In its 40 year history, Breakthrough has served nearly 40,000 program participants.

Our network of alumni spans several generations of college graduates who are now educators, leaders, and change-makers across many private and public sector industries. Meet a few of them below!

Ieesha McKinzie Collins – Managing Director, ConnextMSP

Terron Ferguson – Executive, YANCY Holdings

Joy Delizo-Osborne – President, Student Achievement Partners

Luis Gonzalez – High School Teacher, Ethnic Studies & U.S. History

Irene Shih – CEO, Minds Matter San Francisco

Keno Sadler – Partner & Global Managing Director, Purpose, PBC

Rhea Wong – Nonprofit Consultant, Fundraiser, Author

David Jernigan – President & CEO, Boys & Girls Club Atlanta

Jabali Sawicki – Compass Director, nXu

Ashley Atilano – High School English Teacher

Jeremy Mathurin – MBA Student, Cornell Johnson School of Business

Rachel Young – Senior Director, IDEO

Chau Ngo – Program Director, Breakthrough Manchester

Chris Lee – Actor/ Performer/ Singer/ Songwriter

Angela Duckworth – Founder & CEO, Character Lab

Ashira Mayers – Recruitment Coordinator, Breakthrough New York

Heavyn Lee – Analyst, Harvard Undergrad CBE

Yekalo Weldehewit – Senior Data Analyst, Western Union

Josh Gresham-Connor – 7th Grade Math Teacher at Smith Leadership Academy

Ieesha McKinzie Collins – Managing Director, ConnextMSP

Ieesha Collins is Managing Director at ConnextMSP, which is focused on supporting thousands of local college students of color and early career professionals to ensure they launch their careers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region with employers who value equity and inclusion. When asked how Breakthrough has been a through-line in her current work, she recalls, “The ultimate goal of Breakthrough is to help people create sustainable lives, graduate from college, and create a future for themselves, their family, and their community and I’m proud of the work I do now because it continues the mission of Breakthrough in a very tangible way.”

Ieesha’s experience with Breakthrough is deep. In addition to serving as a Teaching Fellow in Atlanta, she later served as a national staff member, and also served on the boards of Breakthrough Twin Cities and Breakthrough Houston.

Click here for a video to learn more about Ieesha.

Terron Ferguson – Executive, YANCY Holdings

Terron Ferguson is a legal consultant and entrepreneur committed to civil and human rights, racial equity, and justice. But first, he was a Breakthrough Miami student and Teaching Fellow.

As an attorney and legal fellow, Terron worked alongside Brian Stevenson at the Equal Justice Institute handling death row appeals and was part of a national team to document the historical details of lynchings around the country. As a Chancellor’s Fellows, Terron lived and studied in Germany, examining its “Memory Project” and implications for racial reckoning in the United States.

Visit the Breakthrough blog to hear a two-part conversation with Terron on his experiences at Breakthrough and his work in Germany.

Joy Delizo-Osborne – President, Student Achievement Partners

Joy Delizo-Osborne’s experience as a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow was inspired by her brother Jonathan, who became a Breakthrough Miami student in the fifth grade. After teaching at three different Breakthrough affiliates, in as many summers, Joy found her love of education at Breakthrough. 

As the incoming President at Student Achievement Partners, Joy leads the organization in its commitment to support the adoption of high-quality, representative and standards-aligned instructional materials. “From policy to inequity, we’re up against so many challenges within the system as educators. So what we’re really depending upon is a teacher’s passion and commitment to kids, and Breakthrough builds that in a way that few other programs do.”

Read more of Joy’s story here.

Luis Gonzalez – High School Teacher, Ethnic Studies & U.S. History

Luis Gonzalez knew early on that he wanted to be a teacher. Although growing up, the only Latino teacher he had was his Spanish teacher. “I want to make sure students have a teacher who shares some of their experiences,” he says. After serving two years as a Teaching Fellow at Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano, Luis entered the classroom in 2020.

Hear how Breakthrough prepared Luis, and how he’s grown as a teacher, leader, and advocate. Check out the video here!

