Violeta Aguilar-Wyrick is the founder and principal of Xara Public Affairs which is a progressive full service public affairs firm based out of Riverside, CA. Xara Public Affairs specializes in social impact strategies, community outreach, public policy, governmental and public affairs. Xara has broken barriers, leading successful strategy, field communication, policy and governmental affairs efforts at the local, state and federal level for candidates, labor unions and corporate clients.
Violeta’s philosophy and impetus to work is tied to her life experience as a Mexican immigrant and as a labor and community organizer working in policy and politics in Southern California. With over 15 years of experience, Violeta has led successful labor, community outreach, issue-based, advocacy and electoral campaigns. She has launched vital initiatives that are helping to change the landscape by empowering equitable policies and practices as well as championing sustainable community led programs which directly help local communities in the cities her clients serve.
Emmanuel Choice is a Sr. Asset Manager with Decro Corporation, a non-profit developer of LIHTC affordable housing with properties throughout Southern California and Central Florida. He is responsible for operationalizing the firm's mission and strategic plan to ensure the organization meets and exceeds its strategic vision.
A So. Cal native deeply impacted by the civil unrest of 1992, which gave rise to the USC Ross Program, Choice made the difficult decision to relocate to Charlotte, NC, where he began a career in commercial real estate. Initially as a project manager, then as a property manager, and subsequently as a transaction and investment broker servicing Class A office and retail properties within Bank of America Corporate Headquarters.
After twenty years in the 'Tar Heel' state, Choice was motivated to return home with his growing family by witnessing alarming numbers of people living on the streets during visits with relatives. He is eager to leverage his real estate experience to help bring sustainable solutions to combat homelessness in Los Angeles and grow equitable opportunities in historically red-lined underserved inner-city communities, with a vision of transforming them into triple-bottom-line thriving ecosystems.
Choice spends time with family and close friends as the primary chef-in-residence, lead air guitarist of his expansive 1970s Funk & Soul collection, wine & cigar enthusiast, and proud LA Clippers fan. Well-traveled, he also supports organizations, including Black Girls Code, AAREP LA, BGOA, and CAAM. With a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Choice holds the prestigious CCIM Designation and CHAM, TCS, and CFS certifications.
Joining USC's Ross Program allows Choice to complete a circle that began over three decades ago with a vision and commitment by city and university leaders to improve conditions in the urban core of Los Angeles. That vision put into practice has remained viable since it started in 1992 by nurturing committed practitioners to be the change they seek, and Choice is honored to be amongst a new cohort of change-makers who will 'Fight On.'
Matej Dlabal, is an architectural designer at ZGF. Currently he is coordinating the construction and completion of Aggie Square, a one million square feet development comprised of labs, office spaces, classrooms and more, which will serve the local community as well as the UC Davis campus and its students, staff, and faculty.
In the past, Matej has worked on projects varying in scale from a two- story house in the suburbs of Madrid, to multi-million square feet masterplans for large developments overseas, as well as architectural competitions such as an eco-lodge for the Abu Dhabi desert, or a mixed- use tower in Shinjuku containing a mall, movie theater, hotel as well as residential units.
Matej holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University, a NAAB-accredited five-year program during which he was awarded the William S. Downing prize, a prize that highlights design excellence.
While currently performing the duties of an architect, Matej has been cultivating an interest in real estate development, which has been fueled by his recent participation in construction administration. Matej’s hope is to understand real-estate development further by participating in the USC Ross Minority Program and pursuing a career shift that aligns design excellence and healthy planning and development of communities locally and nationally, across a variety of different programs and scales. Having lived across North America and Europe, Matej Dlabal now lives in Los Angeles.
Greg Elliott currently manages the specialty electrical and low voltage systems at Anderson Howard, serving the commercial real estate market for over 50 years. With an expertise in preconstruction, the focus has been on design efficiency and budgeting scenarios helping to refine project pro forma that align with the owner/developer anticipated returns.
