Meet the ACE Staff
- Roy Saldaña, Jr., ACE Project Director
- Kathleen Dillon, ACE Counselor
- Dejan 'Dan' Bajic, ACE Counselor
- Riza Belen, Program Coordinator
As the Project Director, Roy is tasked with the coordinating of support services and program components, overall project administration, collaborating with other university student support units, staff supervision, budget administration, and project evaluation.
Roy earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Humanistic Studies with a Spanish minor from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. After several years in the workforce, he enrolled in Graduate School and eventually earned a Master of Science degree in Library and Information Science with a specialization in Community Informatics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As an undergrad, Roy changed his major 4 times. During the process, he learned that creativity in developing one’s career development path from the first day of freshmen year is critically important!
As his first opportunity of professional employment, he worked for the School District of Howard-Suamico for 1.5 years providing support services to English as a Second Language and American Indian students grades K-12. For the next four years, he was employed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an Assistant to the Director/Counselor in the Office of Minority Student Affairs. Annually, he advised a cohort of TRiO/Student Support Services’ students, coordinated campus events including career fairs, graduation ceremonies, a scholastic awards banquet, the national TRiO/McNair Scholar's Graduate School Fair, and was a member of a variety of campus committees. Prior to joining Loyola University Chicago, he was the Director of The TRIO/Educational Opportunity Center for The City Colleges of Chicago where he assisted first-generation and/or lower-income adult Chicago residents nineteen years of age or older seeking to enhance their literacy skills, educational credential attainment, and career opportunities.
Roy is a huge fan of music collecting and attending concerts. He has never discarded a cd, cassette, or record despite changing music format trends. His book shelves are a detailed library of music including soul, 80s pop, and 90s Euro dance. He loves attending concerts of one-hit-wonder artists, 80s-90s bands that no one remembers, and legendary performers who saw their heyday well before he was born. You’ll likely find him at Reckless Records on the weekends enjoying the treasure hunt!
As the Achieving College Excellence program's Counselor, Dejan ('Dan') advises students academically and also aids in financial literacy, graduate school selection and preparation, and career counseling. He is also an advocate for the ACE Scholars, reaching out to individuals across campus and the community on their behalf.
Dejan is Serbian-American, the first generation of his family born in United States and also the first one to go on to college. To follow his passions for learning about the ways in which the world works and other people’s cultures and backgrounds, he decided to pursue International Studies; in this field he has received a Bachelor’s from Roosevelt University and a Master’s from DePaul University. He has worked in many different public and private sector jobs. In his last position as Educational Specialist in the TRIO Educational Opportunity Center at the City Colleges of Chicago, he assisted first-generation and/or lower-income adults in the Chicago area with entry into secondary and post-secondary education.
Dejan is a big fan of many fiction and non-fiction books and movies and so you will usually see him with one book or another, all different kinds of music from all around the world and right here, and good discussions. As well, Dejan enjoys keeping up on news, politics, and current events, and doing activism, permaculture gardening, traveling with friends and family as frequently as possible, and taking time to relax, process, and decompress. Please feel free to ask him about anything; he is always available to try to help or just for a good conversation.
As the Achieving College Excellence program's Academic Counselor for first-years and sophomores, Kathleen helps our scholars adjust to college life-- discerning their major, determining which career(s) they are attracted to, building up time management & study skills, filling out the FAFSA, applying for financial aid & scholarships, balancing a budget, and just becoming an adult. Kathleen is advocate for the scholars, reaching out to campus partners on their behalf, while also teaching & encouraging self advocacy.
Kathleen received her B.A. in English Literature (with a minor in Politics & Government) from North Park University here in Chicago. After working as both a substitute teacher and assistant teacher for grades K-12, Kathleen went on to pursue a Master's in English Literature with an emphasis on Pedagogy from Loyola University Chicago. While at Loyola, Kathleen worked as the graduate assistant Tutoring Coordinator fro ACE. After finishing her time at Loyola, Kathleen began work as an Adjunct Professor, teaching first-year and developmental writing at College of Lake County and North Park University. Kathleen draws heavily on her teaching experience when planning ACE workshops and in her day-to-day interactions with students.
Kathleen will be constantly reminding students to take a deep breath, drink some water, practice self-care, "know what you believe and why," "question all you have been taught...and filter it through your own understanding" (Whitman), and to pay attention to their experience (because it matters).
Riza Belen, a Loyola alumna has joined our team as a Coordinator tasked with coordinating the daily operations of the department. Riza will establish and maintain systems for ongoing operations such as record keeping, data management, program marketing, specialized tutoring and other areas necessary for program enrichment and development. In addition, Riza will help train faculty and staff across the university regarding the national TRIO initiative and help facilitate support services for low-income, first-generation, and students with disabilities.
Riza received her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work (with a Minor in Psychology) at Concordia University, River Forest. While attending Concordia, Riza worked at a Women’s Shelter as a Counselor and Legal Advocate. She also worked at John Stroger Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital) as a Caseworker before getting her Master of Social Work degree at Loyola University Chicago. Before joining ACE, Riza had the privilege of serving the Little Village Lawndale High School Campus as TRIO Upward Bound, College and Career Coordinator.
For more than 20 years, Riza has been an active member of Circa Pintig Cultural Group, a Filipino American group that uses theater as a tool for social change. Aside from her love of theater, Riza enjoys reading and is always on a hunt for the best Ramen in Chicago!