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, 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. 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.

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
Jahnelle McMillan, Director of College Guidance

Jahnelle came to LEDA in June 2016 as a College Guidance Counselor and became the Director of College Guidance in February 2018. She leads LEDA’s college guidance program overall while continuing to support Scholars through the college admissions process as a college guidance counselor. Prior to joining the LEDA team, 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 a Customer Services Representative at Metroplus Health Plan, 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.

Danielle Harris, College Guidance Counselor

Danielle joined LEDA in 2022 as a College Guidance Counselor. She is also a Cohort 12 LEDA Scholar. Danielle joins the staff with training in law and history, but education access has always been pivotal for her. On Yale’s campus, Danielle tutored and mentored over a hundred students on how to navigate selective colleges’ “hidden curriculum.” She also founded a partnership that provides incarcerated students who take for-credit Yale courses with access to the same resources FGLI students on Yale’s main campus are provided. Before joining the LEDA team full-time, Danielle worked at various legal organizations ranging from the Equal Justice Initiative to the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about advocating with and for her former clients as much as she is for her current and future Scholars. Danielle graduated from Yale University with a degree in History and as a Human Rights Scholar.

Pedrum Mardan, College Guidance Counselor

Pedrum joined LEDA as a College Guidance Counselor in June 2020. 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.

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.

Brandon Avendano, College Success Counselor

Brandon joined LEDA in 2021 as a College Guidance Assistant for its virtual Summer Institute, a College Guidance Coordinator for Summer Institute 2023, and is currently a part-time College Success Counselor. He is also a Cohort 14 LEDA alum. At Brown University, Brandon was part of Latinx in Business and Leadership (LBL), the Brown Consulting Club (BCC), and the Bonner Fellowship, through which he tutored algebra at a nearby high school. In 2020, he founded an education nonprofit, Notable Narratives, which has provided free essay mentorship to 1,565 first-generation, low-income (FGLI) high school seniors from 102 countries and all states in the U.S. Brandon received his bachelor’s degree with honors in Sociology and Economics from Brown. He wrote his Sociology thesis on the racial identification of Asian Latinos and plans to continue his education in an M.B.A./Ph.D. Organizational Behavior program.

Aracely Mondragon, College Success Counselor

Aracely joined LEDA as the College Success Counselor in October 2021, supporting Scholars throughout their college careers. Before LEDA, Aracely worked as an academic advisor at the University of Arkansas and taught Composition courses at NorthWest Arkansas Community College. They received a B.A. in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa. Previously, Aracely was a community organizer with Faith in Action Bay Area in California, doing housing justice work.


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 Counselor

Kelly joined the LEDA team as a Career Counselor in May of 2021. As the Career Counselor, Kelly supports LEDA Scholars, Career Fellows, and Alumni with all aspects of career exploration and career readiness. 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

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.

Up Next

Continue Reading

Apply to LEDA

Start your LEDA application today!
Apply to LEDA

Support Our Work

Your contribution will help diversify leadership in America.
Give Now