Staff

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

Grace joined Breakthrough in 2014, bringing nearly 15 years of development and communications experience and more than 8 years of executive leadership experience to her role 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 2014, annual revenue has more than tripled from $2million to nearly $7million. 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. Grace holds a degree in Sociology from The University of Texas in Austin and is an alumna of Leadership Austin, a member of Austin Women’s Fund and Texas Exes, and has previously served on the boards of Trinity Child Development Center and Association of Fundraising Professionals  – Greater Austin Chapter.

Leslie Tucker

 Chief Program Officer

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.

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. 

Kendra Strange

Chief Schools Officer

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.  

Donnie Spier

Chief Operations Officer

About Donnie

Donnie has over 20 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 Grant Partnerships

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 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.

Audrey Boyne

Internship Program Manager

 

About Audrey

After spending nine years working in tech and product management for Samsung and Amazon, Audrey’s passion for helping others led her to join Breakthrough in 2021. She serves as the Future Focus program manager and is honored to be able to share her experience in strategic talent management to mentor and empower first-generation college students in her community. She is a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Sociology and Psychology.

Issa Galvan

Associate Director of Communications

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

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 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.

Michelle Monroe

Associate Director of Development

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.

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Elena Espinoza Gearheart

Director of Talent

Elena

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>

 

 

 

 

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 

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 rollergirl 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!

 

Sarah Kate

AmeriCorps Member

About Sarah-Kate

Sarah-Kate earned her Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Spanish with minors in Marketing and Film Studies from Eckerd College in 2019. Before joining the Breakthrough Central Texas team in 2020, she was working for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line developing tour programs for passengers around the world. As a Breakthrough Minneapolis alumna, she is excited to be part of the Breakthrough Central Texas team as an AmeriCorps member.

Carmen Acosta

Volunteer Coordinator

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!

Policy & Advocacy

Will Davies

Policy & Data Analyst

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. 

Del Valle 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

Areli

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.

 

Laura Palomares

Program Coordinator


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!

 

 

Melanie Rosowski

AmeriCorps Leader

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 passions 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.

 

Taylor Cox

AmeriCorps Leader

About Taylor

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 show 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 team. 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.

Julianne Licamele

AmeriCorps Member

About Julianne

Julianne graduated from Georgetown University in May 2021 and majored in Justice and Peace Studies and Psychology. Julianne grew up in Easton, CT, and moved to Austin to become a first-year Americorps member with Breakthrough. She is passionate about making sure every student has access to educational opportunities and learning about the social impact sector. In her free time, Julianne loves to travel, cook, and explore Austin.

Manor Middle Schools

Krystal Cantú Cossey

Program Coordinator

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.

Ric Almeda

Program Coordinator

Ric Almeda

About Ric

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Anthony Franco

AmeriCorps Leader

About Anthony

Anthony Franco first served as a 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!

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.

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.

Tomas Garza

Program Coordinator and Summer Director

 

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 University of the Incarnate Word (UIW). A native of Edcouch, Texas, he is a native Spanish speaker, 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 and Summer Director

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.

yesenia rivera

Program Coordinator

Yesenia

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!

 

Jose Ivan Salinas

AmeriCorps Member

About Ivan

 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.

Manor New Tech Postsecondary Advising Program

Shola Ijoyah

Manor New Tech Associate Director of Advisings

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!

Sam Soltis

Program Coordinator

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.

Brevin Fields

AmeriCorps Leader

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!

Aileen Ramirez

AmeriCorps Member

About Aileen

Aileen recently graduated in the summer of 2020 from Texas State University with a Bachelor’s in Psychology. She hopes to pursue her Master’s Degree at Texas State University to become a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. When Aileen isn’t thinking about school or working she enjoys finding new hiking spots around Texas, traveling whenever she can, cooking, reading and spending time with family and friends. Aileen is honored to worked alongside our students and families and cannot wait to see her growth at Breakthrough. 

Johana Ortiz Suchil

AmeriCorps Member

About Johana

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.

Northeast Austin Middle Schools

Cristian Villalobos

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. Cristian 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

Associate Director of Middle Schools

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.

