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Staff

Who We Are

Breakthrough Central Texas is committed to a policy of equal treatment and opportunity in every aspect of its relations with its applicants, staff members, and families, without regard to race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender identity and gender expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status, military status, pregnancy, or parenthood. People of diverse backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.

Join Our Team

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.

Kendra Strange

Chief Schools Officer

Michael Griffith
About Kendra
Kendra believes all students have the potential to succeed and she has made it her mission to ensure students have access to the support and resources necessary to maximize their potential. With over 15 years of experience in college access space, Kendra is a first-generation student with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology/Criminology from Kansas State University. Kendra has experience with federal trio programs, college admissions and served as the inaugural College-Bound Advisor for Young Women’s Leadership Academy at Fort Worth ISD. Kendra built the college-bound program and helped students amass more than $60 Million in scholarships and she can also boast 100% college acceptance for every graduating senior since 2016. Kendra supported young women in grades 6 -12 and continued to walk with them through college completion and into their careers. Kendra is dedicated to improving systems to support students and believes that given the right resources, support, and environment ALL students have the potential to achieve post-secondary success.

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.

Donnie Spier

Chief Operations Officer

Michael Griffith
About Donnie
Donnie has over 20 years of nonprofit experience focused on 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.

Leslie Tucker

 Chief Program Officer

leslie
About Leslie
Leslie Tucker 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.

Andrea Guengerich

Chief Strategy Officer

Michael Griffith
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.

DEVELOPMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, 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.

Michelle Monroe

Associate Director of Development

Michael Griffith
About Michelle
Michelle is a Houston native, an Iowa State University alum, and a firm believer in the generational impact of post-secondary education. Her early career included roles in the education space both in the classroom and alongside schools through programming partnerships. More recently, Michelle served as the Interim Executive Director at Amaanah Refugee Services and Executive Director at the Abundant Life Foundation, where she was responsible for fundraising. During that time, she also obtained a certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from the Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at Rice University. Breakthrough’s programmatic approach and core beliefs drew Michelle to this role, and she is grateful to work toward educational equity alongside our community and stakeholders.

Daniel Sanchez

Philanthropy Manager

Michael Griffith
About Daniel
Prior to joining Breakthrough Central Texas in 2021, Daniel worked as the Development Manager at Texans Care for Children, a statewide children’s and family advocacy organization based in Austin, TX. He is a first-generation college graduate and a University of Texas at Austin and Terry Foundation alumna. He digs his cats and the Dallas Mavericks.

Elena Espinoza Gearheart

Director of Talent

Michael Griffith
About Elena
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>

Kate Garrett

Director of Corporate Partnerships

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.

Rosa Jaramillo

Development Associate

Michael Griffith
About Rosa
Rosa graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with a minor in Legal Studies from UTSA. A first gen high school and a college grad, she really loved Breakthrough’s mission of supporting students to become the first in their families to go to college. She participated as a summer teaching fellow, and then an AmeriCorps member, giving back and servicing the school district she attended. She is honored to continue with Breakthrough and is excited to contribute again to her community through her work. In her free time, she loves live music, reality TV, painting, traveling with friends, hanging out with her friends and family, and most importantly, spending time with her dog.

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.

Carmen Acosta

Volunteer Coordinator

Elvira Marin
About Carmen
Carmen is a first-generation college graduate from Concordia University Texas, where she earned her B.A and M.B.A. She is an Austin transplant originally from Phoenix, AZ. Her passion for educational accessibility brought her to Breakthrough where she recruits, trains, and places volunteers as the Volunteer Coordinator. An active photographer, explorer, and dog-mom, Carmen loves to connect with people and hear their stories. Feel free to reach out to her anytime to learn more about Breakthrough, volunteering, or where to get good local food!

Issa Galvan

Associate Director of Communications

Issa Galvan
About Issa
Issa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from St. Edward’s University, and a 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

Karen
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’s 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.

Elvira Marin

Associate Director of AmeriCorps 

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, hires, trains, and places AmeriCorps Members who serve as advisors to Breakthrough Students. A native Spanish speaker, Elvira holds a professional background in entrepreneurship, event planning, and customer service. A former roller girl with Texas Roller Derby, popcorn lover, 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 chat about Breakthrough!

