Catch the Next’s Ascender Fall Seminar will be held on October 27th and 28th in Austin. The seminar brings together Peer Mentors, educators, advisors, counselors, and CTN Leadership Fellows from across the state to discuss progress and challenges in the program and to share best practices in the classroom. It focuses on team building while also addressing the needs of various disciplines through breakout sessions and is always responsive to the needs of the current cohort.

On the first day after a welcome from Anna B. Alaniz, CTN Director of Professional Development and Maria Martha Chavez, CTN Chief Executive Officer, participants will hear from Norman Eng, Ed.D., President of EducationXDesigns, Inc., in his session titled “One Sentence Lesson Plan.”  Next Frank Savina, Course Program Specialist, Postsecondary Mathematics. UT Austin DANA Center, will provide an overview of the Aligned Pathway Model in his session titled “Expanding our Equity Lens to Support Students in Aligned Math Pathways.”

This will be followed by Alaniz and Eng’s presentation “Distill your Slides.”

After lunch, Dr. Suzanne Morales Vale, Senior Director, Division for College Readiness and Success and

Dr. Keylan Morgan, Assistant Director, Division for College Readiness and Success from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will present. Next Sergio Troncoso, Fullbright scholar and author, who teaches fiction and nonfiction at the Yale University Writers’ Workshop, will discuss his novel and the search for the American Dream. The rest of the afternoon will be filled with breakout sessions by discipline.

The first session of the second day titled “Mentor Component Logistics” will be presented by Alaniz and Diane Lerma, Palo Alto College, Leadership Fellow. The next session will be “Coaching for Excellence and Equity” presented by Allegra Villarreal, CTN Consultant.

For the rest of the morning, participants will gather in breakout rooms by campus to discuss concerns, questions, and resources available on their campuses.

After lunch, participants will discuss coaching style and strengths in Villarreal’s session “How Did you Come to Education? Facilitating Transformative Sessions for Adult Learners.” Next participants will take part in a team building exercise to show that working as a team leads to success.

The last session of the day will focus on student engagement. Participants will discuss any issues they are facing in implementing the Ascender activities such as Noche de Familia, University Tours, Ascender Club, survey administration, and other staple activities to create a sense of belonging and engagement. Facilitators for this session are Debra McBeath, Juan Higa, Maria Chavez, CTN staff, and Leadership Fellows.

The day will end with an Ofrenda Sharing where participants will share one piece of their choice from the two-day presentation as an ofrenda to the rest of the group. 

Bios for Seminar Speakers

Frank Savina, M.A.T leads the design, development, and implementation of the pathways to Calculus and Introductory Statistics for the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways, a transformative redesign to modernize entry-level college mathematics programs through working with states, systems, universities, and colleges. Frank supports system-wide reform efforts in a variety of states and institutions by providing guidance and expertise around math pathways and corequisite courses, and technical assistance to math faculty, deans, and other administrators to ensure equitable implementation of these models. He presents findings at national and regional conferences of professional mathematics organizations to inform the mathematics community about best practices in teaching gateway mathematics students. Frank also collaborates with higher education faculty at two-and four-year institutions to inform the revision of several of the Center’s higher education gateway and developmental math courses to better serve mathematics students. Before Joining the Dana Center, Frank has 25 years of teaching experience at University and High School levels. In addition to serving as a Mathematics professor at El Paso Community College, he was an adjunct math faculty member and director of the Educational Talent Search Program at the University of Texas at El Paso. Most notably, Frank was the first Mathematics Department chair for the first early college in El Paso, where he was selected as Teacher of the Year. Mission Early College High School, a collaboration between Socorro Independent School District, El Paso Community College, and the University of Texas at El Paso, went on to become a National Blue-Ribbon School during his tenure. Frank has a Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) in Mathematics and a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from The University of Texas at El Paso.

Norman Eng is a Teacher Trainer, Education Professor, and Author of Teaching Challenge, an Amazon bestseller in seven education categories. He is the Founder & President, EDUCATIONxDESIGN, Inc., where he provides Instructional Training for Professors, teaches about online courses and consults on books, and 1-on-1 coaching. As a marketing executive, he worked with clients to realize their communication goals in the pharmaceutical, insurance, pet, and retail industries. Norman learned one major lesson: "Know your target audience," something he discusses in his book, "Teaching College." He applied this lesson to his teaching as a public-school elementary school teacher in the early- to mid-2000s, where he was nominated as one of Honor Roll's Outstanding American Teachers. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor at The City College of New York, CUNY in Brooklyn. Norman realized that much of what he gained as a marketer and as an elementary school teacher held true for college instructors: Students--whether undergraduate or graduate--need to see the value of what you are teaching to their lives. With consistently high student and departmental evaluations in two separate colleges every semester, Dr. Eng hopes to share what he has gained so far from these three industries--marketing, K-12 education, and higher education--with the larger community of higher education instructors, whether they are graduate students, adjunct lecturers, assistant professors, or beyond. Eng has an Education Doctorate in Instructional Leadership from St. John’s University, an MS Ed., Childhood Education, St. John’s University and a BS, in Marketing, St. John’s University. Eng also serves as a Board Member for the Catch the Next, Board of Directors.

