Ray Martinez serves as the President & Chief Executive Officer of the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC), a comprehensive membership association comprising a diverse mix of 48 community colleges across Texas. Public community colleges in Texas play a critical role in supporting the continued growth of our state’s economy by expanding access to high-quality and affordable academic programs, workforce education training, and continuing education instruction. As President and CEO of TACC, Martinez provides leadership to advance state policy, institutional practice, research, and developing meaningful multisector partnerships in support of Texas community colleges.
Before joining TACC, Ray served as Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs and Workforce Education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, where he led the agency’s critical functions in academic programs, workforce education, and postsecondary readiness and success. Martinez brings a deep understanding of higher education to TACC. He previously served as President of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas and Chancellor of Western Governors University (WGU) Texas, and he has held senior government affairs positions at Rice University and Texas A&M International University. Ray has also served as the director of the Committee on Higher Education in the Texas Senate.
In addition, Ray has substantial federal policy experience, having served in the Clinton Administration as regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and on the White House staff as deputy assistant to the president for Intergovernmental Affairs. Ray returned to federal service in 2003 after being nominated by President George W. Bush – and confirmed by the United States Senate – to serve as a commissioner on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a bipartisan federal agency responsible for assisting state and local governments to improve the process of election administration.
Beginning in 2007, Ray served as an adjunct professor of public policy at The University of Texas School of Law and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, where, over a seven-year period, he taught a course on election administration, redistricting, and campaign finance. Ray has also served on the Board of Trustees for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), which implements the accreditation process for public and private higher education institutions in an eleven-state region, including Texas.
A native of Alice, Texas, Ray received his bachelor’s degree from Southwestern University and his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center, and he recently completed postgraduate studies at the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Ray and his wife, Beth, a clinical social worker, reside in Austin.
As vice president of the Texas Success Center, housed at the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC), Cynthia Ferrell supports the implementation and scaling of student success strategies and policies for the 50 community college districts in Texas.
Prior to joining the Texas Success Center, Cynthia served as director of Student Success Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as national director of leadership coaching for Achieving the Dream, director of the Board of Trustees Institute, director of Gulf Coast Partners Achieving Student Success, and UT director of the Governance Institute for Student Success. In these roles, she provided training and ongoing support for community college trustees, chancellors, presidents, and leadership teams to implement data-informed policies and practices to improve the success of all students.
Formerly the director of the Texas Developmental Education State Policy Initiative, Cynthia supported strategies jointly developed by TACC and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to scale successful innovations statewide and establish policy supports to improve developmental student success.
She earned a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the Community College Leadership Program at The University of Texas at Austin.
As the Director of Institutional Strategy, Christine Bailie supports the Texas Success Center mission and the Texas Pathways strategy for the 50 community college districts in Texas.
Prior to joining the Texas Success Center, Christine has worked in the field of education for 20+ years and brings expertise in the nexus of practice, research, and policy. Christine has served as a high school educator, led state and regional initiatives to redesign institutional systems, conducted policy analysis, designed research studies, created professional development to promote capacity-building and knowledge development, and facilitated cross-sector regional partnerships to strengthen and align P-16 pathways.
Christine holds a baccalaureate degree in Economics from Texas A&M University and a Master of Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. She also earned an Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership and Policy from the University of Texas at Austin.
Elizabeth Chivers serves as the Senior Director of Strategy & Policy Analysis at TACC. Ms. Chivers will help advance the mission of our colleges and association through data insight and analyses. As a key member of TACC’s policy team, she will support data informed policy advocacy and strategy for our public community colleges.
Before joining TACC, Elizabeth spent almost four years with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, where she served in several roles, including program director as part of the data team and most recently as the Senior Director of Strategy & Major Projects. She was involved in helping execute strategic priority planning and engaged in several key agency projects, including the 60x30TX Regional Advisory Groups, SB 25 Recommend Course Sequences, New Texas Transfer Framework, and metric development for the newly adopted Building a Talent Strong Texas strategic plan. She also served as District Director of Institutional Research and a member of the college leadership team at Navarro College.
Elizabeth holds a Bachelor of Arts from Central College, a Master’s in Sociology, with a focus on criminology and quantitative and qualitative methodologies from the University of Northern Iowa, and additional doctoral level coursework related to furthering her expertise in qualitative methods, work & organizations, and social psychology from North Carolina State University.
When she is not working, Elizabeth enjoys spending time with family and friends, checking out local art and music, and cooking a variety of cuisines.
