Summer Search

Bay Area



Students served


Partner schools


Race of students served











Median household income


First-generation college students






360 22nd Street, Suite 305
Oakland, CA 94612 MAP

T (415) 362-0500

159 H Street 
Petaluma, CA 94952 MAP

T (707) 763-2001


Save the date for the 2018 Bay Area Signature Events

Join us for an evening in celebration of our students and program this Spring.

  • San Francisco Gala on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at the San Francisco Four Seasons
    Purchase tickets»
  • North Bay Dinner on Thursday, April 26, 2018 at the Peacock Gap in San Rafael
    Purchase tickets»

If you’d like to get involved, please contact Alberto Galindo at or 415.875.7121

Bay Area Alumni Event: Financial Literacy Workshop

Alumni, we know the financial world can sometimes seem like foreign territory no matter what stage you are in your life and career. 

Come join the Bay Area Alumni Board and fellow alumni to get your answers! Topics include: investing, savings, credit, etc. 

Judy Ho, an Edward Jones Financial Advisor, is our guest speaker and is taking your questions now! A web option is available for those who can't make it in person, but RSVP is required or you will not receive the dial-in code.

Workshop details:

February 13, 2018

Summer Search Oakland Office

360 22nd St., Suite 305, Oakland, CA 94612

RSVP and submit your questions here.


Latest News

Summer Search College Success students and corporate volunteers at the “Dare to Lead” Conference

Dare to Lead - Annual Career Readiness Conference

Corporate partnerships are important to Summer Search’s success for many reasons, and BlackRock has recently gone above and beyond by financially supporting two of our regions as well as providing volunteer support. On June 24th, BlackRock hosted Summer Search’s “Dare to Lead” Conference in San Francisco, an all-day series of career readiness workshops to support our college students as they prepare for life post-graduation.

“The impact of opportunities like ‘Dare to Lead’ is exponential. No question, a conference like this shows the commitment and partnership of Summer Search and BlackRock. Even more important is the impact it has on each student, their ability improve their circumstances and the world around them,” said David Johnson, Vice President at BlackRock.

The 35 Summer Search Bay Area college students in attendance worked with volunteers on resume reviews, practiced interview skills, created their LinkedIn profiles, and had the opportunity to network with Summer Search alumni and volunteers from other companies like LinkedIn, Google, and AT&T. We are incredibly grateful to our corporate partners like BlackRock for their commitment to Summer Search’s students!

Alexis at his graduation from Vintage High School

Partnering with Google in Innovation

Earlier this summer, Google generously supported Summer Search in leveraging innovation thinking to stretch our creative muscles. Google uses a simple, three-step process to come up with its most innovative ideas and facilitates sessions called Creative Skills for Innovation (CSI) Labs to help other organizations to tackle big, audacious challenges through a robust and interactive design-thinking workshop.

Diane Solinger (Director, Googler Engagement, hosted a CSI Lab for Summer Search to explore how we might increase our impact and expand college access for low income youth in the Bay Area. Specifically, we gathered a group of nearly 25 thought partners – including Summer Search board members, Google representatives, and senior Silicon Valley executives – to brainstorm around the following question:

How might Summer Search share our unique value proposition (aka stand out!) amongst similar youth development NGOs seeking to establish partnerships with Silicon Valley companies, particularly tech?

The group broke up into small teams, each of which (1) interviewed a senior executive in the Silicon Valley/tech space to understand their perspective, (2) generated dozens of ideas in response to the question above, and (3) spent the last portion of the event building out one specific idea. Our Summer Search team then was armed with dozens of ideas to continue the brainstorming back in the office, including a new event idea for the coming year – so stay tuned for more innovation-inspired ideas from Summer Search!


Kristine Leja
Bay Area Executive Director

Read full biography 

Teke Kelley, Summer Search Bay Area Board Chair



SiMone Andrade

College Access Manager

Dreaming of a world robust with educational and social equity, SiMone has devoted her experiences to working with youth.

