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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. The team includes a full-time cultural anthropologist, two industrial designers, a software developer, and three innovation fellows.


Profile image of Alma Castro, Innovation Fellow

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.

Profile image of Alex Chavez, Data Scientist

Alex Chavez is our team’s Data Scientist who uses his experience and skills in technology to make his hometown a more connected place. Graduated locally from Cabrillo High School and from California State University, Long Beach with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science.

Profile image of Tracy M. Colunga, Innovation Team Director

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.

Profile image of Harrison Huynh, Industrial Designer

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.

Profile image of Heidi Wiersma, Innovation Fellow

Heidi Wiersma is one of our Innovation Fellows/ Project Managers holds an MPA from USC and a BS in Community Health from Western Washington University. Prior to working for the City she worked in public health and served in the Peace Corps. Both experiences have affirmed her belief in the power of local government to protect and enhance lives through sound policy practices. She currently lives in Long Beach.

Profile image of Lauren Vargas

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.