American Dream Fellows spend one year working to empower immigrants as they strive to fully integrate into American Society. Fellows harness the collective knowledge and expertise of their fellow practitioners and leverage partnerships with key civic, academic, and corporate stakeholders. The Center equips these motivated young professionals to be their nation’s “boots on the ground” in communities as they work to catalog, articulate and help address the gaps and barriers that keep immigrant communities and families from achieving the American Dream.
The American Dream Leaders program recruits college-aged leaders from our host communities and provides them with professional opportunities to hone and expand their leadership and community engagement skills. The American Dream Leaders work with the Cisneros Center’s American Dream Fellows to ensure that immigrant families in our host communities are on a positive trajectory toward integration into American society. In conjunction with the American Dream Fellows, the Leaders work to identify the most urgent needs in the local immigrant community and implement strategies to address these needs.
Zessna Garcia-Rios was born in the city of Gomez Palacio, Durango in Mexico but grew up in the heart of Bentonville, AR. Zessna has previously worked in the field of communication, working with the Walton College of Business producing and creating video content and with the Public Relations team at Tyson Foods, Inc. Before Zessna received relief through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, she was a long time DREAM activist with United We Dream and the Arkansas Natural DREAMers. Zessna relocated to Wilmington, Delaware in the summer of 2010 to work closely with other DREAMers and help organize the Delaware DREAM Team. Zessna has a background in journalistic writing and broadcast experience. She is a long time advocate for education and is a certified ESL tutor through the ProLiteracy Program and the Benton County Literacy Council in her hometown of Bentonville. While at the Benton County Literacy Council, Zessna tutored adults for two years. Her students consisted of adults from Vietnam, El Salvador, Argentina, and Mexico. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism in May of 2015.
Emily Hackerson hails from Warren, Vermont, but traded mountains years ago for the chance to live and work in cities across the globe, including Rabat, Morocco, Mexico City, and New York, NY. Prior to serving as an American Dream Fellow, Emily focused on issues of community-based planning and strategic development, working as a financial capabilities counselor with a housing non-profit in Buffalo, NY and as an urban development researcher and facilitator with a Mexico City-based public policy think tank. Most recently Emily served as a consultant with Welcoming America, a non-profit focused on building and connecting more welcoming communities for immigrants across the U.S. Emily holds a BA in International Affairs from The New School University and received her master’s degree in Urban Planning from Cornell University, focused on participatory planning methods and migration.
JESSICA RAMIREZ HUERTA was born in Torrance, California, but moved to Northwest Arkansas at the age of five. She is currently a student at the University of Arkansas and her majors are History, Spanish, and Latin American Studies. Jessica is a recipient of the University of Arkansas Silas Hunt Distinguished Scholarship and the University of Arkansas "Roads" Scholarship. She will be graduating this May of 2016 and plans to enroll in the Masters of Arts in Teaching program at the University of Arkansas right after graduation in order to become a social studies secondary educator. Jessica’s plan is to teach for a few years and once again attend the University of Arkansas to get a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership in order to be a secondary school administrator. Jessica is in love with education and hopes to be able to change students' lives and truly touch the lives of her future students. Her goal as a future educator is to serve as a role model for children of immigrants. She wants them to be able to identify with her and realize how important education is and how education can change their lives. Jessica has previously been involved with the Hispanic Woman's Organization of Arkansas through their voter registration program, which seeks to increase Latino participation in community affairs. She has also been involved with the La Zeta, the Hispanic radio station here in Northwest Arkansas. Through them Jessica has been a volunteer for Salsafest. She has also been a volunteer for the radio station's Arkansas Children's Hospital Radiothon, and has volunteered for their annual Susan G. Komen Zumbaton, in which they raise thousands of dollars for these causes. Jessica loves hiking, dancing, singing karaoke, reading, and visiting libraries and museums.
