A Champion for Healthcare Access: Yessika Moreno Rodriguez ’92

UWC-USA is pleased to announce that Yessika Moreno Rodriguez ’92 is this year’s Giulio Regeni Alumni Impact Award Winner. Yessika joins Julie Hall ‘84, Rene Celaya ‘88, and others as alumni honored by their peers for work inspired by the UWC mission and their time at UWC-USA.

After graduating from UWC-USA in 1992, Yessika studied medicine in her native Costa Rica and began her career as a general physician in the countryside serving the needs of rural patients. In 2002 she accepted a position in the pharmaceutical industry as a research supervisor. Her first project, testing a rotavirus vaccine that saved the lives of many children in Central America, represented an opportunity to have an impact on more patients than she could as a physician. Throughout her career she worked on many other projects and in July 2020, just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, she joined Pfizer Mexico as Director of Medical Affairs. 

As Director of Medical Affairs, Yessika was responsible for bringing Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to Mexico. She negotiated with skeptical federal officials uniting the conservative establishment and a new progressive government. For months, Yessika led negotiations that were difficult, time-consuming, stressful, and required her to step out of her comfort zone. Thanks to Yessika’s perseverance and skill, Mexico approved the Pfizer vaccine in December 2020, two hours before it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Yessika’s ability to listen to others, understand their concerns, and craft solutions – skills that were further developed in Montezuma while a student at UWC-USA – led to the approval of a life-saving vaccine in Mexico.

This year’s finalists also included Nicole Paulet Piedra ‘09 and Patricia Mengech ‘88.

About Giulio Regeni ’07: Giulio Regeni was an Italian citizen and a doctoral student at Cambridge University in the UK. He was conducting his Ph.D. research on the formation of independent trade unions, specifically the street vendors’ union, in Egypt after the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. He was in Cairo conducting field research when on January 25, 2016, the fifth anniversary of the “25 January Revolution,” he disappeared. His body was found nine days later.

High Impact, Hands On – New Princeton Fellowship

UWC-USA is participating in a new Princeton “Project 55 Fellowship” program this year, which – thanks again to Shelby Davis’ generosity – brings to our campus a recent Princeton graduate to take on a high-impact, hands-on staff position in an area where we have a significant need.

Zhudi Pan is this year’s Project 55 Policy Fellow, drilling down and providing clarity around key campus projects and New Mexico regulations related to environmental sustainability, water management, New Mexico state requirements, student health and wellness, and residential life.

Zhudi says she selected UWC-USA from a variety of options because she wanted to challenge herself after college and experience living in a rural environment, and the UWC campus in Montezuma was the perfect place to work on globally minded projects that value educational equity.

She says that the Project 55 Fellowship at UWC-USA gives young professionals like her an opportunity to experience what it is like to have a career in international education, take part in the inner-workings of running a school, and see what it takes to make the UWC mission real for students.

As a staff sponsor for CAS (Creativity, Activity, and Service) experiential education programs Zhudi inspired cohorts of students to tackle some of the world’s most “Wicked Problems” and to become effective “Partners in Health.”

With combined leadership and team management experience gained at Princeton and her personal interest in social entrepreneurship and global health, Zhudi successfully guided 15 UWC-USA students in grassroots proposal development for the Go Make a Difference (GoMAD) grant competition, which awards $2,000 for each winning project to aid communities in Northern New Mexico and around the globe.

Zhudi’s own purpose-driven and proactive approach to carrying out UWC’s mission, and with newly developed experience working with the school’s Wellness, Academic, Residential Life, and Advancement teams, has opened doors for her to collaborate with senior faculty on unique research that aims to improve evidence-based policy making for student mental health and wellness.

Always down to earth, Zhudi will still tell you that “the experience I value the most is being on campus, having meals with the students, and knowing that I have become a trusted staff member and mentor for some.”

Annual Conference Speakers: Livestreaming

On February 16th and 17th, UWC-USA will host this year’s Annual Conference: Fire and Water. The conference will bring together high school students and teachers from Mexico and the state of New Mexico for workshops, activities, and speakers focusing on the themes of Fire and Water as they relate to climate change, resilience, community practices, policy, and the human experience.

Two of the speakers will be livestreamed during their keynote addresses. Dr. Len Necefer ’07 and Hugo Contreras Zepeda ‘87 will speak about how we can be better stewards of the natural world.

