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 undeserved students. In addition to serving as ED, she currently teaches courses in Chicanx/Latinx Studies at Stanford. 


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.


Tania Ventura

A native of El Salvador, Ms. Ventura attended the University of El Salvador where she majored in English and French. She currently is a student at Cañada College working towards her associate degree in accounting. Ms. Ventura joined Upward Scholars in July 2016 and is responsible for coordinating all aspects of our programs including student orientations, laptop donations, transit cards, and student events. 


Board of Directors - Officers

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Laura Ayala

Ms. Ayala was born in El Salvador and came to the U.S. at age 15. She has a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley. Since graduating from business school, Ms. Ayala has taken marketing leadership roles in innovative biotech companies in the Bay Area. She currently works as a product marketing manager at Karius. In addition to serving as Board president, Ms. Ayala serves as a link to the Latin American community, assists with Upward Scholars marketing activities, and helps expand fund-raising capabilities. 

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Kevin Wang

Mr. Wang is an equity research associate at Dodge & Cox and previously worked as a business valuation senior associate at KPMG. He lived in both Germany and China for several years prior to obtaining his BA in business administration at the University of California, Berkeley. Mr. Wang has extensive tutoring experience from working with international students at UC Berkeley’s Student Learning Center. He plays a key role on the Upward Scholars finance committee. 

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Irma Zoepf

Ms. Zoepf advances diversity and inclusion in the workplace and her 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, Ms. Zoepf serves as a liaison with the Latin America community, supports strategic development and process improvement, and is chair of the program committee.


Board Members 


Julie Hartstein

Mrs. 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, Mrs. Hartstein 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.


Wendy Kuehnl-Ortiz

Ms. Kuehnl-Ortiz is marketing director of Abilities United, a nonprofit in Palo Alto. 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. Ms. Kuehnl-Ortiz 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.


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. Ms. Hornbeek 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 a tutor and co-chair of the fund development committee.


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 Ed.D. 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. Dr. Rosenberg is the chair of the Upward Scholars governance committee. 


Adam Varro

Mr. Varro is currently vice president of customer success at Indiegogo. Over the course of his fifteen-year career, Mr. Varro has held leadership positions at several innovative technology companies including Google, Facebook, and UpWork. As a first-generation American, he is passionate about creating opportunities for immigrant families to achieve greater social mobility. Mr. Varro’s Board focus is program and fund development. 


Advisory Board Members


Alicia Aguirre
City Council member, Redwood City

Kathleen Bennett
Founder, Girls’ Middle School

Jennifer Castello
ESL coordinator and professor, 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
Trustee, San Mateo County Community College District

Steve Russell
Serial entrepreneur

Barbara Sanner
Retired executive and community volunteer

Susan Speicher
Community volunteer