Meet the EPC Team

EPC Staff Directory by Program

EPC Staff Directory by Name

EPC Leadership

Headshot of Maria for contacts page

Maria Rocha-Ruiz, MPA

Executive Director, EPC
Chief Outreach Officer, UC Santa Cruz

Maria joined the UC Santa Cruz Educational Partnership Center (EPC) in 2006, serving in a variety of managerial roles. She has led the EPC as executive director since 2013. She has nearly three decades of experience working in P-20 settings, designing, implementing, managing, and evaluating programs that primarily serve low-income, underrepresented students and provide access to and preparation for postsecondary education. Maria’s background as a low-income, first-generation college student drives her unwavering resolve and devotion to ensure that access and opportunities to postsecondary education are available to ALL students to realize their aspirations. Maria earned a B.A. in Psychology from UC Santa Cruz and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Southern California. As executive director of the EPC, she has been successful in acquiring more than $41 million in grant funding for improving high school graduation and college enrollment and attainment rates for low-income and historically non-college-going students in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara counties. In her spare time, Maria enjoys spending time with her family, reading, hiking, and traveling.

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Catherine R. Cooper, Ph.D.

EPC Faculty Director

Catherine R. Cooper, Ph.D. (University of Minnesota), is a UCSC research professor of Psychology, faculty director of the Educational Partnership Center, and director of the Bridging Multiple Worlds Alliance, an international network of researchers, educators, and policymakers working for educational equity from preschool through graduate and professional school (P-20). She also serves as research advisor with the UCSC Hispanic-Serving Institutions Initiatives. Her recent volumes, written with colleagues, students, and community partners, include: Cooper and Seginer (Eds.) (2018). Navigating Pathways in Multicultural Nations: Identities, Future Orientation, Schooling, and Careers, Special Issue of New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development; Cooper (2011). Bridging Multiple Worlds: Cultures, Identities, and Pathways to College; Cooper, Garcia-Coll, Bartko, Davis, and Chatman (Eds.) (2005). Developmental Pathways through Middle Childhood: Rethinking Context and Diversity as Resources; and Moran, Roa, Goza, and Cooper (Eds.) (2005). Success by Design: Creating College Bound Communities. The Work of the UCSC Educational Partnership Center. She enjoys time with her family, gardening, choir singing, and riding her bicycle to campus each day.

Christopher Mutshnick

South Zone Direct Services Director

Christopher has worked in support of college access, equity, and social justice for over 10 years.  As a first-generation college graduate, he understands the barriers that exist in the P-20 pipeline for under-resourced and under-represented communities. Christopher started his career working with underserved youth in Seaside and Salinas, overseeing educational and enrichment afterschool programs.  Christopher has extensive experience at varying levels of responsibility with programs like GEAR UP and EAOP that seek to expand postsecondary access and persistence. In both direct services and leadership positions, he has helped develop innovative and sustainable services that improve student learning and cultivate college-going cultures.

Christopher holds a B.A. in Humanities and Communication from CSU Monterey Bay and a Master in Sustainability Leadership from Arizona State University.  Outside of work, he spends his time reading, playing guitar, and hiking.

Kris Broek

Regional Director
California Reading and Literature Program

Kris is honored to serve as the Monterey Bay Regional Director of the California Reading and Literature Project at UCSC for the Educational Partnership Center. Kris has been a teacher leader and experienced presenter of professional development for the CRLP since 2009. She began her work in education in our local Pajaro Valley Unified School District as an elementary school teacher in 2004 and continues to serve students with difficulties in reading throughout Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Additionally, she has a background in Early Childhood Education as well as working with families of children with special needs. She continues to have incredible passion for teaching reading foundational skills to our young struggling readers while simultaneously promoting teacher leadership development to ensure continuous academic growth for students pre-K through 12th grade. Kris is equally passionate about upholding CRLP’s mission to support communities of educators who share the  responsibility for helping California’s students develop the high levels of academic literacy and language required for success in higher education and the 21st century workplace. Kris holds a B.A. in Liberal Studies from California State University Monterey Bay and an M.A. in Education and Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She enjoys going to the beach, spending time with her partner and her daughter, doing yoga, and occasionally singing in an all female rock band.