From June of 2010 through June of 2012, Greg attended Harvard Business School, successfully completing the OPM program aligned with the curriculum of an executive MBA. The international component of the program has helped build connections throughout the world affording opportunity to source items, and leverage relationships that contribute to solutions through civil, real estate, and construction experience.
As a member of CFMA, NECA, Vistage and NAIOP, the professional network at the local level runs deep as well. Greg serves on two boards, NJATC, providing guidance to the future labor resources necessary for the growth of the future, and NECA, whose mission is to collaborate with world class partners to elevate the electrical industry.
Greg is fortunate to be working with some of the largest financial, medical, educational and tech clients in the world. Many of the projects completed have been recognized as demonstrating the highest level of electrical excellence and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditations. Upon completion of the Ross Program in Real Estate, Greg’s desire is to apply the enhanced development knowledge to the network and industry experience to create great opportunities within our communities and for the people living within them. Greg currently resides in Lake Forest, California.
Hugo Escalante began his real estate career in 1992 after leaving the US Army with an Honorable Discharge. As a US Army Veteran, Hugo has and continues to devote his life to God, his Family, and his Country.
With 30 years of experience in the real estate industry, he has been involved with almost all aspects of real estate, including real estate finance, seller, and buyer representation, REO, short sales, and residential redevelopment.
Hugo epitomizes integrity, energy, hard work, dedication, and creative service in every detail of the real estate transaction. His service areas have primarily been in the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles County and have extended into the Inland Empire. He is certified as a Small Business (SB) and Disabled Veteran Owned Business (DVBE). He is a member of the Citrus Valley Association of Realtors and the National Association of Default Professionals (NADP). Hugo continues to educate himself through various real estate courses, designations, and certifications such as the ABR, CRS, GRI, SFR, SRES, SRS, MRP, PSA, e-PRO, and AHWD. He believes in continuing education to stay current in all aspects of the real estate industry.
Hugo served his country during Operation Just Cause, Panama, 1989, and Operation Desert Storm 1990-91. Hugo is a family man with a devotion to his four children. He continues to give back after leaving the military by volunteering at the local pantry. He also enjoys fishing, working out, and spending time with his children.
Alexander is a talented leader and project manager in Southern California who leads and launches projects that uplift communities and enhance residents' quality of life. In both public and nonprofit sectors, he has launched numerous regional and local initiatives that significantly benefit communities and ensure that those from underserved populations are involved and represented.
Alexander currently serves as the Senior Management Analyst for the City of Eastvale, known as the second youngest city in California. His work and responsibilities include managing and supporting the City's economic development, community development, public works, and planning projects. Prior to joining the City of Eastvale, he worked for a regional government planning agency in the Greater Los Angeles Region known as the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG). In his various roles with the agency, he launched and led high-level projects that had significant impacts to the two million residents who reside in the San Gabriel Valley region, including the San Gabriel Valley Transit Feasibility Study, the San Gabriel Valley Regional Food Recovery Program, the East San Gabriel Valley Sustainable Multimodal Improvement Project, the San Gabriel Valley Regional Coyote Management Program, the San Gabriel Valley Wildfire Adaptation and Prevention Program, and the San Gabriel Valley Regional Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Mitigation Program.
Additionally, Alexander currently serves as the Chair of the Economic Development Advisory Commission (EDAC) at the City of Monterey Park, where he leads and collaborates with commissioners to launch initiatives that enhance Monterey Park's economic growth and provide the Monterey Park City Council with recommendations to develop additional economic development initiatives. He is the youngest individual to serve on EDAC and youngest individual to be elected as Chair of the Commission.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Southern California, Alexander is fluent in Cantonese, English, and Mandarin. He is also a former corporate social responsibility consultant and has substantial experience in organizational leadership, capacity building, legislative analysis, and government relations. He graduated from UCLA with a Master of Public Policy degree with distinctions and obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UC Irvine with the highest honor of “Chancellor’s Award of Distinction.”
