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Sunset Over Pier

 Our Team 

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Rocío Lozano-Knowlton

Executive Director of MERITO Foundation Inc.

Rocío has a B. Sc. in Oceanography, a M. Sc. in Marine Resource Protection and extensive experience in the areas of ocean research, conservation and sustainable tourism in USA, Mexico, Korea, Japan, and Scotland. Rocío adapted the MERITO program to southern California for NOAA in 2005 and directed it until 2013 when she co-founded the MERITO Foundation. She has reached over 10 million people through ocean conservation outreach projects, immersed over 15,000 students on Earth & ocean science and issues, and has raised the capacity of more than 300 teachers and 100 Marine Protected Areas practitioners in the areas of ocean science and resource protection in the past 12 years. She is an avid SCUBA diver, loves to see the world, and advocates tirelessly for an inclusive and diverse new generation of environmental activists.

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Leslie Magaña

Environmental Education & Outdoor Recreation Specialist

Leslie Magaña is a native to Oxnard, CA, and attained a B.S in Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) from the University of California State, Channel Islands. During her 4th year, she interned with the National Park Service at the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area as an Educational Program Interpreter and there was when she discovered her passion to educate youth on environmental and conservation issues. Soon after, she worked with the Santa Clara River Conservancy, where she managed and expanded a new education and outreach program in collaboration with U.S Fish and Wildlife. By working primarily with underserved and multicultural youth, Leslie has seen first-hand the importance of being a local, bilingual Latina whom students can relate to. Outside of work, Leslie enjoys spending time with family, going whale watching, riding her bike, and visiting the beach any chance she gets. She constantly thanks her parents for choosing to migrate to Oxnard from Mexico in appreciation of her community and its natural environment (especially the weather!). Being a part of the low percentage of science-educated Latinas has driven Leslie to continue educating on and addressing the environmental injustices many communities face.

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José Luis Serrano

Sustainability Specialist

José Luis Serrano was born and raised in Oxnard, CA, and attained a B.S. in Natural Resource and Environmental Management with an emphasis on Coastal Ecology from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. In Hawai’i, José worked as a project engineer and field technician for a geotechnical engineering firm specializing in renewable, sustainable solutions and environmentally-conscious practices. José found his way back to Ventura County and joined the MERITO Foundation as Sustainability Specialist. José takes pride in his Oxnard roots and Mexican culture and uses that to communicate and relate to our multicultural and bilingual youth and communities, especially those under-represented and underserved. Jose’s interests include cooking, sports, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

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Citizen Science Specialist

Leah Ostermann

Leah grew up in Kern County, California, at the base of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range in the Upper Mojave Desert. From a young age, her outdoor experiences formed her hobbies and mindset which ignited her passion to protect the delicate environments that she has spent her life enjoying. Leah pursued a double major at CSU Channel Islands, attaining a B.S. in Environmental Science & Resource Management (ESRM) and B.S. in Business. After college Leah taught as a High School Resource Specialist Teacher at Sierra Sand Unified School District. Shortly thereafter she moved back to Ventura County to work as a Multi-sport Guide and Outdoor Educator at Channel Island National Park. In her freetime she enjoys camping, backpacking, skiing, visiting National Parks and exploring the California coast. She is excited to share her adventurous spirit and environmental knowledge with local students.

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GIS Specialist

Vanessa Padilla

Vanessa Padilla, a Ventura, CA native, holds a B.A. in Geography/Environmental Studies with a GIS minor from UCLA, and a Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence from USC. As an Activism Lead at Patagonia, Vanessa channels her passion for activism into both environmental causes and social justice. Beyond her impactful work, she embraces moments with her dog, Zero, values quality time with friends and family, indulges in travel, tennis, music, baking, and the simple joy of being outdoors.

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Outreach Consultant 

María Adela Díaz

Born in Guatemala, María is a multidisciplinary Latinx artist and designer who holds a B.A in graphic design. She has been involved in community art projects that create awareness on climate change, and socio-political issues that affect women and children around the world. She's an effective team player with strong visual skills and her experience working in different cultural fields makes her work unique.

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