Art Cook serves as the Office Manager at the Texas Association of Community Colleges. In his role, Art is responsible for the organization and supervision of all contracts and work orders pertaining to the upkeep and maintenance of the TACC building. He also provides member support and services to facilitate strong relationships with community college CEOs and administrators.
Mr. Cook has more than 30 years of leadership experience in varying industries including property management, hospitality, financial services, and logistics. Prior to joining the TACC team, Art was office manager for RunLab medical clinic.
Outside of the office, Art enjoys running ultra-marathons, adventure racing, and spending time outdoors with his family.
Jacob Cottingham serves as the Senior Director of Government Relations at TACC. Mr. Cottingham develops and implements legislative policy goals and strategies for the association, as well as monitors legislation and regulatory changes relevant to Texas community colleges. As a key member of TACC’s advocacy team, Jacob builds critical relationships between TACC member colleges and policymakers.
Before joining TACC, Jacob Cottingham spent six sessions working in the Texas House of Representatives. During his time at the Capitol, he staffed the House Appropriations Committee, with a focus on education finance, as well as the House Higher Education Committee, where he concentrated on affordability and student support policy. Prior to working at the Texas Legislature, he honed his policy skills working in city government and as Policy Director for a County Commissioner.
Mr. Cottingham has a long and varied history within higher education. He graduated from Bard College with a degree in Language & Literature, including time spent studying in Qing Dao, China. He credits additional coursework at his local community college for paving his way to graduate school and he obtained a master’s in public affairs from the LBJ School at the University of Texas in Austin. On occasion, he serves as a guest lecturer for classes at UT Austin.
When he’s not working, Jacob enjoys spending time with his family and two children, smoking meats, and taking advantage of the many natural swimming holes in Central Texas.
Felicia Day serves as the Grants Accountant for the Texas Success Center (TSC). In her role, Ms. Day develops grant reports, budgets, reconciliations, and payment requests in alignment with the grant reporting process. In addition, she ensures that financial information is accurate and in compliance with grant contracts and budgets to assist the association in being a good steward of grant resources.
Before joining TACC, Felicia worked as a Senior Accountant at the City of Lakeway and a CPA in the oil and gas industry.
Day graduated from Houston Baptist University in 2015 with a Master of Accountancy and a BBA with a concentration in accounting. She received her Certified Public Accountant license in 2016 and has been a part of various academic accounting organizations and Texas CPA accounting organizations.
Outside of work, Felicia loves to spend time with her family, go on nature hikes, and make memorable travel experiences.
As the Director of CCATT, Nicole builds trustee and regent capacity through professional development, board engagement, and connecting CCATT members to ongoing legislative issues and strategies coordinated by TACC.
Prior to this role, Nicole served on the Austin Community College District Board of Trustees and CCATT Board of Directors. She participated in the CCATT Legislative Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee between TACC, CCATT, and TCCTA for the 2021 legislative session. Additionally, Nicole served on the Austin Community College Foundation Board.
Eversmann graduated from Austin Community College with an Associate of Arts Degree in General Studies and transferred to the University of Texas at Austin (UT) to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Government with a minor in Educational Psychology. In May 2022, Nicole graduated from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT with a Master’s in Public Affairs and earned the Dean’s Certificate in State & Local Finance.
As the Director of Research and Evaluation, Kristina supports the mission of the Texas Success Center by implementing all research and evaluation processes. She manages internal and external collaborations to ensure projects are high quality, action-oriented, equity-focused, and aligned with the Texas Pathways Knowledge Development Agenda. Additionally, Kristina manages the Knowledge Development Steering Committee, Community College Research Fellowships, Center databases, and performs and supervises quantitative and qualitative analyses. She composes reports and other research deliverables, communicates findings with stakeholders, and informs the creation of training, technical assistance, and professional development for Texas Pathways colleges.
Kristina brings 15 years of teaching and administrative experience to her role. During her 11 years at Austin Community College, she served as an associate professor of mathematics, assistant dean of academic courses, developmental math advisor, and campus math contact to support improvements across the student experience. Kristina holds a baccalaureate degree in Mathematics from Georgetown University, a master's degree in Mathematics from New York University, and a Ph.D. in STEM Education from the University of Texas at Austin.
Sondra Guardado serves as the Program Coordinator for the Texas Association of Community Colleges. In her role, Sondra optimizes the impact of the organization by providing support with logistics, member communications, and event planning for multiple programs and projects.
Before joining TACC, Mrs. Guardado served as the Community Engagement and Partnerships Manager at Girl Scouts of Western Washington, focusing on creating accessible opportunities for diverse families in Seattle. She also spent time as a Program Manager at Bilingual Education for Central America in Honduras where she managed operations for local/international partners to facilitate bilingual academic opportunities in low-income communities.