Alicia Ford

Operations Manager

Elvira Marin
About Alicia
Alicia is a first-generation college graduate and brings more than 13 years of nonprofit experience. Alicia most recently served as the Program Director for 4H Capital where she managed their AmeriCorps program. 4H Capital is a partner organization with AmeriCorps Central Texas, and Alicia served as the liaison for 4H Capital. Alicia also brings experience from her time as a Club Director at the Boys & Girls Club.

POLICY & DATA

Will Davies

Associate Director of Policy & Data

Holly Wissmann
About Will
Will is responsible for the execution of Breakthrough’s research and advocacy activities focused on improving postsecondary access and success for young Texans across the institutional and local, state, and federal policymaking domains and leads the collection, management, and analysis of data to evaluate and improve outcomes and strategy. Originally from Boston, Will earned a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from Boston University then spent the next four years teaching English as a foreign language in South America. After returning from abroad, he worked five years as a (Spanish/English) bilingual elementary classroom teacher and three as a campus literacy specialist in Central Texas public schools while earning a M. Ed. in Education Policy and Planning from the University of Texas at Austin where he is currently a doctoral student. Will’s academic research has often focused on the sociopolitical context of bilingual education, especially the rapid discursive shift around and expansion of dual language education and its implications for the access and experience of minoritized students and families. He is also a research analyst and program evaluator for Building a Green Texas: Activating a New Generation of Sustainability Leaders, an initiative that partners the University of Texas system, Texas school districts, sustainability professionals, municipal governments, and community-based organizations to strengthen climate resiliency through the development of green building pipelines and active environmental education opportunities for high school-aged youth from the communities most impacted by climate change and least represented in green careers. Will loves to spend as much of his free time as possible outdoors hanging out, hiking, cooking, biking, swimming, camping, or playing sports with family and friends.

Amely Vela

Data Analyst

Kate Garrett
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.

MIDDLE SCHOOLS

Jennifer Karydas

Curriculum & Instruction Specialist
Holly Wissmann
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.

Ja’Near Villines

Director of MS Programs

Holly Wissmann
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.

NORTH EAST AUSTIN

Brittney DeMars

Associate Director of MS Programs

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.

Melanie Rosowski

Program Coordinator

Issa Galvan
About Melanie
Melanie is a recent graduate from the University of Arkansas where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. Melanie served as a Breakthrough AmeriCorps teaching fellow in 2018, solidifying her passion for educational equity and social justice. In her free time, Melanie enjoys spending time outdoors and experimenting in the kitchen. Melanie is overjoyed to be back working as a full-time Americorps member for Breakthrough Central Texas.

CENTRAL SOUTH AUSTIN

Alicia Flores

Associate Director of MS Programs

Alicia Flores
About Alicia
Alicia Flores is an Austin Native, with firsthand experience of Austin’s schools. In addition, she is part of Breakthrough’s alumni network, having joined the program as a student in 2003. Alicia rejoins the Breakthrough community, with several years of experience as a full-time educator in the Las Vegas school district. She holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Alicia is excited to bring her ten-plus years of working with students, inside and outside the classroom, back to her Austin community.

William Banes

Program Coordinator

Elvira Marin
About Will
Will Banes was born and raised in London, England. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Princeton University. During his studies, he took a particular interest in studying documentary photography. Will joins Breakthrough as an AmeriCorps Member on the Central South Austin team. He previously worked as a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow in 2018 and as an After School Teaching Fellow at Breakthrough New York last year. He is honored to continue working with Breakthrough students and their families this year.

MANOR

Samuel Cauman

Associate Director of MS Programs

Sam
About Sam
Samuel was born and raised in Washington, DC, and has lived in Brazil, Canada, and Japan. He moved to Austin in 2009 and served as a public educator for Manor ISD schools, where he worked as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. He believes that relationship building is the key to facilitating learning and loves working directly with students. He enjoys cooking, reading, watching soccer, and spending time with his family.

Krystal C. Cossey

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
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 life, while also improving their community.

Ric Almeda

Program Coordinator

Ric Almeda
About Ric
Ric Almeda is the son of 2 immigrant parents and a 1st Generation American Citizen and College Graduate. Ric went to the University of Texas for his undergraduate degree and has a teaching certificate from his time as an educator in Manor from 2013 until joining Breakthrough full-time in 2019. Outside of Breakthrough, Ric is a DJ who has toured over 42 countries and even has his own Day in Austin.

