top of page

Meet Our Team


Christine Y. Mason, PhD

Founder and Executive Director and SEED Grant Co-Principal Investigator

Chris is an educational psychologist and CEI’s Founder and Executive Director. Chris is a nationally recognized expert, consultant, moderator, and frequent speaker on student trauma, mindfulness, children’s mental health, peer supports and teen suicide prevention, listening to youth, furthering equity, and implementing mindfulness, yoga, and meditation in schools. She is also an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry at Yale University’s School of Medicine for the Program for Community Health and Recovery and a co-host of the podcast series Cultivating Resilience: A Whole Community Approach for Alleviating Trauma in Schools.
As part of her continuing collaboration with Yale, Chris became the Co-Principal Investigator of the Compassionate School Leadership Academy (CSLA).


Renee Owen, EdD

Associate Deputy Director, Western Region

Renee is a scholar-practitioner in the fields of adult education and educational leadership. Dr. Owen was a school leader for over 20 years. She founded Paradox Valley Charter School in Colorado as a place-based/project-based school, which was celebrated for closing the achievement gap for low-income rural students. As Head of School at Rainbow Community School in Asheville, NC, Renee was honored as an Ashoka Change Leader for her work in making holistic education more accessible.


Kristol Cleaton

Research Assistant

Kristol is currently finishing her master’s in Neuropsychology at the Universidad Mayor in Santiago, Chile. In hopes of bringing a voice to the constant struggles educators are presently facing, her master’s thesis, “Relationship between stress and cognitive processes in primary schoolteachers working online during the COVID-19 pandemic”, looks into the relationship between stress and cognitive functions in K-12 teacher who had to overcome the hassles of teaching remotely.


Lauren Kiesel, MA

HeartMind e-News Editor and Consultant

Lauren is a researcher and editor passionate about building thoughtful, evidence-based solutions. She is a user experience researcher for a non-profit and has served as a consultant for CEI since 2018 on various projects and publications. She holds an MA in Cognitive Science in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University (2019) and other degrees in integrative neuroscience, evolution, and sustainable food systems.


Laura O'Connell

CSLA Site Coordinator

Laura O'Connell is a career educator with a Master's in Education. She has worked as a general education teacher in both elementary and secondary education, and is currently an education consultant. Laura specializes in self-determination skills, and is a strong advocate for positive school climates and whole child education.


Kevin Simpson, MEd


Kevin 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. Kevin is trained in the Common Core math and has trained teachers worldwide at American curriculum schools.


Hallie Williams

Research Assistant

Hallie Williams joined the Center for Educational Improvement as a research assistant in June 2021, where she writes articles for HeartMind eNews and helps research, write, and edit books and reports. She is in the final year of her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies at Saint Louis University, graduating in May 2024. Her main research interests are in implementing and treating psychological disorders for underserved and under-represented youth and adolescents and how gender acts as a mediating variable toward mental health.


Maria O’Connell, PhD

SEED Grant Co-Principal Investigator and Director of Research

Maria O’Connell, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Research and Evaluation at the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health (PRCH). Dr. O’Connell has provided oversight and quality assurance for collaborative research and evaluation projects conducted at PRCH since 2002.
She is Co-Principal Investigator on the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant from the US Department of Education focused on preparing school leaders in high-need districts to be culturally responsive and proactive in implementing trauma-conscious practices in the classroom.


Margaret Bass

Communications Assistant

Margaret is graduating Hunter College as a Yalow Scholar with a Bachelor's in Clinical Psychology and Sociology. With a passion for Mental Health advocacy and clinical application, she is obtaining a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling in the Fall of 2022. She hopes to assist in the mental health clinical and research field.


Dwanda Glenn-Woodward

Director of Operations

Dwanda Glenn-Woodward works with organizations to facilitate strategic growth and transformation.
She consults with nonprofits, as well as federal and local governments. She has partnered with advocacy groups, industry leaders, and legislative staff on a number of key issues including health care, education, small businesses, and job training. She worked on Capitol Hill for a U.S. Senator and served in senior management for the National Medical Association, Black Women’s Health Imperative, and YWCA USA.


Chandni Lai

Research Assistant

Chandni is a first year graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the Cognitive Psychology Program. Her current research focus is in mind-wandering and attention control in academic settings. She is also a yoga teacher who is passionate in introducing the healing practice of yoga to children. She aims to inspire others with life changing practices through evidence-based research.


Hannah Puttre

Cultural Assessment Research Manager

Hannah is currently working towards her PhD in Applied Human Development at Boston University. Hannah has a strong background in early learning and education research settings and her current PhD work focuses on supporting early learning and bridging achievement gaps for all learners.

Hannah Puttre manages the research aspects of S-CCATE as part of the Compassionate School Leadership Academy.


Martha Staeheli, PhD

Faculty and Director of the School Mental Health Initiative for the New England

Martha Staeheli, Ph.D., is a faculty member at the Program for Recovery and Community Health in the Yale School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and the Director of the School Initiative for the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center. Trained as a secondary English teacher, and with a PhD in Public Health. Her research interests are focused on recovery within substance use and mental health disorders, issues of health disparity and equity, and the health and wellness of under-resourced community, clinical and educational environments.


Meghan Wenzel, MS

Senior Researcher, Writer, and Co-Editor of HeartMind eNews

Meghan is a Senior Researcher, Writer, and Co-Editor of HeartMind eNews 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 is co-author of Compassionate School Practices: Fostering Children's Mental Health and Well-Being.


Jillayne Flanders, MEd, CAGS

Deputy Director

Jill is an education consultant with a long and successful career as an elementary principal and teacher. Upon retirement from the public education system, she was principal of Hadley Elementary School (PK-6), Hadley MA. In that role she oversaw a growing learning community with an average enrollment that literally doubled from 200 to 400 students during her tenure. She is a tireless advocate for early childhood education and she has served on a number of related policy-driven committees, including her appointment to the Advisory Committee of the MA Department of Early Education and Care as its elementary principal representative.


Nicole Benquechea, MA

Social Media Specialist

Nicole R. Benquechea graduated from California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA) in May 2020 with a Master of Arts degree in Psychology. She has a passion for speaking and taking positive action on youth. Currently, she is an intern for the Center for Educational Improvement.


Orinthia Harris, PhD


Orinthia is a dynamic educator with over 10 years of experience both inside and outside the classroom. She has a passion for making learning engaging, and has presented on how to effectively motivate and engage all students, nationally and internationally.


Suzan Mullane, MSEd

Research Associate

Suzan (Sue) is an expert in early childhood trauma, STEM, the brain and project-based learning, gifted education, autism spectrum disorder, and special education. University of Alaska in Anchorage, and has experience as a School Counselor for the Anchorage School District.


Michele Rivers Murphy, EdD

Associate Director, Heart Centered Learning

Michele 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.


Apoorva Vallampati

S-CCATE Manager

Apoorva is the S-CCATE Manager for the Compassionate School Leadership Academy, a collaboration of CEI and the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Apoorva earned her bachelor's degree in Behavioral Neuroscience from The Ohio State University, successfully defending her research thesis in cognitive psychology and language in 2020. This fall, she will join the Cognitive Science PhD program at Tufts University, where she will specialize in cognitive neuroscience under the advisement of Dr. Gina Kuperberg.

bottom of page