Meet the Spring 2020 WIL Cohort,
Orange County

We’re thrilled to announce our inaugural WIL OC cohort!

Brateil Aghasi
CEO
WISEPlace
Brateil Aghasi, CEO of WISEPlace, is a visionary leader who is focused on bringing real solutions to alleviate homelessness for vulnerable women, so they do not have to face adversity alone. Brateil is leading the path towards a ‘Housing First’ approach with a $21 million dollar building partnership with Jamboree to build 52 units of permanent supportive housing with a full array of wrap-around services such as case management, counseling, and employment support. This is the first housing development in WISEPlace AND Orange County’s history to build supportive housing for unaccompanied women in OC. Under her fearless leadership, WISEPlace has increased the number of women served by 183% as well as 53% of financial growth. As a Coro fellow, Brateil hopes to grow in her role, especially in the area of public speaking and stronger communication.

Pia Iliana Brancolino Taylor
Director of Advancement Operations
Chapman University
Pia serves as the Director of Advancement Operations at Chapman University. In this role, she contributes to strategic planning and development, and is responsible for the fiscal administration of University Advancement budgets to achieve its goals in fundraising, marketing, and engagement. She and her team ensure compliance with institutional policies, Donor Bill of Rights, IRS regulations and industry standards. She holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Chapman University and a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting with a minor in Hispanic Business Studies from Loyola Marymount University. Through the Coro Women in Leadership Program, Pia hopes to learn from the other women executives in her cohort to sharpen her own skills and strengthen her impact as a leader.

Cecilia Bustamante Pixa
Director of Community Health Investment
St. Joseph Hospital
Cecilia Bustamante Pixa is the Director of Community Health Investment at St. Joseph Hospital. Cecilia is a self-motivated and accomplished health care professional with 20 years of experience in faith-based health care services with a focus on mission and community. Cecilia leads by sustaining, supporting, and encouraging a mission-centered culture and fostering an environment that values and upholds the hospital’s Catholic identity in the face of challenging times in health care. In her role, Cecilia is responsible for the planning, developing, coordinating, and measuring of local community benefit efforts. Cecilia serves in leadership advisory capacity and establishes programmatic priorities in areas of Community Benefit, Care For The Poor, and Community Outreach. Most recently, Cecilia co-lead changes in management transition of hospital community clinic department to Federally Qualified Health Center. Cecilia hopes to gain deeper insights into leadership development, network with like-minded professionals, and implement learnings to further her personal and professional growth.

Jennifer Davis
Treasury Analyst
Irvine Ranch Water District
Jennifer Davis is the Treasury Analyst at Irvine Ranch Water District where she oversees the District’s debt portfolio of approximately $660 million. She is also responsible for the District’s fixed income portfolio of $371 million, related to short-term and long-term cash flow liquidity management. Jennifer has over a decade of experience as a strategic and analytical finance professional and possesses a B.A. in Finance from California State University, Fullerton. She also has a certificate in Public Employee Leadership Development from California State University, Fullerton. Through Coro WIL, Jennifer hopes to strengthen her leadership skills and learn from other accomplished women across different sectors and backgrounds.

Jessica Fernandez
Government Relations Manager
Southern California Edison
Jessica Fernandez is a Government Relations Manager at Southern California Edison (SCE) where she leads external affairs strategies for Orange County. Jessica has over 14 years of experience working on political campaigns, legislative advocacy, and external affairs in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Prior to joining SCE, Jessica served as Senior Director of Communications and External Affairs at a children’s health policy nonprofit where she initiated a coalition of diverse organizations to advance health equity in Orange County. Previously, she served as Senior Legislative Advisor for former Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and helped secure millions of dollars for transportation and infrastructure projects throughout the region. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Chapman University and a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of California Riverside. Through Coro WIL, Jessica hopes to further her leadership skills and foster partnerships that will help achieve health equity in Orange County.

Wendy Fung, M.A., C.P.E.
Business Development Manager
Port of Long Beach
Wendy Fung, M.A., C.P.E. is an experienced international business development and operations executive with 16 years in the global logistics industry. Wendy is currently a Business Development Manager for the Port of Long Beach, the second busiest port complex in the United States. She is responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with cargo owners, third-party logistics companies and other transportation stakeholders. She performs market analysis, hires and coaches staff and is responsible for her section’s budget and marketing plan. She presents at various national and regional trade conferences and workshops, manages World Trade Center-Long Beach and engages in local economic development. Through the Coro WIL program, she wishes to break down silos and build a deeper sense of trust amongst her internal teams and be more creative in their problem-solving. She would like to be an impactful and effective leader in order for her organization to become more successful.

