2019 Latino Leaders

2019 Latino Leaders

stephen acosta

Stephen Acosta

Mechanic Engineer Major

Stephen Acosta is from Clovis, New Mexico and graduated from Clovis High School. His father is from Cuauhtémoc, Mexico. Stephen is a first-generation college student and plans on completing a Mechanical Engineering degree at Friends. In addition to being part of the Latino Leaders, Stephen is part of the Friend’s football and powerlifting teams. While at Friends, Stephen hopes to be an example, grow as a person intellectually and strengthen his relationship with God. Stephen wants to be able to give back to his community as he understands the sacrifices and the investment others had given to him.

Manuel Aguilar

Manny Aguilar

Mechanical Engineering Major & Mathematics Minor

Manny Aguilar is a graduate of Wichita High School North and is a currently a freshman at Friends University. Manny is a first-generation student who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Minoring in Mathematics. His dream is to finish college and take care of his family. Manny’s biggest inspiration is his mom, who has supported, pushed, and loved him through every step of the way. He is most looking forward to Meeting new people and making lifelong relationships. His family is from Durango, Mexico and he is the youngest of five siblings. His parents are the ones who really inspired him to try hard in school and go to college, so he won’t have to live in the same conditions they did.

Elleana Ortiz

Elleana Ortiz

Ballet Major & Religion & Ministry Minor

Elleana Ortiz is from Lansing, Michigan and is a high school graduate of LifeTech Academy. She is attending Friends to pursue her passion for Ballet and also explore her interest in Religion and Ministry work. She has two brothers and is very close to her family. She loves helping and inspiring people and hopes that her future career will reflect that. She has bonded with the other Latino Leaders and is looking forward to being involved on campus with them.

Reece Ortiz

Reece Ortiz

Cyber Security Major

Reece comes to Friends University from Michigan, where he was born and raised. He graduated from Life tech Academy and came to Friends to study Cyber Security. Reece likes to hang out with his friends and participate with activities on campus in his free time. He hopes to grow his professional skills and create lasting friendships, relationships and networks during his time here at Friends, so he’s prepared when he exits college in four years.

Salma Pena

Salma Peña

Vocal Music Education

Salma Peña is a freshman who was born and raised in Ulysses, Kansas. She is a first generation college student who strives to make herself and her mother proud. She wants her younger brother to know he can accomplish anything. Salma is involved in cNAfMe, KCDA, Kansas Bandmasters Association, HALO, Latino Leaders. She plays clarinet in the University Band, and sings in Concert Choir. When Salma is not practicing music, or learning about it, she is most likely at cheer practice, as she is a Friends University cheerleader. Salma hopes to become a phenomenal music teacher like she has had in the past. She is also looking forward to making great music and creating memories here at Friends University.

Christopher Pina

Christopher Pina

Computer Programming & Cyber Security Major

Chis is a freshman and is double majoring for computer programming and cyber security. He plans to get a job in Koch Industries, and be able to help out in making programs and securing businesses from incidents and attacks. Chris has three brothers who live with him, and two already attend Friends University. Chris participates in Band, Percussion, Percussion Ensembles, Choir and attends Voice Lessons. Chris helped his brother to build three PCs from scratch, and also build a Application/Media Server that mostly is used to for Minecraft with friends. He has also Taken classes at WSU Tech before he graduated from Goddard High School for HTML, CompTia Certifications (I got Server+), and how to setup an entire network from scratch and finding the costs of building a network in an environment. In his free time, Chris plays Counter-Strike and build things for fun, such as an Arcade Cabinet or a Gameboy from scratch, even learning Linux to build a Raspberry pi, a small computer for many uses.

Jonathan Salinas

Jonathan Salinas

Music Education Major

Jonathan Salinas is a graduate from Nickerson High School and a current freshman at Friends University. He is majoring in Music Education and is involved in University Band, Jazz combo, Concert Choir, and Percussion Ensemble. Jonathan’s goal is to become a high school band teacher and to be a role model for his family as a first-generation student.

