John Nguyen, BTC student “xcels” in and out of the classroom

John Nguyen, Harding High School junior, has been a member of the BTC community since the summer before his seventh grade. For John, BTC offers academic rigor and social-emotional support, as well as a real sense of community. “My favorite part of Breakthrough is the camaraderie and friendly environment. I have made lifelong friends through the program. The program is closely-knit, and all the staff are student advocates.”

John has taken full advantage of everything the Breakthrough community has to offer. With a flawless GPA, National Honor Society membership, and a host of academic awards, John is thriving in his International Baccalaureate Scholar Program at Harding High School. Outside of the classroom, John continues to impress with his dedication to clubs and groups he is passionate about. Whether leading student council sessions, performing with VocalEssence Singers of this Age Youth Choir, solving complex problems on the varsity math team, or competing at varsity swim meets, John succeeds in any environment.  

Reflecting on the impact that BTC has had on him personally, John recalls using Breakthrough’s “growth mindset” when trying out for the Harding swim team. “Coming into high school, I had not participated in sports before and I was labeled as unathletic. Despite this, I joined the swim team as a freshman, went to all the practices, used my coaches’ feedback, and pushed myself. I was able to make the varsity team during my freshman year!” John notes that Breakthrough’s emphasis on constantly striving to improve and progress helped him in this endeavor and others.

More recently, John completed a summer internship with Xcel Energy, assisting the Manager of Community Relations. John had an opportunity to present on nuclear energy and its environmental impacts to Xcel Energy executives, as well as discuss renewable energy sources with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and the Saint Paul City Council. John also served as the point of contact for St. Paul’s North End residents as they fundraised to install alley lights to prevent crime.

As a high school junior, John is excited to start his individualized college counseling with BTC. In regards to the support that BTC has offered him, John says, “I’m very thankful to the program for guiding me these past five years, and for serving me, and hundreds of other students, at no cost.”

David Pellegrini, BTC Teaching Fellow Pays it Forward

A Roseville Area High School and St. Olaf College alum, David Pellegrini discovered Breakthrough as a freshman in college. David knew he wanted to spend his summer doing something that would make an impact, but exactly what eluded him. An older cousin, teaching in the Twin Cities, encouraged David to learn more about the Breakthrough Collaborative and consider becoming a Teaching Fellow. In David’s words, “The help and guidance from the coaches seemed very valuable and like it would be a beneficial way to spend my summer.”

David joined BTC for the summer of 2015 teaching eighth grade chemistry. He enjoyed the Teaching Fellowship so much that he returned for the summer of 2016 and taught literature in the Breakthrough Leaders Program (BLP). Teaching over two summers offered the added benefit of a longitudinal relationship with students and seeing them grow.

Now an Associate at the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting company, David acknowledges that Breakthrough staff were helpful in providing advice and guidance as he considered options post-college. Reflecting on his experience at Breakthrough, David says, “The Teaching Fellowship was very foundational and helped me define who I am. I learned how to be confident when there is not necessarily clarity in a given situation and how to move forward, using my intuition as a guide. The skills I learned working in the classroom translate to how I approach my job today. I also improved my skills in communication, writing, and presentation. I still use the teaching techniques I learned at Breakthrough to structure my presentations.”

Since his first summer at Breakthrough, David planned to make a gift to BTC once he landed a job out of college. The impact that Breakthrough had on Teaching Fellows and students inspired him to pay it forward. “BTC is such an important program for me, and I buy into the program’s approach and vision. Donating was a very logical decision.”

For David, the most important work that Breakthrough does is getting students into college and giving them daily confidence. Breakthrough prepares students for success by “helping them find their identity and learning how to find their way.”

David plans to further his involvement with BTC through volunteerism.

Raj Beekie

Raj Beekie, Breakthrough Twin Cities student confidently pursues Ph.D. 

As a 14-year-old in 2009, Rajendra “Raj” Beekie thought of himself as an average guy from a middle-class family. “I liked to do what any normal teenager does – hang out with my friends, use social media, and sleep,” noted Raj.

Clearly, Raj’s accomplishments reflect that he was more than an average guy. In 2013, he graduated as one of the top ten students in his class from Central High School in Saint Paul, Minnesota. While in high school, Raj was a member of the Science Olympiad, Science Bowl, and Math Team.

While in high school, Raj had convinced himself that B’s were Bad and that A’s were Average. Looking at grades in that manner made it hard for him to even think about getting anything lower than an A. He was a national AP Scholar which he received for doing well on AP tests, and “surviving” Advanced Topics, then the hardest math class he had ever taken. He scored a 31 on his ACT test, placing him in the top 95th percentile nationally.

In 2017, Raj graduated Magna Cum Laude with highest honors with a degree in mathematics from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. That same year he co-presented research on Fréchet Differentiability in Optimal Control of the Stefan Problemat at the Joint Mathematics Meeting, the largest mathematics meeting in the world. Raj was also awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. The Fellowship recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who have demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Raj is pursuing a PhD in mathematics at New York University. He is currently studying fluid mechanics, specifically trying to construct solutions of equations that naturally arise in fluid mechanics that break classical conservation laws. This offers insight into the limits of mathematical models and may help lead to a better understanding of turbulence.

Looking back on his six-year Breakthrough Twin Cities experience and success, Raj credits the amazing BTC team. “They really inspired me to do my best. BTC helped me mature socially. I found a community of people that helped me step outside of my comfort zone,” Raj shared.