JACQUELYN POQUETTE was born in Wisconsin and moved to Arkansas with her family when she was five years old. She is the youngest of three and graduated from Rogers High School in 2014. Jacqui is currently finishing up her last semester at Northwest Arkansas Community College. She plans to transfer to the University of Arkansas to double major in Sociology and Anthropology and minor in Gender Studies. As an active reader and volunteer since High School, Jacqui has played a part in being involved with the Rogers Public Library, as well as those at Mercy Hospital and the Alzheimer’s Association of America. She is a newly active member of the Student Ambassador and Activities Board (SAAB) and enthusiastically plays the role of Publicity Coordinator. Becoming connected and active within the College as well as in the community is a strong passion of Jacqui’s. As an advocate for traveling and connecting to new people, Jacqui hopes to further her education abroad where she can immerse herself in new people, cultures, and food.
BARBARA BARROSO was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and arrived in Springdale when she was 4 years old. Since then Barbara has been calling Springdale her home. She graduated from Springdale High School with the IT Academy and received her Associate of Arts from Northwest Arkansas Community College in 2015 of last spring. Barbara plans to pursue her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication with a minor in Finance. Barbara loves helping and serving her people. She is currently involved with the youth in her church and was actively involved throughout high school in student council. With the Cisneros Center, she hopes to reach many of our community members and make them aware of the different organizations that are immigrant-friendly. She would also love to know that every community member feels welcome and will be able to call NWA home.
CAYLIN CRAIG was born in Rogers, AR, but spent the majority of her life moving around Oklahoma. She is currently a senior at the University of Arkansas studying Political Science and Latin American Studies. Her interest in immigration community issues took shape with the beginning of her Honors Thesis. For this research, she is studying the connection between political candidates’ ideology and donations from private prison corporations--which are often contracted by the government to house immigrant detainees. Caylin has worked as an on-campus writing tutor for the University of Arkansas the past two years, and has worked with students of many different language backgrounds. Collaborating with students to achieve their goals helped her to realize her desire to work in higher education. She enjoys putting herself in new situations, such as trying octopus in Spain or starting a weekly radio show on KXUA, and hopes this trait will aid her in serving the NWA community as an American Dream Leader. After graduation in May 2016 she plans to take a year to explore her interests in community service while applying to Political Science graduate programs.
MARIA LOPEZ was born in San Felipe, Guanajuato in Mexico but moved to Lonoke, AR when she was 9 years old. She graduated from Lonoke High School in 2013 and decided to leave central Arkansas to transfer to Northwest Arkansas, where she would pursue higher education. She is currently a junior at the University of Arkansas pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain Management and Logistics with a minor in Spanish. As a current member of Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc., the Latina sorority on campus, she has served as the Recruitment chairwoman and Treasurer. She is also a member of ALPFA, in which she serves as the ALPFA Cup Soccer Tournament chair. During her time in NWA she has been able to volunteer with Arkansas United Community Coalition, an immigrant rights nonprofit organization. She just graduated as a Change Agent from AUCC this past month. Maria hopes to graduate with her bachelors in May 2017 and work for a 3PL in the railroad industry while staying active in her community fighting for everyone’s American Dream.
LETICIA CORTEZ was born in Fresno, California and grew up in a small town named Orange Cove, California. She is the youngest of eight siblings. She moved to Arkansas when she was ten years old. Lety graduated from Springdale High School with the Medical Academy. She is currently enrolled at Northwest Arkansas Community College and will be graduating in May with her Associates of Science. Lety will be transferring in January to the University of Central Arkansas to pursue a Bachelors in Health Science; she plans to graduate with a PhD in Physical Therapy. Lety is focused on giving back to her community and help children and families who find themselves facing the same struggles she experienced growing up. She is heavily involved with organizations on campus. She is the Secretary for the DREAMers of NWACC, mentor of the LIFE Program, she serves as the Social Media Coordinator for the Student Ambassadors & Activity Board, and is now taking part in the role as an American Dream Leader for the Cisneros Center for New Americans. Being part of these great groups and organizations has opened up many opportunities. Lety has been awarded the Golden Eagle Award for September 2014 and the ACC Academic All Star, given to only one student a year. She would eventually like to open up her own therapy clinic to offer her services at little or no cost to underserved families who are searching for their American Dream.