DEL VALLE

Laura Lopez

Associate Director of MS Programs

laura
About Laura
Laura Lopez is a proud first-generation college graduate born and raised in Austin, Texas. She graduated from Texas State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a minor in Human Resource Management. While obtaining her bachelor’s, she served Manor through community organizations like AVID, Gear-Up, and Breakthrough. Serving as a Breakthrough summer teacher and instructional coach led to her calling in life. In the last nine years, she has positively impacted campuses’ instruction, systems, leadership, and culture as a math teacher, AVID coordinator, and instructional coach. In 2021, she obtained her Masters in Educational Leadership from Grand Canyon University. She is honored and blessed to work with her Breakthrough familia.

Alejandro Salas

Program Coordinator

Alejandro
About Alejandro
Alejandro is a proud product of Mexican immigrants. Originally from Houston, Alejandro has spent the last three years working in education as English as a Second Language teacher. In his capacity as an educator, Alejandro has assumed roles that have allowed him to foster relationships with community agencies to increase district-wide funding for mental health social services that provide trauma-informed care to students who have experienced race-based violence. Through community organizing and policy advocacy, Alejandro seeks to design systems of care that are culturally competent and urge us to reimagine accountability practices beyond the violent mechanisms created by the state. In his role at Breakthrough, Alejandro is excited about the opportunity to imagine a world that fully embodies justice and liberation alongside students, families, and individuals who share a collective vision for freedom. In his free time, Alejandro finds comfort in reading, writing, exercising, and rewatching the series finale of Insecure.

AUSTIN HIGH SCHOOLS

Curtis Clay

Associate Director of HS Programs

Michael Griffith
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.

Grecia Lopez

Program Coordinator

grecia
About Grecia
Grecia holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology from Texas Tech University. Having served two summers as a Teaching Fellow in 2016-2017 and being a Breakthrough alumna has led Grecia to return to Breakthrough as a full-time AmeriCorps member. Grecia is excited to build relationships and share her experiences with Breakthrough students to help motivate them during their path to college.

Tiffany Hung

Associate Director of HS Programs

Tiffany
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 teachers. Before coming to 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.

Garrett Boyd

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Garrett
Garrett, a New Orleans native, holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Alabama. He discovered his passion for working in education when he served as an ESL translator leading him to a full-time ESL teaching position at Escuela Politécnica Nacional in Quito, Ecuador for two years. With a continued joy for teaching, Garrett joined the Teach For America San Antonio 2020 cohort where he served as a 7th Grade English Language Arts teacher. Being a first-generation college graduate himself, Garrett is excited to join the Breakthrough team and advise high school students. Outside of work, Garrett enjoys going to the gym and trying new restaurants. His goals this year include hiking more often and taking dance classes.

Maigan Pearson

Program Coordinator

Maigan
About Maigan
we will update soon..

Esmeralda Hernandez

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Esme
Esme received both her Bachelor’s degree in English and her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas A&M University. She was born and raised in Austin and taught 8th Grade English for two years at Ojeda Middle School. She is an avid gym goer, her current read is Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde, and she is excited to begin this next chapter with the team at Breakthrough Central Texas.

MANOR HIGH SCHOOLS

Dorothy Vasquez

Director of Manor & Del Valle HS 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, which 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.

Brevin Fields

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Brevin
Brevin Fields first served with Breakthrough as an AmeriCorps Summer Teacher Fellow serving rising high school freshmen at the Manor Site. Brevin is a proud first-generation college graduate and graduated from Texas State University with a Bachelor’s in History and a 7th-12th grade teaching certificate. Brevin is honored to now be serving as a Post-Secondary Advisor at Manor New Technology High School where he graduated in 2016. Brevin is grateful to give back to the community and support future scholars in the Manor community! When not working Brevin loves to spend time with his wife, Hannah, family, and friends, and eat good food around Austin!

Randall Ischy

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.

Tomas Garza

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Tomas
Tomas is a first-generation college graduate from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a dual minor in Sociology and Spanish, along with a Master of Education in Student Services in Higher Education from the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW). A native of Edcouch, Texas, he is a native Spanish speaker, a former Dell Scholar, and was raised in a migrant family. His education career began at UTSA part-time as a Captionist/Transcriptionist in Student Disability Services, providing real-time transcription services for deaf/hard of hearing students in the classroom, which he later pursued full-time for 2 ½ years. He also worked as a Graduate Assistant at UIW in his first semester of Graduate School, supporting high school students in the San Antonio region with their goal of attending college. Tomas also has prior experience in financial aid from The University of Texas at Austin as a Financial Aid Officer and academic success/student retention from St. Edward’s University as a Success Coach. He is excited to serve as a valuable resource for Breakthrough students and families.

