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Image of Santiago Deborah A. Santiago

Deborah A. Santiago, PhD, is the Vice President for Policy and Research at Excelencia in Education and brings her extensive experience in education policy and research to the challenge of accelerating Latino student success. As an analyst at the U.S. Department of Education she led components of the Department's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and was responsible for developing the agency's initial budget for student financial aid programs. As Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, Deborah worked with 26 federal agencies to evaluate how their programs served Latinos, served as a liaison with Latino community-based organizations, produced multiple reports on the status of Latinos in education, including primary author of "Creating the Will: Hispanics Achieving Educational Excellence."

While in Los Angeles Deborah shifted her focus to the K-12 level and served as Vice President for Data and Policy Analysis at the Los Angeles County Alliance for Student Achievement. She worked with community-based organizations in Los Angeles and throughout California to advocate on behalf of students in the second largest school district in the nation. As a Irvine Fellow at the Center on Educational Governance at the University of Southern California, Deborah studied charter schools and developed a model of multiple measures of accountability.

Her current research focuses on accountability, higher education policy, institutional practices, and Latinos in higher education. Recent publications include the policy report, "How Latinos Pay for College: Patterns of Financial Aid," "What Works for Latino Youth," and the research brief, "Inventing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs): The Basics." Deborah has a bachelor's degree in economics, a master's degree in urban affairs, and a doctorate degree in education policy.

Image of Idalia Fernandez Idalia P. Fernandez

Idalia joined the HCF in 1999 as the organization's first Program Manager. She has served as Vice President & COO of the organization since October, 2001. In her role, Idalia is guiding strategic development, programs, fundraising, event management, compliance, finance, and staffing. Additionally, she has become the Hispanic College Fund's lead speaker, effectively communicating with various audiences, including non-English speaking parents. Most recently, Idalia was a national panelist for the Partners in Education, a program of the White House Initiative on Excellence in Education for Hispanic Americans.

Prior to joining the Hispanic College Fund, Idalia managed financial systems at General Dynamics headquarters, a large government contractor with over $1 billion in sales. Her various roles at General Dynamics included budgeting, financial analysis, government contract compliance, and internal auditing. Idalia's tenure at General Dynamics was from 1991 - 1998.

She is the first person in her family to graduate from college. Her understanding of language, cultural and financial barriers for Hispanics and of the necessity of having a college education to get ahead, drives her passion to help young people reach their full potential.

Bilingual in English and Spanish, Idalia was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and came to United States in 1976. She earned a Masters in Business Administration from Averett University and a Bachelor's in Biology with a French minor from Boston University. Idalia and her husband Antonio live in Northern Virginia.

Image of Cindi Gahris Cindi Gahris

Cindi Gahris is the Assistant Director of Career-Technical & Adult Education in Ohio's Career Development Systems unit. As CRN Director, she oversees K-12 career development, High Schools That Work and Tech Prep.

Ms. Gahris earned her BA in elementary education at Eastern Kentucky University and her MA in curriculum and supervision at Wright State University. Her professional life-as an elementary teacher, an elementary specialist at a regional career center, and in the Ohio Department of Education-has focused on career development. She has written two books on career integration.

Cindi lives in a historic district in Columbus, Ohio in a 100-year plus home. She is looking forward to reading, gardening, working on the house, and enjoying her family when she retires in December after 35 years in education ("gee, she doesn't look that old!").