The Latino Institute

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Keynote Presenters

Overview And Experience

Gonzalo Pérez, Ph.D

Dr. Gonzalo Pérez is a young educator, passionate about his mission of making higher education available to all minority students. He is a highly sought after presenter and facilitator and has participated in countless educational conferences in the United States, Latin America and Canada.

Gonzalo is now Associate Provost, Coconino County Community College in Arizona. Previously he served as Chief Innovation Officer at the Passaic Community College, and Coordinator of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at Farleigh Dickinson University. He spent his previous seven years working for The Nielsen Company – a Fortune 500 – in New York City where he led many key initiates with the firm including an educational portal to train media clients on proprietary Nielsen Systems.

Gonzalo was awarded his Ph.D in Applied Computer Science at Pace University in 2015.

He is considered one of the foremost spokespersons in the STEM fields and an educational advocate of the sciences.

gonzalez perez
clarisa romero

Clarisa Romero

Clarisa Romero is a Certified Mindfulness and Conscious Business Coach. Leveraging her mental health, business development and leadership experiences, she founded Mindful Consultants, a firm that specializes in personal and professional development through the practice of mindfulness services based on cognitive & positive psychology, and the latest cutting-edge discoveries in neuroscience.

Clarisa is an international presenter, trainer and coach on mindfulness as the foundation of emotional intelligence, leadership, and how being trauma informed cultivates resilience. A leading voice in the mindfulness community, she is a frequent commentator in Spanish and English language media outlets and trainer for a wide array of corporate, healthcare, legal and education clients.

She started her career experiences at Newark Beth Israel Hospital -Therapeutic Learning Center working with children and adolescents with a variety of behavioral difficulties such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), aggression, depression, and impulse control. Prior to founding her own company, Clarisa was a seasoned community advocate and political operative for almost two decades. She was a government affairs and strategic communications professional for a major public relations and lobbying firm. She also consulted for the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of NJ. Clarisa held high-level appointments spanning several gubernatorial administrations.

The techniques Clarisa teaches help individuals reprogram their mind and rewire their brains to achieve high performance, resilience, a fearless attitude and a razor-sharp mind.

Juan Cartagena, Esq.

Juan Cartagena is President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. He is a constitutional and civil rights attorney who has vast experience litigating cases on behalf of Latino and African American communities in the areas of employment rights, language rights, voting rights, public education financing, environmental law, housing and access to public hospitals.

He formerly served as General Counsel and Vice President for Advocacy at the Community Service Society of New York. At CSS he also directed the Mass Imprisonment & Reentry Initiative which focuses on the effects these policies have on poor and minority communities. From 1990 to 1991 he worked at the government of Puerto Rico’s Department of Puerto Rican Community Affairs in the United States where he served as Legal Director. Previously, he was Associate Counsel at the Community Service Society and before that he worked as a Staff Attorney at the former Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund (now LatinoJustice PRLDEF).

A graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University School of Law, Mr. Cartagena lectures on constitutional and civil rights issues at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. He has written numerous articles on constitutional and civil rights laws, and has been recognized for his work on the political representation of poor and marginalized communities – especially Puerto Rican and Latino communities. His current research interests include the effects of mass imprisonment on Latino, and particularly Puerto Rican, communities, unlawful trespass arrests as an element of the NYPD’s stop and frisk practices, and employment discrimination issues affecting persons with previous criminal histories.

His work on a national level with the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act led to invitations in 2005-2006 to testify before the U.S. House and Senate on the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and its effects on Latino communities in New York and New Jersey.

He has received numerous awards for his contributions to the field of civil rights law, among them the Freedom Fighter Award, Jersey City NAACP, 1986; Liberty Bell Award, Superior Court of New Jersey – Hudson Vicinage; Hudson County Bar Association, 2003; Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Award, Dartmouth College, 2004; 2006 Professional Lawyer of the Year Award, New Jersey Commission on Professionalism in the Law, Hispanic Bar Association; Felix A. Fishman Award, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, 2006; Legal Services Award, New York City Bar Association, 2008

Mr. Cartagena is an engaging speaker who communicates directly to parents, community leaders, and the general public in a very special way.

juan cartagena
mercedes valle

Mercedes Valle, Ed.D

Mercedes Valle is a retired Consulting Psychologist/School Psychologist with important and significant experience working in all aspects of psychological services in a school district. She has worked at the East Orange School District providing psychological assessments on preschoolers and youngsters with special needs, and participated as part of a team member in the development of individualized educational plans, which addresses the academic, social and emotional needs of urban children. At the Newark School District she also developed and implemented parent workshops to address the needs of parents and children, and early intervention children with special needs.