Pam Greene
Senior Advisor, External Engagement
Southern California Edison
Pam is a Senior Advisor in Corporate Affairs at Southern California Edison. She is responsible for stakeholder advocacy and external engagement to advance the company’s clean energy future. Pam is a marketing and communications expert, having spent many years in strategic marketing and campaign execution across a variety of industries. When the opportunity arose two years ago to apply her planning and communications skills to a new role developing campaigns towards a cause she is passionate about – climate change – and to support her company’s clean energy vision, she eagerly took on this challenge. Pam holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master’s in Business Administration from California State University, Fullerton. Pam would love for the Coro WIL program to strengthen her leadership skills, allow her to become more successful in challenging situations and to expand her network of strong female leaders.

Gina Hillary
Director of Human Resources
Moulton Niguel Water District
Gina Hillary is the Director of Human Resources for the Moulton Niguel Water District. As a Human Resources professional for nearly thirty years, her work is focused on ensuring her employer has the best people to do the job while supporting employees throughout their career. She strives to handle difficult personal situations with empathy and respect. She is also a proud mother of two adult children. Being a single working mother certainly had its challenges, but she is grateful for the job opportunities that have provided for her children. She enjoys spending her free time with family and friends. Together, they enjoy cooking, comedy and traveling. Gina is looking forward to networking with other women who support each other’s leadership growth. She is eager to collaborate with women who have had different experiences and to learn from their perspectives.

Linda Igarashi
Associate Attorney
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP
Linda Igarashi is an Associate Attorney in the Orange County office of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, a full-service AmLaw Global 100 law firm with offices throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. She represents public and private companies in a variety of industries as a member of the firm’s Healthcare, Private Equity, and Latin American Industry Teams. Her practice encompasses general corporate matters, including mergers and acquisitions, business formation and structuring, and general corporate governance. Prior to practicing law, Linda worked as a management consultant focused on the design and implementation of Enterprise Risk Management programs for large multinational companies across various industries. A native of Los Angeles, Linda is the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Japan and is fluent in Spanish. She received bachelor’s degrees in Economics and Business Administration from UC Berkeley, a Master’s in Public Administration in International Development from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and a law degree from UCLA School of Law. Through the Coro Women in Leadership program, she hopes to build relationships with women across sectors, develop new leadership skills, and learn from other women leaders in Southern California.

Terri Iler
Associate Director of Foundation Relations and Institutional Initiatives
CHOC Children’s Foundation
Dr. Terri Iler serves as Associate Director of Foundation Relations and Institutional Initiatives at CHOC Children’s Foundation. In concert with key hospital partners and community stakeholders, Dr. Iler works to raise and steward funds in support of CHOC Children’s critical programs and services. While her career has spanned leadership roles in both higher education and healthcare, her professional goals and contributions have always centered on advancing the academic and wellness outcomes of the region’s underserved communities. Dr. Iler received her B.A. degrees in English Education and Italian Studies from CSU Long Beach and her Ed.D. through UC Los Angeles’ Educational Leadership Program. For her dissertation, Dr. Iler employed structural equation modeling to research the factors that comprise students’ college readiness. Through her participation in Coro WIL’s inaugural OC cohort, she hopes to refine her leadership skills and partner with women leaders across industries to drive positive change throughout Southern California.

Kelly Jennings
Community Life Director
Mission Lutheran Church in Laguna Niguel, California
Kelly Jennings is the Community Life Director for Mission Lutheran Church in Laguna Niguel, California overseeing its outreach for six world charities and five local charities involving dozens of community and congregational events. Kelly is charged with tending to the spiritual and social needs of its growing congregation and leads its many volunteer opportunities making a real difference in many thousands of lives. More than twenty years ago, Kelly’s career in public service began at Moulton Niguel Water District which provides exceptional drinking water, recycled water and wastewater services to six cities in Orange County. In 2018, Kelly’s journey expanded when she was elected to Moulton Niguel’s Board of Directors receiving more votes than any candidate in the history of Moulton Niguel elections. As part of her elected duties, Kelly serves on the executive committee for Sustain SoCal and represents the district on the Santiago Aqueduct Commission. She is married to John Mark Jennings who serves on the Laguna Niguel City Council and has two children who are 18 and 16.

