Outstanding Dissertation Competition Biographies

2024 Recipients

Melissa Yzaguirre (she/ella), PhD, LMFT, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling & Marital and Family Therapy at the University of San Diego. Dr. Yzaguirre received her B.A. in Psychology and M.S. in Couple and Family Therapy from the COAMFTE-accredited program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She then received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in Couple and Family Therapy from Michigan State University. Dr. Yzaguirre’s primary research and clinical interests are to improve mental health outcomes and strengthen family relationships in systemically marginalized communities, especially Latino communities. As a systemically trained clinician-researcher, she aims to increase culturally relevant practices available for mental health professionals to improve how they conceptualize and operationalize ethnic-racial and cultural diversity in the therapeutic context. Her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the community, professional, and university settings drives these efforts. She is a three-time recipient of and current mentor for graduate students in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Minority Fellowship Program funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Dr. Yzaguirre is also a licensed marriage and family therapist in Michigan and an AAMFT-approved supervisor candidate. 

Dra. Natalie Muñoz is a proud Afro-Latina and currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Rutgers University-Newark. She recently completed her PhD at Howard University Social Work. Natalie has served as an advocate for underserved college students, building mentorship programs for Black and Latine students for the last 15 years. Her research interests focus on AfroLatine ethnic/racial identity, mental health and educational inequities. She finds joy spending quality time with her abuelos y familia, cocinando un sancocho y más que todo bailando bachata.




Dr. Amy Nuñez (She/Her/Hers/Ella) is an Assistant Professor in the Teacher Preparation Program at Heritage University. She received her bachelor's in Elementary Education at Eastern Washington University where she was also a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. Her graduate studies led her to Indiana University, Bloomington where she received her Ph.D. in Education Policy.

Núñez’ research utilizes qualitative methods with Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Latino Critical Theory (LatCrit) to address barriers historically underrepresented students face in K-12 and higher education institutions, especially students who come from Latinx, low-income, first-generation, DACA, and/or undocumented backgrounds. Her dissertation titled, Powerful Voices Emerging from the Shadows: The Academic Experiences of Latinx College Students in Mixed-Status Families, identifies equitable strategies to better support students in mixed-status families achieve their educational goals.

As a first-generation college student, Latina, and daughter of immigrants, Nuñez is happy to be back in her hometown learning and growing from students at Heritage. She is especially excited to support students on their journey to becoming teachers.