Laila Spracklen

Laila Spracklen

Biochemistry Major
Laila Spracklen is a freshman from San Diego, CA. She came to Kansas for softball and is heavily involved with it along with HALO. She is majoring in biochemistry. With this, she hopes to improve the lives of people all over the world.


Professional Mentors

Hector Cortez

Hector Cortez

Chief Financial Officer, Wichita Community Foundation
Mentor to Stephen Acosta

Hector has been the Chief Financial Officer of the Wichita Community Foundation for the last four years. Prior to that, he worked for Spirit AeroSystems for ten years in various executive roles including as a Contracts Director and the Assistant Corporate Controller. This included an international assignment based in Prestwick, Scotland where he was responsible for Spirit’s international finance organizations. His experience also includes financial roles with companies such as Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Vought Aircraft Industries, and public accounting experience with Arthur Andersen. A Texas native, he graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and is a Certified Public Accountant. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Meritrust Credit Union. Hector lives in Andover with his wife Shawna and two children, Jake and Katie. He enjoys family time, classic cars, travel, boating and concerts.

Javier Villegas

Javier Villegas

Agent, First Family Insurance
Mentor to Manuel Aguilar

Javier Villegas came to the United States from Mexico in 2009 in search of the American dream. He received his Bachelors in Business Tourism at the Universidad de Leon in Mexico, and began working as an Insurance Agent in Wichita. As his business grew, he began to find opportunities to help others in the local Hispanic community the same way he had been helped by others. Through his involvement with the Hispanic Chamber, he has found more of the tools needed to help the businesses of his clients grow and succeed. Villegas relishes the chance to help others live out their own American dreams. “If you work hard and do things the right way, you can be successful here,” he says. “I’m living the American dream”.

Maria Kury

Maria Kury

Production Manager, Univision Wichita
Mentor to Elleana Ortiz

Maria was born and raised in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Maria earned her Bachelor’s degree in Communications at the Universidad Interamericana para el Desarrollo. She moved to Wichita, KS in 2014 with her husband and started working for Univision Kansas in 2015 as a TV Commercial Producer. Since then, Maria has been involved in the community working with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the youth group at the Cathedral and uses her position and contacts to help Hispanic business thrive. Maria is sure she was meant to be here in Wichita and is continuously working to be an example and role model for younger Latinas in the community and she believes that it is not about gender or race but about what you do to be better every day.

Julio Mendez

Julian Montes

Program Associate, Kansas Leadership Center
Mentor to Reece Ortiz

A recent graduate of Newman University, Julian is a Program Associate at the Kansas Leadership Center, helping manage the Equip to Lead program and the Spanish language Avanzando Juntos program. With aims to bring unusual voices to the front of the room, he has helped bring about the HALO Regional Conference in 2014 and 2015, as well as the inaugural Multicultural Student Leadership Conference in 2017, both having been hosted in the Kansas Leadership Center. In his spare time, Julian enjoys playing music on his guitar, being behind a camera photographing the city, and spending time with his pup, Daphne.

Vonda Newby-Schuster

Vonda Newby-Schuster

Theatre Instructor & Thespian Sponsor, Wichita High School South
Mentor to Salma Pena
Vonda Newby-Schuster is a 1993 graduate of Friends University. She received her Master’s in Communication with an Emphasis in Theatre from Wichita State University in 1998. Vonda is currently in her 22nd year as a theatre instructor and Thespian Sponsor at Wichita High School South. She is on the board of directors for the Wichita Shakespeare Company, and she has acted and directed in many Wichita venues over the last 25 years.

Aaron Wallace

Aaron Wallace

Lead Pastor, Reliance Community Church
Mentor to Christopher Pina

Aaron has been serving in ministry for over 19 years. Many of those years were spent mentoring and pouring into young adults including Middle School/ High School students as well as college students. A Graduate of Kansas State University with a Bachelor of Science degree, Aaron enjoys helping others find their purpose and value in life. He spends the majority of his time meeting with people, helping them discover the gifts that they have within them and how to use them to the fullest potential. This has also led him to coaching as he enjoys spending time helping shape the character of young athletes. His greatest passion is watching people flourish and live life to the fullest. Aaron is married and has 4 amazing kids.

