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Photo: Breakthrough Collaborative

National Leadership 

Elissa Vanaver, Chief Executive Officer

Elissa Vanaver became the CEO of the Breakthrough Collaborative in 2017, after more than a decade of leading growth at the Collaborative’s Miami affiliate. At Breakthrough Miami, her roles included volunteer, founding board chair, Director of Strategic Development, and CEO. In spring 2018, Elissa was a judge for the New York Life Foundation’s Excellence in Summer Learning Awards. Before joining Breakthrough, Elissa was an award-winning newspaper editor and media executive, holding a variety of positions, including Managing Editor, Vice President of Human Resources, and Chief of Staff for the Miami Herald, which publishes in English and Spanish. Her 25-year journalism career also included management, editing, and news-writing at the Dallas Times Herald and the San Jose Mercury News.

Jeremy Gough, Chief Development Officer

Jeremy Gough brings two decades of experience serving progressive education and humanitarian missions, from creating schools and programs for communities in the US, to supporting efforts to help disenfranchised and displaced people across the world. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Jeremy was the Chief Development Officer for Concern Worldwide, an international NGO that works to end extreme poverty in 25 of the world’s poorest countries. Before this, Jeremy helped expand The Urban Assembly, a nonprofit that creates and supports Title I public secondary schools in NYC, where he served as Director of Institutional Advancement. Jeremy also helped transform Urban Arts Partnership from a small nonprofit into a leading arts-integrated education group with a national reach, serving as Executive Vice President for the last three years of his tenure there. Along the way, he has led numerous fundraising and communications campaigns, securing competitive federal, state, and local funding, partnering with leading foundations and companies and uniting communities of dedicated individuals to create meaningful impact. Jeremy graduated from Brown University with a BA in American studies, with Honors. Outside of the office, he enjoys making music, and volunteering in the community, including chairing the board of a nonprofit preschool. He spends as much time as he can with his wife and energetic young sons.

Rachel Martinez de Canada, Chief Culture & Operating Officer

Rachel Martinez de Canada brings extensive recruiting, admissions, and outreach experience to Breakthrough Collaborative. Prior to joining Breakthrough, she worked as the Associate Director of Admissions at the University of Minnesota Law School where she was responsible for recruitment, administered the school’s scholarship program, and designed a summer admissions preparation program for underrepresented students. Rachel also worked in undergraduate admissions where she served as the Chicano/Latino Outreach Coordinator and Admissions Counselor and has also worked in corporate recruiting. A proud Gopher, Rachel graduated from the University of Minnesota with Distinction with a BA in sociology and Chicano studies. Outside of the office, Rachel spends her time with her husband and young daughters.


Alex Serna, Chief Program Officer

Alex Serna never envisioned having a career in education someday while gambling for quarters in the back of high school Geometry class growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Anaheim, CA. He graduated high school with a 2.1 GPA, never applied to college, and was planning to enlist in the military. That was until he learned at 17 that he was going to be a father. That’s when Alex enrolled at Santa Ana College, transferring to UC Berkeley, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies. The first-generation college grad went on to earn his Master’s degree in Urban Education and secondary social studies teaching credential from UCLA, all while raising four daughters with his partner before turning 25.

Today, he is the Chief Program Officer at the Breakthrough Collaborative. He previously served for almost eight years as the Executive Director and before that Program Director of Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. There he led the program’s expansion into college, tripled the number of students being served, and grew their endowment to over 1 million dollars.

He supports national initiatives in education, having served on the Millennial Commission on Education as a Senior Fellow, where he helped develop key policy recommendations in the advancement of education reform. He is a Ricardo Salinas Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a 2017 Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Emerging Leader.

Alex volunteers his time on advisory boards such as the University of California, Irvine’s School of Social Ecology Field Study Program, nonprofits like the Wellness and Prevention Center, and the Hispanic Education Endowment Fund.

He also serves as an expert on college access and educational policy. He has been featured in The New York TimesEdSurgeWashington PostThe Hill,  Diverse Issues in Higher EducationThe Hechinger Report, and NACAC’s Journal of College Admissions.

He believes passionately in the power of education and its potential to change lives, just like it transformed his. He lives in San Diego with his high school sweetheart and four daughters.