Dr. Len Necefer ’07, Friday, February 16 at 3:15 pm MT
Hugo Contreras Zepeda ’87, Saturday, February 17 at 1:15 pm MT

To watch the keynote sessions:

At the time of the workshop (all times are Mountain Time), simply click this link which will take you to the UWC-USA Facebook page. There is no need to register in advance and there will be recordings of the sessions.

More about the speakers:

Picture of Len NEcefer

A member of the Navajo Nation, Dr. Len Necefer, has spent the past decade learning about the land and water that has shaped his identity as a Navajo person and those of indigenous people across the globe. After thirty years of figuring out and surviving western education he obtained a bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and Doctorate in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University. As an unforeseen result of obtaining these degrees, he worked for the U.S. Department of Energy and, most recently, as a professor at the University of Arizona. However the confines of government and the cloistered halls of academia grew too frustrating and he set off to become an entrepreneur and to meld his education with adventure storytelling.

In 2021 Len went full time with NativesOutdoors as their founder and CEO – a native-owned athletic and creative collective founded in 2017 – working in media and film production, design, and consulting. His storytelling, film, and photography work melds the intersection of sport, environmental advocacy, and indigenous people and has been featured in the Alpinist, National Geographic, the Rolling Stone and over 50 film festivals globally.

In recent years, Len saw a calling to return to the southwest and to document the lands and waters around the Colorado River in light of a decades-long megadrought gripping the region. From the snowpacks of Colorado to the Gulf of California it became clear that knowing how to move through these landscapes needed its own education. To combine the academic training with on-the-ground- knowledge, it required learning how to climb and ski at age 28, learning avalanche and mountaineering safety at 30, learning how to packraft whitewater at 33, and how to operate a film camera at age 34. In building these skills, Len has built a community of professional athletes, filmmakers, and other storytellers focused on supporting native communities. Dr. Len calls Tucson, Arizona home. 

Hugo Contreras Zepeda

Hugo is the Head of Infrastructure Services for the LAC Region at Water.org. He has more than 20 years experience building successful partnerships, supporting change and driving innovation in the water, sustainability and natural resources governance. 

He has Managing Director experience reporting to Boards in multinational corporations, global NGOs, and government. A solid academic background in economics, development issues and business management and multicultural experience in developing and developed regions, coupled with a trajectory of engaging with IFIs (International Financial Institutions), International Agencies, private and public sector and communities. Fluent in Spanish, English and able to communicate in French and Portuguese. Hugo heads the newly created Infrastructure Services practice for Water.org in the LAC Region. In this capacity, he is responsible for identifying, developing and helping finance water infrastructure aimed at improving access to water and sanitation, ameliorate water quality, mitigate scarcity and help communities become more resilient to climate change. 

Prior to his tenure at Water.org, Hugo led TNC´s Latin America´s Freshwater Regional Unit. In this role he has led one of TNC´s most successful Partnerships in the water space, the Latin American Water Funds Partnership. The Partnership helped incubate 25 NGOS across the Region focused on mainstreaming nature base solutions and strengthening governance for a more water secure world.

As Business Development and Public Affairs Director for Mexico at one of the leading international private water utilities, he was able to acquire first-hand experience in responding to the challenges of providing water services to large populations.  

Hugo earned his BA in Economics at ITAM in Mexico, his MSc in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics from UCL in London. He also has diplomas in Management and Environmental Economics from Cambridge University, the IPADE, Berkeley University and the World Bank. 

Hugo is a UWC-USA alumni, class of ‘87.

Alumni Speaker Series: Food and Entrepreneurship

One of the things that unites UWCers across the movement is a keen interest in food and food culture. For many, this interest is cultivated as they spend two years learning about the foods that their classmates eat while they cook meals together in dayrooms and faculty kitchens. A number of UWC-USA alumni have gone on to explore careers in the culinary arts or have started businesses that are food-centered. This Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series event will celebrate and explore the work of two alumnae working with food.

Brien Darby ’04 is the executive director of Cultivate KC, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people grow healthy, affordable food in an urban setting. She works with New Americans as they bring their agricultural skills and experiences to a new country and provides support, training, and advocacy for urban farming initiatives.