Doug Riney

Dough Riney

Former Music Teacher, USD 259
Mentor to Jonathan Salinas

Doug Riney taught high school choral music for over 30 years in Wichita and Hutchinson school districts. During this time, he was the musical director for over 50 productions. Doug has also taught classes at Friends University for 22 years and was a minister of music for over 30 years. Doug received his Bachelors in Music Education and Masters in church and choral music from Friends University. During college, he was active in Music Theatre of Wichita. Doug keeps busy with his 15-year-old son, Paul, who is a freshman at Wichita Trinity Academy and also directs musicals for Christian Youth Theater (CYT). Doug and Paul attend Newspring Church.

Michael Clifford

Michael Clifford

Curator of Innovation & Partnerships for GLMV Architecture; Lead Facilitator & Founder of Capacity Ministries
Mentor to Brianna Ruiz

Michael Clifford spent five years working as a zookeeper at AZA accredited institutions, a season as a game capture specialist in South Africa, and five years working for the Apprentice Institute at Friends University. Mike now works with over 150 zoos and aquariums monthly around North America to foster a conversation about the future of zoological conservation and impact. He helps design organizational change, create new exhibits, and works to improve the natural world.


Peer Mentors

Elijah Reyes

Elijah Reyes

Health Science Major, Sophomore
Mentor to Stephen Acosta

Elijah Reyes was born the eldest out of four to Roman & Carmen Reyes and graduated from Maize South High School. His hopes of going to Friends is to pursue the Pre-Med field and one day become an anesthesiologist or geneticist. Elijah has volunteered at Wesley Hospital and various other organizations and joined the Health Science Club in the hopes of learning as much of the medical field as he can. During his sophomore year of high school, Elijah was diagnosed with a genetic disorder but continues and strives for excellence in all walks of his life regardless of any setbacks he may come across.

Julio Mendez

Julio Mendez

Zoo Science Major, Sophomore
Mentor to Bellaly Escalante

Julio C. Mendez is from Chicago, Illinois and graduated from Von Steuben High School. He was born and raised on the Southwest side of the city and came to Wichita to attend Friends University. His mother was born in Chicago, Illinois while his father was born in Mexico City, (Mexico) and moved to Chicago at a young age. Julio is a part of the Zoo Science club and the animal care lab at Friends. Julio aims to open up his own zoo some day and wants to set an example for his younger siblings and friends that out of state college is a possibility for them. He has enjoyed getting to know his fellow Latino Leaders and is optimistic about the future ahead.

Mira Martinez

Mira Martinez

Graphic Design & Spanish Major, Sophomore
Mentor to Elleana Ortiz

Mira graduated from Wichita North High School and is now pursuing a degree in Graphic Design and Spanish. Some of her hobbies include drawing, singing and spending time with her family. Mira is excited to further her education and turn her passions into a career.

Brandon Pina

Brandon Pina

Computer Science & Business Major, Junior
Mentor to Reece Ortiz
Brandon comes from Goddard High School. He enjoys building computers with his friends and hanging out with his two younger brothers. Brandon also is involved with the music program at Friends. He is in Guitar Ensemble, plays bass in Community Orchestra and sings baritone in Concert Choir. Brandon is expected to graduate in 2021 and wishes to do programming in the aerospace industry.

Bellaly Escalante

Bellaly Escalante

Spanish Education & English Major, Sophomore
Mentor to Salma Pena

Bellaly Escalante is a graduate of Wichita High School South and is a current freshman at Friends University. Bellaly is a first-generation student who is double majoring in Theatre Education and Spanish. Her dream is to travel and teach along with being an interpreter. Bellaly’s biggest inspiration is her mom, who has supported and loved her through every step of this new journey. She is most looking forward to seeing where her education takes her and the journey it will provide!

