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Meet the Team


  • Rafael Fernández de Castro

    Rafael Fernández de Castro

    Director, Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies; Professor, GPS | Bio

    Rafael Fernández de Castro is a professor at the School and director of USMEX. A former foreign policy adviser to President Felipe Calderón, he is an expert on bilateral relations between Mexico and the U.S. He is founder and former chair of the Department of International Studies at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) in Mexico City. He has published numerous academic articles and written several books, including “Contemporary U.S.- Latin American Relations: Cooperation or Conflict in the 21st Century?” and “The United States and Mexico: Between Partnership and Conflict” with Jorge Domínguez. He also worked as the Project Director of the UNDP’s Human Development Report for Latin America 2013-14, “Citizen Security With a Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America.” He is the founder and editor of Foreign Affairs Latin America and contributes to the daily newspaper El Financiero and a regular contributor to Televisa.


The USMEX staff manages the research agenda of the Center as well as its fellowship program on Mexican studies in the U.S., and the coordination of events and conferences throughout the year.

  • Melissa Floca

    Melissa Floca

    Associate Director
    (858) 534-6066

    Melissa Floca sits on the advisory boards of UC MEXUS and Columbia Pangea Advisors as well as on the operating committees of the UC-Mexico Initiative and The Puentes Consortium. Formerly, she worked at the Mexico City-based office of McKinsey & Co., where she served clients on projects related to financial inclusion, public health and low-income housing. She also founded Sé Más Microfinanzas, a microfinance organization providing financial education and financial services to micro-entrepreneurs in Mexico. Floca holds a degree in political science and economics from Johns Hopkins University, where she also earned a graduate degree in international relations from the School of Advanced International Studies. In addition, she holds an M.B.A. from Columbia Business School.

  • Denise Moreno Ducheny

    Denise Moreno Ducheny

    Senior Policy Advisor

    Denise Moreno Ducheny served in the California State Senate from 2002 to 2010, representing the 40th District. Prior to her election, she served in the California State Assembly from 1994 to 2000 and on the San Diego Community College Board from 1990 to 1994. While a member of the state Assembly, Ducheny launched a series of binational meetings among state legislators of the 10 U.S.-Mexico border states that eventually became known as the Border Legislative Conference. During her years in the state Senate, she also led the effort to convene regular meetings of state legislators from California and the Mexican states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. Denise currently is a co-chair of the Border Innovation Awards Project and a member of the North American Research Partnership advisory board. She was awarded the Premio Ohtli by Mexico’s Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior and was appointed by President Barack Obama to the board of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission and North American Development Bank. Ducheny holds a B.A. in history from Pomona College and a J.D. from Southwestern Law School.

  • Greg Mallinger

    Greg Mallinger

    Fellows Coordinator
    (858) 822-1696

    Greg Mallinger manages the fellowship program at USMEX. He previously was the program coordinator for the Center, overseeing the first two Mexico Moving Forward conferences. Mallinger holds an MPIA from GPS and a B.A. in international relations from UC Davis.

  • Iva Kostova

    Iva Kostova

    Manager of Research Programs
    (858) 822-3103

    Iva Kostova oversees events, programming and fiscal management for all research centers at GPS. She holds an MPIA from GPS.

  • Lisa Lee

    Lisa Lee

    Research Center Events Coordinator
    (858) 534-2657

    Lisa Lee coordinates logistics for public lectures, conferences and dinners. She works closely with the multiple research center directors and assists them from pre-event to post-event coordination. Lee holds a B.A. in international studies from UC San Diego. 

  • Simeng Zeng

    Simeng Zeng

    Research Centers Administrative Assistant
    (858) 822-5059

    Simeng Zeng assists with fiscal-related tasks and managing travel arrangements for staff, faculty and guests.

Research Assistants

UC San Diego graduate students work on the various research projects at the Center.