She has dedicated her professional life to offer the best services possible to those most in need.

Dr. Valle received her Ed.D in Consulting Psychology/School Psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

With other authors, she contributed to “Best Practices in Considering Cultural Factors”.

Dr. Valle has received numerous awards for her work with children and their parents.

Her workshops on stress management and cultural differences are extremely popular amongst educators and parents, and are always filled to capacity.

Grisselle Gonzalez

Grisselle González is a highly dedicated teacher with over 30 years of experience and a self-motivated professional with proven expertise in all subject areas from kindergarten through sixth grade. She has well-developed communication and organizational skills and works closely with the School Leadership Team.

Her knowledge of math skills and practices required for effective teaching has given her the expertise needed to work with parents, teachers and students.

For the last fourteen years in the NYC Public Schools system she has worked with and mentored new teachers. She is involved in writing the goals and objectives for technology and mathematics sections of the Comprehensive Education Plan of the school. In addition, she works closely with the Intervention Committee and has planned differentiated instruction with teachers for struggling students and English language learners.

Ms. González is a graduate of Adelphi University with a Master’s Degree in Education. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from John Jay College in New York City.

She conducts the “Tools for Assisting your Child with Math” very popular workshop series, both in English and Spanish.

grisselle gonzalez
carmen torres izquiero

Carmen Torres Izquierdo

Carmen Torres-Izquierdo, a lifelong non-profit professional, has 25+ years of expertise in leadership and operations, including: staff development, program management, event planning, in-service training and administration, and community outreach. Torres-Izquierdo has facilitated numerous partnerships and collaborative arrangements with community agencies, private corporations, and local, state, and federal government to improve post-secondary outcomes for Latino students across the state. In addition, she has worked with both Newark Public Schools and Jersey City Public Schools an agency representative and as a volunteer.

Ms. Torres-Izquierdo is an expert event organizer, as well as a first-rate presenter on parental and family issues.

Torres-Izquierdo is a graduate of Binghamton University with a Bachelor of Arts in history and serves as Secretary of the Board for the University Academy Charter High School in Jersey City, NJ. She currently works for the New Jersey Education Association.

Bill Colón

Bill is President and CEO, of the Latino Institute, Inc. He is the co-founder and former President and CEO of Kiddee Korner, a small chain of preschool/child care centers in Northern New Jersey. Formerly, Mr. Colón served as the Executive Director for the Corporation for Employment and Training, Inc. a private, non-profit organization which acted as the administrative entity for Jersey City for all employment, training and workforce development programs.  For seven years, he was the CEO of ASPIRA of New Jersey.

He has also served, on a part time basis, as Instructor of Political Science and Basic Issues at Rutgers University, and as Adjunct Instructor of International Business at Jersey City State College (NJCU). He has also taught Principles of Business, and Marketing 101 at Essex County College.

Mr. Colón is a former Member of the Jersey City Board of Education as well as a former Member of the State Board of Education. He was the first Latino to serve in that capacity.

bill colon
michelle alcalde

Michele Alcalde, Esq.

Ms. Alcalde’s practice areas consist of U.S. Immigration and Nationality Law, Complex Removal Litigation in Federal Immigration Court, Criminal Law Defense, Municipal Court, and Family Law.

For the past eighteen years Michele has specialized in the defense of foreign nationals facing deportation on various levels. Her experience in the Municipal and Superior Courts of the State of New Jersey, makes her uniquely qualified to appropriately guide and explain to clients the immigration consequences of criminal charges in a criminal court or family court setting, such as controlled dangerous substances and domestic violence. She represents clients throughout New Jersey but focuses on matters in Monmouth County predominantly. She counsels clients in the impact aggravated felonies and crimes involving moral turpitude have when it results in mandatory detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She appears frequently in Immigration courts on complex matters.

Michele is a former Municipal Court Prosecutor for the Cities of Newark and Paterson, New Jersey. She was also appointed by the Office of Attorney Ethics and served as a member of the District XI Ethics Committee from 2008-2010. On March 27, 2012, she was appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court to the Municipal Court Certification Committee, which is a seven-member committee designed to prepare the examination and review process for all attorneys in New Jersey wishing to be Certified as Municipal Court Trial Attorneys. She is an active executive committee member of the Immigration Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA).