SAMUEL RIVERA-LOPEZ was born in La Municipal Tejupilco outside of Mexico City, Mexico. Samuel and his family moved to the United States when he was 8 months old. Samuel grew up in Austin, Texas but moved back to Springdale, Arkansas at age 11, and he has called Northwest Arkansas home ever since. Samuel graduated from Springdale High School in May of 2015 and is currently pursuing his degree in Communications and Public Relations at Northwest Arkansas Community College. He is the founder of Stitches, a local movement to empower youth to make positive changes in their communities. Samuel is the first person in his family to finish high school and to pursue secondary education. He considers himself an activist, artist, and a food enthusiast. His hope is to inspire people to change the world.
JEAN AMARGOS was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico but grew up in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He is of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent. Jean moved to Bentonville, AR at the age of 13 to attend school. He is currently in his Sophomore year of studying Biology at the University of Arkansas. Jean is also a Pre-Med student in the Honors College. For the past two years Jean has been a part of the Honors College Path Program. The Honors College Path Program is part of an initiative to prepare exceptional high school students from underrepresented populations to succeed and ultimately excel at the University of Arkansas. After taking AP Biology in high school and learning about all the systems the body has, his mind was made up and he decided to go into the medical field. He would like to be a pediatric neurologist after completing medical school. At the age of three he started to practice Taekwondo, eventually earning his 1st degree black belt at age 13. He recently began practicing Taekwondo again at the University of Arkansas via the Taekwondo Club.
ARIANA MEZA was born in San Bernardino California and moved to Arkansas in 2006. She graduated from Bentonville High School in 2013 and has been attending NWACC since the fall of 2013. She is an education major and is involved in many clubs around campus. Aside from Student Government, she is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, Sigma Kappa Delta, ALPFA, and Hmong Culture Club. Ariana also volunteers at Central Park Elementary School, helping children learn to read, as well as gaining experience as an upcoming educator. She also recently became an American Dream Leader with the Cisneros Center, a group that strives to help all Americans, including immigrants, achieve their American dream. Ariana graduated Magna Cum Laude from NWACC with her Associate of Arts in May 2015 and plans on transferring to Missouri Southern State University in the spring of 2016. Being a part of Student Government has given her a family on campus, and has made her a part of a refined group that are advocates for the students at NWACC.
NEZLY SILVA was born in San Diego, CA but grew up in Springdale, AR. She is a junior pursuing a Bachelor’s of Social Work with a minor in Spanish and Latino/Latin American Studies. For the past two years she has had the privilege to serve as the Vice President of Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc., the Latina sorority on campus. Nezly is passionate about volunteering in her community. She has experience volunteering at LifeSource, a local food bank and with Arkansas United Community Coalition, an immigrant rights organization. Nezly also volunteers with la Oficina Latina at the U of A to promote higher education and academic excellence among Latino students in Northwest Arkansas. Her hope is to graduate with honors in May 2017 and go to law school to pursue a legal career as an immigration or public interest lawyer. Nezly loves gardening, reading, and spending time with her family.
JENNIFER AGUIRRE, Houston, TX, received her Masters in Urban Education at The Johns Hopkins University and is a Teach For America alum. She spent three years in the classroom teaching Spanish at an all-boys charter school in downtown Baltimore. During her time in Baltimore, Jennifer lead the Foreign Language department at her school and organized the school’s first abroad trip to Spain. Seeing the lack of opportunities many of her students faced, she coordinated a team and raised over $20,000 to send her students to Spain. She was also chosen as a Leadership for Educational Equity fellow to work as a community organizer with The Intersection, a non-profit that teaches students to become advocates in their community. Through her organizing experience, she campaigned for the Dream Act in Maryland, helped register over 180 voters, and organized a campaign about gun violence and youth employment. Jennifer serves on the founding committee of the Young Nonprofits Professionals Network- Baltimore as the Partnerships and Resource Development chair. Jennifer received her B.A. in Psychology and minor in International Business from The University of Texas at Austin.