Sophia Kor

Sophia Kor

Sophia Kor was an Instructional Coach–a licensed educator working directly on lesson-planning and curriculum with Teaching Fellows–during our 2018 Summer Session. See what she had to say about her experience in her interview below!

1. Please tell me a little bit about your background! Where did you grow up, where did you attend high school and college, what have been some subjects or potential careers you were interested in growing up, and how did you become interested and involved in teaching?

I grew up in Eagan, Minnesota and went to Eastview High School. After I graduated, I attended St. Olaf College (Um Ya Ya!) for Music Performance and Asian Studies. Just this spring, I received a Masters in Education from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. I was always interested in teaching, especially as a child, when I would create math quizzes for my non-existent students! However, as I grew older, I wanted to focus on music. It wasn’t until I was a BLP teacher at Breakthrough that I realized how much life and energy teaching in the classroom gave me. After my summer at Breakthrough, I received a Fulbright to teach English in Taiwan, pushing me even further into the world of education.

2. How did you become aware of Breakthrough, and why did you decide to get involved as an Instructional Coach?

Four years later, I found myself yearning for the spirit and collaboration that defines Breakthrough. I reached out to an old friend that still worked at Breakthrough, and he said that there were openings for the IC position. So, I applied!

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

Working closely with Teaching Fellows has strengthened my own practice. I love that their perspectives are fresh and occasionally non-traditional, which is sometimes what experienced teachers need. I can’t wait to apply what they’ve taught me to my own teaching.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job as an Instructional Coach?

One of my favorite parts about being an IC is observing the Teaching Fellows create relationships with their students. I especially enjoy hearing the Teaching Fellows come back into the faculty room and boast about the success of their students. It’s very cute.

5. Can you tell us about an experience working at Breakthrough that impacted you or sticks out in your mind?

Every year, my BLP co-teacher and I have a reunion for our students. Every year they are brighter, taller, and more mature. We love hearing about their academic successes, their future plans, and how BTC impacted their lives. Not to mention all of our inside jokes!

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

As an Instructional Coach, it’s necessary to have patience. The Teaching Fellows are like superheroes, completing multiple tasks at once. For most of them, it’s their first time teaching. Not only is it our job to support them to academically, but mentally as well.

Christian Roldan

Christian Roldan

See what Christian Roldan, an 8th Grade BTC student at St. Paul City School, has to say about 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’s a program that helps you learn academic skills. It helps you get out of your shell.

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

My sister is in Breakthrough! I also needed help because I was stuck in school. I thought that Breakthrough would help me more.

3. How has BTC impacted you?

It has helped me get out of my shell and not be shy, because everyone here is pretty outgoing and it made me feel comfortable to be myself.

4. Why have you stayed involved in BTC?

I think Breakthrough is fun. It was fun the first day and it’s still fun. Classes are not just about learning, my teachers make it fun and in different ways.

5. What is your favorite Breakthrough Code and why?

“Persist,” I just think it’s good, and it’s meaningful to me. It was a part of my life growing up because my teachers always told me to persist because sometimes I give up a little easily. So it’s encouraging to see my friends persisting at Breakthrough.

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

I would give Breakthrough a shoutout for helping me get out of my shell, and for encouraging me not to give up even when something is hard.

Laura Smith

Laura Smith

Check out what Laura Smith, one of our fantastic 2018 Summer Session Teaching Fellows, has to say about Breakthrough Twin Citeis in her interview below.

1. Please tell me a little bit about your background! Where did you grow up, where did you attend high school, are you currently in college and if so where, what have been some subjects or potential careers you have been interested in, and how did you become interested in teaching?

I grew up in Washington D.C. and graduated from Georgetown Day School in 2015. Currently, I am a rising senior at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. I am majoring in English and minoring in Educational Studies. My love of reading comes from my 5th and 6th grade Language Arts teachers, so I guess those two things just came together for me at Carleton, and at Breakthrough as well where I am a Literature Teaching Fellow.

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

Daniel Bernal is a Carleton Alum, and I became aware of Breakthrough through that connection–the Teaching Fellow position was listing on the Carleton Career Center’s Alumni Connection Page. I have had the opportunity to work with students and young people through being a sleepaway camp counselor at a YMCA camp and through tutoring a high school student from Northfield. I really enjoyed both those experiences and decided to apply for the Breakthrough Teaching Fellow position as a way to continue exploring a possible future in working with students in some capacity.

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

Teaching at Breakthrough has taught me that people want to hear what I have to say. Before the summer began I imagined I would have to do everything in my power to keep attention on me or on the task at hand, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Standing in front of a class with all eyes focused on me and ready to learn whatever it is I am planning on teaching that day has helped build my confidence. It has shown me that I can succeed and that everyone (especially my students) want me to succeed.

 4. Can you tell us about an experience working at Breakthrough that impacted you or sticks out in your mind?

One day at lunch during my first week at Breakthrough, a student I didn’t know approached me. She wasn’t in any of my classes and she had no reason to know me, but she sat down across from me and asked me my name and what grade and subject I taught. When I was her age I never would have approached a teacher I didn’t know just to start a friendly conversation. It is amazing to me how poised and genial Breakthrough students are. The connections at Breakthrough between students, faculty, and staff are incredible, and it is heartwarming to see so many people coming together to strive for a common goal.

Breakthrough Twin Cities

2051 Larpenteur Ave E, Saint Paul, MN 55109, USA