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Shaowei Chen, Ph.D.

COSMOS Faculty Director

Shaowei finished his undergraduate studies in China in 1991 with a B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Science and Technology of China, and then went to Cornell University receiving his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in 1993 and 1996, respectively. Following a postdoctoral appointment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he started his independent career in Southern Illinois University in 1998. In summer 2004, he moved to the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is currently a professor of Chemistry and the faculty director of the UCSC COSMOS program. In addition to science, he enjoys travel, good food, and reading.

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Puragra (Raja) Guha Thakurta, Ph.D.

SIP Faculty Director

Raja GuhaThakurta (Ph.D. in Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University) is a professor and department chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UCSC. He founded the Science Internship Program (SIP) in 2009.  In 2015, Raja started the Global SPHERE Network through collaborations with Google and the New York Academy of Sciences’ Global STEM Alliance to increase STEM research opportunities for high school students around the world and to increase the participation of underrepresented students. He is the astrophysics instructor for the UC Santa Cruz COSMOS program, teaches large, introductory astronomy classes at UCSC, and is active in outreach. Raja’s research focuses on the formation and evolution of galaxies, their assembly history, galaxy cannibalism, dynamics and dark matter content, chemical enrichment, and star-formation history. His research group studies Andromeda, the Milky Way, and galaxies in nearby groups and clusters using the Keck and Hubble telescopes. His primary hobbies are art and playing/watching various sports.

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Alexandria Leckliter

K-12 STEM Outreach Director

Alexandria is proud to serve as the K-12 STEM Outreach Director for the Educational Partnership Center.  She has 15 years of leadership experience within the Educational Partnership Center’s STEM programs, and currently works with faculty directors and assistant directors to provide oversight and EPC context to the MESA College Prep, Girls in Engineering, Science Internship Program (SIP), and COSMOS programs.  Alexandria earned a BA in Environmental Studies and Biology from UCSC, and then went on to teach science and manage after school math enrichment programs before joining the EPC.  Alexandria has a bird’s eye view of the STEM education landscape in California, and she builds bridges to connect public schools, university faculty, industry professionals, and philanthropic foundations to bring cutting-edge content and experiences to students.  Her work is guided by her passion to transform lives and open doors to college, STEM majors, and careers for students from non-traditionally college going communities. Alexandria’s favorite activities outside of work include playing with her two kids, going to the beach, and camping with her family.

Teresa McCaffrey

Director of Research, Evaluation & Innovation

First as a teacher and then as a researcher, Teresa has dedicated her career to working with underserved students. Prior to coming to the EPC in the fall of 2016, Teresa worked as a researcher in inner-city and impoverished rural areas. The focus of her research was professional development and teaching and learning.  Teresa earned her undergraduate degree at Georgetown University and an M.A. in Education from Stanford University. When she’s not running the R&E department, Teresa loves to spend time with her family & friends, read, do yoga, work out, and travel.

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Sonia Ramos

Director, Cal-SOAP

Sonia has proudly served as the director of the San José Cal-SOAP Consortium since 2004. Sonia has passionately worked with first-generation and low-income schools, students and families for over 15 years. Born and raised in Visalia, CA, the daughter of migrant farmworkers and the first in her family to graduate from high school and college, Sonia found her passion for serving underrepresented students as the program coordinator for the Magical School Bus Ride, a UCSC partnership through the L.A. Basin Initiative, and continued her commitment through work with the UCSC Upward Bound Math and Science Program (UBMS) and Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP). Sonia holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Sonia enjoys time experimenting with new food recipes, catering for friends and family, music, traveling, nature and hanging at the beach.