Our Staff

Ellis CrasnowPhD, 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.

David R. Ewart Jr., MEd, Principal of STEM3 Academy, Valley Glen

David is a California native and has served over 25 years in education and administration with 15 years dedicated to STEM interests and a decade serving as leader, director, and school site administrator in Shasta County, California. He graduated with his Bachelors and Masters in Educational Leadership and Administration from Simpson University and continued to pursue STEM education initiatives and learning projects.

David is an active curriculum planner and grant writer and has been awarded grants in curriculum development related to STEM education, global commerce and entrepreneurship as well as UAV and Drone Technology. He launched STEM community outreach that facilitated NASA programs in space science, research based inquiry learning models and math education. David has built STEM program pipelines for students to take their science and engineering fair projects to the Intel Science and Engineering Events. Created volunteer programs for middle school and high school students to serve as STEM docents, and provide leadership in formal STEM education, informal community outreach and summer STEM camps.


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

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

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

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.


Eric Shelley

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 Tacata

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

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.

Brian Maynard

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.

Meghan Spencer
Meghan Spencer earned her Bachelor’s in Anthropology and a minor in Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2013.  While at UCLA, she studied under and was a research assistant for the Evolutionary Anthropologist Daniel M.T. Fessler, helping to conduct experiments in which the ties between evolution and human morality are explored.  After graduating, Meghan went into sales and customer service where she gained experience working for, among others, Gordon Ramsay and Hyundai Motor Inc.  Subsequently, Meghan began substitute teaching for LAUSD.  After only one month teaching, Meghan was asked to take over a class for students diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. She knew right away that she wanted to work with students who weren’t neuro-typical.  Meghan is currently earning her credential as an intern in Special Education at California State University of Northridge.  She is immensely excited to work at STEM3 Academy, where she can combine her passion for academia with her passion for working with diverse learners. 

Lauren Pluchino

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.


Tamika DeCambra

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.