Laura Emiko Soltis, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis received her B.A. from the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. from Emory University in 2012. Emiko joined Freedom University as a volunteer faculty member in 2013, and was appointed the organization's first Executive Director in June 2014. In this capacity, Emiko introduced a human rights framework and a horizontal leadership structure with an elected Student Committee and Board of Directors. She also established a movement leadership training program and expanded the curriculum to include courses in wide-ranging academic disciplines chosen by students, including STEM classes, a summer SAT program, and a creative arts program. As an experienced social movement strategist, Emiko works to advance the undocumented student movement by building bridges between undocumented and documented student groups, advocating for fair admissions policies and sanctuary policies in higher education, and cultivating intergenerational relationships between undocumented students and veterans of the Black Freedom Movement. Emiko continues to serve as the Professor of Human Rights, teaching classes in international human rights, social movement theory, and immigration history. As an active public scholar, she writes and lectures frequently on topics such as human rights advocacyundocumented student activismworkers' rights and economic justicemusic and mobilization, and student movements. For her longtime work as a human rights activist and popular education practitioner, Emiko was awarded the Telemundo Héroe Luchadora Award and the Ashoka Fellowship in 2017, and was selected as a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow in 2018. Emiko is also an accomplished photographer, violinist, and vocalist, and has performed in Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center with the Grammy award-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. She enjoys dancing cumbia, being a good friend, and laughing until she cries, and is the proud mom of two rescue dogs.  


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Arizbeth Sanchez

communityy engagement & volunteer coordinator

Arizbeth Sanchez is an undocumented youth leader originally from Sinaloa, México. Arizbeth joined Freedom University as a student in the Spring of 2014 and has excelled in coursework including Human Rights, Spanish Literature, French, and Drawing and Painting. As the longest serving student member of Freedom University, she has served the organization in a variety of roles, including as an elected student committee member, board member, and co-teacher in the Movement Leadership Training course. Arizbeth has participated in numerous direct actions and was arrested in two acts of civil disobedience protesting Georgia Board of Regents Policies 4.1.6 and 4.3.4, which ban her and other undocumented students from equal access to public higher education in Georgia. As an experienced public speaker, Arizbeth has represented Freedom University at various colleges and universities across the country, including Dartmouth, Harvard, UCLA, Bard College, and Lewis and Clark College. In 2018, she was selected as a Fighting Injustice through Human Rights Education (FIHRE) Fellow at the Highlander Research Center. Arizbeth now serves as a staff member of Freedom University as the Community Engagement and Outreach Coordinator, and works to develop relationships with partner organizations at the local, state, and national levels, as well as with undocumented students and allies. Arizbeth hopes to attend a liberal arts college in the future and study sociology. As a trilingual speaker and artist, she is also interested in linguistics and the creative arts.


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Carissa Balderas, Ph.D.

Mental Health Coordinator

Dr. Carissa Balderas received her B.A in Psychology from Westmont College, her master’s degree in Couples and Family Therapy from the University of Oregon and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Georgia. Carissa recently completed her doctoral internship at Emory University. Her research and clinical interest include Latinx psychology and mental health for immigrant and minority communities living within the United States. Carissa is currently a postdoctoral psychology fellow in private practice and is honored to serve as Freedom University's mental health coordinator to ensure that undocumented students have access to affordable mental health care. Carissa has also served as a volunteer driver for Freedom University students for the past three years, ensuring that students have safe transportation to and from classes. Carissa is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico.


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2018 Faculty


W. Alex Escobar, Ph.D.

Professor of Biology

Professor Escobar received his B.S. degree in Genetics from the University of California at Davis and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He has over 20 years experience teaching a variety of courses including: general biology, genetics, biochemistry, experimental biology, and most recently a course in perception. He is innovating in the classroom and has recently developed both a flipped and online model to teach biochemistry. Alex is a first-generation immigrant from El Salvador, and is committed to mentoring immigrant youth and sparking their interest in science. 

Senior Lecturer, Department of Biology, Emory University


Fernando Esquivel-Suárez, Ph.D.