Leslie Jones
Manager of Commercial Education
Advanced Sterilization Products
Leslie Jones is the Manager of Commercial Education at Advanced Sterilization Products (ASP), where she oversees the strategy, development and execution of training for the North American sales force. For a combined 15 years prior to joining ASP, she held positions in marketing, communications and financial operations with Stryker and Wells Fargo. She has also managed a portfolio of lawyers across the United States and worked as both an IT and healthcare recruiter. Leslie holds an MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business Management and recently became certified as an Integrity Selling facilitator. In her spare time, Leslie loves to travel and support her twins’ latest endeavors – from sports to music and everything in between.

Mandy Kroetsch
Surface Manager for Sacramento Basin Operations
California Resources Corporation
Mandy Kroetsch is the Surface Manager for Sacramento Basin Operations at California Resources Corporation (CRC). Outside of her normal job duties, she is also the Vice Chair for WIN (Women’s Interest Network) at CRC. Her focus with WIN is to continually offer growth and development opportunities to females and employees alike with the goal to positively impact CRC’s bottom line. She has a BSc in Chemical Engineering from the University of Alberta, Canada and has spent the past 14 years in the oil and gas industry as a Process Engineer, Project Manager and now Surface Manager for her business unit. Mandy hopes to gain insight into how to continually support her organization to achieve the goal of true diversity.

Rachael Lapidis
Strategic Program Manager
University of California San Diego
Rachael Lapidis works to broaden educational access as Strategic Program Manager in the Division of Social Sciences at UC San Diego. Collaborating with faculty and administrators, she dreams up, plans for, and implements innovative initiatives spanning fifteen academic units, from Education Studies to Economics, Critical Gender Studies to Urban Studies & Planning. Currently, she is working to change the face of computer science through high-quality, low-cost online instruction for K-12 educators. She is also developing and launching programs in Computational Social Science and working towards an online program with a contemporary focus on gender and sexuality. Rachael earned her A.B. in Linguistics and Psychological & Brain Sciences from Dartmouth College and her M.A. in Psychology at UC San Diego. She is grateful for the opportunity to sharpen her sensemaking and to develop creative, collaborative, and enduring relationships of mutual support with the Coro Women in Leadership.

Esra A Naama
Capacity Development / Performance Improvement/Contracting
Multi-lingual, multicultural development professional with over 12 years experience who leads public relations; designs and develops strategic workforce plans to support Iraqi reconstruction effort; interfaces/coordinates with the Government of Iraq Ministries, government agencies and private sector to ensure effective education and training. Activities include technical training, mentoring and leadership training for long term sustainability.

Molly Nichelson
Public Information Manager for the CEO of the County of Orange
Molly Nichelson is the Public Information Manager for the CEO of the County of Orange. Prior to serving as the spokesperson for the CEO of the County of Orange, she worked for the County’s Social Services Agency as well as worked in a public affairs capacity in the energy, healthcare and transportation sectors. Ms. Nichelson has a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from Marquette University and her Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management from the University of Southern California.

Medha Patel
Communications Coordinator
Moulton Niguel Water District
Medha Patel is the Communications Coordinator for the Moulton Niguel Water District and is responsible for implementing a wide range of communications activities of the District. Medha is an accomplished public relations professional with 10 years of experience in agency and corporate communications focused on developing full-scale public relations campaigns, creating strategic messaging for media and stakeholder outreach, and has a proven track record of building collaborative relationships. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications with a minor in Business Administration from California State University, Fullerton. Mrs. Patel is also a Board Member for the Laguna Niguel Chamber of Commerce. During the Coro Women in Leadership Program, Medha wishes to become a confident leader who leads by example and empowers others to grow.

