BLOG POST ARTICLE
BIOS FOR 2023 ASCENDER SPRING SEMINAR SPEAKERS
Dr. Robert Garza was appointed the seventh president of Alamo Colleges District-Palo Alto College on July 25, 2018, by the Alamo Colleges District Board of Trustees. Initially joining the Alamo Colleges District in 1999, Dr. Garza held several positions during his tenure at Palo Alto College, including Dean of Community Development and Partnerships, Dean of Student Success, and Vice President of Student Success.
Within his first year as president, he led Palo Alto College toward being named a Rising Star of the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges. He celebrated the achievements of the Alamo Colleges District and its five colleges as a 2018 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner. Additionally, he spearheaded fundraising efforts for ¡Celebración! in October 2018 – Palo Alto College’s premier scholarship fundraiser – and raised a record $1.3 million in committed scholarship dollars for Palo Alto College students and employees.
Dr. Garza was awarded the V. Ray Cardozier Alumni Excellence Award by the University of Texas, which honors a graduate of the doctoral program in higher education who demonstrates excellence in their scholarly/professional work. As an active community member, Dr. Garza serves as a board member for the Alamo Collegiate Network, Catch the Next, Inc., Hot Wells Conservancy, Mexican American Civil Rights Institute (MACRI), and Texas Vista Medical Center.
Dr. Garza holds a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University, a master's degree in public administration from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Texas at Austin. His dissertation focused on Faculty Perspectives on Online Learning, which included a study that utilized Interactive Qualitative Analysis to identify challenges in online education and capture faculty perceptions about online learning.
He is married to Dr. Esther Garza, an associate professor at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, and they have two children, Victoria and Robert.
Sonia Nazario is an award-winning journalist whose stories have tackled some of this country’s most intractable problems -- hunger, drug addiction, immigration -- and have won some of the most prestigious journalism and book awards. She is best known for "Enrique's Journey," her story of a Honduran boy’s struggle to find his mother in the U.S. Published as a series in the Los Angeles Times, "Enrique's Journey" won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2003. It became a book by Random House and became a national bestseller.
Her recent humanitarian efforts to get lawyers for unaccompanied migrant children led to her selection as the 2015 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award recipient by the Advocates for Human Rights. She also was named a 2015 Champion of Children by First Focus and a 2015 Golden Door award winner by HIAS Pennsylvania. In 2016, the American Immigration Council gave her the American Heritage Award. Also, in 2016, the Houston Peace & Justice Center honored her with their National Peacemaker Award.
Nazario, who grew up in Kansas and Argentina, has written extensively about Latin America and Latinos in the United States. She has been named among the most influential Latinos by Hispanic Business Magazine and a “trendsetter” by Hispanic Magazine. In 2012 Columbia Journalism Review named Nazario among the “40 women who changed the media business in the past 40.” In 2020, Parade Magazine named Nazario one of the “50+ Most Influential Latin-American Women in History.”
She graduated from Williams College with a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She has honorary doctorates from Mount St. Mary’s College and Whittier College. She began her career at the Wall Street Journal and joined the Los Angeles Times. She is now at work on her second book.
Victor B. Sáenz, Ph.D., is Chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin and the L. D. Haskew Centennial Professor in Public School Administration. He also holds courtesy appointments with the LBJ School of Public Affairs, the Center for Mexican American Studies, the Department of Mexican Sáenz's current work advances research-informed best practices and policy solutions that improve educational outcomes for underserved students in education, with a particular emphasis on boys and young men of color. In 2010 Sáenz co-founded an award-winning initiative at UT-Austin called Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), a multi-pronged effort focused on advancing educational outcomes for male students of color (based within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement). Under Project MALES, he launched a nationally recognized Student Mentoring Program that partners with local schools to connect undergraduate peer mentors with middle and high school male students. He also co-created a network of K-12, and higher education institutions called the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color that focuses on advancing educational outcomes for this critical student population. Supported by grants from the Greater Texas Foundation (GTF), the Trellis Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation, this statewide collaborative focuses on improving educational outcomes for male students of color across Texas. The Consortium comprises over thirty institutional partners in K-12 and higher education. It seeks to align and coordinate existing programs and services that target underrepresented male students across the education continuum.