Matt Gonzales-Earhart

Program Coordinator

Maigan
About Matt
A first-generation college graduate from small-town Missourah, Matt received his undergraduate degree from the University of Central Missouri in 2004 and a Master’s in Educational Administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 2017. Matt brings over 16 years of experience in public schools in a variety of roles; social studies teacher, AVID coordinator, instructional coach, school administrator, and was named Austin ISD Teacher of the Year in 2012. Matt has a history of supporting first-generation college students and is happiest when hangin’ with his family, Kat and Beto.

Christelle Joseph

Program Coordinator

Michael Griffith
About Christelle
Christelle is Haitian, originally from Boston, MA but Austin has been her home for the last 7 years. She had years of experience in the medical field while living in Boston but made a shift into social work. Christelle completed one year of AmeriCorps and 5+ years working at Foundation Communities providing intensive case management and client-centered support to families experiencing homelessness along with advising and facilitating a youth empowerment program. She has a deep passion for supporting youth in low-income communities and is excited to continue this work and join the BTCTX team!

DEL VALLE HIGH SCHOOLS

Laura Palomares

Program Coordinator
Dorothy Vasquez
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!

Angel Arreola

Program Coordinator

Randall Ischy
About Angel
Angel is joining Breakthrough after 5 years of being an educator and coach at Del Valle High School and Cedar Creek High School. He has taught physics, biology, forensic science, and chemistry. Additionally, Angel has coached football, basketball, and track. He is originally from Center Point, Texas and graduated with a class of 48 classmates and then from The University of Texas at Austin as a first generation student. There he met his wife Kristin and they live in East Austin with their dog Jimothy and sweet baby boy Luciano “Luca” who is five months old. He enjoys playing video games, reading, and playing basketball and golf.

Shola Ijoyah

Associate Director of Advising
Dorothy Vasquez
About Shola
Oluwasola “Shola” Ijoyah is a first-generation American with eight years of experience in college transitions and student programming. After earning a Bachelor of Arts from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, he began his higher education career at the University of Texas at Arlington. As an Admissions Counselor and then Assistant Director at UT Arlington, he spent five years supporting high school students’ transition to college. He discovered his passion for serving students not too long after starting in admissions and went on to complete his Masters in Higher Education Administration from Sam Houston University. Shola’s career has allowed him to work at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). Through his experiences in institutions of varying sizes, he has learned that students can be prepared to face any of life’s challenges with the right level of support. He believes that students at all levels deserve support, and he is excited to add to Breakthrough’s legacy of transforming the college-going culture for students in Central Texas. He looks forward to working with the PSAP Team to develop pathways for students at Manor New Tech High School. Go, Titans!

Aileen Ramirez

Program Coordinator

Randall Ischy
About Aileen
Aileen is a fearless and passionate adviser, advocate, and Americorp member for Central Texas students and families. As an AmeriCorp member for the last 2 years, she has served in multiple capacities, across middle school, high school, and CCS teams at Breakthrough. Aileen was an Upward Bound student during high school and hopes to pay it forward in a larger capacity as a Program Coordinator. During her undergraduate studies, Aileen had the opportunity to conduct research with the San Marcos Head start program which sparked an interest to find work that closely works with students and families to make change and impact in underserved communities. Aileen hopes to bring her last 2 years of service of Breakthrough knowledge to innovate, design, and facilitate Breakthrough initiatives that address the needs of our students, families, community and growing organization.

Sam Soltis

Program Coordinator

sam
About Sam
Sam’s passion for education and community building has been deeply inspired by her 7th-grade English teacher. With the inspiration of her teacher, Sam was able to successfully complete her degree in English Education and Communication Management from Cleveland State University, being the first in her family to attend college. During her time at CSU, she had the opportunity to assist in integrating student-led community action research projects into the curriculum for all students. Additionally, her education helped her understand the importance of students’ voices, community involvement, and how design thinking principles can be used to elevate educational spaces. Her journey with Breakthrough started in the summer of 2018 as a teaching fellow with Breakthrough Fort Worth. Following that experience, Sam served two consecutive AmeriCorps terms with College Forward. She now serves as Breakthrough’s first PSAP program coordinator in which she hopes to further develop her work in the college access space.

