American Studies Alumnus Alex Serna wins Emerging Leader Award

Alex Serna, M.Ed., Class of 2011, has won the Emerging Leader Award from Orange County Grantmakers for his work as Executive Director of Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano, a college success program that supports students from underrepresented backgrounds starting in middle school through college graduation. The goal: to break the cycle of poverty through the power of education.

The Emerging Leader award is for an individual engaged in the nonprofit and/or philanthropic sector, who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and contributions to their organization and/or sector.

Alex never envisioned having a career in education while gambling for quarters in the back of his high school Geometry class, growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Anaheim. 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 from UCLA, all while raising four daughters with his partner before turning 25.

As the Executive Director of Breakthrough San Capistrano, he supports national initiatives in education as a Trustee on the national board for the Breakthrough Collaborative and served on the Millennial Commission on Education as a Senior Fellow, where he supported the development of key policy recommendations in the advancement of education reform.

Alex volunteers his time on advisory boards for nonprofits such as UCI’s School of Social Ecology, 1st-Gen Scholars, 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 Times, Washington Post, The Hill, and Diverse Issues in Higher Education, The 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.