August 2, 2009

Our Team

Meet Our Cadre of Professionals

The Center for Educational Improvement (CEI) team includes experienced leaders, speakers, technical experts and trainers whose expertise is critical to today’s educational needs. With this cadre of professionals, CEI brings 21st century expertise to our work addressing international education; differentiating instruction; early childhood education; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula; social emotional learning, mindfulness and Heart Centered Learning™; special education; school leadership; principal mentorships; and improving reading and math instruction.


Christine Mason, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist and CEI’s Founder and Executive Director. She is responsible for research, professional development, and special initiatives. Chris is a nationally recognized expert in the area of educational reform, mindfulness, teacher mentoring, and special education. She has made more than 500 national, international, regional, and local presentations on topics ranging from inclusion and IDEA to student self-determination and integrating the arts.

Chris has served as a researcher, professor, senior scientist in disability education, university professor, evaluator, consultant, and entrepreneur. She has also served as an Interim Principal at the Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar, India; Director of Professional Development for the Student Support Center in Washington, D.C.; a Senior Research Scientist with CESSI in McLean, Va.; and the Senior Director for Research and Development with the Council for Exceptional Children in Arlington, VA. She is an IKYTA certified yoga instructor with 17 years experience teaching weekly yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes She is also a certified radiant child yoga instructor.

Chris has authored more than 100 books and articles; and served as the principal investigator, director or evaluator on over 15 national projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health. Two of these projects focused on teacher mentoring and several projects involved best practices implementation. She has served on many national panels and advisory committees and led strategic planning for federal and project initiatives at two national organizations. She received her doctorate in Educational Psychology from The Ohio State University and has received awards as a Distinguished Researcher (in Montana) and fellowships for post-doctorate work both from the University of Washington and also to assist with educational planning in India.


Technical Experts and Trainers

Dana Asby, M.A., M.Ed., Director of Innovation and Research Support. After seven years as a classroom teacher, from preschool to junior high school in Missouri, Georgia, New York City, and Japan, she transitioned to a career in education reform and development. She is the co-founder of Parent in the Moment, a mindfulness-based parent education service that helps parents understand how their stress affects their family relationships and how mindfulness can help support happiness, peace, and the bond of love.

In addition to her work bringing mindfulness to schools in New England and around the nation with CEI, she has also written growth mindset-based curriculum for Mindset Works, Inc. to improve the mindsets of students and teachers. Dana is passionate about transforming education and family life to be more intentional, compassionate, and community focused.

Kaela Farrise, M.A., Program Assistant, Innovation & Research Support is a therapist and consultant on issues related to the empowerment of communities of color, the experiences of people of color in predominantly white spaces, and in perceptions and treatment of mental health and mental illness in marginalized communities. Kaela holds an M.A. in clinical psychology with specializations in community psychology and trauma psychology and a B.A. from Stanford University in urban studies with a focus on urban education, and African and African American studies. In her previous roles she worked as Assistant Director of a non-profit in Los Angeles developing programming to support students of color in predominantly white K-12 environments, as a therapist in a domestic violence emergency shelter, and as a behavioral therapist with children with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. She frequently presents to middle and high schools, colleges, and professional organizations on topics related to mental health and wellness, self-care, empowerment of students of color, impacts of trauma, and healthy relationships.

Orinthia Harris, Ed.D., a member of CEI’s Faculty, is a dynamic educator with over 10 years of experience both inside and outside the classroom.  She collects, analyzes, and interprets data related to academic goals and teacher effectiveness. She has assisted in implementing after school and community-based intervention programs with the Columbia Association, the Boys & Girls Club, charter schools, and several faith based organizations. She served in her districts ESOL department where she designed and implemented brain-based lesson for elementary ESOL students. She has a passion for making learning engaging, and has presented on how to effectively motivate and engage all students.

She is a member of Center for Applied Science and Technology’s (CAST) faculty cadre, where she developed free resources that link UDL and the Common Core State Standards for National center on UDL. She earned her doctoral degree at Notre Dame of Maryland University. Her thesis focused on the effect of teacher perceptions on STEM achievement.

