Leadership Team

Michael Griffith

Executive Director

Michael Griffith

About Michael

Michael Griffith has 20 years of experience as an educator and nonprofit leader. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas and a Master of Education degree from Texas State University, Michael started his career as a classroom teacher, honing his skills in teaching, learning, curriculum development, and student assessment. He earned distinctions for his teaching and took on leadership roles as a mentor teacher and team leader. He supported students in and out of the classroom to fulfill their potential.

Michael joined Breakthrough as the Director of Programs in 2008. During his six-year tenure as Director of Programs, Michael managed a three-fold increase in students served, the organization’s expansions in Manor ISD and Austin ISD, the buildout of its college completion programs, and the creation of a customized Salesforce database to monitor the progress of students on their path to college graduation. In 2011, Michael was honored by Bank of America with the distinction of Emerging Leader.

In 2014, Michael took on the role of Executive Director at Breakthrough. Since that time, he has supported Breakthrough as it has expanded extensively to serve more students in multiple school districts in Central Texas and at colleges and universities across the country. Michael has expertise in educational best practices, partnership development, research and reporting, project planning, strategy formation, organizational leadership, and nonprofit governance. Michael is a founding member of the Austin College Access Network and is widely respected in the Central Texas nonprofit community.

Zakiyyah Kareem

Chief Student Support Officer

Zakiyyah Kareem

About Zakiyyah

Zakiyyah has dedicated her professional career to empowering young people to make a positive impact on their communities through education and service. Prior to joining Breakthrough Austin, Zakiyyah spent ten years supporting and facilitating professional development in service-learning for K-12 teachers and students in Texas. She has led programs and policy initiatives at the Region XIV Education Service Center and the Texas Education Agency. In 2006, Zakiyyah directed IT Girl, a nationally recognized informal STEM education program for high school girls that integrated technology and community service. Zakiyyah joined Breakthrough in 2011. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and is completing her Masters in Counseling at St. Edward’s University.

Grace Holland

Chief Development Officer

Grace Holland

About Grace

As Chief Development Officer, Grace leads a team of talented and caring professionals and volunteers to secure the rapidly increasing support needed to fund Breakthrough’s expansion efforts across Central Texas. Since joining Breakthrough in 2014, annual revenue has doubled from $2million to $4million. Grace is driven by her belief in the power of education to break the cycle of generational poverty and by the transformational impact a single individual can have on another’s life through philanthropy. 

Over the course of her career, Grace has led efforts to secure millions of dollars in philanthropic giving that has translated into protection for hundreds of abused and neglected children and provided thousands of low-income families  access to quality childcare, college educations, and compassionate, end-of-life care.   Before coming to Breakthrough, Grace most recently served as Director of Development at Hospice Austin, doubling the organization’s annual philanthropic revenue during her tenure. It was during this time that she also served on the founding committee of I Live Here, I Give Here and subsequently led Hospice Austin to city-wide recognition for most dollars raised via the launch of Amplify Austin’s Day of Giving. Grace served on the Trinity Child Development Center Board of Directors, securing funds for their first development director; helped plant the first racially-diverse congregation of the Presbyterian Church USA, and was honored as CASA Angel of the Year.

Grace is a proud alumna of The University of Texas in Austin, Leadership Austin Emerge (2006) and Essential (2017) and the 2016 AISD UpClose Leadership Class. She currently serves as a member of the greater Austin chapter’s Association of Fundraising Professionals Board of Directors. 

Grace is the proud and harried mother of twin six-year olds who bring joy, humor and humility to her daily life.

Andrea Guengerich

Chief Strategy Officer

About Andrea

 Andrea holds her Master’s Degree in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she was honored to be selected as an Urban Scholars Fellow. Andrea has been a middle school and high school classroom teacher, both in U.S. public schools as well as in Mexico City. She brings with her experience in curriculum design and evaluation, data collection and analysis, and family engagement. Andrea first joined the Breakthrough team in 2009 and feels lucky every day to work alongside incredible Breakthrough students. 

Donnie Spier

Chief Operations Officer

About Donnie

Donnie has over 14 years of nonprofit experience focused in administration and financial and operational management. Donnie’s other specialties include contract/grant management, financial forecasting, and financial reporting. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Donnie most recently served as Chief Financial Officer at Any Baby Can of Austin.