Sáenz has co-authored three books and has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. He has been cited in numerous policy reports, scholarly publications, and local and national media. He has presented his research at countless conferences and meetings across the country, including at the White House, the National Press Club, and Capitol Hill. Sáenz is a member of two distinguished editorial boards for peer-reviewed journals in his field. He is an active member of several national associations focused on higher education issues, including ASHE, AERA, AIR, AAHHE, and TACHE.
Dr. Sáenz earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education and Organizational Change in 2005 from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he also completed a Master's in Education in 2002. He also earned a Master's degree in Public Affairs (1999, LBJ School of Public Affairs) and a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (1996, College of Natural Sciences) from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Sáenz is a fourth-generation Texan and a second-generation Longhorn.
Dr. Cantú Ruiz received her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction Mathematics Education, from Texas A&M University, College Station. She received her MS in Education from Laredo State University and a BS in Mathematics from Texas A&I University in Laredo. She holds a State Board of Education Mid-Management Administrator Certificate from Texas A&M International University. After twenty-seven years as a middle and high school mathematics teacher she became an administrator and assumed the duties of district coordinator of K-12 mathematics programs. She served as testing coordinator for the district and as an assistant principal. She taught mathematics education at the University of Texas in San Antonio (UTSA). She has been invited to present mathematics workshops for students in the Avanzando Program at University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC). She has been a member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and Kappa Delta Pi. Some of her honors include the Yellow Rose of Texas Education Award, The Constance Allen Heritage Guild for Lifetime Learning award, the Texas A&M International University Distinguished Achievement Alumni Award.
Currently she is an independent scholar and her research interests include mathematics education, specifically, the motivation of underserved and marginalized students in mathematics classes, teachers’ notions of pedagogical strategies and how they impact students’ motivation, and teachers' use of culturally responsive pedagogy in mathematics lessons.
Liliana Wilson is a visual artist best known for her intricate drawings with surrealistic renderings. She was born in Valparaíso, Chile, where she began drawing at eight. Liliana’s early paintings sought to process the trauma she had witnessed as a young woman in Chile. In her native country, Liliana experienced the dramatic political changes that followed the 1970 election of Salvador Allende and the subsequent military coup, which initiated a wave of human rights violations. She immigrated to the United States in 1977 and pursued studies in art at Austin Community College and Texas State University. Liliana’s art has been exhibited in the United States, Mexico, Argentina, and Italy.
Vidal Almanza migrated to the United States from Mexico when he was eight. He was the first in his family to graduate college. He attended Southwest State University (Texas State). Vidal is a Master Advisor with Austin Community College. His experience with ACC spans 26 years in various positions. His main goals are to provide excellent academic advising and help students successfully transition to college life after high school. Vidal likes to spend time with his wife and two young children and watch cartoons on Saturday morning the old-fashioned way on TV and not on YouTube, and when he is not doing that, you can find him watching America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys, or grilling.
Mario J. Morin earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) in 2000 and his Master of Science degree in Mathematical Science from UTPA in 2003. He joined the South Texas College Mathematics Department in 2003 as a full-time faculty member and has since served in various roles at the college, including full-time Mathematics faculty, managing Director of a U.S. Department of Education College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) grant (2008-2011), Academic Grants and Projects Officer (2011-2013), Coordinator of the University Relations, Transfer and Articulation Center (2013- 2015) and currently as Program Chair of the Department of Mathematics. Mr. Morin currently serves on the Rio Grande Valley Council of Teachers of Mathematics (RGVCTM) and the Executive Board as the Immediate Past President of the Texas Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (TexMATYC). He also serves as CTN’s Professional Development Math Coordinator.
Diane Lerma was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas; Diane Lerma graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. She had previously earned an Associate of Arts degree from San Antonio College. After OLLU, Diane enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio and graduated with a Master of Arts in Education degree. She is the first in her family to graduate from college.
Diane Lerma is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto College, a community institution serving a large Mexican American constituency. She has served as a Faculty Advisor for the Ascender Club student organization and CTN Mentor Coordinator. Currently, she is an EDUC 1300/Learning Framework instructor for the Ascender program, where she instills positive learning experiences in her first-generation students. For all her efforts, Diane has received numerous awards for excellence in teaching. She is the author of Catching Dreams: A Collection of Inspiring Mentor Stories. Additionally, she has published several book reviews and research articles. Diane Lerma earned her Master Teacher certification in May 2018 and taught at Palo Alto College for twenty-three years.
