Having been born in Mexico and drawing from two cultures I learned to navigate diverse social landscapes and adapt and to my surroundings, although at times it created a philosophical schism, “who am I today”? Studying Anthropology at the University of San Diego California provided the foundation from which to draw and think about how experiences and belief systems create our “identities”. From College I went directly into the non-profit sector, working in: public policy, the arts and youth development, all while crafting a hobby in photography, which gave me the ability to see what the busy mind does not often recognize; the beauty the pain and most of all the singularity of the human experience. I have always believed in intuitive living and cultivating clear intentions. It was with this philosophy that I went to Uganda in 2005 where I worked with former child soldiers and realized that the camera was far more powerful in their hands than it was in mine. Finding the AjA Project in 2006 was truly the culmination of all those experiences. Having since completed my Masters in Education and Non-Profit Leadership from the University of San Diego, I am inspired by the leadership of AjA Project students and those they affect beyond.
Director of Operations and Finance
Natache joined The AjA Project for a simple reason -- she found photography to be the only art form that places us all in the history book of life. Magical in how it grabs glimpses of the rainbow of humanity and transforms those images it into everlasting stories of birth, life, survival, love and cherished memory.
In addition to her 30 years in nonprofit management, Natache comes to The AjA Project with an extensive background in the nonprofit sector working with budgets ranging from $5,000 to $20 million. As a native of Washington, D.C., Natache worked as a nonprofit management consultant, gaining experience in all areas pertaining to capacity building and the lifecycle development of nonprofits.
Natache holds a M.A. in Nonprofit Management from Eastern University and B.A. in Management from Columbia Union College.
Mr. Takeda has initiated and taught participatory photography programs in refugee camps in Thailand, Colombia and San Diego. He is a published photojournalist and experienced videographer. Mr. Takeda graduated from Duke University with a B.S. degree and received his M.A. in Leadership Studies with a focus in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the University of San Diego.
Jena Olson came to AjA in 2009 as a lead instructor and became program manager in 2011. She has been a professional photographer since 2005, specializing in wedding photojournalism, lifestyle portraiture and editorial photography for non-profits. In addition to her work as a photographer, Jena has over ten years of experience as a group facilitator, particularly around the exploration of social identities such as race, class and gender. While working at the University of Wisconsin from 2004-2008, she taught a seminar called Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, facilitated at the annual Promoting Racial and Ethnic Awareness "Understanding Privilege" retreat, and formally mentored several college students to think critically about their own identities and privileges. Additionally, she has presented at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity and was a participant in the national Social Justice Training Institute. AjA has allowed her to combine her passions for photography and social justice education, as well as fulfill her commitment to creating lasting, positive change in the lives of young people.
Youth Development and International Programs Manager
As a journalist by profession, Christina Chomut found photography to be a powerful medium to communicate and create dialog while documenting a rising feminista political party during the 2003 elections in Mexico. The New York City native spent a semester living in Ensenada and participating in an anthropological research program while completing her B.A. at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University. During this time, Christina found a direct correlation between her ability to successfully document a population of people photographically and her deeper understanding of that population. This concept resonated through her style of reporting, yielding a position as a daily newspaper reporter for a subsidiary of the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2004.
Inspired by the work of Wendy Ewald, photographer and educator, Christina found the methods of participatory photography and visual thinking strategies to be extraordinarily effective when working with youth. Since 2009, Christina has been working with The AjA Project, both inside and outside the classroom as a Journey instructor and Youth Advisory Council facilitator. The effectiveness of AjA’s multi-tiered, theme-based programming served as an impetus for Christina to launch a new international initiative (The Znymka Project) through AjA to work with at-risk and orphaned youth in Ukraine.
JOSEMAR GONZALEZ LIZARRAGA
Josemar Gonzalez Lizarraga a Graphic Artist, and musician, has extensive experience in both the Tijuana and San Diego communities. In Tijuana he currently works with “Clinika,” an arts and culture magazine, where he does layout design, web design, and event promotions to enrich and communicate the diversity of the Tijuana culture. In the Tijuana community he also works with Grupo ONCE, a business-consulting firm, to design and implement the visual representation of the firm’s consulting strategies. Josemar incorporates these skills as well as a personal conviction and excitement, to express the personal experiences of youth to others in a way that connects them to a shared consciousness.
Lead Instructor, Bay Area
“My dad once told me that when you discover people with a similar passion and mission,
you have to get on their bus. He continued to say, ‘over time, that bus will be filled
with the right people to promote change.’ When I read AjA’s mission, I knew I had to get on their bus.” – Lauren Crew
After graduating from the University of Washington with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Visual Arts, Lauren knew she wanted to continue exploring her personal vision. Struggling to make sense of her existence, Lauren began to take photographs, found her voice and was able to express what words could not.
Lauren continued to pursue her many passions, from working as a photography director in New York City to attaining her credential as an art educator – Lauren finally landed in the Bay Area to get her M.F.A. in photography at the Academy of Art University.
Lauren thrives on collaboration and creativity with others. Developing connections defines who she is as an educator and photographer.
PROGRAM INTERNS AND SUPPORT
Emily Goodrich, Connie Phan, Arturo Martinez, Calvin Ha
Co-Chair - Real Estate Professional
Suzy Bramzon was born in Mexico City. She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University and her law degree from the University of Southern California Law School. After practicing real estate law for ten years Suzy now runs a family owned real estate development business.
Co-Chair - Staff Attorney, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties
Sean is a staff attorney at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, where he works on a range of issues primarily related to immigrants’ rights and national security. Prior to attending law school at UCLA, Sean lived extensively in Arab countries, where he studied history and advocated for the human rights of refugees. He began working at the ACLU as a Skadden Fellow in 2008.
Treasurer - General Manager at Sempra Energy Finance and Consulting Group, LLC.
Secretary - Digital Marketing Specialist, Sony Electronics
An Ohio native, Ms. Deas has an extensive background in project and account management. In 2009, she developed an interest in digital marketing, becoming particularly interested in the potential business applications of social media. Because of this, she sought a career change which led her to San Diego in 2010. Ashley now works in the Social Media department for Sony Electronics.
Director - Vice President, Jones Lang LaSalle
A graduate of the University of California, San Diego, Ms. Moore has been in commercial real estate for 14 years. Ms. Moore specializes in corporate tenant representation, and today works for Jones Lang LaSalle, one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the world. She serves on the board of The AjA Project and The Downtown San Diego Partnership.
AMY PAN, Ph.D.
Director - Ph.D. Senior Research Scientist, Institute for Public Health Graduate School of Public Health San Diego State University
Dr. Amy Pan is a senior research scientist and faculty associate at the Institute for Public Health (IPH) at San Diego State University. Dr. Pan provides program evaluation and grant writing support for the IPH. Her primary research interests include violence prevention and other preventative health issues in immigrant and refugee communities. Prior to working at the IPH, Amy worked at the Center for Community Solutions, the Tahirih Justice Center, and the Center for Child Welfare at George Mason University.
HEATHER LATTIMER, Ed.D.
Director - Assistant Professor and Chair, Department of Learning and Teaching, School of Leadership and Education Sciences, University of San Diego
Heather Lattimer is an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Learning and Teaching in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego. Prior to coming to USD she was a middle and high school teacher. She earned degrees from Harvard, Stanford, and the University of California, San Diego.
Director - Associate at Sheppard Mullin