Development, Operations, Community Engagement

Holly Wissmann

Director of Philanthropy

Holly Wissmann

About Holly

Holly Wissmann joined the Breakthrough team in 2013 and currently serves as the Director of Donor Relations & Major Gifts. Having experienced the transformative impact of higher education on her own family, Holly is honored to serve on a team that is partnering with students and families to realize their college dreams. After earning her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing and Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Dance from The University of Texas at Austin, Holly discovered her passion for development and philanthropy. She brings more than 10 years of donor-centered fundraising and communications experience and previously served as the Associate Director of Development for ZACH Theatre, where she was on the team responsible for the Topfer Theatre Capital Campaign. Holly is a Terry Foundation alumna, graduate of the Leadership Austin Emerge Class of 2013, active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Greater Austin Chapter, and co-chair of AFP’s 2017 Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon. In her spare time, she performs with East Austin-based, AZTLAN Dance Company, her artistic home for 12 years, and loves spending time with her partner, Fabian, and their fur babies, Xochi and Simon.

Sara Rosenberg

Director of Institutional Giving

Sara Holliday

About Sara

Sara Holliday Rosenberg holds a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Hollins University and a Master’s degree in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College. She has worked as an editor for Pearson Education and has volunteered extensively in the areas of literacy and education, serving as a literacy coach, tutor, and writing workshop assistant. Sara currently serves on the board of the Grant Professionals Association, supporting the advancement of the grant writing profession. She is an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Kate Garrett

Director of Annual & Corporate Giving

Kate Garrett

About Kate

Kate Garrett joined Breakthrough in 2016, bringing more than 10 years of event management and development experience to her position as Breakthrough’s Director of Annual & Corporate Giving.  Prior to joining the Breakthrough team, Kate served as the Director of Corporate Engagement and Events for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas where she worked as a member of the development team to effectively triple event and corporate revenue in five years.  Kate is passionate about educational equality and committed to raising funds on behalf of underserved youth in Central Texas. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.

Jené Shepherd

Annual Giving Manager


About Jené

Jené joined Breakthrough in January 2016 after working in development at the YMCA, Girl’s Empowerment Network and most recently the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. She graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor’s degree in Government, and is currently pursuing her M.A. in Mass Communication – Strategic Communication at Texas State University. Jené is passionate about education equity, girl empowerment, and Beyoncé.




Issa Galvan

Communications Manager

Issa Galvan

About Issa

Issa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from St. Edward’s University, and Master’s Degree in Mass Communication, with a focus in Latinos & Media, from Texas State University. She brings several years of experience in nonprofit communications and graphic design through the implementation of internal and external integrated campaigns and strategic communications, and has contributed to assisting clients get the critical resources they need to live productive and secure lives. As a Latina and first-generation college graduate, Issa is passionate about strengthening minority communities and breaking down cultural and financial barriers that impede on the success of minority youth.

Karen Arredondo

Communications & Community
Engagement Coordinator


About Karen

 Karen is a proud first-generation college graduate born and raised in Austin, Texas. She graduated from Texas State University – San Marcos, with a Bachelor in Mass Communications and a minor in Social Work. She is a Breakthrough Central Texas Alumna and is so glad to have the opportunity to give back to her community.

Eleanor Siff

Development Associate

Eleanor S

About Eleanor

Eleanor holds a Bachelor’s degree in Religion and Environmental Studies from Southwestern University. While studying at Southwestern, she joined the Student Philanthropy Council and worked in the office of Annual Giving, both of which sparked her passion for development. In her time as a fundraising professional, Eleanor has supported events with record breaking fundraising, worked closely with volunteer leaders, managed donor databases, and more. When she’s not working, Eleanor enjoys cooking with her friends, playing with her cats Violet, Dude, and Mama Dijon, and swimming in whatever watering hole she can find – no matter how cold!