Her memberships include the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Federal Bar Association. She has served as a panelist for the New Jersey State Bar Association and Federal Bar Association lecturing on Immigration Law, where she has instructed other attorneys on how best to represent clients on complex issues of law combining criminal, family and immigration. Her most recent publication is, In Status and Out of Status, An Immigration Primer for the Family Law Practitioner, New Jersey Family Lawyer Volume 31 page 107 (February 2011). For the past seven years Michele has committed herself to lecturing on numerous panels designed to teach other lawyers the practical procedures and pitfalls related to client representation in specific fields when there are related immigration consequences. From NJSBA ICLE seminars on New Jersey Municipal Court practice, Federal Bar Association and AILA seminars on the intersection of Immigration and Criminal Law, to addressing the Judicial College of New Jersey with regards to the intersection of immigration in Family Law matters. She has built a reputation among her peers and it radiates in every aspect of her lawyering with clients.

Michele earned her Juris Doctorate in Law from Rutgers University School of Law – Camden, NJ in 2000. She is admitted to practice in New Jersey, before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. She interned for Senior Federal Appellate Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise and was mentored by The Honorable Steven Morley, Philadelphia Immigration Judge.

Ms. Vicky Llerena

Ms. Llerena is the CEO of Social Vibes Media, a digital marketing agency focused on helping small businesses increase their online visibility and brand presence. Vicky brings with her over ten years of experience having worked at Univision WXTV-41 and PRNewswire. Vicky was recently named Top 25 Brand Builder by Leading Women Entrepreneur. She works with the small business community, such as Rising Tide Capital, NJ Tech Council, Founders, and Small Business Development Center to teach entrepreneurs how to obtain online customers through social media. She also serves as the social media ambassador for the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In 2016, she took part in the first cohort of Lead Hudson County – a training program to help build community leaders in Hudson County. Vicky was featured in NJBiz, Huffington Post, CEO Blog Nation, and many more media outlets.

As an expert social media executive, Ms. Llerena brings a different perspective when speaking with educators and parents about the positive—and negative–influences of social media on children and young adults.

Vicky Llerena
rhudell snelling

Rhudell A. Snelling Jr.

Rhudell A. Snelling Jr. better known throughout Hudson County and the State of New Jersey as Rhudy was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey

In 1987 Rhudy attended Caldwell College where his stay was brief, leaving to become a Hudson County Police Officer at the age of 19.  Rhudy promised his mother, sister and the late Mayor/Senator Glenn D. Cunningham that he would return and complete his education at the first chance possible.

In May 1996 Rhudy graduated from Rutgers University with his B.A. in Criminal Justice.  In 1997 Rhudy made history in Hudson County, he became the first Black American Police Officer hired by the North Bergen Police Department.

Rhudy returned to school and in 1998 graduated from Seton Hall University with a Masters in Education.  That same year Rhudy was appointed to the Jersey City Human Rights Commission as a commissioner which is a position he held until the commission was abolished.

Feeling disconnected from his community Rhudy left the North Bergen Police Department in 2000 and joined the ranks of the Jersey City Police Department, a place that he calls home.  While employed by the Jersey City Police Department, he was assigned to the (DEA) Drug Enforcement Administration, where he was responsible for the largest prescription (oxycotton) drug bust in the State of New Jersey.  Rhudy has received awards from federal agencies and the New Jersey State Police for this case. At the recommendation of the Police Director, Rhudy was also elevated to the rank of Detective for his hard work and dedication.  In 2005 Rhudy was assigned to the Hudson County Prosecutors’ Office Homicide Unit. While there Rhudy was recognized for his hard work and ability to communicate with the community.  Rhudy was also a lead investigator and in September 2006 solved two cases in one week.

In May 2009 Rhudy received a second Masters Degree in Public Administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Rhudy was assigned to the Jersey City Police Academy where he was the Resident Instructor and the Training and Development Coordinator. Prior to his retirement from the Jersey City Police Department Rhudy was a tenured detective assigned to the Chief’s Office, Special Investigations Unit.  He also coordinated the Jersey City Public School Police and Fire Safety Program for High School students.     Rhudy is also an adjunct professor and an Assistant Director of off campus programs at Fairleigh Dickinson University, in the Public Administration Graduate Studies Program.  In addition to that degree, Rhudy also has an Educational Specialist Degree,( Ed.S) from Seton Hall University.

Aside from all the other activities in Rhudy’s life he is currently matriculated for a Doctoral Degree at Seton Hall University in Educational Leadership.  Rhudy is married and a dedicated father to four children. On a final note, under the leadership of the current Prosecutor Esther Suarez, Rhudy has been appointed as the Director of Community Engagement for the Hudson County Prosecutors Office.