Meet the Staff (Conozcan al Personal)

Photograph of a group of happy young people posing in a pumpkin patch. Some are holding pumpkins.

Meet the Staff (Conozcan al Personal)


Director - Mariana Ortega

My name is Mariana Ortega, and I am thrilled to be the Director at La Casa. I was raised in Boaco, Nicaragua until the age of four. The majority of my life I grew up in the Miami, Florida area where my immediate family resides. Most recently, I worked at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM where I had the opportunity to revamp an Orientation program from the ground up at a Hispanic Serving Institution, while working closely with our Spanish speaking families. I earned my Bachelor's in Organizational Communications and my Master's in College Student Personnel Administration from the University of West Florida. I am a proud founding member of Alpha Chi Omega. In my free time I like to spend time outside, hang out with friends, explore new coffee shops, go biking and spend time with my dog Harley Jenkins Ortega. What I look forward to the most in my role is being an advocate for students, serving the students on campus, and continuing to build onto the rich history La Casa is known for.



Assistant Director - Julio Velasco

Hi, my name is Julio Velasco. I am very excited to be one of the new Assistant Directors for La Casa Cultural Latina. I was born and raised in Chicago, IL.

I recently worked at Central Michigan University as the Graduate Assistant for the Multicultural Academic Student Services. I oversaw most of the mentoring initiatives for Black Indigenous Students of Color, assisted with cultural programming for all our heritage months, and launched two retention programs for the Multicultural Advancement Scholars. I earned my Bachelor's in Sociology and my Master's in Higher Education Administration from Central Michigan University.

In my free time, I like to game, watch anime, design clothes, collect sneakers, and spend time with my partner and friends. I am looking forward to serving the students on campus, serving my community, and continuing to build on the legacy of La Casa.

Assistant Director - Stephanie Cardoza-Cruz

My name is Stephanie Carodoza-Cruz and I am excited to be one of the Assistant Directors for La Casa. I was born and raised in Central New Jersey where my close family still lives. Growing up, I spent as much time as possible in the heart of Honduras. My interest in working with students began during my undergraduate career at Rowan University where I became super involved across campus through Student Activities, Greek Life, and Res Life. 

Following my time at Rowan, I pursued my Masters in Higher Education at Pennyslvania State University where I served as a Graduate Assistant within Student Activities and had multiple internships that allowed me to advocate for students. In my free time, I love to explore the areas around me, plan future travel opportunities, spend time with my friends and family, and keep my puppy Theo out of trouble. I'm looking forward to working directly with and advocating for students, creating opportunities for students to thrive at UIUC, and being able to be a part of the legacy of La Casa!



Office Support Associate – Jennifer Philbeck

Hello! My name is Jennifer Philbeck, and I'm beyond excited at this amazing opportunity to be the new Office Support Associate for La Casa. My most recent position with the University of Illinois was working for the Intensive English Institute. I thoroughly enjoyed this position. After patiently waiting for my youngest to enter school full-time, I was finally able to receive my associates degree from Parkland College for Business Administrative Technology. I have lived in central Illinois my entire life, with most of that being in Piatt County. I adore small town living. 

When I'm not hard at work, spending as much time as possible with family and friends is my favorite thing to do. They're what makes my world spin. Other things I enjoy are cooking, trying new foods, traveling, helping others, and my dog Willow. My soon to be husband and I will be celebrating 13 years together this month, and are the proud parents of 3 sons. 2 are in high school, 1 has already left the nest. The 4 of us have lived on a farm just on the tip of McLean County for almost 5 years now. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone, serving all the smiling faces that will come through our doors, as well as learning and growing in this position. Proud to be a part of the La Casa family.