Elena Espinoza Gearheart

Associate Director of Talent


About Elena

Elena Espinoza Gearheart

Elena has spent most of her career partnering with executive leadership to recruit, retain, and develop their talent needs. She has extensive experience working with education reform organizations and non-profits in an operations and human resources capacity. Elena received a Master of Arts in Human Dimensions of Organizations and a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from The University of Texas at Austin and is a Society of Human Resource Management – Senior Certified Professional. /p>





Nick Candia

Operations Manager

Nick Candia

About Nick

Nick holds degrees in Child Psychology and Philosophy from Loyola University Chicago. Much of his professional career has been dedicated to non-profits that focus on community engagement and child development. From after school programs, to YMCAs, to children’s shelters, and even a public school in Thailand, he enjoys contributing time and energy to programs that help children reach their full potential. Nick moved to Texas for the heat and stayed in Austin for the tacos. He spends his free time volunteering as a mentor with Communities In Schools. Nick most recently served as the Chief Operations Officer for a technology firm in Austin before coming here.

Riena Long

Operations Associate

Riena Long

About Riena

Riena holds a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Asian American students from the University of Texas at Austin. She has dedicated her professional interest towards service work and helping provide resources to underserved communities, empowering individuals to advocate for themselves and their communities. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Riena served with AmeriCorps Keep Austin Housed, and went on to manage the largest food pantry in the Austin areas, Micah 6 of Austin, for several years.


Elvira Marin

Associate Director of AmeriCorps & Volunteer

Elvira Marin

About Elvira

Elvira is a first-generation college graduate from Sam Houston State University, a native Texan, and a daughter of immigrants. Her passion for changing the world brought her to Breakthrough in 2016 where she recruits, trains, and places volunteers as the Volunteer Coordinator. A native Spanish speaker, Elvira holds a professional background in entrepreneurship, event planning, and customer service. Currently serving on the Directors of Volunteers in Austin Board, Elvira absolutely loves her role and is eager to foster a robust Breakthrough volunteer pool to help our fantastic students. A former rollergirl with Texas Roller Derby, popcorn lover, knitting hobbyist, cat cuddler, and video game and sci-fi enthusiast, she always has a story to tell or knowledge to share. Feel free to reach out to her anytime to learn more about Breakthrough, volunteering, or problem solving!





Will Davies

Policy & Data Analyst

About Will

Will earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Philosophy from Boston University and a M. Ed. in Education Policy and Planning from the University of Texas at Austin, where he is currently pursuing a PhD in the same department. Following four years teaching English as a foreign language in Europe and South America, he spent five years working as a bilingual elementary classroom teacher and three more as a campus literacy specialist in Central Texas public schools. His personal and professional experiences from more than a decade as an educator in Texas and abroad inform a commitment to culturally responsive pedagogy and curriculum; asset-based, additive, agentic approaches to teaching and learning; and strengthening access to high-quality educational opportunities for all students. In his free time, Will loves to spend time outdoors hiking, biking, camping, or playing sports.

Dell Valle Middle Schools

Ja’Near Villines

Associate Director of Programs

About Ja'Near

Ja’Near is a first-generation college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Huston-Tillotson University and a Master’s in Education in Advanced Literacy from the University of Concordia. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree, Ja’Near spent a year working as a Case Manager for Child Protective Services and then went on to teach middle school English for nearly a decade. While in the classroom, Ja’Near focused on developing the teaching skills that would improve learning for ALL students. This focus led her to spending three summers as an Instructional Coach where she was able to assist Breakthrough Teaching Fellows to develop their own teaching skills. Ja’Near has always enjoyed working with students and is excited to continue that work with Breakthrough Central Texas.

Amely Vela

Program Coordinator

About Amely

Amely holds a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science from Texas A&M University with a minor in Spanish. As a first-generation college graduate, Amely is a proud Breakthrough Alumna and former 9th grade Breakthrough Summer Teaching Fellow. After graduation, Amely returned to Austin and became a nutrition educator for Travis County. In 2017, Amely decided to give back to the community that paved her path to college, and is currently serving her second year as a full-time AmeriCorps Member at Breakthrough, helping Del Valle students on their path to college.

