Meet a Breakthrough student on the path to college Read their story!

Teaching Fellow Video

Check out this awesome video from Myers Communications Group about the importance and impact of our Teaching Fellowship!

Pa Chia – Booyah Bash 2019 Speech

Pa Chia – Booyah Bash 2019 Speech

Pa Chia Thao is a  BTC Class of 2013 and Mount Holyoke College Class of 2017 alumna; check out her 2019 Booyah Bash speech!

My name is Pa Chia Thao and I grew up in an immigrant Hmong family of seven. Neither of my parents had gone to school past elementary, so I never saw myself attending college. It’s not that I didn’t want to, it’s that I didn’t know how to. It is no exaggeration to say that Breakthrough Twin Cities played the biggest part in helping me make this dream of attending college a reality: assisting in editing my application essays, providing ACT preparation, and opening my eyes to the numerous institutions that are out there beyond Minnesota.

In 2017, I obtained my bachelor’s degree at Mount Holyoke College in Western Massachusetts, majoring in astronomy and physics. After graduation, I was selected to be an intern at the Gemini Observatory in Hawai‘i, where I was able to witness the beautiful collaboration of countries coming together to advance astronomy. I am currently working at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researching young planets beyond our own solar system. The overarching goal of my research is to understand how planets form and evolve throughout their lifetime. How did the planets in our solar system get to where they are today? What makes Earth so special that it’s able to sustain life? This fall, I will begin a Ph.D. program in Astrophysics at UNC. I wouldn’t have gotten here without the help of Breakthrough. What can I say? Breakthrough was more than just a ‘typical’ summer program; it has opened up many doors for me. Although, I am no longer part of the program, the effects of Breakthrough still live in me to this day.

My journey with Breakthrough began in the summer of 2007. On the first day, I remember riding the bus over to Breakthrough, being very nervous and not really sure what to except. When the doors to the bus opened, my anxiety melted away after seeing the contagious smiles and hearing the cheers from all the teachers. As part of Breakthrough, I was surrounded by so many students, who walked different paths of life, but we were bounded by this common goal of wanting to succeed, wanting the same opportunities and the same resources as our fellow peers. The energy, the passion, and the friendships all created a welcoming and positive environment that I could learn and thrive in.

In unique ways, not only has Breakthrough pushed me to voice my own opinion, but it has also helped me develop those opinions. At the beginning, it was quite easy for me to hide in a crowd, but at Breakthrough, I was no longer seen as a number, but rather as an individual. The small classrooms really encouraged participation from the students, and the teachers would go out of their way to make sure everyone spoke. This was hard for me in the beginning because raising my hand in class and speaking in front of everyone made me uncomfortable. But those summers at Breakthrough helped me start to gain the confidence to find my own voice. As a result, I have used that skill ever since – in the classroom, in the lab, in my internships, as well as in my day-to-day life.

In middle school, Breakthrough encouraged me to apply for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship. The staff at Breakthrough invested hours of their time by helping me in every step of the application process, teaching me that it is okay to ask for help. Thanks to Breakthrough, I was selected as a recipient for this scholarship, which has forever changed my life and has helped me reach my full potential. The scholarship has supported me in attending Mounds Park Academy for high school, Mount Holyoke College for undergrad, and now, UNC for graduate school. I am excited for this next chapter of my life at UNC, where I will be a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Scholar, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to get the education I have without Breakthrough. I wouldn’t be debt free without Breakthrough. And I wouldn’t be where I am today without the generous support of you.

I want to thank Breakthrough donors for believing in this amazing organization, this incredible mission, for making the impossible – possible. I also want to thank all the amazing teachers, who have played a part in fostering a love of learning in each and every one of us. Know that your hard work, your passion, and your dedication have not been forgotten.

And for the Class of 2019: I want you all to take a moment to look around at all the people here tonight who deeply care about your success. No matter how crazy life can get, no matter how difficult it can be, no matter how much time has passed, don’t ever forget that there is a whole community here that believes in you, in your abilities, and your dreams.

Yusanat Tway – Booyah Bash 2019 Speech

Yusanat Tway – Booyah Bash 2019 Speech

Yusanat Tway is a BTC senior at Humboldt High School who will be attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Check out her 2019 Booyah Bash speech!