Her journey started as a first-generation college student at UC Berkeley where she graduated with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Global Poverty and Practice. Motivated to serve, she spent several years working in public schools in the Bay Area in various capacities and a time abroad in a school in Venezuela. While she wore many hats at her schools, the majority of her work included providing resources and believing in her first-generation students to see post-secondary education as a viable and successful option.

Being continually inspired by her students and with a desire to work even more intentionally with these resilient young people, SiMone is enthusiastic to be here at Summer Search as a Program Associate.

Most of her time is spent travelling around the larger Bay Area catching up with friends and around Sacramento where she cherishes time with her family and dogs. After a brief lapse in competitive dance, SiMone is also looking into rekindling her passion out on the dance floor. 

Jason Baker

Senior Program Associate

Jason is a committed youth worker who possesses a proven ability to challenge young people to think about their values and attitude in order to develop, achieve and manage their behavior. 

A first generation college graduate, Jason received his B.A. from California State University East Bay with a degree in sociology and served as recovery counselor at Thunder Road. Jason brings an understanding of the needs of young people to his role as Program Associate and is eager to help our students raise their aspirations. Jason currently resides in Oakland where he went to Skyline high school. Jason connects with summer search because he is also a first generation graduate.

Currently a resident of Oakland, Jason was a former athlete in at Skyline high school and in college, and he enjoys running and weightlifting on his spare time. 



Julia Barbano

Program Associate

Julia is passionate about “getting curious” and believes in the power of learning about ourselves through shared experience. This is at the root of her life-long fascination with all things science. She’s also interested in understanding the correlation between personal and global health and has, consequently, spent her career focused on personal wellness and youth development. This is why the work she does at Summer Search is aligned and meaningful for her.

Before Summer Search Julia spent over a decade teaching pre-K through 8th grade Science, Health and Physical Education. In her summers she was a Camp Director for an innovation camp that encouraged growth through collaboration, failing and fun. In both of these venues she sharpened her leadership skills, empathy and deepened her understanding for how to truly support others.

Julia graduated with a BS in Biology from Cal Poly Pomona. When she isn’t steeped in mentor calls she enjoys tending the fig tree, exploring the oceans from behind a scuba mask, singing a capella with her Monday night chorus, and eating good Oakland eats with her sweetie. 


Moneek Bhanot

Director of College Success

Moneek has a deep commitment to social justice for low-income first generation students of color, especially as they navigate higher education. As a college student, Moneek was a participant and peer counselor in UC San Diego’s Summer Bridge program where she learned about issues of systemic inequity and became an active member of the student of color community. 

Prior to working at Summer Search, Moneek taught middle school and high school and also served as an academic advisor with San Jose State University’s EOP program.

Moneek holds a B.A. from the University of California, San Diego. She received her master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

When she’s not working, you can find Moneek hanging out with her enormous family, jammin’ to 90’s R&B music, trying new restaurants, or rooting intensely for the Niners, Warriors, and Giants.


Joni BissellJoni

Bay Area Director of College Access

Joni believes every student deserves not only access to higher education, but also the luxury of choice to reach and surpass the norm of expectations. In order for our future leaders to reflect and instigate a compassionate world, higher education has the utmost urgency. 

The ability and stories of Summer Search students to surprise, inspire and make positive change in this world continue to be Joni’s motivation for her work. She feels fortunate to support hundreds of students in their post-secondary options and assist them through the college process. 

Joni grew up in St Louis, earned a BA in Art History from Wells College and her College Advisor and Career Planning Certification from University of California, Berkeley. 

She is the proud mother of three sons, all college graduates and wonderful, good young men.


Donaciano Botello Torres

Senior Program Associate

Donaciano was born in Michoacan, Mexico and came to the United States when he was two months old. He was raised in a small town in Sonoma County, where his father worked as a farm worker and his mother as a maid. Raised on the belief that higher education was not only a possibility but an expectation, his status of being an undocumented student did not deter him from pursuing a four-year degree. He graduated from Windsor High School in 2006, and went on to attend Sacramento State University where he doubled majored in Sociology and Ethnic Studies; he now pursues a Masters in Higher Education Leadership there. He feels grateful for the various mentors who guided him throughout his educational career and provided him with a sense of empowerment and motivation.

