of the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. 

Mayor Parker served as an officer or board member of dozens of organizations, including President of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, Co-Chair of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, Co-Chair of the Lesbian and Gay Democrats of Texas and Treasurer of the Names Project Houston. She was a community liaison to the Houston Police department for many years and created and taught an LGBTQ human relations module to cadets.

Mayor Parker graduated from Rice University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. In the private sector, she spent 20 years working in the oil and gas industry, including 18 years with Mosbacher Energy Company. She also co-owned Inklings, a lesbian/feminist bookstore for 10 years. 

Mayor Parker and her wife Kathy Hubbard have been together for more than 28 years and are advocates for adoption, with three daughters, a son and a grandson. 


Rani Puranik
Global CFO, Worldwide Oilfield Machine (WOM) 

Co-Owner and Global CFO of Houston-based Worldwide Oilfield Machine (WOM), Rani Puranik, thrives at leading innovation, empowering others and inspiring collaboration. She directs financial controllership, strategy, investments and enterprise growth for WOM, a privately held, family-owned oil and gas equipment manufacturing firm with more than 3,000 employees operating in 11 locations around the world.  Over the course of 15 years, she has developed and implemented the framework for communication, standardization, operations and business development at WOM.  Puranik along with her father have led WOM, the privately held corporation, to grow to more than $350 million in annual revenues. 

Puranik received a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Pune in India and a Master of Business Administration in Finance from Rice University. As a seasoned motivational speaker and certified Master Coach in Leadership Development, Puranik is passionate about mentoring the next generation of leaders.  Puranik has been recognized as one of the "Top Leading Women in Energy" by the Houston Business Journal, "Business Woman of the Year" by the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston. The Texas Women’s Foundation recently recognized Puranik as a recipient of the Maura “Women Helping Women” Award. Outside of her work environment, Puranik is an Indian classical trained vocalist and dancer, and a certified yoga instructor. The businesswoman on a mission wears many hats on any given day but is most proud to be a mother of two grown daughters and two rescued dogs. Puranik enjoys scuba diving, traveling and spending time with family. 


Wei Wei Startz
Texas Game Warden, Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept. 

I was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States when I was 7 years old. I grew up in Texas and spent weekends on my family’s ranch in Comanche County participating in outdoor activities that included hunting, fishing, and riding four-wheelers. My mother introduced me to fishing at a young age and her and my family always stressed the importance of hunting and fishing laws. I decided I wanted to enforce game and conservation laws by the time I was in junior high. I followed my goals and completed college courses at Tarrant County College, then transferred to Texas A&M University. During my time at Texas A&M, I was chosen to be a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) intern with the Game Wardens in Brazos County, and was able to experience the job first-hand. After graduating from A&M, I was accepted into the Game Warden Academy after two application attempts. I graduated from the 58th Academy class after a seven-month long academy. My first duty station was in Tarrant County, followed by San Patricio County, and now I am stationed in Guadalupe County near the Texas Hill Country. Every day I feel blessed to have one of the best jobs in Texas. 


Hanh Tran
Artist & Owner, Hanh Tran Gallery

Houstonian Hanh Tran's work with oil on canvas is based on self-study of the human form, nature, culture and emotion. Heavy, sweeping, broad strokes of thick oil paint create a three-dimensional effect that is the trademark of Hanh's collections and commissioned works. It is through her connection with nature and people that Hanh finds comfort through artistic expression. "Art provides respite and renewal for most people,” says Hanh. “Painting, creating and sharing provide quiet comfort and establish a meaningful sense of community." 

The seventh and youngest child of Vietnamese-Chinese immigrants, Hanh was raised in Houston and learned early on to teach herself and others to foster personal growth. Her dedication to learning and hands-on approach to sharing the art experience with others is indicative of Hanh's dedication to creating and providing approachable and emotive art. 

One of Hanh’s most recent endeavors involves incorporating florals, both fresh and preserved, into her repertoire. She finds that this allows her to integrate her love of nature with her love of art through more than just paint. Her creativity in this area led her to become the Floral Artist for Baccarat Houston. Hanh's collections are installed commercially and in private residences across Texas, and both the east and west coasts. 


Elizabeth Trovall
Reporter, KUHF – HPM 

Elizabeth Trovall is an immigration reporter for Houston Public Media. She joined the News 88.7 team after several years abroad in Santiago, Chile, where she reported on business, energy, politics and culture. Trovall's work has been featured on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, Latino USA, Texas Standard and Only A Game. She graduated from University of Missouri's Reynolds Institute of Journalism, where she reported for the local public radio station KBIA. 


Mary Vazquez
VP Community Outreach, United Way 

In her role as Vice President of Community Outreach for the United Way of Greater Houston, Mary Vazquez provides leadership and oversight for 2-1-1 Texas/United Way HELPLINE, United Way Centers in the Bay Area, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Waller Counties, United Way Nonprofit Connection and serves as the leader in developing United Way’s disaster response for our four-county area. In her 2-1-1 role, Mary has been instrumental in planning and implementing an infrastructure to scale up 2-1-1 to handle over 1.3 million connections annually. 

Throughout her tenure, Mary has assumed increasing levels of responsibility in the development of United Way’s disaster response for families in our community following Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, and most recently the 2016 Floods, Hurricane Harvey and the COVID-19 response. She leads Long Term Recovery Committees in each of our four counties. 


Dr. Rheeda Walker
Professor of Psychology, University of Houston 

Dr. Rheeda Walker is an award-winning Professor of Psychology, a fellow in the American Psychological Association and a leading scholar who has published more than 60 scientific papers on African American mental health, suicide risk, and emotional resilience. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist who prepares doctoral students for independent careers. 

Dr. Walker's impact has expanded beyond academia and she has quickly become a fan favorite with the release of her first book, "The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health." Delving into the heart of the Black experience, Dr. Walker debunks myths about mental health, builds the case for psychological fortitude, and delivers practical advice for use in everyday life. Her charismatic vision and practical approach to life’s challenges has led to numerous appearances on "Good Morning America," "The Breakfast Club," and "NPR," among others. She is often quoted in major publications like the "Washington Post," the "Los Angeles Times," the "Huffington Post," "GQ Magazine," and the "Houston Chronicle." 

Dr. Walker’s eclectic mix of experiences positions her well to achieve her ultimate goal of bringing culturally-informed, psychological fortitude to both professional and lay audiences. 


Jacqueline Wiley
Business Owner, O. W. Wiley Mortuary 

Jacqueline is a native Houstonian, who graduated from Sam Houston State University where she received a B.A. in Social Rehabilitation and Social Services from the College of Criminal Justice in 1982 at the age of 20.  Upon graduation she began her career into the workforce as a Social Worker in Houston, Texas. In 1983 she joined the Houston Police Department and became Houston Police Officer. She was the first African American Female to achieve the rank of Lieutenant of Police. After nearly a two-decade span career in Law Enforcement, Jacqueline and her husband opened O. W. Wiley Mortuary on July 1, 2000 in Northwest Houston.  Today they service approximately 400 families a year in their time of need. It is 100 percent family owned and operated. Over the years they have served and supported numerous ministries, charities, and civic projects in Northwest Houston and surrounding metropolitan areas. Jacqueline is also a graduate of the Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service.  While studying there, she was inducted into the National Funeral Honor Society and received the Grief Counseling Award. Presently she is a Licensed Funeral Director by the State of Texas. 

Jacqueline is an active member of the Lane Tabernacle Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, where she serves as a Trustee, Steward and the Missionary Society.  In closing, Jacqueline is a public servant, who has a heart for serving others. Jacqueline and her husband, Otis, are the proud parents of three young adults.


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