Areli Barrera

Program Coordinator


About Areli

Areli received her degree in Kinesiology at Stephen F. Austin State University. She’s a proud first-generation college graduate, Austinite, and daughter of immigrants. Prior to joining Breakthrough as an AmeriCorps Leader, Areli was a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow for three consecutive summers beginning in 2015. She has a passion for both fitness and helping her community by supporting youth to help create first-generation college graduates.


Manor Middle Schools

Leslie Tucker

 Director of Middle School Programs

Leslie Tucker

About Leslie

Leslie Perkins is a proud graduate of Huston-Tillotson College with a bachelor’s degree in Education. She has been a child advocate and teacher in the East Austin and Manor communities for over 15 years. Leslie is honored to be a catalyst in making “firsts and lasts” – Breakthrough’s work consists of making first generation college students that will be the last in their families to navigate the higher education system alone. Her commitment to the community exemplifies her belief that our children’s education is the most valuable investment we can make.

Ric Almeda

Program Coordinator

Ric Almeda

About Ric


Krystal Cantú Cossey

Program Coordinator

Krystal Cantú Cossey

About Krystal

Krystal holds a Bachelor’s degree in Bilingual Education from St. Edward’s University. She brings experience through a career in Youth Development, Advocacy and Leadership. Before coming to Breakthrough, Krystal spent more than 12 years working with Austin ISD and The Boys and Girls in Austin, with the common goal of providing an opportunity where one can improve their lives, while also improving their community.

Asia Hays

AmeriCorps Senior Leader
 Asia Hays

About Asia

Asia Hayes holds a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies and Spanish University. Her depth study in Educational Justice allowed her to examine how different populations in the world regard learning and how intersectionality affects the outcomes of educational systems. Asia currently serves as an AmeriCorps Team Leader at the Manor Middle School site. After being a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow in the summer of 2018 she is excited and ready to take on her role as an AmeriCorps member.

Manor High Schools

Dorothy Vasquez

Associate Director of Programs

Dorothy Vasquez

About Dorothy

Dorothy Vasquez has a history of working with at-risk youth in and around, the Austin area. She was born and raised in East Austin and lucky enough to participate in the Young Scientist program at Zavala Elementary, that later led to magnet feeder schools until college. Dorothy holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Texas Lutheran University and a Master’s in Organizational and HR Development from Abilene Christian University. Before coming to Breakthrough, Dorothy initiated her career at AISD and later held multiple positions at the Boys & Girls Club of Austin. She is a strong supporter of Youth Program Quality (YPQ) and has experience as a Quality Coach.

Sascha Betts

Program Coordinator


About Sascha

Sascha Betts is an Austin transplant from Detroit, Mi! She graduated from Spelman College with a BA in English, obtained her MA in Educational Leadership, and is currently pursing a Ph.D in School Improvement. She has an orientation toward social justice and emancipation, and envisions a world where all students receive an equitable education. She enjoys spending time with her family and miniature schnauzer — Queenie! She loves being of service, so if there is any way she can help, she well! 

Randall Ischy

Program Coordinator Manor High School Programs

Breakthrough Central Texas Program Coordinator Randall Ischy

About Randall

Randall earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and English from Sam Houston State University, worked in business management, and then rediscovered his passion for education by obtaining his alternative education certification. He taught Spanish for 2 years at Manor High School, where he served as an innovative teacher leader, training teachers on the implementation of technology in the classroom and presenting at various tech conferences, including SXSWEdu, Google Summit, AIE, and TCEA. He served as a STEM Instructional Coach for our Manor summer program before becoming a full-time Breakthrough staff member. As a first-gen college student himself, Randall has brought a passion for equity, strong relationship building practices, classroom teacher expertise, and management practices.

Northeast Austin Middle Schools

Cristian Villalobos

Associate Director of Middle School Programs

Cristian Villalobos

About Cristian

Cristian Villalobos holds a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin. His teaching experience prior to Breakthrough includes a charter school in rural Colorado, community education center in New York, and an Austin public middle school. Christian appreciates Breakthrough’s recognition of issues both inside and outside the classroom as contributing to educational inequity, and is passionate about serving first-generation college goers.