Armida Garcia is a Public Service Leader and Community Builder with 20+ years of Customer Care and Client Relations Experience. Her current role is as a Development Specialist and the Real Property Coordinator for the Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA). In the 7 years that she has been with the LACDA she has worked in the Housing Operations Division as an Analyst and then as the Property Manager over Maravilla and other public housing sites throughout Los Angeles County. She has also worked in the Executive Office as the Assistant to the Deputy Executive Director.
Prior to working at the LACDA, Armida worked for Wells Fargo Bank and the Social Security Administration.
Ms. Garcia holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Administration from the University of La Verne and a master’s degree in Public Administration from California State University, Northridge.
She looks forward to continuing education through the Ross Program in Real Estate to build her skillset in real-estate acquisition, development, and finance to make informed decisions which best serve the residents of Los Angeles County.
Gina Gibson-Williams currently serves as the Community Development and Public Works Director for the City of Eastvale. She is responsible for overseeing and managing various community development, economic development, public works, and urban planning projects, including leading the City’s efforts to build a new Downtown and developing a new 5-Year Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
As a 30-year veteran leading municipal urban planning initiatives, Gina is known as a transformational and strategic leader across the Inland Empire region who is positive, enthusiastic, and forward-thinking. Having a strong desire to lead others to uplift local communities, she collaborates with community stakeholders to create innovative solutions that address emerging issues.
When Gina is not championing change, she serves as a volunteer for the California Department of Corrections and enjoys sightseeing, theatre, cooking, and cheering for the underdog with her family and friends. Gina graduated from the California Baptist University with a Master of Public Administration degree studied undergraduate work and received a bachelor’s degree in geography from UCLA.
Landy Joseph received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Architecture & Design from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of California Los Angeles. She has always been fascinated by urban design, policies and systems, and how they shape lives. Architecture gave her the opportunity to study and further understand the impact of the built environment on the well-being. Urban Planning gave her the opportunity to better understand how policy, systems and processes interrelated with design impacts communities on a large scale.
As an urban planning student, she became fascinated by housing, housing history and housing policy and was inspired to join the housing movement. Currently as a Project Manager, she oversees the progress of WHCHC’s developments, managing all critical phases in the predevelopment and development process. Landy is excited to continue learning about real estate development and financing and gain critical tools that can help support the ability to build for those in need and build better for the evolving communities.
Kevin Lee is the Library District Director of the Banning Library District, which serves over 35,000 people. Previously, he worked as a librarianfor several different libraries.
He has a library degree from the University of Southern California as well as a business degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Next year, he plans to enroll in the master’s degree in public administration offered by the Arkansas State University. Currently, he is enrolled in the Credential Government Leader (CGL) program offered by the Municipal Management Association of Southern California.
Under his leadership, the library recently finished its interior renovation. Prior to that, the library redesigned its website and upgraded its wi-fi internet technology. The library will revamp its parking lot with modern landscaping ideas next year. Thereafter, the Library plans to purchase or lease a property to open its second branch - the Ross program will be of great help when that happens.
Lee was recognized for his work by the mayor of Banning last year. In 2016, a previous library he led was nominated for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor in library field. That same year, he was recognized by the County of Riverside/Board of Supervisors.
Lee resides in San Jacinto, a small growing city within Riverside County.
Maricela Marquez is a Community Development Analyst with the City of Santa Ana. She possesses sixteen years of public sector experience with a primary concentration on various housing programs. Such as, First Time Home Buyer Programs, Single Family Rehabilitation Programs, Economic Development Historic Preservation Program as well as Senior Housing Developments. Ms. Marquez graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Administration from the University of La Verne. In 2021, she completed a certificate from UCLA - Ziman Levine in Affordable Housing Development.
More recently, Ms. Marquez was recognized by Representative Lou Correa as a Woman of the Year an award that honor exceptional women in the 46th Congressional District. This recognition was awarded for her work managing and administering the City’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program designed to assist low-income renters impacted by COVID-19. Through her work she distributed 38 million in funding and assisted, more 3018 families remained housed during the pandemic.