COLLEGE & CAREER SUCCESS

Arelis Palacios

Director of College & Career Success
Dorothy Vasquez
About Arelis
Originally from Miami, Florida, Arelis has focused on the intersections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and K-16 educational policies and has worked vigorously to help universities implement their own policies to promote diversity, access, and inclusion for undocumented youth. She is presently a doctoral student in the Curriculum & Instruction program at the University of Texas at Austin, and holds a M.S. in Higher Education Administration and a B.A. in English Literature from Florida State University.

Daniel Jackson

Partnership & Innovation Specialist
Dorothy Vasquez
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.

JaNica Gothwright

Program Coordinator
About JaNica

Erin Gentry

Associate Director of College & Career Success

 

 

Randall Ischy
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.

Claudia Ochoa

Program Coordinator

Randall Ischy
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.

Carly Boal

Program Coordinator

About Carly
Carly Boal, a native New Englander, joins us after 6 years of serving Austin Community College students as an ACC staff member in multiple positions, such as enrollment advising and most recently, academic advising. Prior to working with Austin Community College, Carly served as an AmeriCorps member at 2 different educational non-profits, City Year Miami and College Forward, which brought her to Austin. Carly holds a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and English from the University of Maine and is excited to begin working with Breakthrough’s ACC students!

Christi Almeida

Director of College Access

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!

David Porter

Program Coordinator

Christi Almeida
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.

Berenice Soto

Program Coordinator

About Bernice
Bernice Soto is a program coordinator and community builder who has over 8 years of experience mentoring and coaching Latinx college students to impact their campuses and communities. This last year she was also a part of building a Fellowship Program for young adults leading social justice work and also was a research assistant for a focus group on Latinx millennial mental health practices. She just moved to Austin from San Diego, California a little over a month ago and is pursuing a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. She likes walks, puppies, lattes, plants, thrifting and Bad Bunny and is really excited to get to support college students in the CTX area alongside the broader BT staff!

2022-2023

AMERICORPS MEMBERS

Breakthrough is a non-profit organization with the mission of providing a path through college for first-generation college graduates. Beginning in sixth grade, AmeriCorps members provide essential support to students who are on this path. Members provide mentoring, academic support, coaching, program planning, and implementation, and other activities to contribute to the success of Breakthrough students. Members will receive extensive training in a variety of areas to prepare them for a rewarding and successful placement with Breakthrough.

 

MEET OUR AMERICORPS MEMBERS BELOW!

Perla Ortiz
AMERICORPS LEADER

Central South Austin Middle School Team

St. Edward’s 2024 BA Spanish 1st Gen, 2x Summer Fellow

“As a first-generation college student, I am really passionate about access to higher education. Having been a Teaching Fellow in 2019 and 2020, I witnessed Breakthrough’s efforts to bridge the gap for students like me. I loved being a part of the team then, and I would love to join the cause one more time.”

Nicole Agoncillo
AMERICORPS LEADER

Manor Middle School Team

Texas State Grad 2022 BA Applied Sociology 1st Gen, 2022 CSA Summer Teacher

“I want to grow within the company, because of its values and how it aligns with mine. The community and its vision are what inspire me to give back and be a leader for the youth. As a first-generation college graduate, I can relate to many other students who want to achieve their goals. It would be an honor to help them reach that.”

Jeyner Lara
AMERICORPS LEADER

Manor High School Team

Soon to be Huston-Tillotson Grad 2022
BA Business Administration, BT Student, 2x Summer Fellow

“Working as a teaching fellow this summer I discovered a strong passion for working with kids. I am looking forward to being a full-time member of the organization that has shaped and prepared me into the man I am today.”

Kylee Pearl
AMERICORPS SENIOR  LEADER

Austin High School Team

Kylee Pearl is a first-generation college graduate of East Carolina University with a Bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Mathematics. She values community and service and found a great opportunity to explore her passions with Americorps. Kylee was a Literacy Tutor in East Austin for 2 years, and is now a high school Breakthrough advisor! She hopes to bring further awareness for educational equality and justice, and support her students as they conquer the world!

