About LEDA

Our Staff

Meet the LEDA Team

Executive Leadership

David Garza, Executive Director

David Garza joined LEDA in July 2022 as the Executive Director, bringing expertise in fundraising, management, and strategy that he has developed for more than 20 years as a leader in the nonprofit sector. Most recently, he served for ten years as Development Director at Point Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing scholarships and mentorship to LGBTQ+ college scholars. In this role, he expanded the organization’s presence, visibility, and fundraising efforts.

Prior to Point Foundation, David served as Director of Institutional Giving for GMHC. While there, he managed the organization’s roster of corporate and foundation partnerships, as well as government grants. He worked with key stakeholders to provide a range of services, including STI testing, food security, legal services, and case management.

David is committed to student leaders from underserved communities, as their backgrounds, dreams, and paths mirror his own. Born and raised on the U.S.-Mexico border, David graduated from Princeton University in 1998 as a first-generation college student.


Recruitment and Admissions

Iris Early, Senior Director of Recruitment and Admissions

Iris joined LEDA in November 2008 as a recruitment and admissions officer and became Director of Recruitment and Admissions in 2011. In her role at LEDA, Iris has helped define LEDA’s recruitment and admission strategies and works to develop partnerships with schools and community-based organizations across the nation to identify and recruit LEDA Scholars. Prior to LEDA, Iris worked with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the National Conference for Community and Justice in Los Angeles. She brings her passion for racial justice and human rights to her work at LEDA. Iris graduated from Haverford College with a bachelor’s degree in political science, a minor in sociology, and a concentration in Africana studies.

Isabel de León, Senior Recruitment and Admissions Officer

Isabel joined LEDA in October 2021 as a Recruitment and Admissions Officer, supporting all recruitment efforts for LEDA programs and the cultivation of relationships with schools and community-based organizations, and became the Senior Recruitment and Admissions Officering October 2023. Prior to LEDA, Isabel worked at a marketing agency in Dallas, TX, that worked exclusively with charities and nonprofit organizations. As a college student, she worked with the Title IX and Equity Compliance office on campus to implement a grant from the U.S. Office of Violence Against Women in order to pursue her passion for equality and equity. Isabel graduated from Fairfield University with a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a minor in Public Relations.

Cecilia Caro, Recruitment and Admissions Officer

Cecilia joined LEDA in March 2024 as a Recruitment and Admissions Officer, supporting all recruitment efforts for LEDA programs and the cultivation of relationships with schools and community-based organizations. Cecilia has worked in college access, college admissions reading for Macalester College, college essay writing, and youth leadership. She strives to promote youth voice and student-centered programming in all of her work. Her most memorable professional experience was at Sprockets, where she designed and facilitated a summer youth research project alongside 10 youth researchers. They collected over 1,000 surveys from youth across St. Paul about access to quality afterschool programming. Cecilia graduated from Macalester College with a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Educational Studies.

LEDA Scholars Program

Tara Gellene, Senior Director of Programs

Tara oversees all departments of the LEDA Scholars Program, including College Success, College Guidance, and Recruitment & Admission. She also directs LEDA’s academic departments, including the Aspects of Leadership and Writing programs. She is responsible for ensuring alignment between program goals, outcome metrics, and data management across all LEDA programs. Previously, Tara directed LEDA’s College Guidance department and Writing program and lent writing support to LEDA’s outreach and fundraising efforts. Before joining LEDA full time in 2014, she taught writing and literature courses at Columbia University, Barnard College, and New York University. She also developed writing curricula for the Education Program for Gifted Youth at Stanford University. She holds a Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford University.

Nick McMahon, Data Systems Administrator

Nick joined the LEDA team in May of 2019. As the Data Systems Administrator, Nick is responsible for the performance, integrity, and security of LEDA’s Salesforce database. He implements, tracks, and oversees changes and implementations within the system and maintains a “healthy lifestyle” for LEDA’s data. A strong supporter of helping not-for-profit organizations excel in the digital world, Nick’s prior role was as both database administrator and membership manager for the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, NJ. He graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies.

College Guidance
Pedrum Mardan, Director of College Guidance

Pedrum joined LEDA as a College Guidance Counselor in June 2020 and became Director of College Guidance in May 2024. Through a dialectical, intersectional, and person-centered approach, Pedrum advocates for Scholars throughout the college admissions process. Prior to LEDA, he supported every facet of NYU Opportunity Programs’ admissions efforts as an Admissions Assistant while simultaneously completing clinical hours at New York City public high schools as a Bilingual School Counselor-in-training. With his parallactic, professional background and lived experience as a first-generation college graduate, Pedrum has navigated college admissions from multiple vantage points. He holds a B.A. in Literature with a Concentration in World Literature and Cultural Studies from University of California, Santa Cruz, and an M.A. in Counseling and Guidance: Bilingual School Counseling, Grades Pre-K–12 with an Advanced Certificate in LGBT Health, Education, and Social Services from NYU.

Cassandra Rodriguez, College Guidance Counselor

Cassie joined LEDA in June 2024 as a College Guidance Counselor. She comes to LEDA from the IDEA charter network, where she has served as a principal in residence and college counselor, working with at least one LEDA Scholar at their home school. Cassie has worked in Texas public schools for 16 years and has a passion for ensuring that all scholars have access to college. She is an advocate within her community and volunteers her time as a member of the Junior League of Harlingen as well as alongside her friends providing free college guidance for high school students in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Cassie received a Bachelor of Arts in History from Yale University where she was also part of the Teacher Preparation Program. She also holds a Master of Education in Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Texas-Arlington.

