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Meet the Long Beach i-team

The City of Long Beach has assembled a team of local, regional and national talent with a unique and comprehensive set of skills to advance its innovation projects. 

Heather Barker  is our Design Lead. Heather works with interdisciplinary teams developing design strategies that leverage existing competencies and assets into innovative, systemic solutions. She consults, holds workshops, publishes, teaches, and advises internationally on this work. As a scholar and practitioner, Ms. Barker combines theory and practice through an innovation methodology that synthesizes design thinking, gamification, data-analysis and phenomenology. Her design+deliver collaborative process leverages the tools of both physical and virtual space while generating customized, human-centered, technology-augmented, solutions to complex problems. This path to innovation supports both business and civic organizations in efforts to develop novel solutions to personal interface, space, sustainable architectural and urban challenges.

Alma Castro is our Deputy Director. She completed her Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 2011 from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. Her background is in program management, curriculum development, and evaluation. She currently lives in Long Beach.

Tracy M. Colunga is the Innovation Team Director for the City of Long Beach. Previously, Ms. Colunga served as the City’s Neighborhood Relations Officer. Under her leadership, the City garnered $3.1 million in federal, state, and private grants to improve community safety and neighborhood livability gaps. She spearheaded the development of Safe Long Beach Violence Prevention Plan, the City’s Language Access Policy and most recently My Brother’s Keeper Long Beach Local Action Plan. In addition, she oversaw the Long Beach Human Relations Commission and the Long Beach Gang Reduction and Intervention Program. She has focused her career around community improvement and, most notably, was responsible for administering the U.S. Department of Justice Weed and Seed Grant for the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department from 2007 to 2012. She started her career with the City of Long Beach as the Early Childhood Education Coordinator in 2006.

Ms. Colunga holds a Master’s Degree of Social Work from the University of California Los Angeles, Luskin School of Public Affairs and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN. She was a part time lecturer in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for five years and recently joined the faculty as a lecturer at California State University Long Beach (CSULB) Masters of Social Work Program. She is married to Hutx Colunga, a tenured teacher with Long Beach Unified School District. They are proud parents of two children. Tracy Colunga and her family reside in Long Beach, CA.

Harrison Huynh is the team’s designer completed his bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design at CSU, Long Beach. In 2007 he won an ‘Innovations Award’ for his design work at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. His designs and concepts were eventually released into big box retail. In 2009 Harrison joined Solar Monkey as a Designer, to help give direction and build the overall brand of the company.

Kristina Macias is our GIS Civic Researcher.  She completed her Bachelor's Degree in Geography From California State University, Long Beach.  She uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS), as well as knowledge gained in Human Geography disipline to understand spatial relationships and tell insightful stories through maps.

Lauren Vargas is the Director of Innovation Delivery & Special Projects for Mayor Robert Garcia. Previously, Lauren served as a Presidential Appointee in the Obama Administration at the Department of Defense. She was a Special Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary of Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, where she focused on the rapid acquisition of defense capabilities. Prior to this position, Lauren worked as a Legislative Assistant for Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano in Washington, DC for over four years, focusing on immigration and homeland security policy. Lauren is from Montebello, California. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Whittier College. Lauren presently resides in Long Beach, California.