Soumaya Merhi ’06 is the CEO and founder of TAQA Snacks, a company in her native Lebanon that sources healthy, local ingredients for a variety of sports snacks. Every day she works with supply chain, marketing, and production challenges for a growing and thriving business.

The session will last one hour and include time for questions for the panelists.

What: UWC-USA Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series
When: February 26, 2024 at 12:00 pm MST
Who: Brien Darby ’04 and Soumaya Merhi ’06
Where: Online (register below)

This online event is free and open to all alumni and friends of UWC-USA.

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Aly Kassam-Remtulla ‘94: Board Leadership

Aly Kassam-Remtulla ‘94 joined the UWC-USA board of trustees as board chair in 2022. Aly currently serves as Vice Provost for International Affairs and Operations at Princeton University where he oversees global engagement efforts including international programs for faculty and staff. He also supports the 3,300 international scholars and students at Princeton.

A 1994 graduate of UWC-USA, Aly studied Anthropology, Biology, and Asian-American Studies at Stanford. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and subsequently earned his PhD at the University of Oxford. Aly brings a wealth of experience as a strategic leader to his new role at UWC-USA. 

“Serving as board chair is a way to give back to a school and to a movement that has had a profound impact on my life,” Aly said. “As the school marks 40 years of success, I am incredibly proud to be the first UWC-USA alumnus and first person of color to serve as board chair.”

Patty Milligan ‘86 taught English at UWC-USA when Aly was a student and she remembers his impact on the school community. “It doesn’t surprise me that Aly is a vice provost at Princeton or that he now chairs the UWC-USA board,” she said. “I saw him as someone whose view was focused on change, as well as on community benefit. He was very involved in campus life and in working to make things better both at the school and in the world beyond.” 

The past several years have challenged the school and leadership with the immediate concerns of the wildfires and pandemic. Going forward, the school’s strategic plan and a fundraising campaign will receive the attention they need and Aly is poised to serve the school well at this time. UWC-USA President Victoria Mora is eager to continue building the future of the school with Aly. “In our time working together, Aly has become a tremendous thought partner not only about our strategic challenges at UWC-USA, but our role within the larger movement. He has been a tremendous partner as we envision the future of the school.”

For his part, Aly is eager to build on the success of the school that he knows and loves. “I am deeply optimistic about our ability to navigate the future guided by our new strategic vision and am eager to explore how UWC-USA can continue to operate an inclusive and accessible school while achieving environmental, operational, and financial sustainability.”

#GivingTuesday Match Announced!

This year for #GivingTuesday UWC-USA is raising $177,600 for two full scholarships for two students. The diversity of our student community is a critical element of the educational program and scholarships make it possible for UWC-USA to enroll students from over 90 countries each year.

An anonymous donor has agreed to match donations up to $50,000 this year again – please make your gift for the next generation of changemakers here.

Quilting in Celebration of Difference

The UWC-USA class of ‘25 began the new school year with a quilting project that reflects on the relationship between individuality and the collective. Two years ago, Kate Ribeiro started this project for the very first time with her Language and Literature class of 33 students. The goal of this assignment was to introduce students to the concept of authorial intent and exercise their higher order of thinking by analyzing an artistic work. The 2021 quilt was gifted to UWC Movement benefactor, Shelby Davis, for his 85th birthday.

This year, Ribeiro expanded the project to include all 114 first-year students. With creative liberty and a diverse selection of materials, the students explored the intersections and uniqueness of their identities. The quilt mirrors the character of every student through the different fabrics, colors, patterns, and compositions. With the skillful help of Ribeiro and the talented Sewing/Repair CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) Group, the students were able to visually express a wide range of connections to their cultures, families, memories, and experiences.

The students can easily identify one another from the abstract puzzle piece shapes that make up their postures, hairstyles, smiles, and accessories. Without relying on race or ethnicity to identify an individual, the work of art teaches its spectators to observe in different ways. 

“The cultures, countries, and backgrounds do not separate this class,” one student said of the project.  “On the other hand, the values and principles unite it. Through this quilt, we see that, even with all the gaps that separate us, we are united diversely and incredibly, we are a community, we are a family, we are UWC-USA.”

Alumni Speaker Series: AI and Sustainability

The UWC-USA Office of Alumni Engagement is pleased to announce a UWC Day focused virtual speaker event featuring two remarkable alumni prepared to explore how AI both promises to encourage sustainability while also exploring how it poses a threat to climate efforts.

