Women's Empowerment Panel

The Frida Empowerment Panel brings together strong women from the community to not only inspire the new generations of young women and girls, but to highlight and celebrate female strength and accomplishment.

About the Moderator

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SANDRA AVILA – Partner/Manager

Sandra Avila currently works as a manager producer in Los Angeles focused on overseeing a roster of talented, diverse film & TV screenwriters and directors. A priority of which is creating content for the U.S. Latino Market.

Prior to joining Inclusion, she had her own production company, Avila Entertainment for six years. She also did a four-year stint at Maya Entertainment where she oversaw all TV and film projects for the company. These include the indie comedy, TACO SHOP (May 2018 release- Maya Cinemas/ Sony Home Entertainment) starring Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf), the completion of the features, HARLEM HOSTEL starring Ramon Rodriguez (TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen), VALE TODO and in 2009, Maya’s first TV production, ONE HOT SUMMER starring Vanessa Marcil and Jon Seda, in collaboration with the Lifetime Movie Network.

Under her own banner, Avila produced ENDGAME starring Rico Rodriguez (Modern Family) and Justina Machado (One Day at a Time) released by (Cinemark Theatres/ HBO in July 2016) and the ½ hr. scripted dramedy, TABLE MANNERS directed by Angel Gracia (From Prada to Nada).

Prior to her tenure at Maya, Avila worked in TV development at Showtime Networks for seven years, where she worked on such notable shows as QUEER AS FOLK, DEXTER, RESURRECTION BLVD., and BARBERSHOP. In addition, she oversaw the LATINO FILMMAKER SHOWCASE, highlighting Latino filmmakers from around the world.

Avila received her BA from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX and her JD from Loyola Law School in New Orleans, LA. She was nominated in 2018 as a “Latina of Influence” by Hispanic Lifestyle and by NALIP as “TV Producers on the Rise” at MIP Cancun, 2016.

The Panel

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Veronica Gonzales
Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

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Dr. Dahlia Guerra
Assistant Vice President of Public Arts
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley


Errica S. Edwards CRT TXVCBHCS VA Outpatient Clinic RT ( R ), CMA

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Ana Claudia Cervantes
Manager, Ticket Sales & Service
UTRGV Athletics Fan Relationships


Ileana Peña
State Trooper
Texas Department of Public Safety

About the Panelist

Veronica Gonzales

Veronica Gonzales is a native of San Marcos, Texas.   She learned firsthand the importance of education when she became the first in her family to go to college. She graduated cum laude from Southwest Texas State University in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Spanish. She later earned her Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the University of Texas School of Law in 1991. Upon graduating from law school, she moved to the Rio Grande Valley and spent two decades building an acclaimed career as an attorney.  Until, July, 2012, she was a name partner in the law firm of Kittleman, Thomas & Gonzales, L.L.P. and in 2008, she was recognized as one of 30  “Extraordinary Woman in Law” by Texas Lawyer.  For several consecutive years, she was named a Super Lawyer by The Texas Super Lawyers.

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In 2004, voters in the McAllen, Mission, Edinburg and Alton area elected Veronica Gonzales to serve as the first female representing District 41 in the Texas House of Representatives. She served four terms, two of which as Chairman of the Border & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, only one of 34 chairs out of 150 members.  She also served in several leadership positions, including Secretary of the State Democratic Caucus, “Freshman of the Year” by the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, Secretary and Legal Counsel of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, a fellow in the Public Leadership Program of the Aspen-Rodel Fellowship and a Board of Director of the Texas Lyceum Association, a statewide leadership organization.

Healthcare issues are of great concern to Veronica and for three legislative sessions, she sat on the Public Health Committee, giving her a key decision-making role on issues affecting the public’s health, like disease prevention, medical licensing and access to care.  Addressing the health care needs in South Texas led Gonzales to pass legislation to increase up to $165,000.00 the amount of loans forgiven for doctors who agree to practice in Health Professional Shortage Areas like the Rio Grande Valley.  The measure earned her the "Legislative Champion Award" from The Texas Association of Community Health Centers and the "Patient Advocacy Award" from the Texas Academy of Family Physicians. 