Suzan Mullane, MSEd., Research Associate and Trustee, is an expert in early childhood trauma, STEM, the brain and project-based learning, gifted education, autism spectrum disorder, and special education. Suzan is certified K-12, with over 25 years of teaching experience at the preschool, elementary, middle, high school and collegiate levels. She is a former Adjunct Professor of Education at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, and has experience as a School Counselor for the Anchorage School District. Suzan helped to develop and coordinate Anchorage’s STEM initiative. She has helped to reduce the impact of childhood trauma in West Virginia and has presented, internationally, on exemplary educational practices.

Suzan has presented at the Governor’s School in Fredericksburg, Va., on twice exceptionalities (gifted and autism spectrum disorder). In 2007, she was selected as a BP Teacher of Excellence. In 2011, Mullane received the North Star Service Recognition Award with an accommodation from her superintendent: ‘Your work with at-risk youth has been nothing short of extraordinary.’

Jennifer Ozgur, Visioning & Appreciative Inquiry Consultant, is a certified brain-based, trauma-informed, and culturally-responsive facilitator, (TranZed Alliance, Baltimore) and Certified Appreciative Inquiry facilitator, (Xchange, Cleveland). She also is a public school teacher with over 20 years teaching English, reading, and writing. A published children’s author and columnist, Jennifer is also well-versed in social emotional learning and parent education. She serves as a parent education vendor for the Philadelphia school district and is a national speaker and educational consultant.

Michele Rivers Murphy, Ed.D., CEI’s Associate Director of Heart Centered Learning, is a seasoned consultant, presenter, and educational leader. A change agent for over two decades, she has helped transform some of the highest-needs neighborhoods and districts by improving student engagement, school culture, and academic success.

Michele’s organizational research specifically addresses the challenges associated with childhood trauma and stress that compromise learning and teaching. Through building compassionate, supportive school environments, educators learn to find balance between social-emotional health and well-being and academic achievement.

Michele has served as an educational leader at all grade levels. As an administrator, she created an innovative disciplinary approach as an alternative to in-school and out-of-school suspension, completely eliminating in-school suspension and decreasing out-of-school suspension by 75 percent. In addition, she expanded high-needs programming to a mainstream setting, with a focus on real-life practice, service, and connection to community. She also created a 21st century school community model, which she presented to the Massachusetts secretary of education.

Michele obtained a doctoral degree in educational leadership (K–12) from Northeastern University. She also holds multiple certifications in both regular and special education.

Kathleen Sciarappa, Ph.D., has 26 years of experience as an elementary and middle school principal and has received numerous awards for her work. She was an urban educator in Ohio and now pursues her interest in working with aspiring, new, and practicing principals. Currently active as a mentor, adjunct professor, and educational consultant, Kathleen coordinates a statewide mentor program for school leaders in New Hampshire and facilitates principal networks.

Kevin Simpson, M.Ed. has 15 years in education with K-16 roles ranging from teacher, specialist, lead teacher, mentor, coordinator, adjunct professor, and consultant. He has taught a range of grade levels and content areas. The last ten years he has focused on mathematics. Kevin has experience with the International Baccalaureate Programmes (Primary Years Programme, Middle Years Programme). Kevin is trained in the Common Core math and has trained teachers worldwide at American curriculum schools.

He has also worked in USA, Bahrain, Laos, Thailand, Lebanon, China, Kuwait, Venezuela, Dominica, Qatar, Egypt, Colombia, Nigeria, Jordan, South Africa, Honduras, and the United Arab Emirates with international schools, professional development providers, education organizations, Ministries of Education, and accreditation organizations. He was a National Consultant with the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative, which provided effective, research-based practices to educators across the country. Kevin has served as a CEI math presenter and consultant.

Meghan Wenzel, M.S., is a Researcher and Writer with the Center for Educational Improvement. With a background in developmental cognitive neuroscience and education, Meghan is very interested in early brain development and subsequent school performance and life opportunities. She has studied how early life stress negatively impacts the brain and examined how well-designed and timely interventions might alleviate these deficits. Meghan studied Cognitive Neuroscience at Brown University and focused on the developing brain and its implications for learning and education. She studied Neuroscience and Education during her Masters at Teachers College, where she worked in Professor Kimberly Noble’s lab on Neurocognition, Early Experience and Development investigating how socioeconomic inequality impacts brain development.