Once upon a time, there was a little girl from Burma. Her family escaped persecution from Burma because, like the Rohingyas, her Karen people have been and are still being persecuted by the military government. She grew up in a Thai refugee camp until 2007, when, at the age of six, she and her family immigrated to the U.S. to start a new life.

That was when I started my education journey. During my early months in first grade, I came home crying every day. I felt isolated and alone, unable to communicate clearly in English and desperately missing my parents and siblings. But after the first few months, I found a best friend who was also Karen and I started to feel as if I belonged. In fact, my first real memory was winning the perseverance award at the end of first grade. I felt very proud and motivated to learn, knowing the support that my teachers and peers had for me.

Then, in the sixth grade, I learned about Breakthrough. In a vague way, even then I knew that I wanted to go to college, but I just did not know how to get there. But I knew that Breakthrough could help me – and, miraculously, I got in!

As I look back on my six years in Breakthrough, I certainly remember loving the summer programs. Even though I was going to classes and learning a lot, it just didn’t feel like school. The other students were unlike any group I had ever known. While we were all from different backgrounds, we shared the same drive to succeed and the same commitment to support one another.

One memory that is forever embedded in my mind is the Breakthrough Leadership Program trip to Camp Menogyn (Boundary Waters Canoe Area). Sixteen Breakthrough students spent a week in the wilderness – canoeing, camping, and learning how to survive. It taught me physical and mental strength that I did not realize I had. I learned to carry a whole canoe all by myself over long portages. Before we went on the trip, I had been very pessimistic about how my team was going to last the week with our two canoes. But, by the end, the team had grown into a committed and collaborative unit. Again, I belonged.

This experience encapsulates what Breakthrough has done for me. The first and most obvious benefit has been academics. Because of my enriching summers at Breakthrough, I was always one step ahead in classes and I am proud to say that I will graduate next month as the salutatorian of my class. But Breakthrough has helped me develop more than just academic skills. Breakthrough gave me role models to emulate, everlasting personal empowerment, standardized test preparation, and especially in my senior year, support with the college application process. Again, I was always one step ahead on FAFSA forms, college essays, and the ACT.

Now that I am equipped with all that Breakthrough has given me, I stand with you as a member of the Class of 2023 at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Just as I learned on the Camp Menogyn trip, I know I will be able to carry the college canoe successfully across many portages ahead. Skills and wisdom that have been embedded in me at Breakthrough tell me that I will always be persistent, determined, grateful, understanding of others, living the growth mindset. I promise to Be Breakthrough as I continue my education journey in college.

Looking back on that young refugee who immigrated to the United States, I am astonished at how different her world has become. Had I stayed in Burma, I would have been illiterate, likely married and a mother by now, a worker in the fields – and always vulnerable to attacks, murder, and rape from government soldiers. But, because of Breakthrough, I can look forward with confidence in college and beyond, knowing that I am no longer a refugee. Now I know I belong – and it is thanks to all of you that I have been privileged to experience this transformation. You have my immense gratitude for your support that has positively impacted many students just like me to have a chance to become the best version of themselves.

Angel Moreno Rodriguez

Angel Moreno Rodriguez

See what Angel Moreno Rodriguez, a 7th grade BTC student at Highland Park Middle School, has to say about his time in Breakthrough!

1. If someone had never heard of BTC, what is the one thing you would say to help them understand what BTC does?
It helps you get a better understanding of college and prepares you for the future, both in terms of careers and potential accomplishments.

2. What motivated you to be a part of Breakthrough?
My sister motivated me a lot because she’s in Breakthrough. I wasn’t really doing well in school, I wasn’t really paying attention and she was like “Oh you know Breakthrough could help you. I feel like you should apply.” I said “Maybe, if I’m not lazy enough to write a whole essay.” I started doing poorly on tests, so I decided to do the application because I wanted help in school.

3. How has BTC impacted you?
Breakthrough taught me that I should just be myself and go for what I care about. I know that my path means that I might take some different steps than other students, but I know that Breakthrough will help me get where I want to be.

4. Why have you stayed involved in BTC?
I don’t know, it’s just become a part of my life. I’ve made new friends, and I’m closer to people. I know that Breakthrough is only for six weeks during the summer but Breakthrough has become a part of me. It sounds kind of corny but that’s how I feel.

5. What is your favorite Breakthrough Code and why?
“Be Grateful” – because I believe you shouldn’t take anything for granted. You should be glad that someone worked hard or you worked hard for the things you’ve accomplished.

