Meet the Staff

Johnny Irizarry
Tel: 215.746.6044 |

Johnny Irizarry holds a Masters Degree in Urban Education from Temple University and a BFA from Philadelphia College of Art (University of the Arts). In 1996 he received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws, from Swarthmore College. 

He currently serves as Director of the Center for Hispanic Excellence: La Casa Latina, at the University of Pennsylvania

Irizarry served as Executive Director of The Lighthouse, a multi-service community based Neighborhood Center and of Taller Puertorrique�o (a Latino arts & cultural center) in North Philadelphia.

Irizarry also worked as a teacher and was Program Specialist for Puerto Rican and Latino Studies for the School District of Philadelphia's Office of Curriculum Support.

Irizarry teaches Latino and Puerto Rican Studies courses part time at Temple University and in SP2 at the University of Pennsylvania.


Kareli Lizarraga
Tel: 215.746.6044 |

Kareli Lizarraga serves as the Associate Director for La Casa Latina. She was born in Mexico and raised in California and Arizona but she very much considers Philadelphia her home. She is a proud first-generation alumna from the University of Pennsylvania and holds a B.A. in Political Science. She is passionate about the intersections between policy, race, education, and the Latinx identity.

Her interest in educational issues began as a volunteer with the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project at Penn and deepened when in her junior year, she became an intern in the education department for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Seeing the systemic issues surrounding access to a high quality education, Kareli decided to join Teach For America upon graduation. In 2013 she was the first teacher in the country with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status through Teach For America, teaching 7th grade langauge arts in Denver, Colorado. Seeing her students thrive in middle school but have limited options at the high school level.

Kareli joined Teach For America's national recruitment team in 2015, to help find excellent teachers for low-income students across the country.

As an associate director for La Casa, Kareli is excited to be back in her second home, La Casa, and supporting Latinx leaders at Penn.


Maritza Santiago-Torres
Office Manager
Tel: 215.746.6043 |

Born in New York City and raised in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, Maritza earned a Business Degree in 1976.  She has worked in the private sector for 20 yrs. From 1992-1994, Volunteered in the Jehovah's Witnesses Building Kingdom Halls around the World Program. She worked in the Construction Program in Lands with Limited Resources, which provides an adequate place of worship for all those interested in Bible education. She has been dedicating 20 hours each month to their Literacy Program during the the past 30 yrs.

 In 1994 Maritza moved to Philadelphia and worked at a non-profit in North Philadelphia with the Latino community.  She has been working at the University of Pennsylvania since 1997 and in 1999 became the first full-time staff of La Casa Latina.

Never had kids on her own, but Penn students has stolen her heart and many now call her mom.  Maritza has been happily married since 2010! She loves to travel and learn from other cultures and has visited over 14 countries.

Meet the Work Study Staff

Meet Our Graduate Assistant