Ms. Marquez is looking forward to expanding her understanding and knowledge following the completion of the Ross in Real Estate Program. As such, that she can promote to next level where she can take on affordable housing developments and utilize the knowledge gained through her experience and this coursework. Maricela Marquez resides in Diamond Bar, California.
Los Angeles native, Pauline Martinez, currently serves as Administrative Assistant to Dr. Manuel Castells, University Professor, and Wallis Annenberg Chair in Technology Communication and Society at the USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. Her top priorities are to manage three ongoing research projects, provide a range of administrative support to Prof. Castells, and provide academic support to undergraduate and graduate scholars.
A USC double alumna with a bachelor's degree in Public Policy and Management, and a master's degree in Social Entrepreneurship, she also earned post-graduate certification in Business and Sustainability. Pauline solves complex problems, by focusing on mitigating the effects of environmental influences in vulnerable, urban multifamily communities. She invested over ten years in implementing solutions to improve water and energy efficiency, increase public safety, and initiate healthy nutrition options in Northeast Los Angeles. Her efforts realized over $200,000 in grants, rebates, and private donations in partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the USC Good Neighborhood Campaign, the District One Councilman’s Office, and the Lincoln Heights Benefit Association.
Most recently, Pauline purchased her first investment property, going deeper into the practice of sustainable strategies concerning home renovation. By utilizing upcycling and recycling methods, Pauline and her team converted a neglected two-bedroom (+den), two-bathroom townhouse, into a modern, spacious three-bedroom, three-bathroom family home. The challenge was to make the unit livable while adding value to the process. Hiring local vendors and purchasing most of the building materials and appliances from non-profits and reputable discount outlets, her team regenerated inventories of furniture and artifacts back into local non-profit enterprises.
After the completion of the Ross Program, Pauline intends to found her own women-owned business (Pauline Martinez Investments/PMI), providing consulting services for urban, multifamily communities.
Luis Melo is a Land Investor and a Realtor in California. He has been working with Real Estate for the past four years and has found his niche in Vacant Lots. He has done over 175 transactions across the U.S.A. He is a problem solver at the core, helping all sellers with their probate needs, LLC problems, behind taxes, title issues, and more.
He is passionate about the meaning of owning a piece of the United States and what that can do to someone’s life.
He is a very skilled negotiator, having helped several homeowners in the complex process of selling and buying a house. He loves helping people and seeing their faces when they get to their so-wanted homes and when they net as much money as possible selling their existing homes.
Luis Melo just started a course on executing notes when buying and selling real estate and is super excited about what that can do to his and his loved ones’ lives.
He is super excited about helping the community with new developments. He has been dreaming about a day when he can work on a significant development project and a potential home for hundreds of people.
Luis`s wife has two master’s degrees from USC and is working along with his wife for his son to have the mentality of going to a prestigious university like USC.
He resides in a lovely home in Huntington Beach, CA, with his wife and five-year-old son.
He is originally from Brazil and has been living in the U.S. for about six and a half years.
Meredith Sharkey is currently a Management Analyst at the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) / San Gabriel Valley Regional Housing Trust (SGVRHT). The SGVRHT is a joint powers authority that funds affordable and homeless housing projects in the San Gabriel Valley and supports projects from predevelopment through completion. In this position, she has worked on the development and operation of three interim housing tiny home sites for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. She also works to improve project outcomes through leveraging community partnerships and engaging residents.
With experience in sustainability, policy, and community development, Meredith’s interests have all led her to pursue affordable housing development. Meredith is new to the world of real estate and looks forward to building her skills through the Ross Program. She is passionate about sustainable and inclusive development and is excited to use the skills she gains from this program to support affordable housing projects in the San Gabriel Valley.
Meredith is originally from Indiana and earned both her B.S. and Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University. Her academic background is in policy, environmental management, and nonprofit management. She has always felt a calling to public service and dedicates her professional life to projects that improve communities. Meredith credits her mentor, Brielle Acevedo (Ross Program Winter 2015 cohort), with inspiring her to participate in this program and to continue developing her expertise in real estate.
Rubani is a production designer at IDEO, an innovation and design consultancy company.
