About Us

Who We Are  |  Our Story  |  Staff and Board  |  Partners and Supporters


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Linda Prieto
Executive Director 

Dr. Prieto grew up working in the agricultural fields of the central San Joaquin Valley in California. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in sociology from Stanford, a Master’s degree in education from Harvard, and her PhD in education from UT Austin. Most recently, she served as vice-president of programs at ALearn, a Santa Clara-based math and college readiness program for underserved students. In addition to serving as ED, she currently teaches courses in Chicanx/Latinx Studies at Stanford. 

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Milena Miyashiro
Program Coordinator

Milena brings with her 15+ years of combined experience in the education, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors. Earlier in her career, she provide academic and college advising to high school students who, like our students, were the first in their families to pursue a post-secondary education. Fluent in Spanish, Milena holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Latin American studies from California State University, Los Angeles.

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Diana Viscarra
Student Fellow 

A native of Mexico, Ms. Viscarra has been an Upward Scholars student since Fall 2014. In spring 2019, she received an Associate degree in paralegal studies from Cañada College and is slated to receive a second Associate degree in political science in spring 2020. Her goal is to get a Bachelors degree in political science from San Francisco State University and then work as a paralegal.  As a student fellow, Ms. Viscarra helps students apply for Upward Scholars support, gives student orientations, and responds to students’ questions.


Board of Directors - Officers


Irma Zoepf

Ms. Zoepf advances diversity and inclusion in the workplace and community. Her experience includes international nonprofits as well as startups. She previously served as a senior consultant at Exponential Talent and is now a diversity and inclusion consultant. Ms. Zoepf was born and raised in Mexico and has an MBA from Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña, Spain. On the Upward Scholars Board, she serves as a liaison with the Latinx community, and supports strategic development and process improvement. She began as an Upward Scholars tutor in 2016.


Ryan Schwartz

Mr. Schwartz is currently a vice president and wealth advisor at EP Wealth Advisors. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). During his career he has held many roles in finance including securities trader, portfolio manager, financial planner, and wealth advisor. Financial literacy education is a passion of his, and he serves on the Upward Scholars Finance committee.

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Julie Hartstein

Ms. Hartstein has more than fifteen years of experience in marketing communications, working with Fortune 1000 brands like Citrix, Intel and Autodesk to build program strategies that connect audiences to ideas, and generate revenue. Originally from North Carolina, Julie resides in the heart of the community we serve, and looks forward to partnering with Upward Scholars on strategic planning. She is co-chair of the Fund Development committee.


Board Members 


Manny Amo

Mr. Amo, a senior staff software engineer at Zap Surgical Systems, graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Mr. Amo’s experience as the child of immigrants has motivated him to work to advance our local immigrant community. At Upward Scholars, Mr. Amo focuses on using his technical expertise to make programs run more efficiently. In addition to serving on the Board, he is an Upward Scholars tutor.

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Moises Bautista

Mr. Bautista, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 18, received an AA in Engineering and Physics  from Cañada College. During much of that time, he was an Upward Scholars recipient. Mr. Bautista, who graduated from Cal Poly with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering, is the first Upward Scholars alum to graduate from a four-year university. Moises currently is an account manager at Oracle. His board focus is on programs and fund development.


Stefani Jacobson Willis

Ms. Willis, a program officer at Pacific Foundation Services, has spent two decades working in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, specializing in communications and relationship building. Her volunteer work for organizations in Africa, Central America, and Europe has included both board leadership and hands-on projects. A proud native of California's Central Valley, Stefani spent 12 years living in Oregon and The Netherlands. At Upward Scholars, her focus is on fund development.


Wendy Kuehnl-Ortiz

Ms. Kuehnl-Ortiz served as a marketing nonprofit director for over 15 years. She has an MBA from San Francisco State focused on marketing and international business and has held marketing positions at technology companies including Silicon Graphics and Knight Ridder. Wendy has volunteered at numerous Peninsula nonprofits including Stanford University English in Action, Project Read, Sequoia District Adult School ESL program, and Friends for Youth. Her Board focus is marketing and fund development, and she’s been an Upward Scholars tutor since 2017.


Susan Miller Hornbeek

Ms. Hornbeek has more than twenty years of experience in marketing, including running program marketing at Silver Spring Networks and marketing communications at Marimba. Susie spent two years living in Buenos Aires with her husband and two sons. She currently is active in Palo Alto Partners In Education. At Upward Scholars, she is co-chair of the fund development committee.

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Erika Pretell

Ms. Pretell has been an independent market research consultant for over 15 years and also enjoys being an active volunteer in our community. She has been an Upward Scholars tutor for three years and is excited to be able to make a deeper impact on the organization by joining the Board. Ms. Pretell is a past president of the Redwood City Education Foundation and former parent leader at Sequoia High School. Prior to starting her consultancy, she was with Intuit for twelve years in a variety of marketing roles. She’s also been an Upward Scholars tutor since 2016.

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Kara Rosenberg

Dr. Rosenberg has been an ESL teacher in middle school and adult school. She served as an adult school administrator for fourteen years, during which time she earned an EdD in leadership and change. She is passionate about helping both ESL and GED students find appropriate resources that will lead them to career pathways providing family-sustaining incomes. Kara is the chair of the Upward Scholars Governance committee and has been an Upward Scholars tutor since 2015.

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Elizabeth Weal

Ms. Weal founded Upward Scholars in 2009 after teaching ESL at Sequoia Adult School and observing that her students weren’t living up to their potential. She created Upward Scholars to empower students to continue their education in community college. Prior to teaching ESL, Ms. Weal had a career as a marketing writer in Silicon Valley. She also has written several ESL text books. She currently serves on the Upward Scholars Board and continues to mentor and tutor our students.


Advisory Board Members


Alicia Aguirre
City Council member, Redwood City

Laura Ayala
Product Marketing Manager, Karius

Kathleen Bennett
Founder, Girls’ Middle School

Jennifer Castello
ESL Professor Emeritus, Cañada College

Lionel de Maine
Director, Sequoia Adult School

Carrie Du Bois
Trustee, Sequoia Union High School District

Nancy Goodban, PhD
Human services consultant

Tom Mohr
Retired, President of Cañada College; Former Trustee, San Mateo County Community College District

Steve Russell
Serial entrepreneur

Barbara Sanner
Retired executive and community volunteer

Susan Speicher
Community volunteer

Adam Varro
Director of SMB Customer Success, KeepTruckin