Dr. Maria Martha Chavez-Brummel, the CTN CEO, is a sociologist researching, implementing, and evaluating social policy. Dr. Chavez has a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University in Journalism, Psychology, and Spanish Literature and a master’s degree in Education – Curriculum and Instruction. She also has a Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy from Yale University. At Kansas State, Dr. Chavez created The Minority Admissions Program. She has served as Assistant Dean at Yale College and faculty member at Yale. At Yale, Dr. Chavez established the Asian/Chicano- Native American Cultural Center, The Chicano Boricua Studies program (that has evolved into the American Studies, Race, Ethnicity and Migration major), the LULAC Head Start Program (a preschool initiative for children up to 5 years old), and the building of The Latino Youth Center in the city of New Haven, Connecticut. Maria also worked at Save the Children Federation as Associate Vice President of U.S. Programs and Global Marketing Team and was the principal investigator for the state of the union report on America’s Forgotten Children, looking at America’s 101 poorest rural places. She established six community learning centers in the Central Valley of California for America’s Forgotten Children Campaign. Dr. Chavez also worked with Public Agenda, a research and engagement organization, and was a national partner in the Achieving the Dream Initiative. She served as a Research and Engagement coach and Knowledge Development Working Group member.
Anna B. Alaniz, Ph.D. earned a doctorate from Texas A&M University Kingsville, a master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in Reading from the University of Texas Pan-American (now University of Texas Rio Grande Valley), and her bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis on Bilingual/Bicultural Education from the University of Texas-Pan American (now the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley). Dr. Alaniz serves as the ASCENDER Coordinator at South Texas College and Catch the Next Director of Professional Development. She also teaches all components of the ASCENDER program. She is currently a full-time Developmental Reading Instructor and adjunct for the Education and English departments. She adjuncts in the Teacher Bilingual Program at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she teaches Foundation of Literacy and Assessment and Remediation in Reading. Dr. Alaniz taught public education at Roma ISD. She has 21 years of teaching experience, and her classroom practices have earned her the NISOD Excellence Award. Alaniz has taught adult literacy courses with Roma ISD. Dr. Alaniz’s passion is helping underserved students persist and graduate from college. Her dissertation is titled, Beating the Odds- Perceptions of Successful Former Developmental College Students.”
Erin Doran Ed. D was born and raised in El Paso to a family of educators, including her parents, who are both K-12 principals. She attended UTSA as an undergraduate, earning a B.A. in 2006 and M.A. in 2008, both in History. She graduated from the National Leadership program (Higher Education Administration emphasis) at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Doran is currently a Professor of Higher Education at Iowa State University and serves as the Director of Research and Evaluation for Catch the Next. Previously, she worked for the College of Education and Human Development at UTSA since 2008 as a Student Development Specialist and taught as an adjunct in history at Northeast Lakeview College.
Her dissertation, which focused on one college’s implementation of integrated reading and writing (INRW), won the Dissertation of the Year Award from the Council for the Study of Community Colleges (CSCC). Doran continues her research on reading and writing in community colleges and how to serve Latino students best. She examines student success, access, and equity issues in higher education, particularly for Latinas/os and students who are in developmental education.
Erin has presented her work at local, regional, and national conferences, including the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA). In 2014, she was chosen to participate in the AERA Division J (Postsecondary Education) Emerging Scholars workshop. In 2015, she was named Graduate Student Fellow by the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education (TACHE) and AAHHE.
Juan Jose Higa is a Catch the Next Ascender Program Alumnus from Alamo Colleges-Palo Alto College (PAC). While a student at PAC, he was actively involved on campus as Vice-President of the Student Government Association and vice-President of the Ascender Student Club. In his leadership roles, he was continuously involved in many college committees and spoke to large audiences. He started the program in 2012 and later graduated with his Associate of Arts Degree in Business Administration in December 2015. In January 2016, he transferred to The University of Texas at San Antonio – UTSA, where he pursued a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Multidisciplinary Studies and graduated in December 2018.