Donaciano is a keen social advocate, and brings to our team broad experience from his prior work in community organizing and student support within institutions of higher education. His passion to serve others is what propels him at Summer Search. As an alumni of the Summer Search North Bay program, he is aware of the challenges of being a low-income, first generation student. He is proud to come back full circle and work for Summer Search at the office that provided him the support and motivation to succeed, not only in high school, but in life.



Brenda Boyle

Bay Area Foundation & Corporate Relations Officer

Brenda’s passion lies in building a global community of equality and “connecting the dots” to make that happen. Her work and volunteer service has taken her everywhere from DC to Cambodia to Uganda, fueled by the pursuit of education and gender equality. A Bay Area native, she is thrilled to be a part of Summer Search’s movement to eradicate systemic inequity and empower the next generation of leaders for our community. 

Brenda holds a dual BA in International Relations and Psychology from Colgate University (she was going to major in chemistry, but a summer volunteer trip to the Dominican Republic changed her life path – an experience she thinks about often in this work). She is a proud StartingBloc fellow and mentor.

In her free time, Brenda is scampering around the Bay finding new trails to hike, swerving to avoid biking collisions with MUNI buses, and training for yet another race.


Ryan Cooney

Director of School and Community Engagment

Ryan believes in a level playing field for everyone…period. Every young person should have the right to dream big and act on those dreams. 

Ryan began his career in the North Bay public school system, working in ESL classes while serving as an assistant baseball coach at College of Marin. Although proud of his achievements with youth in the classroom, Ryan was drawn to Summer Search because of its long-term investment and impact. 

Ryan holds a BA from California Lutheran University where he was a three-year starter on the baseball team that won two conference championships. He continues his love of baseball by playing in a semi-pro league, serving on the league’s leadership council, and coaching a local youth travel ball team.

When he isn’t working at Summer Search or on the baseball field, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children in Fairfax, California.



Yining Chiu

Program Associate

In her work at Summer Search, Yining’s hope is to give as generously as she has been given to. As a young person, she was impacted by dedicated mentors and a vibrant community of supporters who helped her thrive in school and in life. She believes that with nurturing adults who are willing to serve as advocates and role models, young people can transform their challenges into victories.

After an undergraduate experience at UC Berkeley that included dropping out without a home or job and several difficult-but-honest conversations with her college mentor, Yining graduated with her BA in American Studies. Her work has centered around youth development and community empowerment; some of her favorite roles have included serving college students as a campus minister in Berkeley, and supporting economic justice initiatives by equipping transition aged youth to jumpstart careers at Fortune 500 companies. 

Yining is vocal and aggressive in her love for the East Bay, where she, her husband David, and their baby daughter are enriched daily by their amazing community. She still meets with her college mentor.


Irene Cruz

Program Associate

Irene’s devotion to social justice and improving the educational opportunities of students of color is deeply rooted from her own experience as a first-generation college student. Her professional and academic interests revolve around exploring how to strengthen the four-year college pathways for students of color, especially for first-generation Latino high school students.

Prior to joining the Summer Search Bay Area team in January 2017, Irene was the graduate intern at the Postsecondary National Policy Institute at Washington D.C and volunteered at The Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College at Columbia University, which provides college preparation workshops for Harlem high school students. Irene worked at a precollege outreach program at CAL and College Track Oakland, and was a LEAD mentor for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund's Youth Leadership Institute in Santa Clara.

Irene received a master’s degree in education policy from Teachers College, Columbia University, with a concentration in higher education policy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. 



Meha Davé

Regional Program Director

Meha is a lifelong learner with a passion for empowering others and building community. Starting during her time as a reproductive health educator for middle school students across L.A., she has focused her career on opportunities to work alongside young people as they explore their own identities, access information and opportunities, and shape their future pathways. She is proud to be part of Summer Search’s multi-dimensional, long-term program that offers opportunities for young people to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, experience new things, and drive their own journeys with the support of talented staff along the way.