During her senior year at Brown, she worked at KidsCount, a policy and advocacy non-profit organization focused on improving the health, safety, education, economic well-being, and development of Rhode Island’s children. After graduation, she worked at Knewton, an educational technology company focused on building an adaptive learning platform to provide more personalized learning experiences. She currently does user experience research and strategy to help shape educational technology, human resources, and business analytics products. She is interested in uncovering and understanding big problems and working to collaboratively and iteratively develop appropriate solutions.

IMG_0008mary woodsMary Woods, M.A., South Carolina, CEI Leadership Associate, has served as a teacher, media specialist, curriculum consultant, assistant principal, and principal. She has presented at National Association of Elementary Principals and the National Blue Ribbon Association, among others. She has authored multiple grants, receiving over $1.6 million for 21st Century Learning and Supplemental Educational Services grants.

Mary is collaborating with CEI to facilitate 21st Century Leadership, with a focus on heart centered education and CEI’s partnership with Operation Respect. Mary has a strong background in science and is also assisting CEI with STEM/STEAM workshops for Administrators. A Cum Laude graduate from Benedict College, Mary received her master’s degree in elementary education from the University of South Carolina. Mary not only is known for her leadership, she cultivates excellence in those who work with her. She has received numerous awards, among the many, awards as the National Distinguished Principal, Order of the Palmetto- the highest civilian honor in South Carolina, NASA Ambassador, SCASA Principal of the Year, the SC PTA Principal of the Year, and Teacher of the Year.

Mary Woods has had a library named after her, a day declared in her name by the Mayor of Greenville, and commendations from the South Carolina State and Senate. She has also been a Milken finalist. She has also held numerous offices including being President of Elementary Division of SCASA. Under Mary’s leadership, her school received over 30 top honors (for reading, PTA, writing, science, service learning, web site, art, and public relations). Among these were the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award, Milken Teacher of the Year, International Science Teacher of the Year, National Exemplary Reading Award, State PTA Program of the Year Award, State Exemplary Writing Hall of Fame Mentor, National Public Relations Golden Achievement Award, South Carolina International Reading Award, National Science Teaching Award, Astronomy & Space Science Award, CIBA-GEIGY Award for Excellence in Elementary Science, International Science Teacher of the Year, NCNB Young Artist Showcase Award, NASA Newest Program, National Presidental Award for Math and Science, and the North American Invention Convention Winner.

CEI Interns

Our interns conduct background research and create products for CEI and the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative, including our Compassion Action e-Newsletter and CEI’s blog.

Evelyn Cordero is an MA student in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Spirituality and Mind-Body practice at Teachers College, Columbia University. Evelyn’s research interests are around self-actualization with a focus on young adults from marginalized backgrounds. 

Jennie Liang Is pivoting from marketing to mental health after her work in suicide prevention highlighted the importance of connecting populations in need to mental health resources and interventions. She is particularly interested in the roles of mindfulness, compassion, and interpersonal relationships as key protective factors and is excited to learn how CEI integrates and implements them to address childhood trauma.

Melody Mann’s journey in academia and passion for mental health has led her through education, special education, and equitable practices for students from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds. She seeks to pursue a PhD in Education, Special Education, Developmental Psychology, or related fields in order to continue her enrichment on the path of knowledge.  

Kelsey Remeis is a third year at The Ohio State University studying neuroscience with a Design Thinking minor. She is also a yoga instructor, who blends her science background with yoga and mindfulness to heal both the mind and body.

Zenisha Shah, M.A. is a recent graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University, where she studied developmental psychology. She is currently bringing her knowledge about educational psychology to her home country, India.

Jackson Sims is a senior Psychology major at Hendrix College. His areas of interest are recreational therapy, moral emotions, and compassion (both for yourself and others).

Jenna Wyman is a senior Psychology major at Amherst College where she works in the Child Learning and Development Lab. She also worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Human Development and Social Change at NYU and at the Ounce of Prevention Fund in Chicago.

CEI Support Team

  • Monica Jerbi, Web Consultant
  • Ingrid Padgett, Director, Communications and Development