Nicole Noga, Managing Director of Operations

Nicole Noga joined Breakthrough Collaborative in 2014 with a background in psychology research and lab management. At The University of Chicago, she assisted in conducting a randomized clinical trial of eating disorder treatments as well as several studies examining the effects of psychoactive drugs. Originally from the Chicago area, she earned her AB in psychology from The University of Chicago and was a “Graduate-Student-at-Large” at The University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice (formerly School of Social Services Administration). Outside of work, Nicole enjoys hiking, hunting for treasures in used bookstores, and keeping her two cats out of mischief.

National Staff

Jonathan Appleby, Director of Recruitment

Jonathan joins Breakthrough from his most recent position at New Door Ventures in San Francisco where he helped to execute a workforce development program for underserved transitional age youth by partnering with over a hundred businesses to provide a variety of professional experiences. There, he served on the Youth Development team as a Specialist and was responsible for developing case plans, tracking participants for success in the workplace as well as continuing to make gains in education and preparing for post-secondary success. Jonathan has also spent significant time in business partnerships outreach, cultivating relationships, and working to retain current partners throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He has served as the Youth Director at Grace Fellowship Community Church for nine years and has partnered with several homeless outreach efforts in the San Francisco area. Jonathan also taught at San Quentin Penitentiary for several semesters and has long had a concern for addressing the gaps in diversity, equity, and inclusion that exist in education and the contemporary workforce. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, coaching baseball, and getting out into the abundant natural world of the surrounding area.

Kyle Bobrick, National Communications Manager

Kyle graduated with a bachelor’s degree in film studies from the University of Colorado. He joined Breakthrough Kent Denver’s administrative team in January 2011, and has since held positions as an 8th Grade Dean of Students and a High School Coordinator. Kyle has experience in education as a substitute teacher within Denver Public Schools and as a Breakthrough teacher for four consecutive summers. He spent three years as a cultural exchange English teacher in Denver’s sister city, Takayama, Japan. He recently earned his M.A. in communication management at the University of Denver, and previously worked as Director of Communications for Breakthrough Kent Denver.

Sara Camacho, Success Manager

Sara holds a passion for academic equality and positive out-of-school time for youth in their communities. As an only child of a single mother, both a strong education system accompanied by supportive out-of-school time activities facilitated stability and success in her life. It is no wonder why Breakthrough resonates so strongly for her. Sara began her career in elementary education, found she wanted to explore her creative side and became a hairstylist, then transitioned into the world of not-for-profits. Sara joins Breakthrough Collaborative with over five years of experience at Breakthrough Miami, having been a program site director as well as data & compliance coordinator. Her primary goals as success manager are to support and engage affiliates and the Collaborative with their use and success of the Breakthrough Starter Pack (BTSP) so that everyone can win in their missions for educational equity. Outside of the office, Sara enjoys taking in the Miami sunshine, eating tacos, and spending quality time with her family and friends. 

Jee Deogracias, Director of Research & Evaluation

Jee comes to Breakthrough’s National Office having worn many hats within the K-12 education space. Most recently, she was a Senior Research Director at Hanover Research, managing research projects and program evaluations for school districts, state departments of education, and education-related non-profits across the country. Before this, she was an Evaluation and Assessment Analyst with Alexandria City Public Schools, and an elementary band teacher with Fairfax County Public Schools. She received a Bachelor of Music in flute performance with a teaching certification at the University of Michigan, a Master of Public Policy at Georgetown University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in education policy at the University of Maryland. Outside of the office, she spends the majority of her time with her husband and daughters and loves volunteering with the Special Olympics.

Leah Ehinger, Development Operations Manager

Leah joined the National development team to help support and develop effective fundraising systems for Breakthrough. Her background in social work with an emphasis on nonprofit leadership, philanthropy, and research makes her an ideal fit for this role. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Leah worked in varying roles with youth from co-teaching special education pre-K to independent living case management for youth transitioning out of foster care. She is passionate about raising adequate funds to ensure programmatic and organizational success. She recently completed an MSW from Indiana University, loves to travel, do yoga, read and go camping.

Phyllis Elick, Senior Director of High School and College Bound Programming

Phyllis comes to the National Office after nearly seven years of experience at Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia facilitating high-school programming and college counseling. Phyllis has extensive experience in student service as well as program development. She has been a teacher in an independent school and worked with other college access organizations serving under-resourced schools and students in the Philadelphia area. Phyllis has her BA from Smith College and her MS Ed in education policy from the University of Pennsylvania.