Prior to joining the Summer Search team, Meha served as the Founding Chicago Program Director and then National Director of Program Innovation at Spark, a national nonprofit organization focused on supporting students during the middle to high school transition through mentorship, individualized workplace-based learning experiences, and high school exploration. In these roles, she cultivated enduring partnerships with a variety of internal and external stakeholders and built their investment in a collective vision to empower students and create meaningful learning opportunities.

Meha holds a BS in Business Administration from the University of Southern California. She earned her Masters in Social Work and Masters in Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis. In her free time, you can find Meha boxing, reading, and convincing friends to join her on little adventures like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Alysa Delgado

Site Innovation Manager

Alysa is excited to be at Summer Search because it weaves together her passions for education, supporting high school youth, and nature.

Alysa did a service year with Americorps for Playworks, coaching and providing organized play and physical activity at an elementary school in Oakland. At Caritas Creek Environmental Education Program, Alysa saw the impact of bringing youth from diverse backgrounds into nature. She has also worked in a school-based Health Center as a Health Educator, and Counselor. 

Alysa holds a B.A. in Psychology from UC Santa Cruz and a MA in Counseling with a Pupil Personnel Services Credential.

Alysa was born and raised in the Central Valley of California and love to be near the ocean and play basketball.



Sakeenah El-Amin

Program Manager

"Young folks carry an unending desire to make the world into what it should be." This is what moves Sakeenah to keep tapping into her highest self.

Sakeenah has worked with students from low-income backgrounds for over 16 years. After graduating from college, she served as the associate director of admissons for a college access program. She later moved on to law school where she studied poverty law and interned at the most well-respected public interest law firm in the country. After realizing that legal remedies were only a temporary solution to larger structural problems, she made the difficult decision to return to her first love, education.  

Since then, Sakeenah has had the privilege of overseeing a special education compliance program, teaching high school students the joys of history, and running a legal education program for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.  

Sakeenah holds a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University (with honors) and a J.D. from Temple Beasley School of Law. When she is not giving students the tools needed to dismantle the system, she is delighting in affairs that she is wholly untrained to do - like college lecturing, publishing short stories and shadow painting.


Gabrielle Esquivel

Program Associate

Gabrielle is motivated by young people and power they possess. High School students are unique because they can create optimism among the jaded while identifying the problems and solutions for their communities. Gabrielle strives to be purposeful in her work while challenging the different ways she can be present in communities.  

Gabrielle worked with high school students during her two years with City Year Cleveland. During her time with City Year, she became passionate about equity, especially education equity. She was an advocate for her students in and out of the classroom. 

Gabrielle holds a BA in Sociology and Ethnic Studies from Bowling Green State University. When she isn’t at Summer Search, Gabrielle travels, spends time with loved ones, and binge watches Netflix. She is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and enjoys exploring the Bay Area, especially Oakland.


Anceline EustacheAnceline

Program Associate

Having spent her entire career in youth development, Anceline is driven by the belief that everyone deserves an equal shot at the opportunity to succeed. As the daughter of a first-generation college student and immigrant, Anceline saw the power in receiving a quality education firsthand.  

Prior to working at Summer Search, Anceline worked with adjudicated youth in the Juvenile Justice system. She was drawn to Summer Search for its long-term commitment and willingness to work with students wherever they are at.  She holds a BA in Psychology as well as in French and French Literature, and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree.

In her spare time, she loves to hike, draw, travel, and spend time with her partner, family, and friends.


Nicol Gaffney

Summer Programs Manager

Nicol grew up in the mountain town of Murphys, California. In high school he traveled to Mexico to build houses with the families that would live in them – an experience that aligned him with many of Summer Search’s values. 

While earning a BA at UC Santa Cruz, Nicol was an Academic Mentor helping to create turn-arounds with students on the verge of failing out of college. Nicol also worked as a Lead Science Instructor at Galileo Summer Camps, expanding his experiences with youth and solidifying his belief in the power of mentoring. 

