Our Team


Luis Moreno Nuñez

Luis is a senior at Rice from Duncan College. Originally from Kent, Washington, he is double majoring in Biochemistry and the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Luis is involved with the Rice chapter of QuestBridge, a national scholarship organization for high-achieving, low-income students. He is also a co-President of Rice PRIDE and a Summer HIV/AIDS Research Program (SHARP) Scholar. Luis advised in 2017 and is coordinating for a third year, having coordinated YOLP 2018 and 2019!

Star Han

Star is a sophomore attending Rice University as a QuestBridge match scholar. She was born in South Korea but has called Bloomington, Indiana home for the past 10 years. Star is passionate about psychology and education and hopes to one day open a non-profit daycare for under-served communities. At Rice, Star is involved in Woori Samulnori, a traditional Korean percussion ensemble, and volunteers with the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees. She advised for YOLP in 2019 and is very excited to return to the program as a coordinator!

Alexus Arizola

Alexus is a sophomore at Rice University and is a member of Will Rice College studying Computer Science. Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Alexus is a huge Spurs fan. She loves all things involving engineering and education and identifies as a low-income, first-generation college student. Alexus can usually be found hanging around Rice or working at East-West, the boba shop on campus. She advised for the first time in 2018.


Christopher Almendariz

Chris is currently a junior at Rice from Sid Richardson College. He is a Houston native majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Biochemistry & Cell Biology. He is a first-generation college student, QuestBridge Scholar, research assistant in the Translational Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience Lab, and is currently applying for medical school. He works part-time as a math instructor and in his free time enjoys watching anime, reading WebToon comics, and being with his friends. Having advised in 2018 and 2019, Chris is excited to coordinate for the 2020 program!


Board of Directors

Norma Torres Mendoza

Norma Torres Mendoza is currently an MBA candidate at Rice University and a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Public Policy. Norma has spent the last seven years consulting numerous non-profits, businesses, and governmental agencies on their vision, expansion strategy, fundraising tactics, and technology integrations. Most recently she spent her summer at E&Y in their Mergers and
Acquisition department where she will begin working full time after completing her MBA.

Before attending Rice Jones Business School, Norma spent two years at IDEA Public Schools building their college fundraising infrastructure and raising over 3 million dollars for scholarships. Previously to the Harvard Kennedy School, Norma worked for Deloitte Consulting LLP, where she was Human Capital Analyst.

Norma co-founded the Young Owls Leadership Program (YOLP) at Rice University, whose mission is to prepare rising high school students as both leaders in their communities and competitive applicants to top-tier colleges and universities. YOLP is currently on its 7th year and the leadership has raised approximately $350,000 dollars. Nearly 420 students from the Houston area have participated, and many of them have been the first ones in their families to apply, attend, and graduate from 4-year universities.

Vanessa Morales

Vanessa Morales was born and raised in Houston, TX. She attended Rice University and graduated in 2012 with a BA in Political Science and Sports Management. She co-founded the Young Owls Leadership Program during her senior year at Rice. Directly after graduating from Rice, Vanessa joined Teach for America and began teaching 7th grade math at YES Prep Public Schools. She is currently in her sixth year of teaching. She is deeply passionate about promoting diversity and culturally relevant conversations in the field of education. Therefore, she served as a Social Justice Curriculum Writer during the summer of 2017 at YES Prep and currently serves as Diversity Ambassador at her campus.

Cecilia Liang

Cecilia Liang graduated from Rice University in 2015 with a double major in Hispanic Studies and Health Sciences. During her time at Rice, she was a shift leader for the BCM Patient Discharge Initiative (PDI) at Ben Taub General Hospital. Through her varied experiences with Houston and all it had to offer, she discovered an immense passion for empowering students to realize their potential, and continually hopes that all students will find the courage in themselves to reach for more. She had amazing experiences advising (2012, 2013) and coordinating (2014, 2015) for Young Owls and joined Teach for America after graduating from Rice. Currently, Cecilia is still at her placement school in Gulfton teaching high school physics, after having taught 8th grade math for four years.

AJ Barnes

AJ Barnes was born and raised in Houston, Texas. He graduated from Rice University with a degree in cognitive science. During his time at Rice, he served as both an advisor and coordinator for the program. After graduating, he joined Teach For America as a high school math teacher in the Northside of Houston. AJ is still at his placement school where he continues to teach math and work with students and colleagues to provide access to high-quality education. He also serves on the Young Owls Alumni Team where he mentors students to help them discover and reach their full potential. He believes strongly in the power of education to change lives and better the world and uses this to guide his work on the YOLP Board.


Cierra Duckworth was born and raised in Houston, Texas. In 2018, she graduated from Rice University with a degree in Biochemistry and Cellular Biology and minor in Medical Humanities. During her time at Rice, she served as both an advisor and coordinator for the program. After graduating, she began working for EMERGE Fellowship as a Program Coordinator and now, Program Manager in Spring ISD. Cierra believes strongly in the mission of YOLP and has spent much of her time both during and after undergrad researching and combating education inequality in Houston. She believes every student, regardless of socioeconomic or racial background should have access to quality opportunities and education. Currently, Cierra serves as the Vice-President of the YOLP board and hopes to keep the mission and vision of the program at the forefront of all decisions on the board.


Bradley Hamilton, originally from Plano, Texas, graduated from Rice University with a degree in Mathematical Economic Analysis in 2017. During his time at Rice, Bradley served as a Young Owls Advisor (2015 Cohort) and a two-time Young Owls Coordinator (2016 and 2017 Cohorts). After graduating, Bradley began his corporate journey as a Functional Strategy Consultant with Accenture Strategy primarily focused on improving company profitability across a variety of clients and industries. Bradley has a passion for creating equal opportunity for underrepresented populations in both high school and college. As such, he is the Rice Undergraduate Recruiting Inclusion & Diversity Lead for Accenture Strategy.


Carlos is a native Houstonian and the first in his family to attend and graduate from a four-year college. He graduated from Pitzer in 2018 with a BA in political studies and Spanish, and currently serves as Manager of Persistente at EMERGE, a leading educational nonprofit in the city of Houston. Prior to joining EMERGE, he worked as a consultant for the Ministry of Education under the supervision of Epsy Campbell, the first woman of African descent to become vice president of Costa Rica, and at the Institute for Central American Development Studies. He is a former candidate for the Houston Independent School District School Board and a recruiter for Teach For America. He is a trustee on the Pitzer College Alumni Board and a founding member of the Chavez High School Alumni Association. Carlos is a two-time winner of the Kallick Community Service Award.