Brittney Demars

Program Coordinator

Brittany Demars

About Brittney

Brittney holds a Bachelor’s in English Literature and a minor in Spanish from the University of North Texas. She’s passionate about youth education and development, and has served in various educational positions in Texas, as an after-school tutor and summer mentor in Texas. Brittney is currently serving as an AmeriCorps Member at Breakthrough Central Texas, after having served two summers as an ELA Middle School Summer Teacher at Breakthrough. Brittney is a part of our Northeast Austin middle school team, which works directly with our Breakthrough students in various middle schools throughout the northeast areas Austin.

Hannah Rubinstein

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

About Hannah

Hannah holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Spanish from Tulane University. Having worked with students of different ages and backgrounds, Hannah decided to become an AmeriCorps Summer Teaching Fellow with Breakthrough upon graduation. This experience, in combination with her prior work helping launch an education access non-profit, led her to become a full-time AmeriCorps member with Breakthrough.

South/Central Austin Middle Schools

Jennifer Karydas 

Program Coordinator


About Jennifer

Jennifer is a first-generation college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Sociology from Texas State University-San Marcos and a Master’s in Education in Out of School Time from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Jennifer has spent over a decade as an educator in Austin. Prior to joining the Breakthrough community, Jennifer was an Americorp member with Citizen Schools at Kealing Middle School from 2008-2011 and then taught for 7 years in AISD as a special education teacher. She believes in the transformative power of education and also recognizes the inequity and barriers in place for many learners. She’s excited to work in an organization that supports young people on a very personal and challenging journey, while also collectively working to transform educational systems. When she’s not advising students or managing projects, Jennifer likes to spend time outdoors, give snuggles to her dog and support arts, cultural and LGBTQ+ events here in Austin.


Kathryn Todd

Program Coordinator


About Kathryn

Kathryn graduated from Knox College where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a minor in Social Service. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Kathryn worked to write curriculum and develop programing for children with special needs. An avid traveler, Kathryn used teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) as a way to see the world. She taught in Barcelona, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has over five years of experience teaching ESL and continues to do so in her spare time. She is honored by the opportunity to continue making a difference in the lives of students and families of marginalized communities.


Austin High Schools

Christi Almeida

Associate Director of High School Programs

Christi Almeida

About Christi

Christi joined Breakthrough Austin in August of 2011 as an AmeriCorps Member. Over the last five years, she has been working to grow and develop Breakthrough’s middle school programs. Christi is a proud first-generation college graduate and first-generation American like many of the students she works with. Before working for Breakthrough, Christi received a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Spanish from the University Of Idaho. Go Vandals!

Tiffany Hung

Associate Director of High School Programs


About Tiffany

Tiffany holds a Bachelor’s in Business Honors and Plan II Honors from the University of Texas at Austin. An Austin Native, she served as a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow, where she discovered her passion for working directly with teacher. Before coming Breakthrough, Tiffany served as an educator in the San Antonio area teaching math and coaching tennis to high school students for three years, through Teach For America. She is passionate about our mission and is excited to continue her work with students at Breakthrough Central Texas.

Maria Rodriguez

Program Coordinator

Maria Rodriguez

About Maria

Maria recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from St. Edward’s University. She is passionate about giving back to the community, helping the environment and helping children achieve their goals. She joined Breakthrough in 2017 as a summer teacher for 9th grade geometry and stayed as a full time AmeriCorps member. Now a program coordinator.

David Porter IV

Program Coordinator

About David

David M. Porter IV is a native Austinite who was raised in education. With his mother having worked in AISD as a teacher and counselor for 30 years and his father being very active in the Austin community through various organizations that work with youth in low-income communities, it only made sense for David to follow the path of education. He started his post-secondary career at the University of Houston to study biomedical engineering but found his love for the field of education and transferred to The University of Texas at Austin where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Applied Learning and Development with a specialization in Youth and Social Services and a minor in English. David’s career with Breakthrough started immediately after his college graduation as an AmeriCorps Summer Teaching Fellow, where he found his love to support students to find and achieve their post-secondary goals.

In 2018, David was awarded the OneStar Foundation’s 2018 National Service “Make-A-Difference” Award at the 35th Annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards. Outside of his work at Breakthrough, David is an assistant football, basketball, and track & field coach to 5th-8th grade students at St. Francis School in north Austin since the fall of 2014.