After college he lived and taught in Loja, Ecuador, and now Nicol feels he’s found the home he has been searching for at Summer Search.


Alberto Galindo Anceline

Development Manager

Alberto’s commitment to educational equity and social justice stems from witnessing his single mother's personal triumphs in the face of systemic inequalities. These life experiences shaped his personal values and led him to devote his career to working with underserved communities, and particularly communities of color.  

Alberto has worked in both programming and development with organizations generating economic opportunity in areas ranging from microfinance to immigrant advocacy to college access. Immediately prior to joining Summer Search, Alberto worked with the Mission Economic Development Agency, where he led development operations, managed a grant portfolio, and built strategic relationships in the Bay Area community. He currently serves as a Mission Graduates Board Member and is a New Leaders Council alumnus.

A proud Bay Area native, Alberto graduated from the University of San Francisco with a BA in Politics and earned a Master’s Degree in International Development from NYU. When he’s not fundraising or on the soccer field, Alberto enjoys playing dominos, debating hip hop’s greatest MC’s, eating sour Hi-Chews, laughing at clever puns, nerding out about urban planning, and helping his mentee navigate college.


Veronica HernandezVeronica

Program Associate

As a first generation, low income student and alum of Summer Search Boston, Veronica has experienced first-hand the impact of having mentors in her life. This guidance has inspired her working with youth and continues her passion for access to higher education. 

Veronica ensures that she is the caring, responsible, and encouraging adult that her students need. Bringing authenticity and honesty in her approach with students, is her way to connection. Believing in students until they believe in themselves is her motto. Following her passion, she has always worked for educational nonprofits and run afterschool programs in Boston. She has facilitated socio-emotional young women’s groups, served with AmeriCorps National, and focused on college readiness workshops at Sonoma State University before returning to Summer Search.

She holds a BA in Psychology and Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Currently lives in Santa Rosa, CA with her fiancé and new pup. On her spare time she enjoys spending time outdoors, trying new flavors of ice cream with friends, crocheting, and learning about spirituality and femininity.  


Bradley Hill

Program Manager and Outreach Specialist

Bradley was born and raised in Atlanta, GA where he cultivated his interest in social justice and education. His passion for equity and developing a critical consciousness for the collective has led him to Summer Search. 

Bradley has worked inside and outside the classroom, applying multicultural pedagogy in his social studies class, improving child welfare at a think-tank in D.C., analyzing policy for low-income job creation at the state capital, and evaluating financial literacy programs. 

He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Georgia and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Georgia State University.

During his off time, Bradley enjoys being in the garden, hooping on folks on the basketball court, getting his yoga on, and socializing with friends.


Sparkle Hoston

College Access Coordinator

Sparkle strongly believes in the power of supporting, uplifting, and working closely with youth. She is also very passionate about helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds build better futures for themselves and improve in areas of leadership, creativity, self-expression, and academics. 

Before joining the Summer Search Bay Area team, Sparkle worked for two years as an Academic College Advisor with Mills College Upward Bound. There, she started her very own scholarship program called the Sparkle Scholarship Foundation to financially support students of the organization.

Sparkle received her Bachelors in Recreation Administration, Community and Youth Services from California State University, Fresno, where became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. 

Born and raised in Oakland, there are many things that she enjoys doing when I am not working. For example, sparkle earned her 1st Degree Black Belt, Tae Kwon Do.  One of her favorite things, however, is cooking and trying new recipes.


Nikki Howell

School and Community Engagement Coordinator

An Oakland native, Nikki is committed to serving Bay Area youth through promoting education, altruism, and cultural exchanges through travel. After earning her Bachelor’s Degree at Cal State Long Beach and completing her MSW at UCLA, Nikki went on to pursue her goals beyond the classroom. She’s enjoyed living and working in different cities around the world, including Chicago, Madrid, and Dar es Salaam. Making human connections and sharing experiences with people from varying communities led her back to Oakland. She is now sharing her love for relationship-building and community with high school students from her shared background.