Alexandria Anders-Hall
AMERICORPS LEADER

College & Career Success Team University of North Texas Grad 2020 BA International Studies, 1st Gen!

” I desire to play a hand in helping the next generation of students pursue their dreams and I feel this organization would be a great stepping stone for me to make that happen. I’d love to share my story of overcoming obstacles on the path to academic success, in order to inspire students to do the same in their own lives.”

Owen Morgan
AMERICORPS MEMBER

College & Career Success Team, Texas State Grad 2022, 2020 MM Latin Music Studies, BA Music

“I believe I have the ability to help students realize their full potential. I understand the time, patience, and energy required by both students and advisors to reach the end goal of academic success. My life has revolved around music and I have learned how to connect with students over a shared passion”

Isabel Onofre
AMERICORPS MEMBER

North East Austin Middle School Team

Texas A&M Grad 2022 BA Anthropology 1st Gen!

“There are a few things I am passionate about in life. One thing I know for sure is that I am passionate about helping others. I can’t think of a better group to start with than students who seek a bright future.”

Frederick Hicks
AMERICORPS LEADER

Del Valle Middle School Team

Prairie View A&M Grad 2021 BA Communication, Current MA Student

“I want to help these kids throughout
their school year so I can position them
to be first-gen collegiate grads. I love
the staff here and would look forward
to see where I fit in as an employee.”

Jose I. Salinas
AMERICORPS SENIOR LEADER

Manor High School Team

Texas State Grad 2020, BA Public Relations & Mass Communication

Jose I. Salinas received his Associate of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies at South Texas College and his Bachelor of Science in Public Relations and Mass Communication at Texas State University. Jose believes everyone has the potential to achieve anything they put their mind to, and he hopes to help our students do just that. Jose strives to be the best version of himself every day, so on his time off, he loves to do things that help him grow individually.

Robert Evans
AMERICORPS LEADER

Austin High School Team

UT San Antonio Grad 2021, BS Psychology BT Alum, Former Summer Teacher

“As a former Breakthrough student and Breakthrough summer teacher, I have applied my knowledge to my current job as a high school advisor with the Breakthrough program. Despite joining the Breakthrough Austin High School Team midway through the school year, I successfully mentored students in Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus during After School Hours, helped students submit college applications, and helped guide their decisions for their post-secondary education.”

Keamber McCracken
AMERICORPS MEMBER

College & Career Success Team Southwestern Grad 2022 BA Kinesiology, 1st Gen, Former Student Athlete

“As a first-generation college graduate, I understand the struggles of getting to college. I had no one to guide me through the process of choosing colleges and applying, how to study for the SAT, etc., which is why I want to give back and help students in the same position.”

Tanisha Belvin
AMERICORPS MEMBER

College & Career Success Team

Geoffrey Lancon
AMERICORPS LEADER

Manor Middle School Team

Texas A&M Corpus Grad 2020
BA Health Sciences 1st Gen, 2x Summer Fellow

“I’m interested in this opportunity because I know what Breakthrough Central Texas
means to these kids/teens. For these students to have someone who they can talk to about problems and college-related issues goes a long way. This is more than a job, it’s about having the ability to make a change in the community where I grew up.”

Taylor Cox
AMERICORPS SENIOR LEADER

Del Valle Middle School Team

Spelman College Grad, BA Educational Studies, 2x Summer Teacher

Taylor Cox was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education Studies from Spelman College. During her studies she encountered obstacles and she took time off from her college career, twice. Taylor hopes to share her story and shows others why it is so important to never give up and always believe in yourself. Taylor joins Breakthrough as an AmeriCorps member on the Del Valle Middle School and Dailey Middle School teams. She previously worked as a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow in the summer of 2020 and 2021. She is honored to continue working with Breakthrough students and their families this year.

Savannah Pineda
AMERICORPS SENIOR LEADER

Manor High School Team

University of North Texas, BA Psychology Former BT Summer Teacher!

Savannah recently graduated from the University of North Texas in 2021, with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Before starting college Savannah served as an AmeriCorps teaching fellow with Breakthrough in the summer of 2019. She is now a full-term AmeriCorps member and is excited about the opportunity to help guide first-generation high school students to the path of college. In her off time, Savannah enjoys reading and spending time with friends and family. Savannah is delighted to be working with Breakthrough students as an AmeriCorps member.

