CTN will host the Ascender Foundational Seminar from May 22-26 in Dallas. The start time for Monday's first session is 9:00 AM and end time for Friday's Last Session is 1:00 PM. The foundational seminar is offered in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and focuses on the fundamentals of a successful ASCENDER program, such as the mission, goals and outcomes, and strategies to create a community on campus and in the classroom and program administration. 

The ASCENDER framework seminar focuses on bringing families and students on campus by providing tips on student recruitment strategies. The framework uses a culturally relevant approach to engage students and build literacy. In addition, the seminar models active learning strategies utilizing personal stories highlighting students’ cultural capital.  Validating student experience is crucial to student engagement and building leadership skills. The seminar also focuses on creating a sustainable mentor program and building a support network for students and staff.  This training model strategies for active learning and student success that can be used in the classroom and program administration. Topics will include designing inclusive syllabi, incorporating reflective writing and metacognition, active learning in digital spaces, open pedagogy, and tracking and monitoring student progress. We also plan to incorporate guest speakers from our scholar mentor network to discuss issues facing students and administrators. Participants will come away with teaching and organizational frameworks, theoretical foundations, action plans, and materials for program development in the Fall.


A seminar reception will be held on Thursday, May 25 from 4-6 pm at the West Dallas Center on Hampton Road.

CTN Board member and peer mentor, Mike Guinn, and CTN CEO, Maria Chavez, will greet everyone, followed by music and refreshments. Dallas College Provost Shawnda Floyd will welcome participants, and CTN graduates will be recognized. There will also be a raffle and silent auction.





All who are planning to attend MUST REGISTER.  Please select the appropriate registration ticket:

Cohort 2023-2024 (College Paid): $1,200.00

Self-paid: $1,200.00

Dallas College: Foundation Pays

Former Cohort Members (2012-2022): FREE BUT COVER THEIR MEAL COST.



Seminar Speakers’ Bios


Dr. Laura I. Rendón earned a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She holds a M.A. in counseling and guidance and psychology from Texas A&M University-Kingsville. She earned a B.A. in English and journalism from the University of Houston and holds an associate of arts degree from San Antonio College. Rendón also attended Laredo Community College.

Rendón is Professor of Higher Education in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas San Antonio. She is also Co-Director of the Center for Research and Policy in Education. From 2005-2009, Rendón served as Professor and Chair in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University, College of Human Sciences.

As a research specialist on college preparation, persistence, and graduation of low-income, first-generation students, Rendón is also recognized as a thought leader in the field of contemplative education. She has been a keynote speaker at conferences such as GEAR UP, National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, National Association of College Admissions Counselors, International Conference on the First-Year College Experience, and International Conference on Research on Service Learning, among others. A native of Laredo, Texas, Rendón’s passion is assisting students who, like her, grew up in poverty with hopes and dreams but not knowing how to realize them. Rendón is credited with developing the theory of validation, which colleges and researchers have employed as a framework for working with and affirming low-income students. Rendón is an active scholar whose research has been published in key education research journals. She is also the author of Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy: Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice and Liberation.

In 2013, the Texas Diversity Council recognized her Among the Most Powerful and Influential Women in Texas. Rendón has been the recipient of grants focused on student access and success from organizations such as TG, The Lumina Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. She is one of the founders and former Board Chair of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (Washington, DC), focused on providing access to college for low- income students. She has also served on the Board of Trustees for Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Further, Rendón has designed and coordinated the yearly Latino/a Student Success Institute for the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education.


Dr. Tina Jackson currently serves as Assistant Commissioner of the Division for Workforce Education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and is the first African American woman to do so. In this role she works with all aspects of career and technical workforce initiatives and programs. She is the former District Director of Developmental Education at Collin College she worked across all campuses on issues related to developmental education, completion and pathways to careers. Jackson served as Associate Dean of Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) at Dallas County Community College District from 2016- 2017. Tina worked as the statewide coordinator of Community College Programs at the University of Texas at Austin from 2012-2016. Helping to redesign developmental math throughout all 50 community colleges in the state of Texas. In 2013, Tina was named a Jackson Scholar by the University Council for Educational Administration. In 2012, Jackson was awarded a Community College Leadership Fellowship from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2012, she also received an award from the Association for the Study of Higher Education to continue her research on STEM Workforce Development in Community Colleges focusing on students of color. Jackson also serves as Vice President of Programs on the Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education State Board. Dr. 6 Jackson holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of Texas at Austin.   