As a mentor at Summer Search, Nikki gets to do what she loves every day. She honors and uplifts the voices of her mentees and has a deep respect for the strength and courage they exhibit as they share their perspectives, challenges, and triumphs.

When she’s not at work, Nikki enjoys people-watching at the Farmers’ Market, running half and full marathons, and racking up stamps on her passport with a good book at her side. Her current goals include adopting a dog, naming him Bigger Thomas, and regularly bringing people together.



Jimmy Juarez

Program Associate

Jimmy believes in the power of creating safe spaces for dialogue through open communication. It is his core belief that “by speaking openly and honestly, we can understand each other. In turn, we create dialogues that others can participate in, and eventually create spaces where we can feel vulnerable but empowered to grow.” 

Jimmy is a Summer Search Alumnus from our former North Bay office and  is a graduate of Colgate University with a degree in Peace and Conflict studies and a minor in Economics.  Jimmy was also one of our Summer Fellows supporting both our College Success and our Finance teams in 2015.

He has a variety of other terrific experience as well, and when not making a difference in his community, Jimmy likes to do anything related to painting, sketching, sculpting and collage. 


Erica Kesel Erica

Bay Area Director of Development

Erica knows that talent, ambition, and the potential to change our communities for the better are equally distributed. The fact that opportunity is not motivates her work. She is inspired by the Summer Search model and Summer Searchers because the benefits of developing courage, self-reflection, and determination extend long after our formal education has ended.

As the Bay Area Director of Development, Erica leads a stellar team to partner with the individuals, corporations, and foundations whose investments of energy and capital fuel Summer Search’s work. She is driven by the magic of doing more together than we can alone. Before Summer Search, Erica honed her partnership-building skills and advanced incredible missions at The Asia Foundation, San Francisco Zen Center, the Asian Art Museum, KQED, San Francisco Performances, and AIDS Walk San Francisco. 

Erica studied religion and philosophy at Boston University and continues to look for where these animating forces of humanity intersect. In her free time, you can find her engaged in epic pillow fights, seeking art that moves her soul, and searching for the perfect gift for family and friends.


Colleen Klus

Director of High School Program, Bay Area

Colleen’s experiences volunteering for Muscular Dystrophy Camp built her awareness of injustice and privilege, and helped her value experiential education. She is committed to striving for collective empowerment through environmental, racial, and social justice.

Colleen received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at Miami University and spent the following two and a half years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia.

Colleen moved to the Bay Area and joined Summer Search where one minute the team is jamming to Janet Jackson and the next minute talking about cultural appropriation. 

She and her husband Justin are dedicated members of the Oakland community. Colleen also spends time cooking, visiting family and friends, singing, and appreciating the beauty of the Bay Area.


Sharon Lebenkoff

Program Associate

Sharon is inspired by the uncanny ability of people both young and old to continually learn, grow, and transform.  She believes that every person has unique and wonderful gifts to offer to the world.  She feels honored and privileged to work with students who are committed to being self-aware, socially responsible leaders. 

Sharon’s professional background includes more than 6 years of experience in youth development and education.  For example, she taught English as a second language in Quito, Ecuador, tutored middle and high school students in New York City, led a community service program for high school students in Otavalo, Ecuador, and taught at an academic summer program at Amherst College.

Sharon has volunteered her time as a workforce development counselor, a mentor for LGBTI refugee youth, and a counselor on a crisis hotline.  She also holds a Master’s degree in Sociology with a concentration in Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of British Columbia.  She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Race and Gender Studies at the University of Richmond.

Born in New York City and raised in the Philadelphia area, Sharon is now happily and proudly at home in Oakland, California.  Some of Sharon’s favorite activities include: eating sushi, riding her bicycle, laughing with friends, practicing yoga, speaking Spanish, and expressing gratitude.


Shelby Lemons

Bay Area Senior Development Associate

Growing up, Shelby experienced firsthand the transformative effects of summer experiential learning and mentorship as a camper, counselor, and program director at a youth summer camp; growing and becoming more self-confident after each camp session. She is thrilled to help provide similar opportunities to students at Summer Search, and to be working toward greater equity and social justice in the Bay Area.