  • Savitri Arvey

    Savitri Arvey

    Savitri (Savi) Arvey is a 2019 Master of Public Policy candidate at GPS. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Latin American studies from Connecticut College. 

    Prior to coming to GPS, she worked on U.S.-Mexico bilateral educational projects in Mexico City and most recently served as the program officer for Mexican graduate students at the Fulbright Commission in Mexico (COMEXUS).
  • Valeria Andrea Buelna Sainz

    Valeria Andrea Buelna Sainz

    Valeria Andrea Buelna Sainz is a Master in Public Policy candidate 2019 at GPS. Over the past two years, she has specialized in the Mexican - American border, working closely with the binational non-profit Border Angels, where she advocates for human rights, immigrant rights and social justice. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the School of Economics and International Relations at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California in Mexico. As an undergraduate student, she did a semester abroad at the Universität Passau in Germany.

  • Jose Ernesto Burciaga

    Jose Ernesto Burciaga

    Jose Burciaga was born in Los Angeles, CA and moved to Tijuana, Mexico shortly after. He lived there for the first 16 years of his life, crossing the San Diego/Tijuana Border every day for the next seven years to work and attend school in San Diego. Jose is an MIA candidate 2018 at GPS. Formerly, as a political science undergraduate student, he was a McNair scholar where he did research on Trans-border students. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, he interned at the U.S. Commerce - International Trade Administration at Washington, D.C. Currently, he is doing research with the center and working for the San Diego District Export Council.

  • Fátima Khayar Cámara

    Fátima Khayar Cámara

    Fátima Khayar Cámara is a Ph.D. candidate at the department of sociology at UC San Diego. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and earned a master’s degree in regional studies from the Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José María Luis Mora, as well as a master’s degree in sociology from UC San Diego. Fátima’s broad interests lie at the intersection of political sociology and international migration. Her dissertation analyzes how Mexico has historically managed deportations from the United States and when, why and through what mechanisms deportees reclaim a place in society upon returning to Mexico. Fátima is currently working on a smaller project which explores the relationship between cultural representation and the formulation of policy in Mexico, looking at the reasons provided by migrants’ advocates as to why deportees deserve State resources in their efforts to reintegrate into Mexican social, civil and economic life.

  • Teodoro Martinez

    Teodoro Martinez

    Teodoro Martinez III is a Master of International Affairs Candidate at GPS focusing on international business and politics. He is a former communications director at the California State Assembly and served as legislative staff working on a range of public policy issues including health, transportation, taxation and housing after completing the California Senate Fellowship.  He previously earned a bachelor’s degree in communications at California State University, Monterey Bay where he researched pathways to civic engagement, conflict resolution and intercultural communication.

  • John Porten

    John Porten

    John Porten is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at UC San Diego. His research focuses on community development and informal institutions in contexts of crisis or conflict. He currently is implementing a survey project in the Dadaab displacement camps in Northeastern Kenya. Prior to UC San Diego, Porten practiced for several years as a corporate litigator in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

  • Corey Wylde Fujikawa

    Corey Wylde Fujikawa

    Corey Wylde Fujikawa is a 2018 Master of International Affairs Candidate at GPS focusing on development and non-profit management. He has been working in San Diego since 2014 as a television producer where he has been involved in productions for national and international politicians, presidential candidates, private businesses and nonprofit organizations. He has complimented his work in the media as a long-term guest teacher, where he has taught ages 4-24 at several schools that cater to first generation students. He previously earned a bachelor’s degree in communications at University of Miami.

Student Assistants

In addition to the full-time staff members, student interns provide logistical support for USMEX-sponsored events, conferences and fellows program. You may contact an intern via email to

  • Alyssa Hawkinson

    Alyssa Hawkinson

    Alyssa Hawkinson is a student assistant at the center. She is a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in sociology with a specialization in social inequality and a minor in international migration studies. She participated in the Mexican Migration and Field Research Program in 2016-2017 and is glad to continue to be involved with the center this year.