The Catch the Next Ascender Fall Virtual Seminar is scheduled for Thursday, October 28th from 9:00- 4:30 p.m.  and Friday, October 29 from 9:00-12:30 p.m. The Fall Seminar brings together scholar 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.

All who are planning to attend MUST register. To register, go to:

There is a $600 registration fee for cohort 2021 members. Alumni are covered by the college’s membership fee.  

Only those people registered will be able to access the Zoom links and materials. When registering, indicate if covered by the college or an alumni or presenter.

This Ascender Fall Seminar provides the option to participants to earn 1 graduate credit through the University of Texas at Austin – Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. The cost for the Graduate Credit is $310.00 Fall/Spring which includes $300 for course enrollment and $10 for library services. 

To register with UT for the course: Click Here.


The seminar will begin on Thursday at 8:30 with Café con Pan Coffee Break facilitated by Dr. Anna B. Alaniz, CTN Director of Professional Development and CTN CEO, Dr. Chavez followed by a Welcome and Theoretical Frameworks and Updates led by Dr. Chavez.




After a round robin and parking lot, the session titled “Our Journey: Using Storytelling/Narration to Make Sense of Our Journeys” led by Dr. Alaniz will allow participants to construct personal narratives as a social and cultural activity with an aim to educate, entertain, and instill moral value and validation of themselves and others.

In the next session “Servant Leadership: How it Shapes the Ascender Framework” facilitated by Dr. Alaniz and Esmeralda Macias, CTN Leadership Fellow from South Texas College, participants will discuss what “servant leadership” means and how it relates to Ascender’s framework and faculty development.

The afternoon will begin with CTN Author Mentor, Norma Cantu, leading the session “Asset Based Approach: Creating Community Through Literature” in which participants will discuss the strategies that are interdisciplinary and the team will explore methods to apply those strategies in the different components of the program.

This will be followed by the session “Mentorship: Exploring Mentor Influences” led by CTN Leadership Fellow Diane Lerma from Palo Alto College. Participants will reflect on and discuss mentors of narrative and storytelling.

CTN Peer Mentor Victor Saenz will be the facilitator for the session titled “Research Findings Mentorship” where participants will learn about research-based findings on mentorship with an emphasis on males of color. 

The afternoon will end with Breakout Sessions by discipline led by CTN Leadership Fellows. These include: “Mathematics in the Ascender Framework”- Facilitator: Mario Morin, Department Chair, Mathematics, South Texas College CEO, EnLearn; “English Presentation”- Facilitator: Esmeralda Macias, South Texas College; “Learning Frameworks Session” -Facilitator: Juan Ramirez, Department Chair, Education, South Texas College; and “The Art of Advising in the Virtual Age”- Facilitator: Ariel Flores, Specialist, Area of Study Master Advising, Austin Community College.

The first session for day two is titled “Student Engagement Best Practices: Clubs, Leadership, and Social Justice Projects, Internships, Mentor Models, Staple Events (Noche de Familia, University Tours, Celebracion), Creating a Sense of Familia” Participants will hear from CTN fellows Dr. Alaniz, Juan Higa, and Debra McBeath on the process of incorporating leadership opportunities for students via: Ascender Club, Student Activities, and Community Service Projects.

Participants will hear from different colleges and the mentor models that they incorporate in their institutions and the reasons for choosing a mentor model that fits in the session titled “Mentors Models: Best Practices” led by CTN Leadership Fellows, Alejandra Polcik & Megan Diaz from ACC.

The next session “Student Retention Strategies: Advising Best Practices” will be facilitated by Ariel Flores and Dr. Alaniz. In it, participants will hear from two Ascender instructors about different strategies and best practices on how to retain students beyond the first year.

To end the day, campuses will have team time to gather in breakout rooms to discuss concerns, questions, and resources available on their campuses.

Bios Fall Seminar Guest Speakers

Norma Elia Cantú is a Chicana postmodernist writer and the Murchison Professor in the Humanities at Trinity University in San Antonio.

Cantú received her AA degree from Laredo Community College in 1970. She received her bachelor of science degree in English and political science from Texas A&I University at Laredo, now Texas A&M International University in Laredo, from which she graduated summa cum laude in 1973. She received her master of science degree in English with a minor in political science from Texas A&I University Kingsville in 1976 and her PhD in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1982. She has been on the faculty of Texas A&M International University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In 2016, she was named Murchison Professor in the Humanities at Trinity University.

Some of her most recent honors & awards include: Outstanding Alumni Award, Texas A&I Alumni Association, Kingsville, Texas; Luis Leal Literary Achievement Award, University of California, Santa Barbara; American Folklore Society, Lifetime Achievement Award; Texas Institute of Letters, member; Latin American Studies Association Latina/o Studies Section, Frank Bonilla Public Intellectual Award; Escuela Tlatelolco’s Champion of Change Award for Art, Literature, & Culture, Denver, Colorado; Letras de Aztlan, NACCS Tejas Foco; Beca Nebrija de Creación Literaria, Instituto Franklin, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares; Fellow of the American Folklore Society; Américo Paredes Distinguished Lecture, UT-Austin; Exceptional Texas Woman, Veteran Feminists of America, Texas; Elvira Cordero de Cisneros Macondo Foundation Award; National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies Scholar of the Year and Cátedra Laboris from the Universidad de Monterrey, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

Victor Saenz Ph.D. is Chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin and a Professor in the Program in Higher Education Leadership (PHEL). He is a Fellow in the Sid W. Richardson Regents Chair in Community College Leadership, and he also holds courtesy appointments with the Center for Mexican American Studies, the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, the Irma Rangel Public Policy Institute, the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis, and the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute. Since 2008 he has also been a Faculty Fellow with the UT Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE). Dr. Sáenz has published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and recently published two books, including one on Latino males in higher education (Stylus Publishing, 2016). His current research agenda seeks to advance research-informed best practices and policy solutions that improve educational outcomes for underserved students in postsecondary education, with a special emphasis on young men of color. In 2010 Dr. Sáenz founded an award-winning initiative called Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), a multi-pronged effort based at UT-Austin that is focused on advancing success strategies for male students of color across the education pipeline.

