Inaugural Leadership Equity and Diversity (LEAD) Scholars Announced

Inaugural Leadership Equity and Diversity (LEAD) Scholars Announced


On behalf of the Specialty Coffee Association, it is my pleasure to introduce the new Leadership Equity and Diversity (LEAD) Scholarship Program. First announced at the Re:co Symposium in April 2018, LEAD is aimed at increasing diversity of leadership within the global coffee community by enabling access to professional development resources to people from underrepresented or marginalized communities. This program is made possible thanks to the generous support of S&D Coffee & Tea.

As a global nonprofit organization, SCA recognizes that access to membership, coffee events, and education differ for individuals depending on their identity, background, and access to financial resources. The coffee industry has a lot of work to do to diversify its leadership at every point in the value chain, and overcoming these obstacles will require proactive efforts and dedicated resources. LEAD is designed to be a small but important step towards progress in this area.

SCA received over 60 applications from individuals all over the world, representing a wide range of coffee professions, including baristas, café managers, graduate and PhD students, and more. After much deliberation five recipients were chosen for the 2-year program, which includes participation in events and educational activities, as well as career development and expansion of professional networks.

The 2018-2020 LEAD Scholars are Karla Ly Quinones, Lisette Barbera, Smayah Uwajeneza, Stephanie Alcala, and Taya Brown.

We welcome this first set of LEAD Scholars, and look forward to the opportunity to engage them in SCA activities, and for the value they bring to the specialty coffee industry as a whole.

Learn more about the LEAD program, including benefits and future application opportunities, on our website at

Meet the Scholars

Karla Ly Quinones

Coffee Shop Owner and Teacher, Café Comunión, Puerto Rico

Karla Ly has been a History teacher for ten years and an Educational leader of the Boys & Girls Club of Puerto Rico. She co-owns Cafe Communion with her partner Abner Roldan. Café Comunión is a multi-roaster coffee shop focused on community. Opening after Hurricane Maria has led them to create new ways of how coffee could bring a community together in the midst of adversity. 

She was the Content Creator and Spanish Editor of Perfect Daily Grind. This allowed her to get involved in coffee through journalism and education, giving her the opportunity to visit and establish relationships in producing countries and to get a better understanding of her own. She decided to get enrolled in La Escuela de Catadores de Honduras, IHCAFE, to gain a formal education in coffee production, green coffee analysis, and cupping. She is focused on highlighting the initiatives, programs, and actions that are currently happening in the Latin American coffee community with the purpose of increasing transparency, collaboration, and innovation, especially with regard to coffee production and producing countries.

Lisette Barbera

Assistant Manager, Cartel Coffee Lab, United States

Hello, my name Lisette Barbera and I am a Mexican coffee professional from Phoenix, Arizona. I have been in speciality coffee for a couple years now, but after working at Cartel Coffee Lab I have grown into a passionate barista. I have been inspired by baristas that use their love of coffee to bring about important conversations about our communities, and I aspire to emulate this from my perspective here in the U.S. Southwest. I have a passion for road cycling as well which is fueled by my caffeine addiction, working hand-in-hand.

Smayah Uwajeneza

Sr. Barista, Qcoffee ltd (Question Coffee), Rwanda

Coffee has given me a professional focus. I feel inspired, improved, and strengthened through it. I am a young passionate coffee girl, who wants to inspire action and others to dream more, do more, learn more and become more as a coffee leader.

I want to make people around me better as a result of my presence and making sure it lasts in my absence. I hope my community sees me as more than a senior barista, I hope they see me leading the fight to forge the futures for Rwandan women and girls through coffee.

Stephanie Alcala

Graduate Student, University of Michigan, United States

While studying environmental science at Whittier College, I worked part time as a barista, where I was able to draw many parallels between my studies and coffee and began to gravitate toward this unique agricultural commodity. I became fascinated with the coffee supply chain – how coffee was sourced from incredible regions around the globe, while involving so many people along the supply chain.

I attended the University of Michigan and received my Masters in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and am now working for Coffee Manufactory as the Sustainability Specialist, where I will be able to apply my passion for science and research toward sustainability initiatives. We are committed to a transparent supply chain in which we develop and maintain key sourcing partnerships to ensure a sustainable future for our producers.

Taya Brown

PhD Student & Program Director, Center for Coffee Research and Education, Guatemala

Taya Brown is originally from Seattle and has a strong background in agriculture, with several years of experience in both annual and perennial farming. She is currently a Doctoral candidate in the Horticultural Sciences Department at Texas A&M University, where she studies international agricultural development with focus on cross-cultural interaction, socioeconomics, farmer perception, project development and evaluation and grant writing, specifically applied to addressing the issues facing smallholder coffee farmers. She has close ties with the Yepocapa region of Guatemala, where she is investigating the linkage between socioeconomics, farmer perspectives and the uptake of hybrid technology on small scale coffee farms, with the goal of providing the coffee industry recommendations on how to best introduce technological innovation to smallholder coffee farmers.

Taya works as a Project Coordinator for the Center for Coffee Research and Education, writing grants, developing research and designing opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to study and research coffee. She is also part of the effort to help the farmers affected by the recent eruptions of the Fuego Volcano, which damaged the coffee of thousands of smallholder farmers in Yepocapa.

Through the LEAD Scholarship Program ,she hopes to learn the consuming end of the coffee supply chain, including economics, pricing, preparation, tasting and evaluating quality so she can better design projects that support profitability on all sides of the industry.