Ellis Crasnow, PhD, Director, STEM³ Academy and STEM Education, The Help Group
After earning his PhD in philosophy from USC, Dr. Crasnow taught widely at the college and high school levels, both in the U.S. and South Africa. He secured his CA teaching credential and joined The Help Group in 2008, teaching math, science and English before becoming Principal of Village Glen High School. In 2012, The Help Group began a pilot program at Village Glen High School, which Dr. Crasnow led. The success of that program and its expansion to include STEM infusion into the middle and elementary schools’ curriculum provided the impetus to start STEM³ Academy. Prior to teaching, Dr. Crasnow was a successful entrepreneur. He has two daughters, both in doctoral programs in the University of California system, and is an avid hiker and photographer. Dr. Crasnow is a frequent speaker at conferences, including the annual California STEM Symposium on the importance of STEM education and its benefit to those with social and learning differences. He also produces a weekly blog, which can be found here.
Marie Dacumos, Principal
Dr. Marie Dacumos joins STEM3 Academy with a Doctorate in Education from the University of Southern California, a Masters in Applied Educational Psychology with a Reading Specialist emphasis from Teachers College, Columbia University, a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Southern California, and California credentials in K-12 Administrative Leadership and Multiple Subject Teaching. Prior to joining the STEM3 team, Dr. Dacumos served as the Chief Academic Officer for ICEF Public Schools, a network of charter schools located in South Los Angeles and Inglewood. As the Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Dacumos supervised the instructional programs in ten K-12 schools, as well as all initiatives related to principal and teacher effectiveness, Common Core instruction, special education, providing social and emotional support to students and families, and increasing arts access to all students. Dr. Dacumos has experience as a Principal, Literacy Specialist, and Classroom Teacher. Her research interests include school reform initiatives, effective pedagogy, teacher and principal evaluation, education policy and literacy for diverse student populations, specifically with integration of STEM curricula. Dr. Dacumos is excited to join the STEM3 team and currently resides in the San Fernando Valley.
Vanessa Carrillo, Assistant Principal and College & Career Counselor
Vanessa Carrillo has worked in higher education for more than 10 years. She began her career at USC in the School of Cinematic Arts, advising graduate students seeking advanced degrees in Television, Film, and Screenwriting. She also advised undergraduate and graduate students at UCLA in the Comparative Literature Department. Working in higher education was rewarding, but it wasn’t until she took on a part-time teaching position at California State University, Northridge that she fell in love with the high school population. Teaching ESL classes to international students from around the world, she became fascinated with the idea of making a difference in the lives of under-represented students who want to continue their education. Vanessa graduated with a Master’s of Science degree in Counseling and Guidance from California Lutheran University.
Clare Baek fell in love with math during her sophomore year of college at the University of California San Diego, which led her to a BA in Pure Mathematics. She continued her studies at San Diego State University, receiving a MA in Pure Mathematics. It was while working on her Master’s thesis, which involved generating a mathematical phenomenon using programming, that she realized the profound connection between math and real-world problem solving – and how the beauty of math could be portrayed efficiently through technology. Baek went on to pursue her dream of teaching and mentoring students with special needs, receiving her MA in Special Education with a Mild/Mod Teaching Credential from the University of San Diego. Baek is thrilled to be part of STEM³ Academy and its innovative STEM learning process.
Jonas Holmlund graduated with a Master’s degree in Education at Umea University, Sweden and a Master’s of Science (Econ.) in Postcolonial Politics at Aberystwyth University, UK.
He began his teaching career in Sweden, where he holds a teaching credential, working both as a substitute teacher and a resource teacher for students with special needs. After moving to California, Holmlund worked for The Help Group as an Instructional Aide before becoming a Teacher Specialist at the Village Glen High School, teaching AP World History, U.S. History, Government, and Economics. He also helped organize the Student Council, all while taking part in an internship credential program at UCLA Extension. At STEM³ Academy, he looks forward to the constant opportunities for collaboration and integration among teachers and students that the school offers.