Rubani volunteers at the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest conservatories under glass in the United States, in Chicago, Illinois. He volunteers for and sits on the board of the Active Transpiration Alliance, a transportation advocacy organization that works at the intersection of the most important issues and significant opportunities of our times: climate change; racial, social, and economic justice; and affordable and healthy communities. He spends some of his time and effort helping neighbors with construction projects and investing in property development opportunities near home. For as long as he can remember, he has been fascinated with how the design and construction of our built environment can empower, inspire and serve us. He is looking for more opportunities to learn about and
contribute to work in this field.
Terrence Smalls is a CA Realtor and the founder of Reche Capital, a real estate investment company based in Los Angeles, CA.
Terrence graduated from Morehouse College with a degree in Finance. Following graduation, Terrence attended London School of Economics where he completed a “business negotiations” program. Terrence has also participated in multiple startup accelerator programs including Techstars, SAP.iO, and Elemental Accelerator.
Terrence moved to Los Angeles in 2013 while working as a personal assistant in the entertainment industry. This role provided him an opportunity to travel the world in a fast-paced environment that emphasized the importance of hard work, humility, and maintaining great relationships.
Since moving to Los Angeles, Terrence has started multiple businesses in a variety of industries, expanding both his professional skills and network. Terrence takes a creative approach to problem solving that enables him to identify and create opportunities where others may see risks.
Terrence is excited to see how the Ross Program will accelerate and support his transition to a career in commercial real estate.
Christina Sutton (she/her/hers) (PMP, PMI-ACP) is the founder of O'thentik Designs, an interior design and planning firm based in Oakland, CA, and provides a full spectrum of program and project management consulting services to community-based agencies.
Christina has more than fifteen (15) years of professional planning and project management experience across the private, public and non-profit sectors. She has managed and contributed to numerous housing and community development projects on a local and global scale.
With a passion for serving and creating equitable solutions in underserved communities, she values meaningful public and stakeholder participation and is passionate about bottom-up planning processes. Christina has diverse skills across disciplines thanks to a background in construction project management, design, international planning, and community-based placemaking work. She has a passion for commercial real estate development and land use planning in all aspects and holds a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the industry.
More impressive, she is a passionate leader. Christina takes great pride in mentoring and coaching young leaders to advance their careers and foster an understanding of reflective develop-ment practices. As a lifelong learner who values continual growth, she views each interaction as an opportunity to expand and deepen her knowledge while applying her leadership for successful project pursuit strategies. Mrs. Sutton holds a master’s degree in Urban Development Planning from University College London and a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from San Francisco State University.
Omar Taylor currently serves as the President of Nobis Management, a family holding and investment company with portfolio companies in Healthcare, Staffing and Commercial Real Estate. He is also the founder and principal of Taylor, PC a boutique law firm focused primarily on providing counsel to Businesses, their Founders and Investors.
Mr. Taylor received his degree in Psychology from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA and his Juris Doctor from Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, LA.
In 2012, Omar was tapped by President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign to work in the state of Florida. During his time with the campaign, Mr. Taylor worked on strategy and organization efforts which ultimately contributed winning the state in that election.
In 2014, Omar graduated from the ICSC Real Estate Associate Program (Project REAP) in Los Angeles, CA. In 2017, Mr. Taylor went on to graduate from Goldman Sachs’s academy for business owners named, 10kSB
At Nobis, Mr. Taylor is responsible for overseeing the operation and performance of its portfolio companies and real estate assets which include multi-tenant office buildings. Currently, Omar leads Nobis’s efforts in acquiring and developing new multi-use and multi-tenant properties around Southern California.
At Taylor, P.C., Omar’s practice includes assisting his clients in navigating various strategic and operational challenges across the industries of Real Estate, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Web3. Through Taylor, P.C. Omar launched Your LLC Guy, a wholly owned subsidiary of the firm that focuses on efficient and affordable business entity formation for retail customers. Outside of the office, Omar is an avid skier, mountain biker, tennis player and sportscar enthusiast. Omar resides in Pasadena, CA.