Kelsey Quist
Associate Attorney
Rutan & Tucker
Kelsey Quist is a fourth-year associate at Rutan & Tucker in the Government and Regulatory Law department with a background in complex civil litigation and commercial litigation defense, including successfully mediating and settling several high exposure cases. Kelsey graduated from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 2015, where she was a director and active competitor on the Moot Court Board. She won the award for Best Oralist in her 1L year and went on to become a National Semi-Finalist at the Thomas Tang Moot Court Competition. She was also a technical editor of the Maritime Law Journal. Kelsey is also a graduate of Princeton University where she played softball and earned honors for First Team All-Ivy, First Team NFCA (National Fastpitch Coach’s Association), and was an All-American Nominee. She currently holds the school’s record for most home runs in a season. Kelsey is thrilled to join Coro’s group of inspiring and ambitious women in leadership!

Alma Reyes
Assistant to the City Manager
City of Costa Mesa
Alma Reyes started her career with the City of Costa Mesa in January of 2011, where she began her first job as a Management Analyst for the Public Services Department. In April of 2013, she transferred into the Parks and Community Services Department to serve as both the Management Analyst and Recreation Supervisor. In November of 2015, Reyes moved into the Fire & Rescue Department to serve as a Management Analyst. Currently, she serves as the Acting Assistant to the City Manager. Reyes holds a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Public Administration from California State University, Fullerton and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Public Policy from California State University, Long Beach.

Veltria Roman
Director of Data Operations
Laguna Playhouse
Veltria started her career in Arts Administration as the Theatre Coordinator at the Curtis Theatre in Brea, CA. After 5 years there, including 2 years as the interim Theatre Manager, she went on to join the Ticketing Management Team at the Orange County Performing Arts Center (now Segerstrom Center for the Arts) as the Customer Service and Training Manager for the Ticketing Department from 2007 – 2010. Veltria then moved on to spend 3 years working in New York at the Kaufman Music Center restructuring their venue rental and ticketing operations to increase sales in both areas. She joined the Laguna Playhouse team in fall 2014 as Box Office Manager, bringing with her almost 20 years experience working in performing arts and live events in every aspect of including stage management, artistic planning, theater management, human resources, event production, and ticketing operations. In June 2018, she was promoted to Director of Data Operations. She oversees the IT and Ticketing Operations departments at the Laguna Playhouse and lends her 13+ years experience in the Tessitura ticketing software to improve patron interaction and Customer Service. Veltria holds a Bachelor’s degree in English with a Theater Emphasis and was a panelist at Tessitura Learning Community Conference 2016 and conference planner for TLCC 2016, 2018, and 2020.

Elizabeth Ruedas
Surface Water Engineer
Michael Baker International
Elizabeth Ruedas, a Surface Water Engineer with Michael Baker International, works closely with municipalities, land developers and local business owners under the regulation of the California State Water Resources Control Board and United States Environmental Protection Agency. In and out of work, Elizabeth loves inspiring, educating, and empowering others to help us move towards a more sustainable future. She not only focuses on sustainable infrastructure solutions, but also helps bring awareness to sustainable living, which includes zero waste, minimalism, and following a whole-food, plant-based diet. She is an American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Orange County Branch Past President (youngest in its 67-year history), serves on national ASCE committees, and her YouTube channel has over 87,000 subscribers. She is excited to be a part of the inaugural Women in Leadership cohort where she is especially interested in learning more about exercising mindfulness as a leadership practice.

Laurie Smith
Program Manager
OC STEM Initiative
Laurie is the Program Manager at OC STEM Initiative. Housed at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UCI, OC STEM serves as the backbone organization for Orange County’s STEM Learning Ecosystem. Laurie is passionate about creating opportunities for students and educators. She brings extensive nonprofit and industry experience to her current role where she focuses on cultivating cross-sector partnerships to enhance student learning and career pathways in STEM. A graduate of the University of Southern California, she holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Through the Coro Women in Leadership Program, she plans to further develop her coalition-building and leadership skills in order to more effectively advocate for policies, resources, and programs that will enable ALL students to identify and pursue meaningful careers.