Megumi Guillaume was earning a degree in Microbiology at U.C. Berkeley and UCLA when she happened to take a teaching position at a LA-area high school. She quickly fell in love with the profession and has been teaching for 30 years. After raising two daughters, Guillaume went back and earned her Special Education credential. For the past decade, she has worked at The Help Group, providing instruction to students and helping to implement the new STEM program at the Culver City Campus. She loves working with the students and integrating different media and project-based lessons to help students be successful in the learning process. She is playing a vital role at the STEM³ Academy, helping develop creative curriculum and integrating hands-on projects into all subject areas.
Growing up in New York City, Sarah Francis was encouraged to pursue literature by her mother, a novelist and English professor. In high school, she achieved stellar scores on her AP English exams and created her own independent study course on Welsh literature.
She earned her B.A. in Literature and Creative Writing from Eckerd College in Florida, concentrating on Victorian and Early Modern Literature. While studying in Italy, she found her passion for teaching English to Italian students. She graduated with honors on her comprehensive examinations and on her senior creative writing portfolio.
Francis is a freelance editor and has had her nonfiction essays published in literary magazines, including Prime Number Magazine. She is excited for the opportunity to inspire new students and to share her passion for education with her pupils.
As a California native, Allison Neilsen developed a love for Spanish at an early age – taking her first Spanish class in Kindergarten. After graduating high school, she made a cross-country move to pursue her education at Malone University in Ohio, graduating with a dual Bachelor’s degree in History and Spanish. She studied in Seville, Spain before continuing her education at the University of Akron, where she earned a Master of Arts in Urban Studies, which emphasized the importance of community organization, involvement, and progress.
Neilsen has held a variety of positions in the educational sphere, working with children ranging from preschool through college. She is excited to be bringing her passion and knowledge to the education process at STEM³ Academy!
Kathleen Cornell, Elementary School
Kathleen Cornell earned her degree in Graphic Arts with an emphasis in Film and Video Production. While pursuing a career in filmmaking, she was drawn to teaching, and went on to earn her credential in Special Education at California Lutheran University. Before receiving her teaching credential, she was the Director of Operations at Moviola Digital, a school specializing in training digital artists; the Operations manager for the Small Business Development Center, an organization mandated by the SBA and California Community Colleges to educate small business owners on business operation; and worked in Support Employment for Pleasant View Industries, an organization teaching adults with special needs the skills needed to obtain employment. Cornell is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Special Education.
Eric Shelley is originally from the Midwest, but he has lived and worked throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Caribbean. He graduated from Indiana University with degrees/concentrations in Psychology, Sociology, and Theatre and Drama. Previously, Shelley was a private tutor and mentor – focusing on teaching mathematics, life skills, and English – for students with academic and behavioral challenges.
He has worked for The Help Group for several years, including one year teaching in Village Glen School’s STEM program. He is excited to share his love of education and teaching with the students and team at the STEM³ Academy.
Jessica graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in the History of Art. After her nephew was diagnosed with Autism, she took a special interest in the disorder and began working with adults with disabilities at Easter Seals. She developed a passion for helping participants gain important vocational skills in addition to encouraging them to become active members of their community by founding the first Self Advocacy Group at their Pacoima site. She enjoys helping people of all ages grow and reach their full potential and is excited to bring this enthusiasm to her work at the STEM³ Academy.
Jared Kaplan-Pucker is passionate about technology and mathematics, and is inspired to share his knowledge with the next generation of learners. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley and attended CHAMPS Charter High School, where he was a vital part of the Robot Academy’s success. He played a critical role in the mechanical design of the robot and, as programmer and head designer, was integral to the team’s State VEX Pro championship win and two Vex World Championship of Robotics victories.Kaplan-Pucker has worked extensively with Auto CAD and Solid Works on many design projects. He studied mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, taking classes in physics, calculus, mechanical engineering, CNC machining, and CAD.