Irene Shih – CEO, Minds Matter San Francisco

Irene Shih has spent nearly two decades helping students create their futures and change the world. As a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow, she discovered just how crucial community and connection are to student success. “I learned so much about the meaning of community itself, and how to build that kind of ecosystem around students for life. It is just as important as curriculum and programming. It’s really [about] the people you surround yourself with,” she says. “I would not be where I am today without Breakthrough as a beginning.”

After completing a B.A. in English Literature and Women’s Studies from U.C. Berkeley, Irene joined Teach for America where she taught middle and high school in Arizona. She went on to become a strategic advisor to superintendents in large urban school districts like Boston Public Schools, and a thought leader on state-level education policy in Massachusetts and Connecticut. She also holds an M.P.P. in Social & Urban Policy from Harvard Kennedy School.

Irene joined Minds Matter San Francisco as CEO in 2019 and since then has led the organization and its 300-student and 300-volunteer strong community towards unprecedented levels of growth. To date, 100% of MMSF’s graduates have been accepted to 4-year colleges, and 100% graduate from college within 4 years.

Keno Sadler – Partner & Global Managing Director, Purpose, PBC

Keno Sadler was just 22 when he launched the organization that would become Breakthrough Atlanta and became its first executive director.

After completing a two-year enlistment with the Navy, Keno attended Morehouse College with plans to earn his degree and return to the Navy as a commissioned officer. An unexpected opportunity changed the course of his future and laid a foundation for what would become Breakthrough Atlanta.

“I was hooked. I knew my calling. I knew what I was supposed to be doing,” Sadler said. 

Read more of Keno’s story here.

Rhea Wong – Nonprofit Consultant, Fundraiser, Author

Rhea Wong is a nationally recognized nonprofit consultant helping build the next generation of fundraisers. Her decades of fundraising and organizational growth experience began as Executive Director of Breakthrough New York, where she drove double-digit year-over-year growth for 12 years and expanded the affiliate to three sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. Her passion and belief in Breakthrough began as a student and were nurtured as a Teaching Fellow at Breakthrough Summerbridge (now San Francisco).

“I think at the end of the day, at the heart of it [Breakthrough] are the people and the relationships that are built… Breakthrough is a place really built on trust, relationships, belonging, love, spirit, and resiliency, and it feels like that’s the solution to all the despair we see around us.”

Hear Rhea’s story of how Breakthrough instilled in her a belief that young people can do anything, which she has paid forward tremendously.

David Jernigan – President & CEO, Boys & Girls Club Atlanta

Teaching Fellow Alumnus
Board Member – Breakthrough Atlanta
President and CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta

David Jernigan is a champion for educational equity through his leadership in public schools and educational organizations in Atlanta. 

But first, he was a Breakthrough teaching fellow.

David Jernigan was introduced to Breakthrough as a college student studying business in North Carolina. He had no intention of pursuing a career in education until his experience as a teaching fellow at Breakthrough Houston opened his eyes to opportunity gaps in urban school environments. 

David credits Breakthrough as the “change of his trajectory” to pursue a career focused on improving educational outcomes for students in urban cities. After his Breakthrough experience, he continued his career journey in the education field as a Teach for America teacher in Atlanta, receiving his teaching certificate and Masters in Educational Administration. He also went on to become the Executive Director of KIPP Atlanta and the Deputy Superintendent for Atlanta Public Schools. David continues to give back to Breakthrough as a current Board of Trustee for Breakthrough Atlanta. You can see more about David’s Breakthrough story HERE.

Jabali Sawicki – Compass Director, nXu

Jabali’s journey began at Breakthrough Summerbridge in San Francisco. “Breakthrough Summerbridge was (and is) a magical place. The teaching was rigorous, the learning joyful, and the relationships inspiring. Excellence was expected, and every aspect of the program was defined by respect for the students. It’s where I learned that learning could be fun and being a nerd was cool. My teachers were my heroes, and my classmates have become life-long friends. Both as a student and eventually as a Teaching Fellow myself, I have Breakthrough to thank for the best five summers of my life,” he says.