Veronica has received many accolades and awards over the years for her service including being named by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as one of eight "Ultimate Latinas" in the nation, recognizing her legislative achievements that benefit the business community.  She was also recognized by the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) as a “Woman of Distinction”, received the “Voice of the People” award from the Rio  Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, the “Community Advocacy Award” from the Women’s Business Summit, the “Champion for Equality Award” from the Stonewall Democrats of the Rio Grande Valley, was the recipient of the “Award of Distinction” from Girl Scouts of Greater South Texas, was named a Distinguished Alumni by both the San Marcos High School Alumni Association and Texas State University and was inducted into the Rio Grande Valley’s Walk of Fame.    

In July, 2012, Veronica took a retirement from the practice of law to assume the position of Vice President for University Advancement at the University of Texas-Pan American.  In this role, Veronica oversaw fundraising, marketing, public affairs and alumni relations at a university that is one of the largest Hispanic serving institutions in the nation. 

In November 2014, Veronica was named Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations for The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).  In this new role, Veronica has overseen initiatives at the local, state and federal level, including signature programs of the university such as HESTEC (Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week), Science Bowl, Science Fair, FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Arts) and several others.  Veronica serves as lead representation for UTRGV in the areas of developing, advancing and maintaining positive and productive relationships and partnerships with the external community and for engaging governmental officials, bodies, and agencies via positive and ongoing dialogues.  Responsible for monitoring legislation and public policy, her extensive experience as former State Representative guides her confident approach to advise administrators of their potential impact on The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.  Most recently, Veronica also assumed oversight of several economic development offices of the university including the Small Business Development Center, the Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center, the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, the Data and Information Systems Center and the Veterans Business Outreach Center.  She is active in her community and sits on numerous boards including Easter Seals of the RGV, Lone Star National  Bank, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the Advocacy Alliance Center for Texas, and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

Veronica’s extensive background, experience and knowledge have allowed her to build strong relationships with leaders at all levels and set a platform for her to create a channel of communication with them about issues impacting higher education and the Hispanic community.  Her belief that it is necessary for UTRGV to have a presence at the local, state and national levels is helping to accelerate the creation and growth of UTRGV’s School of Medicine.  Veronica has always credited her success and the many opportunities she has received to education and it is her mission to play an integral part in making college education more affordable and attainable to students throughout the State of Texas. 

Dr. Dahlia Guerra

Dr. Dahlia Guerra, pianist, is a native of Edinburg, Texas. She is a Professor in the School of Music and holds the position of Assistant Vice-President of Public Art at the University of Texas Grande Valley.  She was Chair of Music from 1999 to 2006, and served as Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and Interim Dean of the College of Fine Arts from 2006 to 2016. 

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Dahlia Guerra holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Pan American University, a Master of Music degree from Southern Methodist University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma. She has presented numerous solo and chamber piano recitals throughout South Texas and Mexico, and has performed as soloist with the Valley Symphony Orchestra, the Sinfonica de Nuevo Leon, and the Sinfonica de la UAT in Tampico, Mexico.

As a musician and concert pianist, she has devoted her life to promoting the value of the creative and liberal arts in education, stressing the tremendous impact of an arts education on the developmental growth of every child and its power to level the "learning field" across socio-economic boundaries, adding to overall academic achievement and school success.

Much of Dahlia Guerra’s work has been based on preserving cultural strengths and traditions to empower a diverse student body, and she has a strong record of success as an educator in South Texas. She is the founder of the Mariachi Aztlán, a nationally award winning student ensemble that has performed for audiences throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada. 

Dr. Dahlia Guerra founded and has been the co-director of FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Arts) for the past ten years, celebrating the arts and humanities while promoting literacy in South Texas.  As a member of the City of Edinburg community, she has served as President of the South Texas Literacy Coalition and she is passionate about promoting early childhood literacy.  She is Chair of the Cultural Activities Board of the City of Edinburg, and is devoted to providing cultural arts activities to the community to enhance the quality of life in South Texas.  She was named 2014 Cultural Leader of the Year by the Valley Symphony Orchestra, 2014 Woman of Distinction by the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and was recognized as a Literacy Champion by the South Texas Literacy Coalition in 2015.