 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.


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.”

Dr. Richard Armenta received his bachelor’s degree in Mathematics in 1970 from the University of Arizona; Master’s degree in Student Services, 1972, University of Connecticut; and Ph. D. in Higher Education, Policy and Governance, 1984, Arizona State University.

His community college work experience began while serving as Assistant Dean and Dean of a Skill Center on the Pima Indian Reservation and as Dean of Community Services for Central Arizona College. In 1985, Dr. Armenta assumed the position of Campus Dean for Austin Community College’s Ridgeview Campus, while working on development of the Northridge Campus where he served as its founding Campus Dean in 1989, and in 1991 established the college’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

From 1997 to 2002 Dr. Armenta served as Vice Present of Instruction and Student Development, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi; and served as its Interim President during a formal Presidential Search.

The University of Texas and Texas A&M University Systems offered him the opportunity to return to Austin as their special liaison to enhance Closing the Gaps efforts to help attract community college students to attend 4-year institutions, and was appointed to the State’s P-16 Council representing the University of Texas System. He returned to Austin Community College to serve as the first Articulation Officer for the College, then as Dean of Students for the Rio Grande Campus, and later served as Associate Vice President for Student Success where he was responsible for assisting the college by officially achieving its Hispanic Serving Institution Status from the US Department of Education, developing the first LGBTQ district wide committee, representing ACC on the Board of the Greater Austin Area My Brothers’ Keeper initiative, and on the Board of the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color, bringing CTN Ascender Program to ACC.

In 2011 he was honored as ACC’s Administrator of the Year, and from 2017 until his retirement in 2020 while as Associate VP, Dr Armenta served as Dean of Student Affairs for the Hays Campus assisting staff with advising, student retention efforts, and overall student conduct matters. At present, Dr. Armenta assists CTN as Consultant in a liaison capacity to CTN member colleges in their efforts to implement the Ascender program.


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.

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.  

Laurie Lopez Coleman is Director of the Honors Academy and Professor of English at San Antonio College. The only course she teaches is Composition II for the Ascender Program. Professor Coleman is dedicated to enthusiastic and dynamic teaching as a means of supporting literacy and a love of reading and writing in her students. She strives to enrich her courses through learning communities and badging opportunities for her students, as well as making college more affordable through the adoption of free or low-cost instructional materials. She is DREAMER ally trained, an ACUE credentialed educator, a Quality Matters Peer Reviewer, and a Badge Specialist. She is a 2019 NISOD Excellence Award recipient and recognized by her college in 2017 during National Distance Learning Week for exceptional leadership in the distance learning field. She serves on multiple department, college, and district committees that support her advocacy of student success. For nine years, she served as the co-coordinator of the San Antonio College Multicultural Conference. Laurie is a graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University where she received her Masters of Arts in English.



Alejandra Polcik was born and raised in Mexico where she studied two years of law school. When she moved to the United States, she changed her studies to Spanish and Political Sciences and graduated cum laude at the University of Texas at El Paso. In 2004, she continued her studies in Creative Writing and graduated with a master’s in fine arts in 2007. She is very passionate about working with diverse communities, she is currently employed at ACC as a Manager of Hispanic Outreach where she is responsible for developing culturally and linguistically effective outreach strategies to reach diverse communities and manage the transfer program Ascender. Before joining ACC, Polcik worked as Spanish instructor in High School and later as a Multicultural Coordinator for the Austin Independent School District. She also worked for 5 years as Spanish Media Coordinator with emphasis in the Hispanic market for the Office of Marketing and Communications at ACC.