Sarah Bowen
AMERICORPS MEMBER

Austin High School Team

Southwestern Grad 2022 BA in Poli Sci & Comms 1st Gen!

“I want to be able to make a meaningful impact on the community and help those who were in similar positions to mine. When I was in high school, I didn’t start seriously thinking about college until my junior year when I met with my school’s college counselor who helped me every step of the way. Because of her, I know the importance of having someone help with the process and how important it can be to have someone who understands and is devoted to providing support.”

Kelsey Conroy
AMERICORPS LEADER

College & Career Success Team

UT Austin Grad 2020 BA Psychology Former Student Mentor for CIS

“I am interested in the opportunity to build upon what I have learned while serving as a student mentor with Communities in Schools of Central Texas and to utilize the skills I have developed to help first-generation college students obtain the resources they need to succeed in higher education.”

Ariela Velazquez
AMERICORPS MEMBER

PSAP Team

Hannah Steffan
AMERICORPS MEMBER

Manor Middle School Team

St. Edward’s Grad 2017 BA Psychology
1st Gen!

“My parents encouraged me and I developed a drive to end the patterns of my family. I became the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college. In addition to breaking the cycle within my own life, I have wanted to aid in assisting others in their own success.”

Anthony Franco
AMERICORPS SENIOR LEADER

Manor High School Team

UT San Antonio Grad BA History, 3rd Year Returner!

Anthony Franco first served as an AmeriCorps Summer Teaching Fellow, and is now serving a full year term at Breakthrough/ Anthony is a proud first-generation college graduate, and he recently graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Anthony is excited to work alongside other first-generation college aspirants and help them overcome the barriers he once faced. He was raised in Manor, Texas, and is excited to give back to his Manor Breakthrough community and work with the future generation of Manor!

Christina Hillard
AMERICORPS LEADER

Austin High Team

UT Austin Grad 2022 BA Sociology 

“I was in a program in high school that was much like Breakthrough. This program is one of the many I can thank for my acceptance into the University of Texas including all of the names and faces I met along the way. Having the opportunity from Breakthrough to participate with younger peers, conversate, and facilitate information to them was an experience I never had, and have never forgotten.”

Stevie Martinez
AMERICORPS SENIOR LEADER

Austin High School Team

BT Alumni, Bennington College Grad, BA Anthropology

Stevie is a proud first-generation college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Latin American studies from Bennington College. A former Breakthrough alumna, Stevie served as a summer teaching fellow for 2 years before returning as a current AmeriCorps Member on the high school team! Being involved with the program as a former student, teacher, and now advisor, they are excited to be able to serve their students and community by offering personal guidance, advocating for education equity, and making genuine connections with first-generation students to help achieve their goals in life.

Maya Carter
AMERICORPS SENIOR LEADER

College & Career Success Team

Sam Houston Grad 2018 BA Food Science and Nutrition

Maya is a native Austinite and proud alum of Sam Houston State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Food Science & Nutrition. Having graduated in 2018, she is an “almost first-generation” college student whose mom returned to school for her undergrad degree and graduated in 2016. She was a student in College Forward for six years and knew not long after graduation, and a few odd jobs here and there, she wanted to do a term of service for an organization that makes a difference in the community that she grew up in. She worked as a chemistry lab instructor in college and has a great passion for encouraging STEAM learning and careers to underserved youth. Her passion for helping others coupled with her love for knowledge and bettering its accessibility drew her into the direction of Breakthrough. Maya hopes to return to school and earn a Masters in a food science-related field to pursue a research career in food allergens and product development. In her free time, Maya enjoys cooking and baking new recipes for her friends and family, doing puzzles, watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Facetiming her older sister and nephew.

Johana Ortiz Suchil
AMERICORPS LEADER

PSAP Team

Johana recently graduated in the spring of 2021 from St. Edward’s University with a double Bachelor’s in Spanish and Criminal Justice with an emphasis in law enforcement. She has mentored college freshmen from her scholarship group at her university over the past two years and has helped them navigate their journey during their first year at college. When Johana isn’t thinking about school or working, she enjoys taking pictures of nature and landscapes, traveling whenever she can, cooking, baking, reading, and spending time with family and friends. This will be Johana’s first time as an AmeriCorps member with Breakthrough and a part of the Postsecondary Advising Program. Johana is honored to work alongside our students and families and cannot wait to see her growth as well as her students at Breakthrough.