Ms. Errica S. Edwards was born in Clarksdale Mississippi and raised in the Phillippines. She was a military brat as her father was a Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy. Errica grew up all over the world; her father retired in Corpus Christi Texas where she later graduated from Flour Bluff High School. Upon graduating, Errica attended college at Grambling State University in LA and later joined the Navy. She had numerous duty stations throughout her career from Japan to Portsmouth Va. upon her discharge from the military 2003, Errica worked briefly as a longshoreman at the Port Of Corpus Christi. Her duties entailed loading trains and cargo ships with planes, helicopters, tanks, heavy duty artillery trucks to various bases to be shipped back to our troops overseas fighting in the war. In 2008 Errica was blessed to be employed at the Corpus Christi Outpatient Va Clinic in Corpus Christi Texas

Ms. Errica Edwards is a honorably discharged United Stated Navy Veteran and mother of 2 young men while active duty- she worked 3 jobs, went to school and raised her sons. During her 13 years of Naval service she received several Letters of Commendation, (3)Good Conduct medal, Desert shield/Desert Storm medal, (3)Letters of Appreciations, Meritorious Unit Commendation, (2)National Defense medal,(2)Navy and Marine Corp Medal. Errica was accepted into the Hospital Corpman program where she studied medicine and later got accepted into the Advanced Radiology Technologist program.

She is now a disabled veteran and decided to work with other vets helping them along the way. She was hired in Corpus Christi at the Corpus Christi VA Clinic as the x-ray technician and became not only the 1st female hired in this position but also the 1st black female x-ray tech who ran the clinic independently.

Once again she made VA history as 2 years later Ms. Edwards was promoted as the 1st Black female Chief
Radiology Technologist at the Va Clinic Texas Valley Costal Bend Health Care System in Harlingen Texas.
Errica currently supervises 5 different clinics from Laredo to Corpus, to Harlingen and McAllen.

Errica has received several letters of Appreciation from the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs for a job well done while working with veterans and last but not least she is also a Yellow Rose of Texas which was an honor bestowed upon me by Gov Rick Perry. The Yellow Rose of Texas is given only through the Office of the Governor, recognizing outstanding Texas women for their "significant contributions to their communities and to Texas in the preservation of our history, the accomplishments of our present and the building of our future.


-From: Port St. Lucie, FL

-Attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL, Sport Management Degree

Anaclaudia began her current stint as the Manager of Sales & Service at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in November, 2017. She sells season, group, mini plan and single game tickets for all of UTRGV’s ticketed sports while managing a staff of one sales & service consultant and five student gameday workers.

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Prior to UTRGV, Anaclaudia began her career in sports with the Indianapolis Indians, Triple A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. She was a Ticket Services Representative and the Group Services Coordinator. Anaclaudia primarily performed outbound calls, answered inbound calls, worked the box office windows and processed orders for sales executives. Our sales and service team sold more group tickets in 2013 than in previous seasons. The Indians also led all of minor league baseball in attendance that year.

Anaclaudia secured a role with The Aspire Group in 2013 as a Sales Consultant at Florida Atlantic University. She sold tickets for all of FAU ticketed sports. Anaclaudia was promoted each year at FAU, to a Sr. Sales Consultant in 2014 and to the Team Leader in 2015. She helped recruit, hire and train newer employees on staff and was the top revenue producer in 2015 at FAU.

Anaclaudia was promoted to Manager of New Business Sales at the Army West Point FRMC in West Point, NY in November, 2016. During her time at West Point, her staff helped break football revenue records for 2017, including overall single season revenue generated, group sales revenue and mini plan revenue.

Ileana Peña


Ms. Peña is a career Law Enforcement Officer with over 15 years of experience.  Her career initiated at the Edinburg Police Department where she served the Edinburg community for 14 years, her initial seven years she served as a Patrol Officer, where she took to heart the motto of “To Serve and Protect” as she patrolled the streets of Edinburg.  Her remaining seven years she served as a Detective where her extensive training on Homicide Investigation, Forensics and Crimes Against Persons lead her to solve various difficult cases.  During her years as a detective Ms. Peña specialized in sex crimes and child abuse.

In May 2017, after serious vetting and extensive physical tests of endurance, Ms. Peña was admitted to the Texas Department of Public Safety Law Enforcement Academy where she received extensive training on motor vehicle laws and licensing regulations in addition to the anti- crime and statewide emergency management assistance training.  Upon completion, Ms. Peña became an official State Trooper and has served in this capacity since then as she continues to proactively protect the citizens of Texas.