Vanessa Osorio

Vanessa Osorio

Spanish & English Education Major, Sophomore
Mentor to Christopher Pina

Vanessa Osorio is the youngest of 5 siblings. She was born and raised in Los Angeles California and moved to Wichita when she was five years old. She graduated from Maize South High School wanting to become a pediatrician. However when she came to Friends University, she quickly learned that she was bad at science and decided to change her major to Spanish and English Education. Vanessa is involved with: First Year Mentors, Latino Leaders, Spanish Club, English Club, Hispanic American leadership Organization & last but not least Competitive Cheer. When she is not on campus you can either catch her putting outfits together at Maurices or on the sidelines at Heights High School coaching their Varsity and Junior Varsity Cheer teams.

Jason Alfaro

Jason Alfaro

Music Education Major, Sophomore
Mentor to Jonathan Salinas

Jason Alfaro was born in Torrence, California and moved to Wichita in 2014. He graduated in 2018 from Wichita Southeast High School. He plays clarinet, violin and saxophone in the University Band, Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble respectively. He is also participating in the HALO and cNAfME student organizations. Jason hopes to use his time at Friends to further his education and benefit as well as develop his skills as a scholar and musician. He hopes that his time at the University will mold him into a responsible and intellectual member of society, and he looks forward to everything Friends has to offer.

Naomi Rivera

Naomi Rivera

Early Education Major & Graphic Design Minor, Sophomore
Mentor to Laila Spracklen

Naomi was born in Victorville, California and moved to Wichita when she was seven years old. She graduated from Wichita Southeast High School even though she completed her freshman and sophomore years at Wichita East then transferred to Wichita Southeast her junior year. She will be the first to complete a higher education degree in her family. Naomi commutes 15 minutes every day to and from school; she lives with her loving family that will provide for her until she completes college. Naomi is planning on graduating with a degree in early education and a minor in graphic design. Naomi works as a tutor at an elementary school nearby. Though she makes minimum wage, she loves what she does.

Brianna Ruiz

Brianna Ruiz

Zoo Science Major, Sophomore
Mentor to Laila Spracklen

Brianna graduated from Newton High School, and is a current sophomore at Friends University. Brianna’s dream career is to be a Zoo Keeper or Vet Assistant at a zoo. She hopes to work with Rhinos or hippos. She’s a first-generation college student. Her family is from Chihuahua, Mexico, and she has one younger sister. Her parents are the ones who really inspired her to go to college and pursue her dreams. Brianna is looking forward to continue her education at Friends University.


Academic Mentors

Brenda Smith

Brenda Smith

Associate Professor of Mathematics
Mentor to Stephen Acosta

Brenda Smith has been teaching math at Friends University since 1995. Most of her students are not math majors; she teaches math courses that support other disciplines. It can be a challenge sometimes to convince those students not to fear math and procrastinate, but she tries her best! Professor Smith also serves as the faculty advisor for Health Management – an interdisciplinary degree that combines science, business, and physical education. Brenda spends time outside of work with her husband and two high school sons, who both run cross country. Hanging out by the pool, maintaining her flower beds, and mowing the grass are her relaxing summer activities. Her most recent hobby includes buying a drum set and starting drum lessons. You’re never too old to try something new! Her undergraduate degree from Baylor University is in math and German, and her graduate degree in math is from Missouri State University. She also holds a graduate certificate in academic advising from Kansas State University.

Rob Ramseyer

Rob Ramseyer

Athletic Director
Mentor to Manuel Aguilar

Dr. Rob Ramseyer was born in Wichita, KS and retuned home in July of 2018 to serve as Athletic Director at Friends University. He has over a decade of experience in higher education in varying roles in athletics, student life, and in the classroom. Dr. Ramseyer completed his bachelor’s degree in History from MidAmerica Nazarene in 2006. He then earned a Master’s in Sports Studies from the University of Kansas in 2010 and a Doctorate of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University in 2017. Dr. Ramseyer and his wife Charlie live in Wichita with their three kids, Jane (6), Molly (4), and Robert (1).

Andrea Vazquez-Aguirre

Andrea Vasquez-Aguirre

Director & Faculty of Ballet Program
Mentor to Elleana Ortiz

Andrea Vazquez-Aguirre (MFA: SUNY Brockport, BFA: National Conservatory of Dance in Mexico City) is serving as director of the ballet program at Friends University. She is an interdisciplinary dance artist. She was a scholar under FONCA*, and has danced in several professional companies in Mexico and the United States. She is co-director along with her creative and life partner, James J. Kaufmann of Another River Interdisciplinary Ensemble. She is a certified coach of SAFE® BARRE, and Projective Kinetics movement analyst.

