Kristen Soares is the fourth president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, representing the chief executives of California’s 75+ private nonprofit colleges and universities on issues of public policy.
Kristen brings to the position her extensive background in higher education administration, policy development, and governmental affairs. Most recently, she served as the senior associate vice president for government relations and civic engagement at the University of Southern California (USC) where she provided strategic direction and leadership for USC’s government relation’s offices in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C. She is credited with the creation of the USC Community Conversation series a forum to foster town-gown relations. Kristen currently chairs the California Education Round Table, California Intersegmental Coordinating Council Executive Committee, and The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities State Executive Committee.
Kristen earned her Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from the University of Southern California.
Vice President of External Relations
Erica Romero joined AICCU in January of 2016, as Vice President of External Relations. Erica is responsible for advocacy with the state legislature and statewide elected officials to advance and support independent higher education, as well as representing the Association before the legislature, boards, and commissions.
Erica’s career trajectory includes: Consultant and Media Liaison to the California State Assembly and Senate; Senior Advisor on the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans; and most recently, the founding Executive Director of the Western Regional Office, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
Erica earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley and a Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Amber joined AICCU in April of 2014. She is the Executive Assistant to the President and Vice President of External Relations. Before finding her home with AICCU, she provided administrative support to Environment California, Fund for the Public Interest, and managed the office of California Paint Recycling, an environmentally friendly local paint recycling company.
Amber is currently a student at Sacramento City College, where she is eagerly preparing to transfer to California State University – Sacramento to complete her undergraduate studies in Political Science and Public Administration. During her time at Sac City College, she co-founded the 2013 Feminist Club and acted as treasurer.
Susan joined AICCU in January 2016. Susan is responsible for administrative support, and AICCU financial operations. AICCU also functions as the fiscal agent for several entities and Susan is responsible for administrating their funds.
Susan comes to AICCU from Ascension Resource Group, a longtime business partner of AICCU. At Ascension she oversaw benefits administration for Ascension’s clients, including systems and interface development with carrier and payroll systems and was responsible for the development and management of tools to enhance Ascension’s benefit practices.
Susan majored in Marketing and Management at University of Arkansas and is a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Executive Program.
Danyelle Okamoto (Norman)
Director of Research & Publications
Danyelle joined AICCU in July of 2009. As Director of Research & Publications she is responsible for data collection and analysis of member colleges and universities, developing formats and data for use in publications, advocacy efforts, media, and testimony. In addition to serving as the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Statewide Coordinator for member colleges and universities, Danyelle works with national and state associations and agencies that include, but are not limited to, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), and the California Association of Institutional Research (CAIR).
Danyelle earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of the Pacific. She also holds a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration from Drexel University.
Director of institutional Relations
Thomas Vu joined AICCU in January 2014. As Director of Institutional Relations, he works to engage association members on priority policy issues of the day and grassroots advocacy, as well as building relationships across California’s political landscape to find partners to support this state’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities, and contributes to public policy discussions and legislative analysis.
Thomas’ career has been spent in government relations sphere in the association arena. Prior to joining AICCU, he worked at the California Chamber of Commerce as a policy advocate with a portfolio that included transportation and infrastructure, workers’ compensation, and international relations and trade. Thomas was also the legislative director for the California Special Districts Association, where he was the in-house legislative advocate on local government policy issues and managed the department. Most recently, he was a consultant at the California Asian Chamber of Commerce on a federal transportation grant and also advised on international trade, supplier diversity and economic development.
Thomas graduated from UC San Diego with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and Economics, and a minor in Literature. He obtained a Master in Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California.
Membership Services Manager
Kathy has been with AICCU since 1997. She manages AICCU membership services programs, including utilization to sending out key updates. Kathy was born and raised in Southern California and has lived in Washington D.C., British Columbia, and Oregon. She has two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Kathy attended La Sierra University and Southern Oregon University.
Veronica Villalobos Cruz
Veronica Villalobos Cruz is AICCU’s project coordinator on student financial aid and teacher preparation issues. Veronica was previously Vice President of External Relations of AICCU.
Veronica graduated from Santa Clara University with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and obtained a Master’s in Public Policy from University of Southern California.
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