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 as 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 in 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 twice 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 Alumnus 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 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. 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 College

Sandra González-Lamb is fascinated by the cross-section where education, work-based learning and information technology meet. She has over 17 years of higher education experience, specifically working with first-generation and high school youth. She is serving on a national board focused on women in higher education, the Center for Women Board. Currently, she works with Catch the Next, a national education nonprofit and a small Texas-based company facilitating work-based learning to first-generation people. She is enjoying this thing called life with her familia, Team Lamb, along with two pets. You can find her exploring campgrounds or checking out food trucks.


CTN Alumni

Farah Guerrero grew up in the small town of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato Mexico. She is one of two children. During her life she lived in different states and now lives in a different country, a country that she says is now also part of her nationality and her heart. 

During her adolescence her parents separated and due to her financial situation and the instability of her residence, she was in and out of high school four times, but always came back hoping to finish and get a higher education. Due to the lack of monetary support for students in Mexico for University, she was not able to attend university; however, she never let her dream go. At seventeen, she lost her father to cancer and since then has been learning to fight and get ahead so he continues to be proud of her. Her mother taught her to work very hard, and she started working at the age of fourteen in many different jobs.

Ten years ago, her family situation changed, and she had the opportunity to move to the United States. She realized that if she wanted to get a better job, it would take twice as much effort as in the past. At that time, she only hoped to get an English certificate.

In 2012, she got her GED. After she got her GED, she decided to at least try to get a certificate or as much other higher education as possible. She applied at South Texas College, but due to her lack of English language proficiency, she was sent to remediation classes. It was here that she discovered the Ascender program and met great advisors like Dr. Anna Alaniz.

She began her classes with only 30% knowledge of the English language and also without having set foot in a school for several years. She also never received financial aid, and the list of challenges went on and on. However, the Ascender program helped her to understand that no matter how big the situation could be, with perseverance and discipline, goals could be achieved.

After seven years on this path and a lot of effort and perseverance, she can say that she is living the dream of having a higher education and the possibility of inspiring others. She graduated with her Associate in Business Administration in 2013 from the University of South Texas College. After this, she continued with her bachelor's degree in Business Management in 2016 from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. In 2018, she decided to go back to school and further her education, graduating with a Master of Industrial Science Management from the University of Texas at Tyler in 2020.

She is the first generation in her two families to complete this level of education. Today she lives in Dallas, and works for a manufacturing company in a senior generalist role.  She offers these words of advice, “It is never too late to start and if you have a dream, never give up until you achieve it.


Armando Joab Sanchez is a Catch the Next, Ascender Program Alumna from Austin Community College (ACC). As a student at ACC, he first began with an interest in becoming an automotive technician. A year later, he switched his interest to government, after meeting an individual who opened his eyes to a whole different world. With the additional support from two professors who taught state and federal government, Armando then went on to earn an opportunity to intern at the Texas House of Representatives. He continued his interest in government by participating in the Diplomats Club at ACC as the secretary, discussing international issues.

Armando started the Ascender program in 2017 and later graduated with his Associate of Arts in General Studies in December 2019. In January 2020, he transferred to Texas State University at San Marcos - where he pursued a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science, minoring in Communication Studies. He graduated in August 2021. During his journey as an undergrad, he was able to develop skills that allowed him to adapt to different political settings, explain his concerns, and address current issues. The skills that he has developed throughout his time at Texas State have helped him advocate and research pertinent information. He has been able to draw upon these skills while being interviewed several times to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other issues undocumented individuals face in Texas. Throughout these interviews, he was also given the opportunity to present his concerns about the Supreme Court ruling on DACA and discuss the Texas House Bill 1486, and also how it will impact undocumented students from being eligible for in-state tuition.

Armando, a first-generation DACAmented student, from Ixtapan de la sal, Mexico, is now currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Political Science at Texas State University, working as a Graduate Assistant. One of his fundamental goals is to continue to use his skills to advocate to reform the treatment towards the Latino community and the immigration system. Despite his rough childhood, Armando is proud of where he is and acknowledges the support he receives. He exists for what the future has in store for him, doing his best to change the world, while making sure his parents are proud for all of the sacrifices they have made for him, giving him the world, and reminding him to keep his head up no matter how cruel the world it may be.