Prior to Summer Search, Shelby worked as a development coordinator at Reading Partners and volunteered as a literacy tutor in the Oakland Unified School District. She received a master's degree in public affairs with concentration in nonprofit management from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree in political science, sociology and anthropology, and Spanish from Principia College.

In her free time, Shelby enjoys exploring the Bay Area, hiking new trails, trying new workout classes, and dog-spotting. 


Zuleica Lopez

College Success Coordinator

Born and raised in South East Los Angeles by Mexican parents who instilled in her the importance of education, Zuleica has dedicated her career to working with students. 

As a first generation college student, Zuleica earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Education from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in Higher Education from NYU. Zuleica taught middle school youth in Oakland, led community service trips for high school students abroad and advised college students on the east coast. Zuleica moved back to the Bay Area last year and is thrilled to be at Summer Search because it merges her love for experiential learning, service, mentorship and supporting first generation college students in her role as a College Success Coordinator. 

Zuleica is a new momma and so her free time is spent hanging out with her little girl Elia and showing her all that the Bay has to offer. 


Miguel Mendoza

College Access Coordinator

As a first generation student, Miguel understands how difficult it is to navigate the college application process. He also knows that getting a college degree can change the life of a person and break the cycle of poverty that exist in many of our communities. Those two things motivate Miguel to serve a population that will change our communities. 

Miguel has mostly work in the non-profit sector. One of his most meaningful jobs was working as a College Counselor at Bottom Line (In Boston), an organization that helps low income/first generation students apply to college. This position helped him develop college counseling skills and see the impact of his work in the community. It was Miguel’s first job out of college and he still as passionate about helping students as he was when he started. 

At Summer Search Miguel helps students navigate the college application and financial aid processes. He feels that his contribution is minimal when compared to the help our students receive from the mentors, but it is still a fundamental part of the growth that will help students change and have better lives.

When he is not helping the youth in Oakland, Miguel loves to watch films, especially foreign films. To him, film is a form of entertainment and education, you can learn a lot about a culture by watching a film. He also likes to read books about financial investment, social experiments and history or anything that will keep him entertain. Miguel attended the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and he majored in Political Science.

Brian Mertens

Senior Program Associate

Brian believes in the importance of introspection, critical thinking and learning by doing. As a Program Associate, he has the privilege to support Summer Searchers develop their social-emotional competencies through weekly conversations and eye-opening summer trips.

His previous professional experience includes coordinating advocacy projects with youth involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems and assisting high school students build their workforce skills through workshops and internships.

Brian holds a B.A. in Health and Societies from the University of Pennsylvania. He likes to travel, read and spend time with friends.


Cristina Perez

Bay Area Director of College Success & Alumni Relations

Cristina is a San Francisco native, born to Mexican parents who believe that education leads to personal and professional success. Mentors helped Cristina navigate the worlds of higher education to become the first in her family to graduate from college. Cristina’s experience fueled her passion to increase opportunities for the vibrant voices of first generation students.

Cristina has a BA from University of San Francisco, and a Masters in Social Work from San Jose State. Prior to Summer Search, Cristina worked at La Clinica de la Raza, Instituto Familiar de la Raza and at Santa Clara’s Kaiser Child and Adolescent Department.

Outside of work, Cristina and her husband explore the beautiful gems of the Bay Area with their energetic daughter.

Jocelyn Sanchez

Progam Associate

Jocelyn is committed to serving underprivileged youth and seeing them soar to reach their dreams. Being a first-generation college graduate in her family with a Masters in school counseling, she encourages her students to challenge themselves while providing support along the way. 

She joined Summer Search in the beginning of 2015 as a program associate. She excited to begin the college process with her caseload of seniors and looks forward to explore all the opportunities that await them.  After finishing graduate school in NYC, Jocelyn moved to Seattle for two years where she worked as a high school counselor. It was there that she learned about Summer Search while mentors were conducting interviews at the school. Jocelyn was inspired by the kind of work Summer Search does with their student’s and knew that was the route she wanted to take for her own career path.