*Federal Council for Culture and Arts in Mexico.

Kassia Waggoner

Kassia Waggoner

Assistant Professor of Composition
Mentor to Reece Ortiz

Dr. Kassia Waggoner received her Ph.D. from Texas Christian University. She is the co-author of “Yours in Filial Regard: The Civil War Letters of a Texas Family.” Her work also appears in Mississippi Quarterly. Her research interests include Southern literature, disability studies, digital humanities, epistolary studies, and women and gender studies. While at Texas Christian University, she won the distinguished teacher of the year award twice; she was twice nominated for the Jean Giles-Sims Wise Woman of the Year Award; and she received the Women and Gender Studies Research Award. She is the current sponsor of Friends University’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, The MEWS and English Club. She teaches a wide range of English courses in addition to general education classes at Friends University.

Russell Fox

Russell Fox

Professor of Political Science
Mentor to Salma Pena

Dr. Teter graduated from Wichita State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and from Oral Roberts University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. He graduated from Friends University with a Master of Science degree in Management Information Systems. His Ph.D.in curriculum and instruction is from Kansas State University. Prior to coming to Friends University to teach computer science and information systems and business courses, he was a corporate trainer and training facility manager, an information systems designer and developer, a quality assurance auditor, a network administrator, a project manager, and an IT consultant. He is retired from the United States Army Reserve where he commanded a searchlight battery, a light equipment maintenance company, and a criminal investigation detachment and served as S-1, Adjutant, and Chief of the Information Systems Division.

Dick Teter

Richard Teter

Professor of Computer Science & Information Systems
Mentor to Christopher Pina

Dr. Teter graduated from Wichita State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and from Oral Roberts University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. He graduated from Friends University with a Master of Science degree in Management Information Systems. His Ph.D.in curriculum and instruction is from Kansas State University. Prior to coming to Friends University to teach computer science and information systems and business courses, he was a corporate trainer and training facility manager, an information systems designer and developer, a quality assurance auditor, a network administrator, a project manager, and an IT consultant. He is retired from the United States Army Reserve where he commanded a searchlight battery, a light equipment maintenance company, and a criminal investigation detachment and served as S-1, Adjutant, and Chief of the Information Systems Division.

Toni Libhart

Toni Libhart

Assistant Professor of Music; Academic Recruitment Coordinator
Mentor to Jonathan Salinas

Toni L. Absher Libhart is Assistant Professor of Music at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, where she teaches music theory, and piano class and is Academic Recruitment Coordinator. Toni has 13 years of experience teaching instrumental music in the Wichita Public Schools, including two years as instrumental music teaching specialist. A native of Wichita, Mrs. Libhart studied Music Education and Percussion Performance at Kent State University and completed Bachelor and Masters of Music Education degrees at Wichita State University with an emphasis on percussion performance and minors in piano and voice. In addition to her duties at Friends, Toni has also served as worship coordinator/musical director at area churches for over 50 years and is currently orchestra director and percussionist at Central Christian Church. Toni is married to Martin and has two married step daughters Jennifer Molen and Stephanie Gosch and three grandchildren. Toni’s favorite Bible promise is Jeremiah 29:11.

Gary Branum

Gary Branum

Associate Professor of Chemistry; Co-chair of the Environmental Compliance Committee
Mentor to Laila Spracklen

Dr. Branum has been a full-time faculty member at Friends University since 2006, and served as an adjunct at Friends for 3 years before that. His PhD is in Physical Organic Chemistry from TCU and he also holds a Master’s Degree in Chemistry from the University of Texas – Arlington. Prior to joining the Friends faculty he spent 20 years as a forensic toxicologist and has served as an expert witness and consultant in 17 states and 5 foreign countries in the fields of drug metabolism and forensic toxicology. At Friends he teaches introductory physics, general and advanced chemistry classes and the occasional class in forensic science.