Meet the Staff
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 Puertorriqueno (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 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.
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
Ramon Garcia Gomez
Ramon is a senior and proud first generation college student from San Jose, California studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics with a focus on decision making. From the moment Ramon stepped on campus, he has made La Casa his home at Penn. He appreciates the people he's gotten to meet and the friendships that have formed because of La Casa. He has been a work study student here at La Casa since his freshman year and has created countless memories in the salita and in Johnny, Maritza and Kareli's offices.
On campus Ramon has been involved with various student groups. He is the former External Chair for the Latino Coalition and former Vice President of Recruitment for Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS). He is currently the Chair of the Cipactli Latino Honor Society, a member of the Sphinx Senior Society, and is also a member of MEChA. Outside of school, Ramon likes to explore Philadelphia through running, visiting coffee shops and discovering new salsa and bachata places.
Alba is a junior from Lawrence, MA in The College of Arts and Science pursuing a major in Sociology and a minor in Consumer Psychology. Alba immediately found a home and family in La Casa her freshman year. Thanks to La Casa, she feels that she always has a place on campus where she can be her complete self. Maritza, Johnny, Kareli, and all others she has had the pleasure of meeting at La Casa have played a huge part in her success at Penn.
On campus, Alba is part of the Civic Scholars Class of 2019, which is an academic certificate program that emphasizes the importance of civic engagement and social justice in higher learning. Alba is also an Hermana of Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Senoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority, Inc, Vice President of Grupo Quisqueyano, and a committee member of Mujeres Empoderadas. In her freshman year, Alba served as the Chair of Operations for the Latinx Coalition. In her free time, Alba loves to eat with friends and be everyone's personal hypeman!
Agustin Guerrero-Flores was born in a small village in Guanajuato, Mexico, and then moved to Detroit, Michigan when he was in the third grade. Agustin is a proud graduate from Cesar Chavez Academy High School in southwest Detroit and now is thrilled to be part of the University of Pennsylvania. He is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences in which he is planning in majoring in Mathematics with a minor in Spanish.
Since the first day he stepped a foot onto the University and met the staff of La Casa Latina, he felt the connection between his roots and Penn. He is extremely proud of his roots and he found at La Casa Latina a place where he can share his culture, beliefs and thoughts. Agustin has many plans in his involvement with the the Penn Community focusing on the Latinx community of Penn and the Latino community of Philadelphia. He is eager to work with the rest of La Casa Staff, Penn Faculty and Staff to make La Casa Latina the community every student wants and deserves.
Leonardo Javier Aguilar Espinosa
Leonardo Javier Aguilar Espinosa was born in Mexico City but moved to Durham, North Carolina at a young age. Papi Javi, for short, strives for adventure and thrilled. He is an idiosyncratic individual with the passion to provide support and love for the Latinx Community. Javier is a proud first-generation, low-income, and Dacameneted student in the School of Arts and Sciences. Although, undecided he wants to continue his interest in business.
¡Mi Casa Su Casa! has resonated with Javier from the first moment, he encountered and interacted with the students and staff he knew that this was a place where we will flourish and bloom to be a young male. On campus, Javier is the Secretary for ALPFA, member of MEChA, Wharton Latino, and Circle-K.
Adriana is a freshman in the School of Arts and Sciences. She is planning on majoring in Political Science. She has become involved in MECHA and La Casa Latina and has found community and family among the students and Johnny, Maritza, and Kareli. She is looking forward to exploring more opportunities through Penn and more specifically La Casa. She is looking forward to the next 4 years.