Jabali went on to teach middle school science at Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Massachusetts and served as founding principal for Excellence Boys Charter School in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY – the first single-sex public charter school in New York State.

Today, Jabali is Compass Director of nXu, a nonprofit on a mission to catalyze a diverse community of youth to explore, articulate, and pursue their purpose.

“For more than 20 years, I have been committed to improving educational outcomes for students…and it all started at Breakthrough San Francisco.”  

Ashley Atilano – High School English Teacher

A native of Santa Ana, CA, Ashley Atilano teaches English to 11th and 12th graders in South Gate, CA, about seven miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. While studying at GW, she spent two memorable summers as a Teaching Fellow at Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. In 2019, Ashley graduated with a B.A. in English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The following year, Ashley earned her M.A. in English Education from Stanford University

We featured Ashley in the fall edition of Breakthrough Beat. Check out the Q&A on our blog where Ashley shares how things are going, her hopes for the year, and what inspires her to teach.

Jeremy Mathurin – MBA Student, Cornell Johnson School of Business

Jeremy Mathurin is a proud Breakthrough student and Teaching Fellow alumni from Miami. He remembers vividly learning about the program as a fifth grader and immediately sensing it was a place “built for kids like me,” he says. Breakthrough became the place where it was “cool to be curious” and where he developed a personal relationship to learning and academic curiosity. 

This fall, Jeremy is headed to Los Angeles to begin his career and “dream job” at Microsoft as an account technology strategist.

Click here to hear Jeremy’s story and how he traces his confidence and accomplishments back to his early days at Breakthrough. 

Rachel Young – Senior Director, IDEO

Rachel Young is Senior Director at IDEO, a global design and innovation company.

But she was first a Breakthrough student and Teaching Fellow.

Rachel says she left Breakthrough transformed. “I couldn’t unsee that learning could feel so good. It was the curiosity, love, and possibility personified in those teachers that left me a little radicalized.”

“I’ve been a middle school teacher and a community non-profit administrator. I’ve been in recruitment, talent, marketing, project management, graphic design, and event management within education non-profits. I’ve been a product manager in ed tech. By my 30’s, I’d spent a career dedicated to having direct and indirect impact on children in communities where investments were slim… It’s pretty incredible that I can trace that arc back to a summer I spent, in 1994, marveling at a world I didn’t previously know existed.”

Read more of Rachel’s story here.

Chau Ngo – Program Director, Breakthrough Manchester

Student and Teaching Fellow Alumna
Program Director – Breakthrough Manchester 

Chau Ngo is making a difference in the lives of students and families in her community as the assistant director at Breakthrough Manchester.

But first, she was a Breakthrough student and teaching fellow.

Chau joined Breakthrough as a first-generation student in middle school and went on to volunteer for the program and serve as a teaching fellow in the summer of 2017. Chau says, “It was not until I had the privilege of joining Breakthrough Manchester that I developed a passion for learning. I experienced first-hand the positive impact the program has on students; it supported my family and me in ways that my schools could not.” Chau credits Breakthrough for supporting her on the path to college with financial aid and college applications. 

After graduating from Keene State College and Massachusetts College of Art & Design with a degree in art education, Chau decided to pursue her interest in education and non-profit work, joining Breakthrough Manchster as assistant director in 2019.

Chris Lee – Actor/ Performer/ Singer/ Songwriter

Student Alumnus
National Ambassador’s Council – Breakthrough Collaborative
Broadway Musical Actor and Singer

Chris Lee is a multi-talented actor, musician and Broadway Star. He’s graced the stage in Broadway sensation musical Hamilton and currently stars on a CW show called Legends.

But first, he was a Breakthrough student.

Chris’ passion for pursuing his dream of a career in entertainment started when he was a middle school student at Breakthrough Atlanta in the early 2000s. Chris attributes his introduction to the arts and having big dreams from his experience at Breakthrough.