On her free time, she enjoys reading, being outdoors or spending time with my friends and family. She also really enjoy spending time in the kitchen practicing her cooking and baking skills… and then eating. Jocelyn also has a dog with whom she and her boyfriend love to play and spend time with.

Josie Santiago

Senior Program Associate

Josie grew up in Barstow, CA, a small town in the Mojave Desert. She is passionate about youth development, education, and community service.

Josie holds a B.A from the California Lutheran University and Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from the University of Missouri, St. Louis. 

Josie's desire for service compelled her to join the fight against education inequity by becoming a Corps Member with City Year Los Angeles and then a Teacher with Teach For America. Her service with both of these organizations fueled her desire to work at Summer Search which offers a holistic approach to helping youth reach their full potential in life.


Fernando Serrato

Senior Bay Area College Success Coordinator

Fernando is excited and eager to help Summer Search college students transition and excel in their academic, civic, and social endeavors.

Fernando grew up in Morgan Hill, California. The first in his family to graduate from college, Fernando earned a degree in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. He held various leadership positions while at UCSD, including serving as an academic transition counselor for incoming first-generation students and as president of the Nu chapter of Gamma Zeta Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Fernando has worked as a senior youth counselor for Horizons Unlimited. At Beyond 12, he helped establish and facilitate summer transition programs at the CCSF Bridge 2 Success and Summer Institute.


Zavi Smith

Senior Program Associate

Zavi attended camp for the first time when she was ten years old. That one week made her feel more capable, confident, and connected than she had ever felt, and she knew that she wanted to do work that would help other kids feel the same. Zavi began her service career in elementary school, as a Kindergarten Mentor and AAA School Safety Monitor.

Now, she is an educator who thrives on a mix of mentoring, facilitating, and project management. Zavi helps youth do their best, whether that means finishing a 10 mile hike, improving grades, or finding their voices. She has ten years’ of experience in youth service and programming. Before coming to Summer Search she worked for The Mosaic Project, Naturebridge Yosemite, The YMCA, and Girl Scouts of Greater LA. 

Zavi is from Southern California where she grew up reading, rollerblading, and going to concerts. She also enjoys board games, and making costumes, nail art, and piñatas.


Xavier Soto

Program Operations Assistant





Ben Stevens

Program Manager

Ben credits the mentors in his life with helping him to thrive in the face of significant challenges as a young adult. Hailing from England and having traveled extensively, Ben values the growth promoted by experiential learning and cultural immersion. He can’t imagine a better job than sending inspiring young leaders out into the world.

Ben’s higher education, which ranged through the California junior college and public university systems, positions him well to serve our students. Having earned a debt-free, triple honors bachelors from UCLA by working his tail off, Ben now brings the same hard graft and ingenuity to Summer Search. His multi-cultural study of literature helps him relate to the rich stories Summer Searchers represent, as does his prior work and volunteer experience in youth development.


Jessica Stout

Program Associate

Beginning her career as a youth advocate with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Jessica was driven early on by a desire to contribute to a community in which all people have access to their own greatest potential. Jessica believes that the right of access is a key primary step in giving individuals the opportunity to follow the path that inspires them to live a happy and fulfilled life unique to each.

Having worked in many corners of the world from India, to Mexico, Fiji to Nicaragua, from east coast to west with some of Summer Search’s strongest partners Jessica is excited to take the learning she has developed and apply it to working with the extraordinary young people with whom Summer Search works. Jessica has joined the Bay Area team as a Program Associate with more than 10 years of youth development experience during which time she established and implemented a learning curriculum for a school of more than 500 students who have been marginalized by their communities. In Nicaragua she worked with a local public health clinic to share and implement best practices for prevention and reduction of disease transmission.

Jessica holds a BA in International Studies and Political Science from Siena College. When she isn’t at Summer Search she loves to explore the outdoors and travel to unknown places. Running, hiking, biking and climbing are just a few of the wonderful activities that she fills her free time with.