Meet the 2018 LEAD Scholars

Five passionate coffee professionals were recently selected to receive the Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) new Leadership Equity and Diversity (LEAD) Scholarship—made possible by the generous support of S&D Coffee & Tea. The scholarship is aimed at increasing leadership diversity within the global coffee community by allowing access to professional development resources to people from underrepresented or marginalized communities. Click here to learn more about the LEAD Scholarship.

SCA received over 60 applications from individuals all over the world, but in the end, SCA and S&D narrowed it down to five recipients to receive the 2-year LEAD Scholarship. The scholars recently visited us at our headquarters in Concord, N.C., where we got to know each one and experience first-hand their passion for the coffee industry.

Karla Ly Quinones—Coffee Shop Owner and Teacher, Café Comunión, Puerto Rico

Karla starts her day at 5:30 every morning as the co-owner of Café Comunión, and ends around 9 pm as a teacher at the Boys & Girls Club in her community in Puerto Rico. Karla opened the multi-roaster coffee shop and café with her partner Abner Roldan days before Hurricane Maria hit. The hurricane destroyed much of the area and left thousands without power and shelter. Determined to help and armed with a gas stove and hand grinder, Karla and Abner started selling coffee on the sidewalk outside their shop. They did this everyday for several months until power was restored. After overcoming Hurricane Maria, Karla is eager to immerse herself further in the coffee industry.

“It’s a special feeling to know my story allowed me to get here and will change the course of my professional career. I’m really looking forward to the mentorship of this program and knowing that in the near future I’ll be certified as a sensory trainer. I can’t wait to share what I know with others that perhaps don’t have access to this type of training, especially as that was my reality for a long time.”

Lisette Barbera—Assistant Manager, Cartel Coffee Lab, Phoenix, Ariz.

Lisette has been honing her coffee skills since 2012, when she worked as a local barista and received an in-depth look at the ins and outs of a coffee roaster. It was at that time, that her world expanded and she envisioned herself educating new baristas. Her thirst to learn more about the coffee industry has been growing ever since. Today, you can find her managing Cartel Coffee Lab in Phoenix, Arizona, where she continues to feed her passion for coffee and people.

“I cried when I submitted my essay submission because I felt like I was undeserving to receive these lush advantages to my future. Then to my disbelief I was sitting in North Carolina with a table of leaders that saw my passions through my words and that is magical. I am excited to see the person I am after these two years have passed.

“I was astounded at the quantity of coffee that is roasted inside of the S&D facilities. I remember the number ‘150 million pounds of green coffee’ thrown around in conversation and my jaw dropped. I find it amazing how a company at this scale can be a leader in sustainability, production and customer satisfaction.”


Smayah Uwajeneza—Sr. Barista, Question Coffee Rwanda

Smayah is a passionate coffee enthusiast and Senior Barista at Question Coffee in Kigali, Rwanda. Question Coffee is a social enterprise founded by Sustainable Harvest, which is committed to transforming the lives of rural, low-income women coffee farmers through training and market access. Since joining the company three years ago, she has been featured in The Guardian, awarded Top Barista awards and won scholarships to attend Re:co Symposium in the U.S. She attributes her success to her passion, hard work and leadership values, which include respect, honesty, authenticity, passion and courage.

“I am enjoying every moment of this program. This scholarship will sharpen my coffee knowledge, help me be more efficient and effective in my current role, and expand my leadership skills. I’m hoping to learn things that can enable me to inspire others to take action. This experience has surprised me and inspired me, motivated and strengthened me.

“I believe that with courage and values, I can inspire my community to believe in something positive. I can motivate them to be in a constant state of transformation and ignore what they believe to be impossible. Leadership is about making people around you better as a result of your presence, and making sure it lasts in your absence. I hope my community sees me as more than a Senior Barista. I hope they see me leading the fight to forge new futures for Rwandan women and girls through coffee.”


Stephanie Alcala—Graduate Student, University of Michigan, United States

In 2016, Stephanie reached a pivotal moment in her coffee career—pursue a roasting apprenticeship in Los Angeles or move 2,300 miles across the country to pursue a Master of Science degree researching coffee genetics. She decided to enroll into the University of Michigan and spent the next two years learning the fundamentals of coffee genetics. In 2018, she not only graduated with a Master of Science degree, but was also awarded the 2018 Re:co Symposium Fellowship, which proved to be a catalyst for the development of her professional career.

“This scholarship is a golden ticket to incredible experiences. The coffee industry is comprised of talented and passionate individuals and through this scholarship I am able to meet and connect with these extraordinary people—it’s been a dream come true.

“My favorite part of the retreat was being able to meet and engage with the leadership team of S&D Coffee & Tea. Being able to interact and engage with individuals who have forged impressive careers for themselves provided us with invaluable insight and inspiration. The folks at S&D are committed to the LEAD Scholarship Program and it was a truly humbling experience to have them so committed to the development of our professional coffee careers.”


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

Taya has been completing her PhD in the Horticultural Sciences Department at Texas A&M University and working as Program Director for the Center for Coffee Research and Education (CCRE) since its establishment in 2016. Her education has provided her with a deep understanding of organic agricultural food systems, international development, grant writing and project evaluation and allows her to address issues in coffee production, processing, technology introduction and marketing

“Luckily, coffee seems to attract some of the very best people, and we as an industry can do tremendous things for the rest of the world. My vision is an integration of science and development, with the ultimate goal of improved collaboration between producers and consumers. I am committed to the goal of helping smallholder farmers produce better coffee and gain income through accessing more direct markets. The SCA LEAD Scholarship offers the exact components of mentorship and access to education and events which would create connections and fill in where my current knowledge leaves off.

“My goal is to apply the understanding that comes from my own personal experience with marginalization, along with my farming, cross-culture and plant science backgrounds, to help design agricultural development that keeps the perspectives of low-income farmers at the forefront. This will better target project goals toward the needs of the people we aim to help, ultimately leading to a more secure future for all through higher coffee production and quality, better food security, economic stability, and resilience to climate change.”