JESSICA BOYD, Little Rock, AR, is a graduate of The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and Sam M. Walton College of Business where she received her Masters in Public Service and her MBA. During her time in graduate school, Jessica worked with a team to develop a strategic communications plan for Literacy Action of Central Arkansas, helping them to increase community awareness of and engagement in adult literacy issues. She also worked with Nisolo Shoes, a social business that empowers artisans of handmade, quality-driven products in Trujillo, Peru, to develop their campus representative program. Finally, Jessica spent three months in Bogotá, Colombia working with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate to help them diversify their funding. She wrote a training manual to educate staff on effective grant-writing strategies and developed a database of over 100 potential donors. Jessica also worked as a Social Research Assistant for The Sustainability Consortium in Northwest Arkansas, conducting extensive research to promote socially sustainable products in over 100 organizations, including Wal-Mart, Samsung, Georgia-Pacific, and Disney. Previously, Jessica earned a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. While at the University, Jessica committed four years to serve on a student-run service board, engaging thousands of University of Arkansas students in community service. She also served for two years on the Susan G. Komen Ozark Region Race for the Cure Steering Committee as the Volunteer Chairman.
JACOB PERRY, Fayetteville, AR, is a graduate of the Clinton School of Public Service where he got his Masters in public service. During his time at the Clinton School, Jacob supplemented his classroom training with fieldwork in Arkansas, Morocco, and Kosovo, focusing on vulnerable populations and minorities. As an undergraduate, Jacob founded an organization to take supplies and volunteers to Honduras to run educational and recreational activities for at-risk children. In 2010-2011 Jacob served as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Morocco where he studied Arabic and ran educational programs for youth in a children’s home. Since 2013, Jacob has worked as a Spanish medical interpreter in Arkansas Children’s Hospital, advocating for improved treatment for Latino patients through increasing patients’ health literacy and medical staff’s cultural awareness. Jacob received a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Central Arkansas.
ALEXIA DIMAS, Springdale, AR, received her Associates of Arts from Northwest Arkansas Community College. She is currently attending the University of Arkansas studying Criminal Justice and Sociology with a minor in Spanish and Social Work and will graduate this spring. Currently, she works at the Jones Center for Families as a Guest Service Representative working with the community to ensure they are able to access the services and resources at the center. Erika was selected to become an inaugural American Dream Leader where she will be able to work with the immigrant community, as well as the residing residents of the community.
LUIS MARTINEZ, Gomez Palacio, Durango Mexico, attends the University of Arkansas studying Marketing and receiving a minor in Spanish and Information Systems. In 2014, Luis received his Associates of Science in Business at the Northwest Arkansas Community College. Luis has volunteered in the community by being an interpreter during parent conferences for Springdale School District and played a role in the Dream Act Movement and immigration reform in the region. He was also a part of a ballet folkloric group of dance, showing the beauty of Mexico’s traditional dances. Because of his participation and dedication to his community, Luis received the Emerging Leader Post-Secondary Education award of the ALPFA Lideres de Corazon Gala. He states, “Helping my community is my energy drink.”
REBECCA PAYTON, Eureka Springs, AR, is a senior at the University of Arkansas and will be graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies and Spanish, as well as with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations. Her education also includes minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic. During her time at U of A, she has been involved with local after-school programs for Latino youth, helping to improve their literacy in both English and Spanish. She has gained three years of leadership experience working as team leader at The Razorback Shop in the NWA Mall. And, she also has worked with kids form ages three to eighteen years old as a dance instructor at Academy of Dance in Springdale, AR.
ERIKA JANET GARCÍA, Bentonville, AR, is a recent graduate of Northwest Arkansas Community College and soon to be graduating from the University of Arkansas with a B.A in Spanish and a minor in Latin American and Latino Studies. She was inspired to major in Spanish because she wanted to teach in high schools and continue her desire to help future first generation students go to college. She was a mentor for an outreach program, motivating and mentoring future college students, known as the LIFE Program. She has invested most of her time to educate and advocate in Northwest Arkansas about higher education and has been a part of the increased retention rate at the college level. She hopes to continue her own education and will be pursing her Masters in Public Administration.