Chris says, “Breakthrough was the first place that I actually performed in front of any peers, ever.  And that’s incredible because now that’s what I do for a living.  I absolutely found myself there. It’s so different because it’s such a safe space where you can try new things, and fail, and get encouragement, and thrive.”

The Breakthrough Spirit is evident in Chris and can be seen in the song, “The Breakthrough Song” which can be viewed HERE, that he wrote and sang with Breakthrough Atlanta Students. Chris remains involved with Breakthrough Collaborative as a member of the National Ambassador’s Council.

Angela Duckworth – Founder & CEO, Character Lab

Angela Duckworth is the founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance scientific insights that help children thrive. She is also the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics.

A 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Angela has advised the World Bank, NBA and NFL teams, and Fortune 500 CEOs.

Prior to her career in research, Angela founded a summer school for underserved children that was profiled as a Harvard Kennedy School case study and, in 2018, celebrated its 25th anniversary. She has also been a McKinsey management consultant and a math and science teacher at public schools in New York City, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.

Angela completed her undergraduate degree in Advanced Studies Neurobiology at Harvard, graduating magna cum laude. With the support of a Marshall Scholarship, she completed an MSc with Distinction in Neuroscience from Oxford University. She completed her Ph.D. in Psychology as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

Angela’s TED talk is among the most-viewed of all time. Her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance is a #1 New York Times bestseller. Angela is also the co-host, with Stephen Dubner, of the podcast No Stupid Questions.

Ashira Mayers – Recruitment Coordinator, Breakthrough New York

Ashira Mayers (Class of 2021) joined the Breakthrough New York community as a student, and upon graduating from Manhattanville College, transitioned into the role of Recruiting Coordinator as an AmeriCorps Civic Corps member.

Click here to read Ashira’s story on the benefits of having Breakthrough as a support system and as an employer, and how the role prepares her for job future opportunities.

Heavyn Lee – Analyst, Harvard Undergrad CBE

Student Alumna and Teaching Fellow Alumna 

Heavyn Lee is a Gates Scholar and will attend Harvard this fall with a full ride. 

But first, she was a Breakthrough student and teaching fellow. 

Heavyn joined Breakthrough Miami in the summer leading into the 5th grade, and stuck with it all throughout high school, eventually serving as a teaching fellow. Heavyn describes Breakthrough Miami as an environment that pushes inclusivity and diversity to the greatest extent, which fostered valuable lessons about how to use her voice and navigate spaces predominantly occupied by white peers. Heavyn says, “Breakthrough taught me that there is strength among people of color, there is strength among women…it’s taught me to not only occupy or take up space, but to own it.” 

As she begins her next chapter, Heavyn believes that it’s important to have “excellence as your mantra” and to “keep going and be bold.”

Yekalo Weldehewit – Senior Data Analyst, Western Union

Yekalo Weldehewit joined Breakthrough as a middle schooler who had a natural love for math. According to Yekalo, Breakthrough challenged him academically, building his confidence and helping him prepare for the year ahead. “As soon as I started my school year, my brain was already wired and I was able to excel faster than the other students,” he says. “Breakthrough was critical in my development… It can make a huge difference in somebody’s life. It did that for me.”

“Breakthrough has made me into the person I am today.”

Click here to hear directly from Yekalo.

Josh Gresham-Connor – 7th Grade Math Teacher at Smith Leadership Academy

Josh Gresham-Connor is an educator in Boston who credits Breakthrough with his decision to become a teacher. 

“As I enter my 15th year as a teacher in Boston, there isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t think of the lessons I learned as part of this family..I fell in love with science at Breakthrough. I found my passion for teaching at Breakthrough. I even found my wife at Breakthrough!”

“Each day I make sure to bring the energy, spirit, and love that first attracted me to Breakthrough. I frame every lesson in a way that would appeal to 11-year-old me and am always thinking about how to replicate that “secret inside information” feeling of discovery that makes learning so exciting.”

Read more of Josh’s story here.