Mariella is a proud Chicana from Pharr, Texas. Having grown up in the Rio Grande Valley, her borderland identity was shaped by the amalgamation of the Mexican, Texan, and “American” cultures. In 2015, she earned her BBA in Marketing with a second major in Philosophy at the University of Texas-Pan American (now UT Rio Grande Valley). Mariella is now working on obtaining her Ph.D. in Marketing at the University of California, Irvine. Mariella was brought to the US as a child and has navigated exclusionary systems as an undocumented person. As a lifelong activist, she has been invited to speak at national and international events to share her personal journey and has continued to advocate for marginalized groups.

“Vamos dibujando el camino.”

I love the quote above because some of us have had to navigate exclusionary systems for most of our lives, but we have to keep fighting and working toward our dreams no matter how great they may seem and even if it means drawing our own paths.

The background picture to the Lewis Carroll quote below was taken in the city where I was born–Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. I am pictured dancing barefoot outside our humble home.

Invited Presentations and Outreach

  • “Once a Dreamer Pursuing a Dream.” Presenter. Event hosted by the Womxn’s Hub and the DREAM Center at the University of California, Irvine and part of the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. Invited to speak on the management of institutional exclusion and goal pursuit particular to the experiences of undocumented and DACA status students. January, 2019.

  • “Stories as Power: A Broader, Bolder Vision on Adolescent Health from the Frontlines.” Keynote Speaker. Invited as a plenary session speaker at the 2017 Family and Youth Services Bureau’s (FYSB) Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Grantee Conference. Provided resources for sparking productive conversations with youth to representatives of over 160 organizations that work to end youth homelessness, adolescent pregnancy, and domestic violence. St. Louis, MO, June 2017.
  • “Undocumented Students and Grad School.” Panel Speaker. Invited to discuss the graduate school application process, challenges, and opportunities particular to undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status students at the UC Irvine Student Outreach and Retention (SOAR) Center at the University of California, Irvine. November, 2016.
  • “The Power of Girls.” Panel Speaker. Invited to join a panel of speakers as part of the international Women Moving Millions’ Third Annual Summit in New York City, NY. The panel offered different perspectives on feminism and the emerging voices of girls around the world. The summit program featured international leading experts on the topic of “power” in different contexts such as non-profit partnerships, money, young women, and more, attracting many leading philanthropists. September 2014.

  • Scenarios USA 15-Year Gala and Retrospective. Keynote Speaker. Scenarios USA is a national non-profit organization that engages young people in social justice issues through writing and film. New York City, NY. May 2014.
  • Public NarrativeTraining.” Coach. Invited to train school teachers, administrators, and staff from the Hebbronville School District on “Public Narrative” during a three-day workshop. Hebbronville, TX. August 2014.
  • Masculinity, Gender Norms, and Bitter MemoriesPresenter. Invited to present at several screenings of Bitter Memories, a short film written by Mariella Zavala, directed by Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace), shot by Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano), and produced by Anish Savjani. Film addresses traditional gender norms and domestic and partner violence within a predominantly Latino community in South Texas. (Production made possible by Scenarios USA). 2009-2015.




Professional Development

Professional Affiliations


Honors and Awards