About the People

 Current Coordinators (2018)

Cierra Duckworth
Cierra was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and graduated from Lamar High School. She is a senior at Rice from Wiess College majoring in Biochemistry and minoring in Medical Humanities. Cierra has was a member of the Rice Owls Dance Team for two years, along with joining various other organizations on campus like the Black Student Association, Baptist Student Ministry and many others. She is also an intern for EMERGE, a non-profit organization that connects local students with higher-educational opportunities. Cierra served as an advisor for YOLP in 2015 and coordinator in 2016 and 2017, and she is happy to be back coordinating the 2018 program!


Nifemi Adebara
Nifemi was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria where she lived until she was 18 years old. She then moved to Houston to attend Rice University. She will be graduating in May with a degree in  Mathematical Economic Analysis and later pursuing her Masters’ in Accounting at Rice. Nifemi has served as the treasurer of the Rice African Students Association (RASA), an O-week Advisor, a Peer Guide, a leader on the Baptist Student Ministries and currently serves as an Academic Fellow at her residential college,Duncan. In the education world Nifemi has worked as a project assistant at an education consulting firm, advised in the YOLP 2016 cohort and was a teaching fellow at Breakthrough Collaborative summer 2017

Jessica Alanis

Jessica is a sophomore at Rice from Will Rice College studying
Environmental Science and pursuing the Master of Art in Teaching. She
is from San Antonio, Texas and enjoyed frequent visits to her parents’
hometown in Santiago, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Jessica is her college’s
Eco-Rep, a member of HACER (Hispanic Association of Cultural
Enrichment at Rice), and is an intern at GirlStart where she teaches
weekly STEM lessons to 4th grade girls. Jessica served as an advisor
for YOLP in 2017 and is excited to return as a coordinator for YOLP

Alberto Maldonado

His real name is José Alberto, but he’s known by his middle name. He originally reigns from Honey Grove, Texas, a small town of 1,668 and, despite majoring in environmental engineering, he plans to go on to medical school after undergrad. He is still a small town boy at heart looking to fuse his background of Mexican-American, Texan, first-gen, mixed immigrant status family with the realities of the world to make a one-on-one difference. Alberto will be graduating from Rice in May 2018 before taking a gap year leading to medical school.


Luis Moreno-Nuñez

Luis is a rising junior 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 member of Queers and Allies, SER Scholars, and volunteers at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Luis advised in 2017 and can’t wait for YOLP 2018!

Board of Directors

Norma Torres Mendoza

Norma Torres Mendoza serves as the Director of Financial Literacy and Alumni Funding at IDEA Public Schools. Norma provides a wide range of resources to support the financial needs of our current students and alumni in their journey to and through college. Her role entails working with the College Success Team along with the Advancement Team to ensure we have funds for our annual scholarships and one-time emergency loans.
Prior to IDEA Public Schools, Norma worked for Deloitte Consulting LLP. She graduated from Harvard with her Masters in Public Policy and Rice University with a BA in Political Science and Hispanic Studies. She co-founded YOLP her sophomore year at Rice University.
Norma was born in Mexico and grew up in Houston Texas. In her free time, she mentors first generation college students, and is a pro bono consultant for non-profits on Latino initiatives.


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. During the summer she taught high school physics at an education center in Chinatown. 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 teaches 8th grade math in the Houston community of Gulfton.

Zachary Marx-Kuo

Zachary Marx-Kuo was born and grew up in the Washington, DC area.  He moved to Houston to attend Rice University in 2009.  While studying Political Science and Art History at Rice, he became involved in various service organizations and co-founded the Young Owls Leadership Program.  Zachary also had the opportunity to participate in the Gateway Study of Leadership as a student fellow and conducted research on leadership qualities found in members of the Rice and Houston community.  After graduating from Rice in 2013, Zachary taught elementary school at KIPP Explore in Houston’s East End through Teach for America. After three years of teaching, he started his current position as college counselor at Sharpstown High School in Southwest Houston.

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.