Tieler Giles, Director of Marketing & Communications

Tieler Giles joins Breakthrough Collaborative with more than 15 years of experience helping nonprofit organizations effectively reach, engage, and drive audiences to action. Her work has advanced such issues as youth development, gender and racial equity, women’s health, and civil and human rights. Most recently, Tieler was Associate Director of Marketing & Communications at Girls Inc., where she led strategies to increase brand awareness and strengthen the organization’s reputation and thought leadership. In previous roles, Tieler inspired change as a marketer, fundraiser, and campaigner at the Drug Policy Alliance, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and Porter Novelli. A proud HBCU alumna, Tieler is a graduate of Florida A&M University and holds a master’s degree in communications from the University of Georgia. She is the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of educators and believes in the power of education to transform lives and communities. A native of South Carolina, Tieler currently resides in Charlotte where she can be found enjoying the city’s best parks, plant-based fare, and spending time with family.

Natalie Jacobs Hall, Recruitment Associate

During her time as an undergraduate student, Natalie spent two summers as a teaching fellow with Breakthrough Cincinnati, where her passion for the Collaborative was solidified. In her role as Recruitment Associate with the National team, Natalie brings experience in undergraduate admission and a BA in education to the forefront to recruit the next generation of teaching fellows. Outside of work, Natalie enjoys traveling, cooking, practicing yoga, and cheering for Butler Basketball.

Ambler Mauger Ochstein, National Director of Institutional Partnerships

Ambler brings a breadth of experience to Breakthrough across her 15 years in the education sector. Most recently, Ambler was a Portfolio Manager at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, where her focus was teacher preparation and she helped build the education grantmaking team. Her career began as a Teach For America corps member in New Orleans, where she was part of a team that founded two KIPP schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Ambler then joined Teach For All, where she supported programs in the early stages of adapting the Teach For All model to their local contexts and shared lessons learned across the global network. Subsequently, she was selected as a Presidential Management Fellow and appointed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where she led performance management and managed a portfolio of grant programs across three states and two international partners. Ambler graduated from Goucher College with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and earned a Master’s degree in International Education from George Washington University. Ambler loves exploring the beautiful outdoors around Oakland with her former co-teacher husband and their adventurous 6-year-old.

Jenny Song, Manager of Research & Evaluation

Jenny joins the National team with an aspiration for equitable education. She developed a passion for education through her experiences as a teaching fellow at Breakthrough New York and then joined Teach For America to expand her equity lens. Jenny spent the past four years teaching at two Title I schools in San Jose, California where she impacted student growth through data-driven and culturally relevant practices. She also has a range of research experiences in higher education, notably specializing in race, religion, and child discipline. Jenny has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and an elementary teaching credential from Pepperdine University, and a Masters of Science in education from Johns Hopkins University. Outside of work, she enjoys painting and taking care of her many plants.

Nicholas Wilson, Program Manager

Nicholas is passionate about seeing equity, liberation, and holistic success for youth, families, and communities who have been marginalized. He has carried out this purpose in a variety of ways personally and professionally. Nicholas started off his career in education as a teaching fellow for Breakthrough Philadelphia and served in a variety of positions for the program for six years. The values and discipline that Breakthrough provided equipped him to serve students and families at two charter schools in West Philadelphia with love, empathy, passion, and excellence. He has invested the last five years as a lead instructor, college/career counselor, and post-secondary advisor. Nick’s main objective serving in his current role as Program Manager for Breakthrough Collaborative is to take all of the experiences that he’s collected in his broad career in education to better equip and support each affiliate to serve their students, families, and communities to the best of their ability. Outside of the office, Nick enjoys traveling, documentaries, creative projects, and engaging conversations.

Meredith Zackey, Senior Director of Programs

Meredith Zackey joins Breakthrough Collaborative with nearly ten years of experience in the education field. She brings her experience as Program Director for Breakthrough Manchester in New Hampshire and her work with Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia as Dean of Students, Program Assistant, and Dean of Faculty to her new role. Outside of Breakthrough, Meredith served two years as an AmeriCorps member with City Year Greater Philadelphia and supported the Principal Effectiveness team at DCPS. She holds an MPP in public policy from Georgetown University and currently resides in Philadelphia.