Shana Dukes

Program Coordinator

About Shana

Shana is no stranger to Breakthrough. She comes to us with two summers as a teaching fellow at Saint Paul Central and recently served as the Program Manager for Breakthrough Twin Cities. She also brings proficiency in operations from her experience as the Head of Operations with the United States Army Reserves where one of her duties was maintaining communication and coordinating meetings between sections, leading training, tracking company progress, and maintaining company morale.

Matthew Zachary

AmeriCorps Leader

About Matthew

Matthew recently graduated from George Washington University with a Bachelor’s in Latin American Studies and a Minor in Spanish. After volunteering for Breakthrough in high school and working as a Summer Teaching Fellow for four summers, he decided to join the AmeriCorps team and continue to support an organization and a cause he believes in deeply. Outside of work, Matthew plays music, roots for the New York Yankees, and explores Austin after being away for the better part of four years.

 

South/Central Austin Middle Schools

Kathryn Todd

Associate Director of Middle School ProgramsKathryn

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.

 

Jennifer Karydas 

Curriculum and Instruction Specialist

 

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.

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William Banes

AmeriCorps Leader

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 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.

 

Grecia Lopez

AmeriCorps Leader

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.

 

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

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 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.

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

Libby

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.  

Stevie Martinez-Farias

AmeriCorps Leader

About Stevie

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.

Kylee Pearl

AmeriCorps Senior Leader

About Kylee

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!

Savannah Pineda

AmeriCorps  Leader

About Savannah

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 for 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.

 

College & Career Success

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.

 

 

Arelis Palacios

College Completion Coordinator

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.

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.

Kat Daffin

AmeriCorpsLeader

About Kat

Kat Daffin is a Houston native and graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, where they earned their Bachelor’s degree in both African & African Diaspora Studies and Government. Kat is also a graduate of the University of Texas Urban Teachers program and earned their teaching certification in Secondary Social Studies. As a part of the Urban Teachers program, Kat worked as a Summer Teaching Fellow for Breakthrough in 2018. After graduating, they went on to work with Austin Partners in Education as a College Readiness Advocate for secondary school students. Kat is thrilled to return to Breakthrough and continue supporting students as an AmeriCorps Leader. In their free time, Kat enjoys doing DIY projects and spending time with friends.

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.

Maya Carter

AmeriCorps Member

About Maya

Maya is an native Austinite and proud alum of Sam Houston State University, where she recieved 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.

 

Destiny Kraft

AmeriCorps Member

About Destiny

After earning her Bachelors in Forensic Science from St. Edward’s University, Destiny came to Breakthrough as a Student Advisor so that she could share her experience as a first-generation college student. She is excited to offer personal guidance to students all over the country, along with her colleagues in the College Completion Team. In her off days, Destiny enjoys exploring new food spots in Austin and planning her next travel adventure.

 

 

Jane Hua

AmeriCorps Member

About Jane

Jane Hua graduated from Texas A&M University at College Station, Texas in Spring 2021. She majored in International Studies and minored in Chinese. She is currently the first AmeriCorps member and works for the College Completion team. Through Breakthrough, she was able to develop a spirit of sharing social responsibility and helping each other; also, she feels the joy of living together while sharing all sorts of human emotions with numerous students she met while working here. She feels rewarded that the students she is advising can solve the difficulties with her help. She likes to travel around, eat out at delicious restaurants, listen to music, and dance in her free time.

 

Edwin Sanchez

AmeriCorps Member

About Edwin

 Edwin Sanchez is a Southeast Austin native, Austin Community College (ACC) transfer student, and UT Austin Class of 2020 graduate. Growing up, he always knew about the University of Texas at Austin, but never dreamed he would attend it. Before, during, and after receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Mexican American Latina/o Studies, Edwin dedicated himself to being a resource for Austin students from underserved communities through involvement in the MALE Leadership program at ACC, Project MALES at UT Austin, and most recently as an Americorps member for Breakthrough Central Texas. Currently, he enjoys spending time outdoors with his family, friends, and dog named Bandit.