Curtis Clay

Program Coordinator


About Curtis

Curtis joins Breakthrough after spending seven years teaching and coaching in Austin-area high schools, having made stops at Lake Travis, LBJ, and Navarro (formerly Lanier). He is passionate about the value of education and supporting students to go after their dreams. In 2017, he was recognized as LBJ’s ‘Teacher of the Year’ as a 9th grade English teacher. Curtis is a proud graduate of Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism, his master’s degree in Educational Administration, and where he also played football. Curtis enjoys spending time with his wife (Brittany) and daughter (Norah), watching sports, and attending concerts.

Libby Goldman

Program Coordinator


About Libby

Libby holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Geography from Dartmouth College. While in college, she was an AmeriCorps Summer Teaching Fellow with Breakthrough, and upon graduation returned as a full-time AmeriCorps member. She is committed to pursuing a career in the social sector and is honored to begin that work with Breakthrough by working to mitigate educational inequity. Above all, Libby is passionate about learning. She enjoys writing, traveling, dog-walking, dancing, and laughing.  

yesenia rivera

Program Coordinator


About yesenia

Prior to Breakthrough, yesenia served as a part-time Spanish Guide/Instructor for the city of Georgetown and for a Montessori Charter School while attending Southwestern University. While she focused on curriculum writing for students ranging four-11 years of age, she made the decision to transition to Breakthrough as a full-time AmeriCorps Member. During her term, she hopes to be part of the support families seek from their community to ensure that all students are successful and able to reach their fullest potential. On her off time, you can catch yesenia enjoying a game of chess, Sudoku and or watching The Office!


Laura Palomares

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

About Laura

Laura was raised in Idaho and moved to Texas in 2019 to join Breakthrough as an AmeriCorps Summer Teaching Fellow, where she worked closely with the Austin ISD High School team. Laura is a proud first-generation college graduate herself from the University of Idaho. She holds two bachelor’s degrees in International Studies and Spanish. Laura is passionate about giving back to her community and motivating other first-generation college students. Si Se Puede! Go Vandals!



College Completion

Daniel Jackson

Director of College Completion

About Daniel

Daniel holds degrees in Linguistics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and in School Counseling from New York University. After three years with the Early Academic Outreach Program at the University of California helping first-generation students enter college, Daniel spent eight years as a school counselor at an Early College high school in the Bronx, an international school in Mexico City and Webb Middle School in Austin, where he was the lead counselor. He joined Breakthrough in 2014.

Claudia Ochoa

College Completion Coordinator

About Claudia

Claudia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Bilingual Education from Texas State University and is a certified EC-6 Bilingual Education Teacher. As a first-generation college graduate, Claudia is a proud Breakthrough Austin graduate and former two-time Breakthrough Teaching Fellow. In 2016, Claudia decided to give back to the community that paved her path to college, and is currently serving her second year as a full-time AmeriCorps Member at Breakthrough, giving the support that was given to her to high school and college students.



Erin Gentry

College Completion Coordinator


About Erin

Erin brings more than a decade of experience in non-profit youth work and program design, project management, teaching at the college level, and management for small non-profits. A first-generation college graduate, Erin holds a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies from St. Edward’s University, in Austin, TX, and a master’s degree in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. A native Mexican raised in the United States, Erin is thrilled to be working with bilingual and Spanish-speaking families and students. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, rowing on Lady Bird Lake, co-running a non-profit art space, and listening to music.

Shannon Brooks

AmeriCorps Leader


About Shannon

Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Shannon graduated from Knox College in 2019 with a Bachelor’s in Spanish Language and Literature. During her undergraduate studies, she worked as a writing tutor in the academic success center on campus. She then took her passion for education and previous experience to Breakthrough to become a Summer AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow before joining the College Completion Team. Shannon enjoys taking long walks and browsing internet memes..

Marissa Peña

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

Marissa Pena

About Marissa


Marissa Peña is a first-generation college graduate and Breakthrough alumna. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and a minor in Spanish from St. Edward’s University. Having had a challenging college experience, Marissa is excited to share that experience with other Breakthrough students and support them as they encounter the many adversities that come with being a first-generation college student.