In August 2016, he published Student Engagement & Leadership Manual - Running a Successful Ascender Club. This Student Engagement Manual helps students in the Ascender Program to be Proactive, Engaged, and Become Leaders in the Institutions and the Community. Juan was selected twice from a nationwide pool of applicants to represent PAC and UTSA at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) Annual Conference. He has also been awarded the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges Award twice. An award that only a select group of students is called forward to accept, one of the most prestigious awards the academic community can bestow - the outstanding campus leaders of the year. In June 2020, he was appointed one of the first alums to serve on the Board of Directors for Catch the Next, Inc.
One of Juan’s fundamental goals is to continue working with First-Generation college students, as he is the first in his family to attend college. His prior work in higher education includes more than eight years of experience working with a diverse population of traditional and nontraditional students in the Higher Education Sector. He is skilled in Student Counseling & Support, Interpersonal Communication, Educational Guidance, Case Loads, Nonprofit Organizations, Communication, & Event Management. Juan recently completed post-graduate workshops at the University of Texas at Austin and Yale University through Catch the Next, Inc. He is a Senior Advisor for the Economic & Workforce Development (EWD) Office at The Alamo Colleges District.
Debra McBeath is CTN Director of Communications and Engagement and Managing Editor of the CTN newsletter. She is a former adjunct professor at Palo Alto College in San Antonio. She taught the Ascender Integrated Reading, Writing, and English Composition I sequence. Her classes were linked with SDEV classes in the fall and Psychology and Mexican American Studies in the spring. She was part of the activity planning committee at Palo Alto College and received the Star of Appreciation from the Palo Alto Ascender Club. She was a member of the Committee that presented at the Alamo College District to the Deans and Vice Presidents of Academic Success when Palo Alto College brought the program to its campus. Debra was an adjunct professor at Southwest Texas Junior College (Eagle Pass Campus). She taught various first- and second-year courses, including freshman composition, remedial writing, world literature, and British literature. She is a retired high school English teacher of 35 years, teaching all levels of English, journalism (yearbook and newspaper), and photography. She received her master’s degree in English from Sul Ross State University and her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Angelo State University.
Yvette M. Regalado’s research and professional foci include cultural and community practices in curriculum and instruction for Integrated Reading and Writing (INRW). Her work employs a theoretical framework of culturally sustaining pedagogy, community cultural wealth, and counter-narratives. She is working toward completing her doctoral degree at Texas State University and plans to start her dissertation this fall. As a practitioner-scholar-activist, Yvette is passionate about diversifying the curriculum and creating diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible (DEIA) spaces in the postsecondary field. Her educational background includes teaching INRW, being a reading specialist/dyslexic coordinator, and K-12 generalist teacher.
Dr. Joan Jaimes is the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants. She is a former migrant farmworker from Brownsville, Texas and the first in her family to obtain a college degree. She moved to Iowa at the age of 19, to work in a pork processing plant and later began attending Marshalltown Community College (MCC) in Marshalltown. After several years as a banker conducting community outreach and helping families achieve their dream of homeownership, she started her career in higher education directing the Marshalltown Education Partnership at the college in 2008.
She conducted outreach to first-generation college students and families and helped create partnerships to bridge diverse communities in Iowa. She served on many boards and commissions while living in Iowa. Joan is a founding member of Iowa’s Al Éxito, an AAUW initiative that guides middle school students on their path to college.
In 2015, her experience in cultural bridging and Latin@ educational outreach took her to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Department of Education as an Awareness and Outreach Specialist for Federal Student Aid.
Jaimes is a 2022 fellow of La Academia de Liderazgo of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and University, a 2020 fellow of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, a 2013 fellow of the National Community College Hispanic Leadership program, and a 2013 fellow of Iowa State University’s Leadership Institute for a New Century.
She earned an associate degree from Marshalltown Community College. Later, Dr. Jaimes earned a bachelor’s degree in Human Services and a master’s in public administration. Jaimes graduated in December of 2019, with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Leadership from Iowa State University. Her research focus is using technology to create a college going culture in Latin@ homes.
Dr. Jaimes currently serves as the Director of Teaching and Learning at San Antonio College and is an adjunct professor in the Student Development Department.