Professor of Spanish Literature

Professor Esquivel-Suárez received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Spanish from Emory University. His background includes training in cultural studies and philosophy at Universidad Javeriana, in his hometown of Bogota, Colombia. His main research interests focus on African American/Latinx relations, overlapping oppression, and solidarity. His current project analyzes the War on Drugs as a hemispheric phenomenon that disproportionately affects both African American and Afro Colombian communities.

Senior Instructor, Department of World Languages and Literature, Spelman College


Luis González-Barrios, Ph.D.

Professor of Spanish Literature

A specialist in contemporary Spanish literature and culture, Dr. González-Barrios completed his B.A in Humanities from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and his Ph.D. at Indiana University-Bloomington. He has worked as a Visiting Professor at The College of William and Mary and Bennington College, and has taught a variety of courses with a special emphasis on literature, cultural studies, film, and media. Most of his research has focused on the relationship between avant-garde art and politics, particularly during the two decades that preceded the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and its ramifications to the present. Luis' research interests also include border studies, social ecology, and film and media studies, which have inspired a wide array of courses on contemporary topics such as immigration, mass media, and social activism through art. 

Assistant Professor, World Languages and Literature, Spelman College


Cindy Lutenbacher, Ph.D.

Professor of Creative Writing

Originally from New Orleans, Professor Lutenbacher has been teaching composition and creative writing at Morehouse College since 1990.  She received her MFA in creative writing in 1982 and her Ph.D. in theater in 1989, and she has been passionate about public education since she was seven years old and witnessed her teacher abuse a disabled child.  From the early days of the UFW grape and lettuce boycott to the Black Lives Matter movement, her central purpose has been simply: justice.  A single mother of two through adoption, she remembers that at the very moment her first daughter was being born in Texas in 1995, she was in downtown Atlanta with a group of protesters, all carrying signs and walking in a circle, chanting, “No human being is illegal.”

Professor, Department of English, Morehouse College  


Charmaine Minniefield

Professor of Visual Art

Charmaine Minniefield draws from indigenous traditions as seen throughout Africa and the Diaspora and her personal connection to women who have played a major role in her life. Her work explores African and African American ritual from a feminist perspective by pulling the past to the present, conversing between spirit space and the physical. Her community-based initiative, The New Freedom Project seeks to preserve black narratives by creating public art in communities affected by gentrification and erasure. Her community murals can be seen at numerous locations in Atlanta. Her recent public work includes projection mapping and site-specific installation. With a degree in Fine Art from Agnes Scott College, Charmaine Minniefield has also served the Atlanta area as an arts administrator for nearly 20 years, holding positions with such arts organizations as the National Black Arts Festival, the High Museum of Art and the Fulton County Department of Art and Culture, producing projects around art and activism with such organizations as Alternate ROOTS, Points of Light and Flux Projects. 

Faculty, Department of Art and Visual Culture, Spelman College


Laura Emiko Soltis, Ph.D.

Professor of Human Rights and Movement Leadership

Professor Soltis graduated summa cum laude in 2006 with a bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia, where she was awarded the Foundation Fellowship. Emiko received her PhD from Emory University and wrote her dissertation on the global human rights strategies and local music practices in the mobilization of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an interracial farmworker organization in South Florida. Her research and teaching interests include social movement theory, global studies, music and social movements, U.S. immigration policy, interracial labor history, and racial formation theory. Having served as a longtime student activist, Emiko is committed to mentoring undocumented youth and providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to be effective leaders in their own freedom struggle. 

Executive Director, Freedom University


Brendan Moore

Professor of French

Brendan is a second year PhD student in Comparative Literature at Emory University. He received his B.A. in French and English literatures from Coe College and worked as an English language assistant in the French government’s Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF). Brendan’s research and teaching focuses on the intersections of Francophone and Anglophone literatures of the Black Atlantic in the 20th century. This semester, he is ecstatic to teach Freedom University’s French class in collaboration with fellow Emory graduate student Hugo Bujon.