Guardado holds a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Washington and an M.A. in International Community Development from Northwest University.
Outside of the office, Sondra can be found engaging in all kinds of outdoor activities, visiting family in different parts of the world, or in her kitchen expanding her baking skills.
Nour Hammoudeh serves as the Events Planner for the Texas Success Center at the Texas Association of Community Colleges. In this role, Nour coordinates various logistics including communication with hotels and event contracts, manages registration sites, food and beverage orders, and audio-visual requests for specific educational events. In addition to planning efforts for live events, Hammoudeh supports the management of software for virtual meetings and webinar platforms.
Prior to joining TACC, Nour worked for the Texas State Independent Living Council which provided her with insight into governmental funding and nonprofit policy-driven programs and initiatives. At the Texas SILC, she oversaw the planning and execution of the statewide cross-disability annual conference. Ms. Hammoudeh has worked in the events industry for more than 6 years planning programs for nonprofits, socials, catering, corporate, and agency organizations.
Nour graduated from Austin Community College with an associate's degree in Meeting and Event Planning, and then transferred to the University of Houston to complete her Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management. Nour is also currently serving as Director of Programs for the Meeting Professional International Texas Hill Country Chapter.
Outside of work, Ms. Hammoudeh enjoys spending time with friends, family, and her two cats.
Chelsea Laughrun serves as the Program Coordinator for the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC). In her role, Chelsea provides support to both TACC and the Community College Association of Texas Trustees (CCATT) to coordinate events that actively engage various stakeholders, including association members, partners, and external organizations. Through effective communication and relationship building, Chelsea fosters collaboration and encourages participation in the programs.
Before joining TACC, Ms. Laughrun worked at the Texas State Capitol for both the Texas House and Texas Senate during the 88th and 87th Legislative Session respectively. Chelsea has held a variety of positions from Legislative Aid to Student Ambassador at the University of Texas at Austin.
Laughrun holds a B.A. from the University of Texas with a double major in Government and International Relations & Global Studies. She also graduated with a certificate in Security Studies. During her time at UT, Chelsea was named a Distinguished Liberal Arts Honors Scholar and graduated magna cum laude on the Dean's List.
Outside of the office, Chelsea enjoys exploring Austin, listening to podcasts while walking at parks, and traveling as much as she can!
Amber Obenhaus serves as the Graphic Designer for the Texas Success Center (TSC). In her role, she helps to conceptualize and provide visual graphics for the TSC. Ms. Obenhaus also assists in website management and coordinating audio-visual production for our Texas Pathways Institutes and Board of Trustees Institutes.
Amber joined TACC with 5+ years of graphic design experience working for various design agencies and non-profit organizations. She holds an associates of applied science degree in visual communications specializing in graphic design from Austin Community College.
Outside of TACC, Obenhaus enjoys spending time with friends and family, trying new restaurants, and paddle boarding on the lake.
Ellie Rodriguez serves as the Director for Communications and Public Relations at TACC. She helps maximize the impact of TACC and CCATT by realizing the successful implementation of contemporary communication strategies with a focus on policy advocacy. She also spends time developing suitable methods to broaden the reach of the association and its affiliates.
Before joining TACC, Ms. Rodriguez attended St. Edward’s University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in communication with a concentration in public relations and advertising. While at St. Edward’s, Ms. Rodriguez formed part of the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, the Lambda Pi Eta Communication Honor Society and served as an officer for St. Edward’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter. She graduated Magna Cum Laude in the spring of 2019.
Outside of work, Ms. Rodriguez enjoys attempting to play all instruments, spending time with her family, and traveling to Mexico on random weekends.
Lori Stalheber is the Director of Finance at TACC. She oversees accounting, payroll, maximizes the return on financial assets and is responsible for human resource management. Ms. Stalheber ensures the association remains fiducially responsible and provides accurate reporting to TACC’s members and CEO.
Before joining TACC, Ms. Stalheber lived in Houston, Texas and was the Director of Finance at the St. Martin’s Episcopal Church— the largest Episcopalian church in the country. Prior to this, she contributed to various non-profit organizations.
Having graduated in 2003, Ms. Stalheber holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. While attending St. Thomas, Ms. Stalheber was a member of the accounting honor society along with various other clubs within the university.
Beyond TACC, Ms. Stalheber enjoys cooking, a variety of outdoor exercises and spending time with her family.