Rafael Castillo teaches writing and humanities at Palo Alto College and is the Director of Publications and Special Projects for Catch the Next, Inc. He has scholarly articles, reviews, and essays published in The Arizona Quarterly, The New Mexico Humanities Review, CCHumanities Review, English Journal, College English, English in Texas, FRANK International Journal, Oxford Bibliographies, NISOD Papers, New York Times, Hispanic Link Syndicate, and AP News. He is the author of two collections of fiction: Distant Journeys (Arizona State University) and Aurora (Floricanto Press). His collection of essays Dostoevsky on Guadalupe Street is forthcoming from Peter Lang International (Oxford) in 2023.
Castillo is one of the editors of CTN: A journal of Pedagogy and Ideas and is member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, PEN America and the National Book Critics Circle (NY)
Dr. Yolanda Reyna is a Professor and Lead Instructor of Learning Framework and Student Development at Palo Alto College where she has taught and held various positions for over 30 years. During her tenure at PAC, she has served as a Counselor, Coordinator of the Equity Program, Director of the Returning Adult Center, and Chair of Counseling and Student Development. She currently serves as the Lead Instructor for the Learning Framework and Student Development Program in the Behavioral Sciences Department and Instructor for Catch the Next Program. She is also an advisor for Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She has presented at numerous conferences, workshops and institutes and has won awards including the Palo Alto College Mariana Ornelas Trailblazer Award, Catch the Next Trailblazer Award, NISOD Awards, and the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education Distinguished College Faculty Award.
Dr. Reyna strives to instill the value of life-long learning in her students. She teaches the value of education as a powerful tool that will guide them to navigate life experiences and direct a path to their destination. Dr. Reyna instills in her students that knowledge is the key to understanding the world and transforming oneself and society.
Dr. Daniel Rodriguez is currently a tenured Professor of Education and Counseling at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to teaching, he has served in numerous administrative capacities which have including overseeing assessment & testing, admissions and records, financial aid, federal grant programs, contracted services, first-year experience courses, disability support services, international student programs, student life, intramural sports, college services and the college health center. He served as Department Chair of Counseling for over a decade. He has presented at numerous local, national and international conferences on research related to transfer of students to four-year institutions as well as persistence rates of student in the first-year enrolled in student success courses. He has led student groups on study-abroad programs. He served as state President of the Texas of the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education (TACHE). He has published numerous articles and recently co-authored a resource manual on COVID resources available to community colleges in Texas. At the college level he has served on the Executive team of the Faculty Senate and on numerous College and Alamo College District committees. He has twice been the recipient of the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award and the Minnie Piper Teaching Excellence award. He has served as the lead instructor with the Alamo Colleges Student Leadership Institute, has taught at Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Philip’s College, San Antonio College, Texas A&M University-San Antonio and St Mary’s University. Currently he works with the Catch the Next Program where he teaches Learning Framework courses and helps facilitate the day-to-day activities of the program. He is also lead instructor in the Males Program at Palo Alto College. In summer of 2014 he became a CTN Fellow. He attended Southwest Texas Junior College for two years, received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Texas State University and a Doctor of Education degree from Baylor University.
Ronald Perez is adjunct instructor of Counseling and Student Development at Palo Alto College. He has worked his entire professional career in higher education with the Alamo Colleges at both Palo Alto College and San Antonio College. At San Antonio College he was an adjunct faculty member serving a role as both counselor and student development instructor. His focus at San Antonio College was with the College Access Program for High School Students (CAPHSS) in which he helped San Antonio area high school seniors matriculate to one of the Alamo Colleges. He also specialized in working with first-year students and students on academic probation or suspension. In 2013, he transitioned to serve as off-site coordinator at Fort Sam Houston. The last eight years he has been at Palo Alto College as an adjunct faculty member teaching EDUC 1300 and SDEV 0171. He has volunteered as a faculty mentor and served on the faculty senate. He received the NISOD Excellence Award Recipient for adjunct faculty member. Mr. Perez joined Ascender program in 2018-2019 academic year and served as club advisor and eventually became coordinator of program in 2021.
Mr. Perez obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 1998 and a Masters of Arts degree in Counseling from the University of Texas at San Antonio.