Meet the ACE Staff
- Roy Saldaña, Jr., ACE Project Director
- Kathleen Dillon, ACE Counselor
- Cecilia Gomez, ACE Counselor
- Riza Belen, Program Coordinator
As the Project Director, Roy is tasked with the coordinating of support services and program components, overall project administration, collaborating with other university student support units, staff supervision, budget administration, and project evaluation.
Roy earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Humanistic Studies with a Spanish minor from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. After several years in the workforce, he enrolled in Graduate School and eventually earned a Master of Science degree in Library and Information Science with a specialization in Community Informatics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As an undergrad, Roy changed his major 4 times. During the process, he learned that creativity in developing one’s career development path from the first day of freshmen year is critically important!
As his first opportunity of professional employment, he worked for the School District of Howard-Suamico for 1.5 years providing support services to English as a Second Language and American Indian students grades K-12. For the next four years, he was employed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an Assistant to the Director/Counselor in the Office of Minority Student Affairs. Annually, he advised a cohort of TRiO/Student Support Services’ students, coordinated campus events including career fairs, graduation ceremonies, a scholastic awards banquet, the national TRiO/McNair Scholar's Graduate School Fair, and was a member of a variety of campus committees. Prior to joining Loyola University Chicago, he was the Director of The TRIO/Educational Opportunity Center for The City Colleges of Chicago where he assisted first-generation and/or lower-income adult Chicago residents nineteen years of age or older seeking to enhance their literacy skills, educational credential attainment, and career opportunities.
Roy is a huge fan of music collecting and attending concerts. He has never discarded a cd, cassette, or record despite changing music format trends. His book shelves are a detailed library of music including soul, 80s pop, and 90s Euro dance. He loves attending concerts of one-hit-wonder artists, 80s-90s bands that no one remembers, and legendary performers who saw their heyday well before he was born. You’ll likely find him at Reckless Records on the weekends enjoying the treasure hunt!
As the Achieving College Excellence program's Academic Counselor for first-years and sophomores, Kathleen helps our scholars adjust to college life-- discerning their major, determining which career(s) they are attracted to, building up time management & study skills, filling out the FAFSA, applying for financial aid & scholarships, balancing a budget, and just becoming an adult. Kathleen is advocate for the scholars, reaching out to campus partners on their behalf, while also teaching & encouraging self advocacy.
Kathleen received her B.A. in English Literature (with a minor in Politics & Government) from North Park University here in Chicago. After working as both a substitute teacher and assistant teacher for grades K-12, Kathleen went on to pursue a Master's in English Literature with an emphasis on Pedagogy from Loyola University Chicago. While at Loyola, Kathleen worked as the graduate assistant Tutoring Coordinator fro ACE. After finishing her time at Loyola, Kathleen began work as an Adjunct Professor, teaching first-year and developmental writing at College of Lake County and North Park University. Kathleen draws heavily on her teaching experience when planning ACE workshops and in her day-to-day interactions with students.
Kathleen will be constantly reminding students to take a deep breath, drink some water, practice self-care, "know what you believe and why," "question all you have been taught...and filter it through your own understanding" (Whitman), and to pay attention to their experience (because it matters).
Cecilia earned an Associates of Arts degree from Oakton Community College before transferring and finishing her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology from DePaul University. After working in Chicago, supporting teen parents and their families, she went on to pursue a Master’s in Education with a concentration in Higher Education from Loyola University in Chicago. While her journey within TRIO programs began at Oakton Community College, it wasn’t until she got engaged within the TRIO program at Loyola University that she was able to put all of her knowledge on student support services and programs to action. While working as ACE’s Graduate Generalist, she was able to coordinate Loyola’s first TRIO Student Summit with the help of ACE scholars. Simultaneously, Cecilia also worked at Northwestern University within their Multicultural Student Affairs office as their Graduate Assistant. Within Northwestern, she was in charge of coordinating social, cultural, and community building initiatives. As a first-generation college student herself, she brings not only her professional skills that she has gained throughout her wide range of professional positions, but also her personal experiences trying to navigate the unknowns of pursing a higher education.
Through programs like TRIO SSS, she has learned to be a self-advocate, to be resourceful, and to persevere even amongst the toughest of challenges. This is what she hopes to instill in her students as she practices holistic advising and plans enrichment events.
Riza Belen, a Loyola alumna has joined our team as a Coordinator tasked with coordinating the daily operations of the department. Riza will establish and maintain systems for ongoing operations such as record keeping, data management, program marketing, specialized tutoring and other areas necessary for program enrichment and development. In addition, Riza will help train faculty and staff across the university regarding the national TRIO initiative and help facilitate support services for low-income, first-generation, and students with disabilities.
Riza received her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work (with a Minor in Psychology) at Concordia University, River Forest. While attending Concordia, Riza worked at a Women’s Shelter as a Counselor and Legal Advocate. She also worked at John Stroger Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital) as a Caseworker before getting her Master of Social Work degree at Loyola University Chicago. Before joining ACE, Riza had the privilege of serving the Little Village Lawndale High School Campus as TRIO Upward Bound, College and Career Coordinator.
For more than 20 years, Riza has been an active member of Circa Pintig Cultural Group, a Filipino American group that uses theater as a tool for social change. Aside from her love of theater, Riza enjoys reading and is always on a hunt for the best Ramen in Chicago!