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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 leads the development and implementation of the Center’s academic programming and research agenda. Her work focuses on issues of education, workforce development and economic competitiveness and she is the Co-Director of the Mexican Migration Field Research Program. Formerly, she worked at the Mexico City-based office of McKinsey & Co., serving clients on projects related to financial inclusion, public health and low-income housing. She went on to found Sé Más Microfinanzas, a microfinance organization providing financial education and financial services to micro-entrepreneurs in Mexico. She holds a degree in Political Science and Economics from Johns Hopkins University and a Graduate Diploma in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins SAIS Bologna Center. She is also a graduate of Columbia Business School. Melissa sits on the Leadership Council of the UC Mexico Initiative, the Inclusive Growth Steering Committee of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, and the International Affairs Board of the City of San Diego.

  • 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.

  • Curtis Bruno

    Curtis Bruno

    Research Center Events Coordinator
    (858) 534-2657

    Curtis Bruno assists in coordinating and executing event logistics for all research centers at GPS.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Arturo Albarran

    Arturo Albarran

    Arturo Albarran is a 2020 Master of International Affairs candidate at GPS. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Political Science and also a master’s in Economics from Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de México (ITAM). He has extensive experience in Mexico’s energy sector. Previously, he worked at Mexico’s Energy Regulatory Commission, where he was in charge of the design of utility ratemaking methodologies and benchmark analysis of the Mexican electricity sector. He also formed part of the advisory board for the Deputy Secretary of Energy for Hydrocarbons, in which he conducted economic analysis for the design of public policies to facilitate the implementation of Mexico’s energy reform in the field of hydrocarbons.
  • Jenny Aldrich

    Jenny Aldrich

    Jenny Aldrich is a 2020 Master of Public Policy candidate at GPS. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Santa Clara University. Prior to coming to GPS, she worked as the Employment Programs Coordinator in the Refugee and Immigration Services department at Jewish Family Service of San Diego, coordinating two federally-funded programs focused on immigrants’ self-sufficiency and integration. As an immigrant herself, Jenny is genuinely passionate about bridging the gap immigrants face when integrating into their new communities.
  • Savitri (Savi) Arvey

    Savitri (Savi) Arvey

    Savitri (Savi) Arvey is a 2019 Master of Public Policy candidate at GPS, focusing on U.S.-Mexico relations and migration. 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). In the summer of 2018, she received a Tinker Field Research grant to conduct research on Mexico's policy towards returned migrants.

  • Valeria Andrea Buelna Sainz

    Valeria Andrea Buelna Sainz

    Valeria Andrea Buelna Sainz is a 2019 Master of Public Policy candidate at GPS who focuses in the intersection between conflict and migration. She holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. Over the past three years, she has specialized in the U.S.-Mexico border, working closely with the binational non-profit Border Angels, where she advocates for human rights, immigrant rights, and social justice. In the summer of 2018, she worked in the Organization of American States, in the Department against Transnational Organized Crime, conducting research on human trafficking programs and migration patterns in the Americas.

  • Marco Cuevas

    Marco Cuevas

    Marco Cuevas is a 2019 Master of Advanced Studies in International Affairs candidate at GPS. Marco graduated magna cum laude from Universidad de las Americas-Puebla with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and received his master’s in Political Science from El Colegio de México. Prior to coming to GPS, he served as Head of the National Employment Service in the State of Tlaxcala, Mexico. He launched his career in Mexico’s federal government as a junior staff advisor to the Minister of Public Safety, then served as director of policy planning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and most recently as senior staff advisor to the Minister of Social Development.
  • Blanca Pineda

    Blanca Pineda

    Blanca Pineda is a fourth-year undergraduate at UC San Diego majoring in Theatre with an emphasis in acting. She has developed an interest in immigration policy and looks forward to gaining experience in a different field.
  • 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 and a study of Maoist rebel behavior during the civil war in Nepal. Prior to UC San Diego, Porten practiced for several years as a corporate litigator in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

  • Gabriela Rubio

    Gabriela Rubio

    Gabriela Rubio is a recent graduate from GPS. She holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and master’s degrees in Innovation for Business Enterprise, Environmental Management and Public Policy. She has extensive expertise in energy policy that mitigates the effects of climate change. Her work experience has focused on environmental issues, energy, project management, as well as Latin America and US-Mexico relations in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
  • Fernanda Torres

    Fernanda Torres

    Fernanda Torres is a 2020 Master of Public Policy candidate at GPS. Prior to coming to GPS, she worked in economic competition regulation and legislative issues in the private sector and Mexican federal government. She has done research about women’s agenda in Mexico’s legislative branch. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM).
  • Orly Romero Sevilla

    Orly Romero Sevilla

    Orly Romero Sevilla is a 2020 Master of International Affairs candidate at GPS. She studied Political Science and International Relations at Instituto Tecnoógico Autónomo de México(ITAM). She has nine years of experience in Mexico’s federal and local governments. While working at Mexico City’s local Congress, she managed a team of 25 people working on technical and legislative procedures, media, finance and human resources. Her team drafted several key bills on education, development, and public services.  At the Ministry of Social Development, she collaborated in the development of a real-time dashboard using socioeconomic indicators for Mexico’s poorest municipalities, and supervised the evaluation of social programs