As the project manager of the Texas Success Center, Sway Youngston works to improve processes, communication, and efficiency for the Center's signature events and grant reporting efforts.
Sway has grown in many support roles for various industries throughout her 15 + year career and is excited to grow as she learns about the needs of community colleges in Texas. She has a unique perspective as a former student at Texas community colleges and understands the value organizations like TACC provide.
Sway has a BA in communication with a minor in English from the University of Houston. She is furthering her project management knowledge through classes at our very own Austin Community College. She enjoys bicycling, social dancing, and cooking nutritious food.
Andres Alcantar, Principal at Alcantar PPC, provides a full range of public affairs, management, and consulting services.
Andres Alcantar served with great distinction as a public servant building a career that allowed him to be at the forefront of public policy development and implementation in Texas for over two decades. During his career, he was honored to work on issues impacting every function of state government.
Andres recently served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer at the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the state chamber of commerce, working to advance policies to support a strong business climate and job creation.
Alcantar previously served as Chairman and Commissioner Representing the Public at the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). He was appointed by Governor Rick Perry in 2008 and designated Chairman May 2012. At TWC, Andres helped build and lead the premier workforce development system in the country for a decade. Alcantar worked with leaders across the state to implement customized solutions to meet the needs of Texas’ vast array of industries, strengthen regional public-private partnerships, and build education partnerships to advance the development of a skilled, strong, and competitive workforce.
Prior to this appointment, he served as Deputy Director of Governor Rick Perry’s Budget, Planning, and Policy Division, advising the governor on federal, state, and local issues, and providing executive oversight to state boards and commissions. His focus included appropriations, health care, workforce, business, economic development, education, and competitiveness issues. Alcantar also served as an advisor to former Governor George W. Bush in the Office of Budget and Planning working with state boards, commissions, and the Texas Legislature. He advised on business regulation, health and human services, child welfare, workforce, and economic development issues.
Alcantar previously served as a Director for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission where he worked with the Commissioner and other agency heads on strategy development and enterprise reforms.
In his various roles, he worked with education leaders, state agencies, local boards, industry associations, chambers of commerce and EDCs, advocacy groups, non-profits, Texas elected officials, and key stakeholders across the state to build a stronger Texas.
Alcantar has strong, lasting partnerships with leaders across the state and has worked to solve complex issues through his focus on innovation and competitiveness. Alcantar has served on several state and national advisory councils, boards, and commissions.
Dr. Tamara Thornton Clunis is Vice President of Academic Affairs at Amarillo College in Amarillo, Texas. She served as dean of academic success for six years prior to her current role and has led numerous initiatives related to developmental education reform and adult education integration in community colleges. Her model for developmental and adult education integration was recognized by the US Department of Education in 2016. She shares her deep knowledge of effective developmental education reform strategies by serving on statewide and national committees and leads a career pathways peer mentor network for Texas community colleges. Prior to joining Amarillo College, Tamara worked as Director of Developmental and Adult Education at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. In that position, she was responsible for developing a statewide plan for developmental education, with an emphasis on improving student outcomes and increasing alignment between adult basic education and postsecondary education. She has 17 years of experience teaching developmental education and learning framework courses in two-year and four-year institutions. She earned a Master’s Degree in Developmental and Adult Education and a Ph.D. in Adult, Professional, and Community Education from Texas State University-San Marcos.
Martha M. Ellis, Ph.D. serves as President of Mellis LLC, a consulting firm bringing deep experience, substantive knowledge, and research-based innovation to leaders as they confront the challenges and opportunities facing higher education today and in the future. Ellis is a Texas Pathways Coach for the Texas Success Center, Achieving the Dream Leadership Coach, and professor of practice at the University of Texas at Austin.
Previously, Martha was Managing Director for the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining the Dana Center, Dr. Ellis was Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs for the University of Texas System. Martha has 35 years of experience in community colleges in Texas and New Mexico including two college presidencies, provost, chief information officer, undergraduate dean, and faculty member. Ellis has won numerous teaching awards, has scholarly publications, and is an invited speaker at national conferences. Ellis was recognized by the U. S. Congress and Texas House of Representatives for her leadership in higher education.
Dr. Ellis chaired the Appeals Committee for the Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. She was on the Board of the American Association of Community Colleges and the Executive Committee of the Texas Association of Community Colleges. She was a member of the Commission on Women in Higher Education for the American Council of Education and the Board of Educational Affairs for the American Psychological Association. She was president of the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities. Martha has volunteered on various chamber, economic development, and hospital boards.
Martha lives in Austin with her husband Steve.