Ascender Learning Communities

Ascender is a first year experience program for community college students created to ensure college readiness toward completion and transfer. It combines:

  • Navigational support through holistic advising, counseling, and a Learning Framework course
  • An academic pathway that features a year-long sequence of English and additional core subjects by instructors trained in the model
  • A Student Engagement component that includes community mentorship, cultural events, leadership development and internships

The San Antonio College Ascender Learning Communities, is comprised of caring and engaged faculty, advisors, and mentors, who work together to create a unique atmosphere for students known as an “Academic Familia.”


Benefits to Students

In partnership with the nationally recognized Catch The Next Ascender non-profit organization, San Antonio College provides the following benefits to participating students.

  • Special Activities and Events
  • Linked Courses
  • Student Club & Mentorship
  • College level courses with built-in developmental support
  • Students take classes together over two semesters
  • Faculty and Staff work together to provide interdisciplinary learning
  • Early Registration
  • Scholarship, Internship and Work-study opportunities
  • Participate in Student Leadership Summer Institute
  • Certified Advisor from entry through completion
  • Connections to Peer Mentors and Tutors
  • Luncheons and Family Dinner
  • Recognition & networking with a national organization
  • Transfer Tours & Conferences
  • Graduate with Honors

Welcome to Ascender
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Ascender Learning Communities Program Student Learning Outcomes

1. Students will demonstrate active engagement in Ascender events and presentations.  

2. Students will complete the Ascender course sequence for their first year experience.

3. Students will graduate and/or transfer and earn a degree.

4. Students will identify academic and professional goals in pre and post surveys.


Resources for Students

Financial Aid

Teaching with Cariño

Teaching Latinx Students With Cariño: Using Validation Theory and Culturally Inclusive Pedagogy in Catch the Next’s Ascender Program
by Rafael Castillo, PhD

CTN has grown successfully as a state-wide initiative building a strong, data-driven program that allows students to grow intellectually, to read competently, and to expand their self-worth. The Ascender model enriches students to become civic participants and assume roles for the benefit of all people, regardless of color. Teaching through validation theory increases their self-worth and allows students to influence others and assert their identity skills in classroom environments. It is worth noting that CTN continues to forge ahead in a state with shifting budgets, earning accolades and supporting excellence as one of its foundational colleges, Palo Alto College, earned the Rising Star Award from the Aspen Foundation. Catch the Next’s Ascender Programs continue to gain philanthropic support from the Greater Texas Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

NEW DIRECTIONS FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGES, no. 190, Summer 2020 © 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/cc.20386

Click here to find this and other literature on research based pedagogy.


Ascender Advisors

Ascender Advisors






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Elissa Gutierrez

As a first-generation college student myself, I am well aware of the challenges faced and how to overcome them. My goal is to empower each student I encounter to see their potential and reach their goals. I have found my purpose in life at Proverbs 15:22 “Plans fail for lack of guidance, but with many Advisors they will succeed."


Sara Passement

I have 15 plus years of advising experience and have worked in 2 other Alamo Colleges. My personal motto (which I stole from D. Nettles) is “Do the RIGHT thing because it is the right thing to do.” I love to make a difference in the lives of our students.


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Mary Segovia

I came to (SAC) as a student in 2000.
I became an employee in 2006. Working
in multiple areas has developed my extensive knowledge of the college and
the district system. My goal is to serve
students as a guide to help them
navigate their college path through graduation from SAC and beyond. I'm a servant leader and my purpose is to
serve students to help them achieve
their educational goals.

Ascender Faculty






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Jeanette Bunch

As part of the Student Development team, Jeanette Bunch has been teaching at San Antonio since 2003. She is a seasoned champion and advocate for the student and understands the challenges students face as they work towards meeting their academic goals and dreams. She makes students feel valued and unique and part of la familia.  


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Dehlia Wallis

Dehlia Wallis is an Associate Professor of Psychology and has been teaching in higher education for 20 years.  She has a B.A. in Psychology and a M.S. in School Psychology.  She teaches General Psychology, Lifespan Growth and Development and Human Sexuality, she is the Faculty Advisor for Psi Beta and The Psychology Club.  In the classroom, Professor Wallis encourages collaborative student learning, research and information literacy.  


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Laurie Lopez Coleman

As Director of the Honors
Academy and Professor of
English, Laurie Lopez Coleman
is dedicated to enthusiastic and dynamic teaching as a means of supporting literacy and a love of reading and writing in her
students. She strives
to enrich her courses through
learning communities and
service learning opportunities
for her students.



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David Chavera

David Chavera is a Math professor and has been teaching at SAC since August 1989. He has a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Mathematics from UTSA. Professor Chavera loves teaching, enjoys classroom participation and answering questions. In class, he constantly reminds students to keep grinding; education is a long game. He enjoys spending time with the Familia, web surfing and loves to walk, play basketball, and exercise with the family dog.



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Dr. Meagan Whaley

Dr. Meagan Whaley earned her B.S. in Mathematics from Louisiana Tech University in 2007. In 2009, she earned a M.S. in Computational and Applied Mathematics from Southern Methodist University. Dr. Whaley earned a Ph.D. in Computational and Applied Mathematics from Rice University in 2015. She is passionate about creating engaging, interactive learning experiences that make math content accessible to all students.



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Anahita Lorestani

Profesor Lorestani immigrated
to the United States when she
was 18 years old. Upon her
arrival, she started her academic career at a community college
where she studied Computer
Science and later went on to
receive her masters in
Mathematics. She joined
Ascender in 2018 so she could
help improve equity and
accessibility in higher education
as well as help students succeed
at San Antonio College.



Screen Shot 2020-10-26 at 8.23.15 PM.pngYon Hui Bell

Yon Hui Bell has been teaching at SAC since 2010. She is a faculty instructor of English and the coordinator of the INRW Center. She earned her B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from UTSA and has worked in a variety of institutions with students of all ages in Japan, El Salvador, and the United States. She is passionate about the power of literacy as a tool for personal and social growth.