6. If you could give Breakthrough a shoutout, what would it be for?
I give Breakthrough a shoutout for really making me strive to understand. Like the Be Grateful code, I wasn’t grateful for a lot before Breakthrough, and Breakthrough pushed me to understand more.

Latrese Johnson

Latrese Johnson is a BTC freshman attending Highland Park High School. Check out what she has to say about her time in BTC below!

1. If someone had never heard of BTC, what is the one thing you would say to help them understand what BTC does?

Breakthrough helps students who really want to get to college but might not have all the resources. So Breakthrough helps them make sure they are guided through that really difficult path to get to college.

2. What motivated you to be a part of Breakthrough?

I applied because I knew my mom would want me to apply. When I first heard about it I didn’t think it would really be like this. I didn’t think it would be nearly as fun or that I would build as much of a community. And especially starting at such a young age, thinking about college has been cool. 

3. How has BTC impacted you?

It makes me feel more prepared than a lot of my other peers. Everyone else in my grade is like “oh…? High school!” They’re thinking about the moment and I’m thinking more about the future. And Breakthrough helps me think ahead to what my goals might be.

4. Why have you stayed involved in BTC?

Breakthrough is a big part of my summer. It’s been that one routine thing that happens every year. Since I’ve known these people for three years I’m attached to them and it feels like we’re a family. 

5. What is your favorite Breakthrough Code and why?

My favorite code is “Be Grateful,” mostly because it’s something I need to work on. I feel like the people I love, they know that I love them, but sometimes I don’t say it as much. I think people should be more explicit about the care they have for the people who are important to them. 

6. If you could give Breakthrough a shoutout, what would it be for?

I would give them a shoutout for changing kids’ lives. I don’t know how many of us would even be wanting to go or thinking about college and if it wasn’t for Breakthrough I feel like a lot of us would be struggling to get there.

7. Is there anything else you want to share about Breakthrough?

I just want to talk about the impact that it has had on our lives again. A lot of our parents didn’t go to college and making sure that you’re doing well in high school can be overwhelming to do by yourself, especially if your family hasn’t been through it. I’m very thankful for Breakthrough as well.

Shouayee Vue

Shouayee Vue, BTC Class of 2018 alum and 2018 Summer Session Teaching Fellow, shares her thoughts on Breakthrough in her interview below!

1. How did you become aware of Breakthrough, and why did you decide to get involved as a Teaching Fellow?

I was first introduced to Breakthrough by Ashley Cooper, BTC staff member, when I was in 6th grade. The way she explained Breakthrough with immense energy as well as the genuine concern she showed for my future really stuck with me during my next six years in the program. I decided to get involved even more in Breakthrough because something inside urged me to give back to the community that I loved the most. Because Breakthrough was the place where I was able to find aspects of my identity and become confident in life, I wanted to contribute my energy into this positive learning environment and continue the magic that happens over the summer.

2. In what ways has your teaching experience at Breakthrough helped you develop and grow as an individual?

One major takeaway from my teaching experience is that giving up on others is not an option. This has had a huge impact on my lifestyle because I struggle with the “Persist” code. When something doesn’t go well, I try to avoid conflict. But as a teacher, I can’t give up on my students no matter how difficult it gets. Keeping good relations with my students and just being present in their lives is so important in developing growth that there is no time to be pushing people aside. This has flowed into my personal life where I’ve learned more about my relationships and how important it is to see those I care about daily. I have matured and created ways to find time to catch up with family and friends because relationships are valuable. Giving up on others is detrimental to relationships and I shouldn’t lose them when they are trying just as hard to reach similar goals in life.

3. What advice or suggestions would you give for someone else who wants to get involved with Breakthrough or apply to be a Teaching Fellow?

Be prepared to cry. It may be tears of sadness when classes don’t go well, tired tears from running around all day, or tears of joy when you see your students improve so much and stand on stage for Celebration. Great things aren’t meant to be easy, and I am glad Breakthrough is the hardest thing I will accomplish in my life because I know the outcomes will be the best.

4. Where do you see yourself ten years down the line?

In ten years, I see myself advocating for my beliefs and morals. I will continue to be a person with a voice, more confident with my identity, and more aware of what has been going on around me. In ten years, I will have a support system full of friends and family who will all share a goal of living successfully. I may not be the richest, but I envision myself to be content with my life because I will have gone on a path that I’ve created for myself.

Breakthrough Twin Cities

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