Stacy Spencer
Business Team Manager, External Affairs
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
Stacy Spencer is the Business Team Manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s External Affairs Group. She manages the development and administration of the group’s $28 million budget along with contracts and administrative operations for legislative, public outreach and media activities. Stacy has a Bachelor of Science degree in public relations with an emphasis in journalism. Stacy is also a Master of Public Administration and has worked in administrative management roles at the Internal Revenue Service and South Coast Air Quality Management District. At the latter, she supported groundbreaking air toxics monitoring, health risk assessment, permitting, rule development and compliance programs. A champion for process improvement, mentoring other women and strategic succession planning, Stacy looks forward to bringing her strong collaborative leadership style to CORO Women in Leadership and to the growth and enlightenment that will come from sharing in the diverse experiences and backgrounds of her fellow cohorts.

Elizabeth Sproule
Manager of the Chapman Fund
Chapman University
Elizabeth Sproule currently serves as a manager of the Chapman Fund at Chapman University. Chapman is a familiar place to Elizabeth as she graduated from there with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. After graduating, Elizabeth joined Teach for America and moved to North Carolina, where she taught middle school science. After four years in the education sector, Elizabeth transitioned to the nonprofit sector as a fundraising professional where she has continued to develop her skills as a leader. Through the Coro Women in Leadership program, Elizabeth will be exposed to leadership best practices, which will allow her to incorporate synergistic ones into her natural leadership style. This program will allow her to explore both the challenges and opportunities female leaders face. The Coro Women in Leadership program is an opportunity for Elizabeth to learn and grow as a female leader.

Cori Takkinen
Southern California Senior Director
Townsend Public Affairs
Cori Takkinen is the Southern California Senior Director for Townsend Public Affairs. Throughout her tenure at TPA, Cori has developed and implemented strategies to achieve specific legislative, budget and funding objectives for public agency clients in Sacramento and Washington DC. Cori has secured over $92 million in competitive grant funds and budget earmarks for nonprofit and public agency priority projects that include funding for parks, trails, water infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, fire prevention, public safety, and other community resources. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Government from Claremont McKenna College and a Master’s in Public Administration from Chapman University. Through the Coro Women in Leadership program, Cori hopes to refine her leadership skills and build a network of dynamic women across multiple sectors.

Brenyale E. Toomer-Byas
Senior Director of Economic Opportunity
Orange County United Way
Brenyale E. Toomer-Byas, MSW is a macro social work practitioner with over a decade of experience in program design, evaluation, capacity building, grantmaking and grant administration. She is currently the Senior Director of Economic Opportunity at Orange County United Way, where she has worked since 2006 and led signature strategies and initiatives for the Organization. Additionally, Brenyale sits on the Advisory Committee for the UCI Division of Continuing Education’s Nonprofit Management Specialized Studies program, serves as the Vice Chair of the Orange County Emergency Food and Shelter Board and is a member of the Orange County Development Board. Brenyale holds a Bachelor of Arts in Religion, a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Master of Social Work with an emphasis in Community Organization, Planning and Administration (COPA) from the University of Southern California. She is excited to participate in Coro’s Women in Leadership program to continue developing as a catalytic leader in philanthropy.

Roshanak Varjavand, PhD
Civil Engineer
City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering
Dr. Roshanak Varjavand is a Civil Engineer at the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering where she currently serves the public by overseeing the preparation of designs and specifications for underground structures and other City-owned facilities. She is experienced in the analysis and design practice of bridges, buildings and other structures, construction management of infrastructure projects and conducting research and teaching. Roshanak holds a Ph.D. in Earthquake and Structural Engineering from the University of Southern California, she also has an MSc in Environmental Engineering and a second MSc in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of Southern California. She believes science, technology and engineering can provide innovative solutions to the world’s challenging problems.

Jennifer Ward
Director of External Affairs
Clean Power Alliance of Southern California
Jennifer is Director of External Affairs for Clean Power Alliance, the locally-operated electricity provider for one million customers in 32 communities across Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. She oversees government relations, marketing, and communications, and community outreach teams. Jennifer brings 10 years of experience leading public affairs and sustainability policy for local governments. Prior to Clean Power Alliance, Jennifer worked on regional planning issues for 18 jurisdictions in Riverside County, serving as Director of Government Relations for the Western Riverside Council of Governments. She also chaired the US Green Building Council – Inland Empire, the local branch of a national non-profit spearheading energy-efficient and sustainable design in the built environment. Jennifer graduated from Claremont McKenna College. Jennifer hopes to gain a greater sense of professional self-confidence that will enable her to make empowered decisions, speak up even during times of uncertainty, and inspire others to do the same.