Sergio Troncoso is the author of eight books: Nobody’s Pilgrims, A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son, The Last Tortilla and Other Stories, Crossing Borders: Personal Essays, The Nature of Truth, and From This Wicked Patch of Dust; and as editor, Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds and Our Lost Border: Essays on Life Amid the Narco-Violence. He often writes about the United States-Mexico border, working-class immigrants, families and fatherhood, crossing cultural, psychological, and philosophical borders, and the border beyond the border. Troncoso teaches fiction and nonfiction at the Yale Writers’ Workshop in New Haven, Connecticut. A past president of the Texas Institute of Letters, he has also served as a judge for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the New Letters Literary Awards in the Essay category. His recent work has appeared in the Texas Highways, Houston Chronicle, CNN Opinion, New Letters, Yale Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Texas Monthly Magazine. The son of Mexican immigrants, Troncoso was born in El Paso, Texas and now lives in New York City. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and received two graduate degrees in international relations and philosophy from Yale University. A Fulbright scholar, he was also inducted into the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Alumni Hall of Fame and the Texas Institute of Letters. Among the numerous literary awards, he has won are the Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story, Premio Aztlan Literary Prize, International Latino Book Award for Best Collection of Short Stories, Southwest Book Award, Bronze Award for Essays from ForeWord Reviews, and the Silver and Bronze Awards for Multicultural Adult Fiction from ForeWord Reviews. The El Paso City Council voted unanimously to rename the public library branch in Ysleta as the Sergio Troncoso Branch Library.

Suzanne Morales-Vale, Ph.D. is the Senior Director for the Division of College Readiness and Success at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. In this role, Morales-Vale oversees the Texas Success Initiative, including the development and implementation of the legislatively mandated statewide plan for developmental education and the implementation of House Bill 2223 (85th Texas Legislature). Prior to joining the coordinating board in 2011, Morales-Vale spent more than 18 years teaching developmental writing/reading and college composition in traditional and online settings at Central Texas College as well as in university and secondary settings. She has held numerous institutional- and state-level leadership positions and has directed initiatives and programs for faculty professional development, institutional accreditation, and faculty advising. She has also worked on developmental education non-course, competency-based options that promote acceleration and improved outcomes. Morales-Vale holds a Doctoral of Philosophy with a specialization in Adult Education from Texas A&M University, College Station.

Keylan Morgan is the Assistant Director for the Developmental Education Division for College Readiness and Success for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. He is an experienced leader specialized in College Readiness and Success. Through an equity-lens, he’s embraced best practices and leverage data to deploy solutions that positively impact student outcomes across the P-20 pipeline. Prior to joining the THECB, he worked as a Director for the Trio Upward Bound Program and has over 15 years of experience in higher education and student success initiatives. Keylan has a Master’s of Education (M.Ed.) and a Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) Degree from Texas 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, reading specialist/dyslexic coordinator, and K-12 generalist teacher.

Dr. Maria Martha Chavez-Brummel is 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 as a 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 member of the Knowledge Development Working Group.

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 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley). Dr. Alaniz currently 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.”

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 committee member 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.

Juan Jose Higa Jr., B.A. 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. He was continuously involved in many college committees and spoke to large audiences in his leadership roles. 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 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 College and Universities (HACU) Annual Conference. He has also been awarded the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges Award. 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 Alumni 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 currently serves as a Senior Advisor for the Economic & Workforce Development (EWD) Office at The Alamo Colleges District.

Diane N. Lerma was born and raised in San Antonio. 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. Currently, 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 for her first-generation students. Diane has received numerous awards for excellence in teaching for all her efforts. 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 has taught at Palo Alto College for twenty -three years.

Allegra Villarreal is an educational consultant, writer and professional development facilitator who has taught English in community colleges for 14 years. She earned a joint honours undergraduate degree in International Relations and Middle East Studies from St. Andrews University in Scotland as well as a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Oxford University. Her teaching practice focuses on critical, responsive and open pedagogies, inclusive and equitable approaches for adult learners and supporting Latina/o/x undergraduate students and faculty. She is currently consulting for the Holdsworth Center, the National Center for Teacher Residencies and the GEO Indigenous Alliance and is teaching Mexican-American literature at Austin Community College this semester.

Samantha Ackers, J.D. is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. For over 25 years, recently in 2013, Professor Ackers began working at Austin Community College and Huston-Tillotson University - Austin as an Adjunct Professor and Legal Coach/Consultant. Professor Ackers has shown a commitment to working with issues involving access to justice for the indigent and enjoys offering Pro Se Coaching Services to persons who cannot afford to hire an attorney for full representation. Samantha has been teaching college and career readiness /success courses at ACC for five years, including college students and dual-credit high school students. As an Adjunct Professor, she serves the community through outreach, and education training sessions with Author/Professor Raymond Gerson geared toward preparing educators to teach the Student Success Courses. Also, working as an ACC Ascender Mentor and ACC Digital Faculty Scholar keep Samantha engaged in researching innovative methods to help students enjoy life while working towards reaching their goals. Attorney Ackers is a Family Law Lawyer specializing in children in the States care, child custody disputes, divorces involving spousal support, child support, business division, retirement division, and real property rights. Samantha has over 10+ years of experience in family law issues involving: - Child Custody - Child safety (immediate danger orders and status quo orders) – And advocating for either side of family abuse restraining orders, elder abuse restraining orders, etc. sexual abuse restraining orders.

Yon Hui Bell has been teaching at San Antonio College since 2010 and has taught in the Catch the Next-Ascender Program since 2018. She primarily teaches the co-requisite English courses and coordinates the INRW tutoring center. After earning her Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in English Literature from the University of Texas at San Antonio, she spent a year in Japan teaching English and four years in El Salvador working in adult literacy. Her time in El Salvador introduced her to the pedagogy of the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, and she has since worked in a variety of institutions with students of all ages sharing her passionate belief in the power of literacy as a tool for personal and social growth.

Vidal Almanza migrated to the United States from Mexico when he was eight years old. He was the first in his family to graduate college. He attended Southwest State University (Texas State). Vidal is a Master’s 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 TexasPan American (UTPA) in 2000 and earned 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.



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