The speakers are Gina Neff ’89 and Sophia Sennett ’12 who both have spent time exploring AI models and the benefits and dangers of the new technology. Gina is the Executive Director of the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at the University of Cambridge and has studied society and technology extensively since graduating from UWC-USA. Sophia has worked as a design strategist, particularly in the field of sustainable architecture with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations.

Some of the questions the panelists might engage include:

  • How do we ensure that the benefits that AI models can so clearly bring will support more people in more places?
  • Can we highlight some ‘wins’ where AI has already helped us solve problems and project where it might solve other problems?
  • Conversely, can we explore how AI might create problems for our efforts to foster sustainability efforts and initiatives?
  • Knowing that we can’t get good AI with technology alone, how are the political, social, and market forces working with (or against) the technology? 

When: September 20, 2023 at 12:00 pm Mountain Time
Where: Online

This session is open to all members of the UWC-USA community and others interested the topic. Please register to receive the zoom link here.

UWC-USA Spanish Teacher Volunteers In Costa Rica

This past summer, UWC-USA Spanish teacher Ty Lewis embarked on a transformative journey to Costa Rica, hoping to break out of his comfort zone and rediscover himself as a student. 

Ty joined Common Ground International as a volunteer teacher, a program featuring a blend of language immersion and volunteering. In collaboration with CEDCAS, an organization supporting the healthcare needs of immigrants, Ty landed in Guayari. Dominated by Nicaraguan immigrants to Costa Rica, in Guayari he experienced daily the harsh realities of poverty. Families inhabited makeshift corrugated tin shelters with no formal access to electricity or plumbing. 

Yet amid these hardships, Ty found warmth. Living with a host family who embraced him wholeheartedly, they introduced him to the entire extended family and welcomed him as one of their own. They shared meals, laughter, and tales and the family’s matriarch, a culinary wizard, bonded with Ty over their mutual love for cooking. “After just one week of living with them I already felt like my host family had my back for anything and that I was part of their family.”

By the end of the summer program Ty realized that he had gained as much or more than he gave. He’s looking forward to sharing what he learned with his students in Montezuma this fall.

Passing of UWC-USA Board Member Marc Blum

Marc Blum, who served on the UWC-USA board of trustees for seventeen years, passed away in Baltimore last week. Marc was one of the longest-serving UWC-USA board members, supporting the school faithfully on the Investment, Finance, Audit, and Advancement Committees. He  brought his skill as an attorney with deep finance experience to bear on the fiduciary management of the school as well as his generosity, optimism, and belief in the mission to our fundraising efforts. Throughout his tenure, Marc, along with members of his family, established four endowed scholarships designated for students from Latin America and from conflict areas. 

“Marc’s sincere interest in our students and our mission, as well as his commitment to serving the needs of the school, made him an exemplary board member,” said UWC-USA President Victoria J. Mora. “He always kept the student experience at the center of his work on the board, was an unfailing supporter of my work as president, and was a dear friend to me and my family. He was also generous in tremendously impactful ways. We will all miss him deeply.”

Marc connected with the students his scholarships supported whenever he was on campus. He formed strong relationships with these students and encouraged them even after they graduated. “Even though he was the one doing me the favor by paying for my scholarship,” said Merissa Peterson ‘16 from Guyana, “he made it seem like I was doing him the favor by furthering my studies and opening new doors for more opportunities. Seeing the love and support Mr. Marc had for all of us at UWC-USA encouraged me to start doing the same. I’m now part of an NGO where we support young girls to provide access and support for their education.” 

Graduating from high school in 1960, Marc attended Columbia School of Law earning his LL.B. in 1967 and continued on to earn a PhD in Business from Columbia Business School in 1969. He went on to serve two years as a captain in the U.S. Army and shortly after began his tenure as an attorney at Gordon Feinblatt, LLC from 1972 until his passing.

Marc is survived by his wife Leonor, who serves on the board at UWC-Costa Rica, and sons Alex and Ari. He is also survived by his brothers Joel and James and his sister Claire Stampfer along with grandchildren Amelie, Asa, Axel, and Aviva.

The family has asked that donations be sent to Adelante Latina! in Marc’s name and UWC-USA is grateful for donations given in Marc’s honor to support scholarships.