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. Maria Chavez-Brummel is the co-founder of the   Catch the Next Program and Chief Executive Officer. She is the lead Faculty for the Catch the Next- UT Austin - Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Seminars. She is also a Distinguished Fellow   for   the   Institute   for   Advanced   Study   of   African Renaissance Policies Ideas (ASARPI) and a member of the Alumni World   Leaders   Advisory     Group   to   the   President   of Yale University and Dean of the Graduate School.

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 degrees from Yale University. At Kansas State, Dr. Chavez created The Minority Admissions Program. At Yale, she has served as Assistant Dean at Yale College, and as a member of the faculty. She also 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.

A social entrepreneur, Dr. Chavez created several programs on the East and West Coast through her work with Save the Children Federation, where she served as Associate Vice President of U.S. Programs and Global Marketing. Dr. Chavez also worked with Public Agenda, a research and engagement organization, and national partner in the Achieving the Dream Initiative, where she served   as   Research   and   Engagement   coach   and   member   of   the   Knowledge Development Working Group.

CTN Leadership Fellows

Dr. Anna Bertha Alaniz is Director of Professional Development for CTN. Alaniz has a doctorate from Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Her dissertation is titled, “Beating the Odds- Perceptions of Successful Former Developmental College Students.” Alaniz has 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 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. She also teaches all components of the ASCENDER program. She is currently a fulltime Developmental Reading Instructor, and adjuncts for the Education department and the English department. 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 in public education at Roma ISD. She has taught adult literacy courses with Roma ISD. Dr. Alaniz’s passion is helping underserved students persist and graduate from college.

Ariel Marie Flores is a Senior Area of Study Advising Specialist at the Austin Community College, Riverside Campus, where she is responsible for advising STEM, Computer Science, and Ascender Students. She strives to make sure each student feels listened to and fully supported in both their academic, transfer, and career goals. She first started as a mentor with Catch the Next, of which this year will be her third, and has served as the Club Advisor for the student club since its inception. As the Club Advisor she encourages her students to develop their leadership skills and embrace the importance of serving the local community. She also now helps in the recruitment of future Ascender students and is a CTN Leadership Fellow for the 2018-19 year. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin and has a minor in Biology.

Mario J. Morin earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from the University of Texas – Pan 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 Executive Board of the Rio Grande Valley Council of Teachers of Mathematics (RGVCTM) as well as on the Executive Board as the Immediate Past President of the Texas Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (TexMATYC).

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.

Megan Diaz started with Austin Community College as the Outreach Specialist for the Ascender program in 2019. As the Outreach Specialist, she is responsible for various tasks, such as coordinating program events for students, providing ongoing quality communication and information to students, and serving as the liaison between students, mentors, and faculty/staff. Megan was eager to join the Ascender team, because her passion includes serving others and making a difference in young people's lives. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Communication Arts from the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio, TX.  

Esmeralda Macias is an English Instructor at South Texas College, and she has been part of the STC family for the past ten years. Esmeralda believes that each student is a unique individual who needs to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. She has a Master of Arts in Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Texas-Pan American, Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas-Pan American, and an Associates of Arts in the Interdisciplinary Studies from South Texas College. Most recently, Esmeralda received the South Texas College Faculty Spotlight Award for her excellent writing strategies, and she received a nomination for the Faculty of the Year Award. In addition, she received the Leadership and Service Award for her leadership and dedication to the CTN Program.

Esmeralda is passionate about programs that help student succeed; therefore, she was excited to earn the Professional Development Certificate (PDC) from the Puente Summer Institute (PSI) from the University of California at Berkeley, where she committed herself to support students in an intensive yearlong Integrated Reading and Writing Program. In 2017, Esmeralda received the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) award for her excellence in teaching. She is also part of the Development Curriculum Board and was part of the Developmental Education Initiative (DEI) Program, which was a three-year effort to identify and develop programs that increase the number of community college students who complete preparatory classes and successfully move on to college-level studies. She has presented at several conferences including Catch the Next (CTN); Texas Community College Teachers Association (TCCTA); College Academic Support Programs (CASP); and Texas Success Initiative (TSI) Professional Development Program.

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) where she taught various freshman and sophomore 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 and her bachelor’s degree in journalism. 

Juan José 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.

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 six 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. As of June 2020, Juan was appointed to serve as a member of the Board of Directors for Catch the Next, Inc.

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.

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. 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 has taught at Palo Alto College for twenty -three years.   She is married to David Lerma, and they have two sons.

Dr. Juan Ramón Ramírez is native of Calvillo, Aguascalientes, Mexico.  He moved to the United States at the age of 13 and lives in Edinburg.  Dr. Ramirez is a graduate of Hartford High School in Hartford, Michigan and South Texas College.  He received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from the University of Texas-Pan American and his Doctorate of Education from Texas A&M University-Kingsville.  Dr. Ramirez taught English Language Arts and Reading at Edinburg and Donna High School.  He has been part of the South Texas College family since the summer 2010 when he joined the Developmental English Department.  In fall 2015, Dr. Ramirez became part of the Education Department and in January 2021 started to serve as department chair for the Education Department.



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