Senior Strategy Advisor

Why Karla does this work...

I entered the work of higher education in prison through the intersection of educational equity & immigrants rights. I am proud to advocate for systemic change because I know that my ability to pursue higher education was not by merit or luck - it was by the removal of a policy barrier once I became a citizen of the United States. My personal and professional experiences navigating education as a first-generation Mexican immigrant have rooted me deeply in the movement for educational justice and I found my place in education at THEI - recommending and influencing education policy. I work towards systemic change in higher education policy so that access to education can serve as a lever for opportunity, not a tool for punishment.

Karla Coleman-Castillo joined THEI in 2019 and is the Director of Policy and Practice, and then shifted in 2022 to serve in a policy advisory capacity. Prior to joining THEI she served as the Director of Strategic Alignment for Adult Learner Initiatives for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and as the Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at Conexión Américas. Karla was born in México and raised in Texas. Karla earned her Master’s of Education from Vanderbilt University and her Bachelor of Arts from Baylor University. She has served on the boards of Moves and Grooves Inc. and the Maddox Charitable Fund, and been a Commission member for the Nashville Community Education program. Karla was also a Higher Education Advocacy, Equity, and Policy Fellow with the Education Trust and a member of the Nashville Emerging Leaders 2018 cohort, and the Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute 2017 class.