Leonard Thomas, College Guidance Counselor

Leonard Thomas (LEDA Cohort 5) joined the LEDA staff as a College Guidance Counselor in June 2024. Originally from Detroit, MI, he is a graduate of Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a concentration in Urban Studies. He also holds an MFA in Acting from the American Conservatory Theatre. Leonard comes to LEDA from Mosaic College Prep where he worked as an Associate College Counselor. He has also worked as a financial educator, leveraging his early career experience as an Investment Banking Analyst at Bank of America. Leonard is passionate about the arts, finance, and community. He is based in Los Angeles, CA, except when he is in residence at the LEDA Summer Institute.

College Success
Nada Abdelaziz, Director of College Success

Nada joined LEDA as the Director of Residential Life in June 2018, then became the College Success Counselor in August 2018 and the Director of College Success in August 2021. In her current role, Nada is responsible for overseeing LEDA’s support services for the academic and socio-emotional needs of LEDA Scholars in college. Nada’s experience includes working in TRiO, residence life, and student government at a number of institutions, such as Harvard University and the University of Florida. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from Rutgers University and a Master of Education from the Student Personnel in Higher Education program at the University of Florida.

Jahnelle McMillan, Senior Program Officer

Jahnelle came to LEDA in June 2016 as a College Guidance Counselor and became the Director of College Guidance in February 2018. She became Senior Program Officer in May 2024, serving as a counselor on the College Success team and providing additional programmatic support to the Recruitment & Admissions, College Guidance, and Career & Alumni Services teams. Prior to joining LEDA, she was an admissions officer at Prep for Prep for the PREP 9 program, of which she is also an alumna. She has also served as an inaugural member of Emory University’s Counselor Advisory and Advocacy Board, an Academic Tutor with Figure Skating in Harlem, and a staff member in the Pre-College Division of Kaplan Test Prep. She has also worked as an independent college admissions consultant. Jahnelle received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature/Letters from Colgate University.


Career and Alumni Services

Elena Barrera-Waters, Manager of Alumni Engagement and Impact

Elena joined LEDA as the Manager of Alumni Engagement and Impact in April 2022. Prior to working at LEDA, Elena worked on career development, mentorship, and diversity & inclusion programs in corporate, higher education, and nonprofit settings. She has a B.A. in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago, where she focused much of her coursework on educational inequality and much of her research on racial biases in collegiate dating app use.

Kelly Penn, Career Services Coordinator

Kelly joined the LEDA team as a Career Counselor in May 2021 and became the Career Services Coordinator in May 2024. Kelly supports LEDA Scholars, Career Fellows, and Alumni with all aspects of career exploration and career readiness, including 1:1 career coaching and coordinating various program opportunities to engage in. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology, a minor in Psychology, and a certificate in Leadership Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University. Kelly’s passion for leadership development and maximizing students’ potential led her to earn a Master of Education degree from the Student Personnel in Higher Education program at the University of Florida. A quote that guides Kelly’s work is, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Her goal is to empower students to lead with intention, make meaning out of their experiences, and to follow a career path that reflects being the change they want to see in the world.


Development and Communications

Claire W. Gallagher, Senior Director of Advancement & Strategic Initiatives

Claire joined LEDA in 2023 as the Senior Director of Advancement & Strategic Initiatives. She is an experienced nonprofit professional with a deep background in planning and executing large-scale development projects. She comes to LEDA from A Chance In Life, where she was Senior Vice President for Development & Communications. In this role, Claire established a diversified and sustainable funding stream to support the organization’s educational work in 12 countries and implemented a rigorous donor relations process to support retention, in addition to serving as a key member of the executive team. Throughout her career, Claire has held notable positions in fundraising and communications at prominent nonprofit organizations such as the New York Academy of Sciences, Athlete Ally, Point Foundation, and GMHC. She is deeply committed to mission-driven work and concentrates her efforts on supporting underrepresented and underserved communities. Claire earned her degree in government from Colby College in 2006, graduating with honors.

Joseph Lee, Development and Communications Officer

Joseph joined LEDA in 2013 and provides support across a spectrum of development and communications efforts, including fundraising, database maintenance, event planning, grant proposals, organizational literature, website design, social media, and public engagement. He has previously worked for several nonprofit organizations that address a range of issues, including religious tolerance, mental health, homelessness, employment training, and access to the arts. Joe received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Brown University.

Daniela Malo, Director of Development

Daniela joined LEDA as its Director of Development in October 2022. She most recently served as the Associate Director of Development at All Faiths Food Bank. She previously held positions at Make-A-Wish Southern Florida, Wilkinson Center, and the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence. Daniela received a bachelor’s degree in International and Global Studies from the University of Central Florida, and a master’s degree in International and Intercultural Education from Florida International University.


Operations and Finance

Tierra Lucas, Senior Operations Manager

Tierra joined LEDA in February 2023 as its Senior Operations Manager. Since she was a child, Tierra has had a passion for three things: the law, leadership, and being part of making something great. Spanning various sectors, her professional journey has been comprised of complex administrative and operational experience with various subspecialties, such as strategizing and problem identification and resolution. Most recently, Tierra worked as Operations Manager at Sugatan.io, where she oversaw the operations for a 100% remote, intercontinental agency. She has also worked at IBIS World – Wall Street and at various other businesses and organizations. Her goal in life is to affect change and to leave society a better place for the next generation. Tierra received her B.A. in Administration of Justice from Howard University.

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