Reception Speakers’ Bios


Dr. Shawnda Navarro Floyd is the Provost for Dallas College. She is a collaborative and innovative leader with more than 17 years of experience in higher education. Shawnda most recently served as Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Success for North Lake College, where she worked with faculty, administrators, and professional support staff to assist students in completing their educational goals. She focuses on fostering a positive student experience, promoting teaching excellence, championing innovation across the college, and developing strong internal and external partnerships.

Prior to coming to Dallas College, Shawnda spent eleven years at Brookdale Community College Lincroft, N.J. At Brookdale, Shawnda served in varying faculty roles from Adjunct Instructor English to the rank of Associate Professor English, ending her tenure there in the role of Department Chair. Shawnda enjoyed the public and private practice of law before transitioning to higher education. Her law practice included service as a Deputy Attorney General for the State of New Jersey.

Dr. Navarro Floyd holds an Ed.D. in Higher Education with a Community College emphasis from Rowan University and a J.D. from Temple University Beasley School of Law.


Michael Guinn has successfully fused the art of Spokenword and social awareness in a way that has made him one of the most sought-after motivational speakers specializing in creative social awareness and youth empowerment. He is also the founder of the PSI Certified Fort Worth National Poetry Slams and the ForthWrite National Youth Poetry Team and is internationally renowned as one of the world’s hardest working performance poets, emcees, coordinators, poetry slam masters and youth/adult Spokenword event promoters. Guinn is also the co-founder of the NATIONAL POETRY AWARDS, The North Texas Spokenword Awards, Texas Spokenword Awards and continues to host several ongoing weekly, monthly, and annual poetry open mics for the past 16 years. He has appeared, featured, judged, hosted, facilitated workshops and helped organize events for the Austin International Poetry Festival, The Valley International Poetry Festival, The Arkansas Grand Slam, and The World Poetry Slam Championships just to name a few.

Guinn’s list of stellar accomplishments includes Two National slam finals appearances, 5-time National Poetry Slam Semi-finalist, Toronto International Slam Co Champ, 5 Time Fort Worth Grand Slam Champ, 13-time NPS Slam Poet, 4-time Austin International Poetry Slam Champion, Great Plains Pile Up Slam Champ, Last Poet Standing Slam Champ and several literary awards including judge for the poetry category for the 2016 NAACP Image Awards. He has been involved in two movie productions and an online web series called Battle Lines.

He holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work.

Alejandro Terra is an independent artist, singer, songwriter, musician, producer, and Troubadour from Santa Clara, Cuba. He started playing classical guitar at ten and singing a few months later. During his teenage years, he spent most of his time performing in schools, city events, and churches. Always playing the guitar and singing. During those early years, Alejandro would only perform covers of his favorite artist. At the age of 15, Alejandro started his journey as a songwriter, incorporating in concerts his original songs. Since then, Alejandro moved to Miami in 2012 and has performed in many venues and events in the USA and Argentina. In 2019, Alejandro began a project called DUO TERRA with his Brazilian friend Sofia Dias. DUO TERRA is an acoustic duo (percussion, bass, guitar, and voice) that performs a versatile selection of covers (the most famous Hits worldwide in Jazz, Pop Rock, Reggae, Latin Music, Funk, Rumba Flamenco, and Cuban Music) in combination with Alejandro’s original music. Today, apart from DUO TERRA, Alejandro also has his SOLO project with his artistic name Alejandro Terra, where he plays with a loop pedal, accompanying himself with percussive and bass sounds in the acoustic guitar, creating a ONE-MAN SHOW. Alejandro’s original music talks about consciousness, our society, freedom, love, heartbreak, friendship, and life experiences, in a unique fusion of Cuban music, Bossa, Jazz, Reggae, Pop-Rock, Funk, and Blues.



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