Graduate Student Instructor, Department of Comparative Literature, Emory University


Navina Vemuri

Professor of College Preparation

Navina Vemuri is originally from Germany, born to a German mother and an Indian father. She moved to Connecticut at the age of 10 and has lived there until 2016. She studied International Relations at the University of Connecticut, at one point hoping to work for the United Nations. Her involvement with a youth organizing program in Connecticut led her to become interested in domestic issues instead. In CT, she worked alongside a group of amazing youth organizers to break down systems of oppression.

School Counselor, North Fulton County


Pedro Márquez-Zacarías

Professor of Biology

Pedro is native of the indigenous community of Urapicho, which belongs to the Purépecha region of México. Purépecha people have a strong relationship with music, and with guitar in particular. This is why, above all, he is a guitar aficionado. Professionally, Pedro is a scientist, receiving his B.Sc. from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where he studied Biomedical Sciences at the School of Medicine. As a high school student, he won the National Biology Olympiad of México and participated in the XXI International Biology Olympiad in South Korea. As an undergraduate student, Pedro did research in parasitology, cell biology, HIV evolution, and bacterial evolution. He also did undergraduate research at the University of Arizona, on viral ecology. Currently, he is a Ph.D. student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, studying the evolution of multicellularity. Pedro has taught advanced topics in biology to students participating in the International Biology Olympiad. As a Ph.D. student,Pedro has been Teaching Assistant for Mathematical Biology and co-organizer of a workshop on Computational Biology. Last Spring, he volunteered for Books not Bombs, helping foreign refugees in Clarkston High School with their homework.

PhD Candidate, Georgia Institute of Technology


Ashley Young

Professor of College preparation

Professor Young is a first-generation college student from Maysville, North Carolina, and graduated from North Carolina State University in 2008 with a B.A. in Interpersonal Communication. In 2011, she obtained a Master’s degree in Student Affairs Counseling from Clemson University. Ashley has nine years of experience in college access and the field of college admissions combined, with a particular interest in supporting under-resourced and first-generation college students.  

Ashley experienced a social awakening in a multicultural counseling class that placed a burden in her heart for undocumented students' access to college and most importantly their fight for human dignity. In 2016, with a group of colleagues, Ashley helped develop SACAC's first "Educators Guide to Post-secondary Policy for Undocumented Students." 

College Counselor, Drew Charter School

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Rebecca Kumar, Ph.D.

Professor of Creative Writing

Professor Kumar is an assistant professor at Morehouse College, where she teaches courses in Literary Theory, World Literature, Early Modern and Early American Literature, and Rhetoric and Composition. Rebecca holds a PhD from Emory University and a BA from New York University. Her scholarly interests include: Postcolonial literature and theory, Ethnic studies, gender and queer studies, and cinema and visual studies. Rebecca is also pursuing an MFA in Fiction at Georgia State University, where she is completing a collection of short stories about immigrant communities who survived Hurricanes Katrina, Maria, and Irma. 

Assistant Professor, Morehouse College

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SAT Instructors


Jasmine Ko, MPH

SAT Instructor

Jasmine received her B.A. in English from Emory University, where she studied Romantic Era British poetry and health sciences. She then received her Master’s in Public Health at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health, where she concentrated in epidemiology with a global health focus. Jasmine currently works as a data analyst and research regulatory coordinator for the Rwanda Zambia HIV Research Group in Atlanta, GA. As the child of first generation immigrants from South Korea, she is passionate about health equity and access for immigrants and underserved populations. Jasmine has two years of experience teaching SAT/ACT classes as a Kaplan Test Instructor. 


Parth Viswanathan

SAT Instructor

Parth is a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, studying Industrial and Systems Engineering. He is interested in the intersection of logistics and humanitarian aid delivery. As a member of a student-led research team investigating student food insecurity, Parth wrote a white paper outlining specific recommendations for Georgia Tech's administration to improve its resources for food insecure students. He currently works in the Corporate Transportation department at United Parcel Service as part of Georgia Tech's co-op program. Since first teaching mathematics in Freedom University's SAT Summer Bootcamp, Parth has been committed to improving the confidence and ensuring the success of undocumented students.