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.
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.
Development, Operations, Community Engagement
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.
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>
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 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
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 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 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 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
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
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.
Manor New Tech Postsecondary Advising Program
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’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 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!
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.