Michael grew up just outside of Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. He graduated with a degree in French from Yale University, where he also rowed for the crew team. Encouraged by his father, a published author and Lecturer in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Michael developed a passion for academics and teaching at a young age. Prior to joining The Help Group, Michael was working as a private tutor and mentor, focusing primarily on language instruction in English, French and Spanish. He is thrilled to be part of STEM3 Academy and to share his passion for academics with students and staff alike!
Brian has been passionate about technology and digital entertainment for most of his life and had decided from an early age that his calling was in the digital arts. Studying 3D modeling and computer animation throughout high school, he entered Penn State's college of Arts and Architecture in the Interdisciplinary Digital Studio program and graduated as a Bachelor of Design with a minor in Information Science and Technology. Over the course of his education, he discovered a strong interest in programming and was inspired by the flexible and efficient strength of code-driven work. Brian is honored to be a part of the STEM3 Academy and finds nothing more exciting or joyous than learning and sharing that joy with others.
Gin Park and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 2007 from Korea, the country where he was born and spent more than half of his lifetime. After graduating from a high school in New Hampshire, he went to Middlebury College and Cornell University, studying Mathematics and Physics. Before coming to STEM3 Academy, Gin tutored high school students (mathematics) in Korea, and it was during that time he discovered his love of teaching. Now that he is a member of the STEM3community, he looks forward to sharing his experience, and in doing so, hopes to make a positive contribution to the STEM3 community.
After college, Jonathan worked as a private tutor, learning how to communicate with parents and students in order to create better learning environments. Afterwards, he was the assistant director at a learning center where he got experience managing a roomful of students.
As an instructional aide, Jonathan is excited to assist teachers with classroom management. With his skillset, he can also support the teacher in any STEM-heavy subject matter.
Jonathan enjoys keeping up with current events, football, and TV shows. During his free time, he loves going to bookstores, record shops, and comic book stores.
As a teacher’s assistant, Lauren Pluchino is focused on developing solid relationships with her students and supporting them academically and socially. As a student and in-demand tutor, Lauren was always active in mathematics, and went on to earn her degree in pure mathematics from UC Davis. She was also an active cross country and long distance runner, and still enjoys taking her young son with her on long hikes. At STEM3 Academy, Lauren’s favorite activity is spending individualized time with the students and fostering personal relationships with them.
Catherine Lee, LCSW
Catherine Lee moved into the field of social work after studying psychology at UCLA, driven, in part, by her experience as a drug counselor and her passion for working with children and adolescents. She joined The Help Group in 2003 as a school-based therapist before becoming Associate Clinical Director of the Van Nuys campus and, subsequently, Clinical Director of the Valley Glen campus. Lee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who uses a strengths-based approach in clinical practice and believes in the power of community and relationships. Her passions include group therapy, team-building, baking, and reading.
Erin Bateman, Psy.D.
Driven for her passion for working with children and adolescents, Erin Bateman received her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Family Psychology from Azusa Pacific University – a program accredited by the American Psychological Association. Throughout her training, Bateman has enjoyed working with young people with unique challenges and special needs. She has also gathered experience contributing to IEPs and working in a variety of school settings. She is currently working towards attaining licensure.
Michelle Jackson, Psy.D.
Michelle Jackson received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University, a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Jackson has experience working with children, adolescents, and families across various settings, and she is passionate about supporting children with atypical and/or special needs. She has provided therapy in multiple formats, including individual, group, and family therapy, and she utilizes a variety of techniques in order to meet each student’s needs. Her familiarity with school-based work, including experience attending IEPS as a therapist and assessor, allows her to assist families with this process. Jackson is currently working towards licensure.
Since joining The Help Group in 2011, Tamika DeCambra has provided integral support to the STEM³ Academy and Advance LA programs. She serves as an initial point of contact for campus visitors, handles a variety of administrative duties for staff, and provides support to the campus. DeCambra attends CSUN as a dual major student in Liberal Studies and Business and Administration. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two school-aged sons.