Our Staff
Ellis Crasnow
Director, STEM³ Academy and STEM Education, The Help Group

After earning his PhD in philosophy from USC, Dr. Crasnow taught widely at the college level, both in the U.S. and South Africa. He joined The Help Group in 2008, teaching high school math, science and English before becoming Principal of Village Glen High School. In 2012, The Help Group began a STEM program that Dr. Crasnow led. Dr. Crasnow is a frequent international speaker at conferences on the importance of STEM education and its benefit to those with social and learning differences. Dr. Crasnow speaks on the integration of STEM content and social emotional leaning.
Valley Glen
Greg Constant
Principal

We’re excited to welcome Greg Constant to STEM³ Academy as the new Principal at our Valley Glen campus! Greg was most recently Principal of The Help Group’s Bridgeport School and has worked in special education administration for over 20 years. Greg has an MA in Sociology, an MA in Educational Administration and a Juris Doctor. He has a love of math and science and is excited to bring his passion for learning to STEM³ Academy. We are thrilled to have him join us as our new Principal!
Vanessa Ornelas
Assistant Principal and College & Career Counselor

Vanessa Ornelas 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.

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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.

Neil Schwartz
We were excited to welcome Neil Schwartz to the team this year as our Community Partnerships Consultant. Neil has been instrumental in developing our Advisory Board, creating strategic partnerships with STEM-focused companies and other community leaders, bringing in guest speakers to talk with students, and securing sponsors and exhibitors for events such as the upcoming Innovation Fair.

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Neil is a career market-researcher and advisor, having provided consumer-focused growth recommendations for Fortune 500 companies. Neil has also mentored some of the brightest young talents in disciplines of analysis, presentation and writing. Coming to STEM3 Academy has fulfilled Neil’s lifelong dream of applying his skills to the social good. We are grateful to have Neil with us and look forward to the continued positive impact he will have on our schools and students.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Ellen McCullagh

Ellen McCullagh got her BA in Math from the University of Chicago. After teaching English abroad in Barcelona, she returned home and completed a MS in Secondary Math Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her first year teaching full-time, Ellen was asked to teach Computer Science. It was this experience that led her to rediscover her passion for programming, making and technology in general. After teaching for a few years, Ellen moved to San Francisco where she wrote curriculum for Girls Who Code. Ellen is very excited to be joining STEM³ Academy and hopes to show her students just how creative they can be with technology.

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After teaching for a few years, Ellen moved to San Francisco where she wrote curriculum for Girls Who Code. Ellen is very excited to be joining STEM³ Academy and hopes to show her students just how creative they can be with technology.

Lindsey Sanders

Lindsey Sanders earned her Bachelor's Degree in Education at Northern Arizona University in beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona. She taught 6th grade math and science for eight years and found a deep love for the subjects. She stayed home for 10 years to raise three children and is now back in the classroom. Lindsey is working on earning her Master's Degree in Special Education.
Michelle Harwood

Michelle began working with children at the age of 15, volunteering at an outdoor summer day camp leading group activities, teaching archery and swimming. Her interests and passion for working with children continued into college. Michelle received her BS in Educational Foundations at the University of Oregon, minoring in Special Education.

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After Oregon, she continued her studies at California State University, Northridge, receiving her Mild/Moderate credential. She is excited to be a member of the STEM3 Academy team and is looking forward to the academic year!

Sandie Knuth

Sandie Knuth earned her Bachelor’s in the History of Science from Princeton University. She discovered a passion for working with youth while volunteering as a counselor at a summer camp for children facing health challenges and social isolation. Upon graduating, she organized volunteers to support youth and adults in education programs in Philadelphia prisons and worked as an instructional assistant for young students with autism.

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She sees the study of history as essential for developing literacy and critical thinking skills, and uses creative, student-centered approaches to learning history to foster rich understandings of local and global communities. In her free time, she enjoys running and reading science fiction.

Loveleen Sharma-Chopra

Loveleen Sharma-Chopra is receiving her Ph.D. from Cleveland State University in Learning & Development (Educational Psychology) and is currently an ABD (All But Dissertation). Chopra earned dual Master’s degrees in Education and English Literature from Panjab University, India, where she excelled, winning accolades and awards for academics and extra-curricular activities (dance, music, sports). Chopra has presented at conferences and published her research in quantitative as well as qualitative research journals. She won a best research award for her pilot study for dissertation.

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Ms. Chopra has worked in academic, non-academic and research positions with colleges, universities and organizations. Ms. Chopra has a passion for teaching and serving the underprivileged populations and has worked for four years teaching ESL to refugees and immigrants at USCRI field Office in Ohio. Her research interests include acculturation, gender studies, immigrant education, and alternative schooling.

She believes that a skillful educator builds good relationships with her students based on mutual respect and trust, and sets the tone for a classroom community.

In her free time, Ms. Chopra likes to travel, read, teach Bollywood Dance classes, spend time with her family, play badminton, cooking, fashion designing, and hosting.

Thalia Estrella

Thalia earned her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. As an undergrad, she spent several summers and semesters serving underrepresented youth interested in STEM subjects as an instructor, mentor, and teaching assistant for the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. She also worked with engineering societies to plan science workshops for local students and volunteered as a literacy tutor at the Cambridge Community Center.

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Through these experiences, Thalia realized she has a passion for teaching and improving education. In particular, she is excited about bringing engineering curriculum to the primary and secondary school level, combining design and creativity with technology to create new innovations and exploring different learning methods.

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.

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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.

Jonathan Chavez

Jonathan Chavez earned his B.S. in Mathematics from UC Irvine. He developed his interest in teaching while completing field work at a elementary school in Santa Clarita with at-risk youth. After graduating, he privately tutored kids in mathematics and studied methodologies in teaching. Jonathan also began practicing his language and learning more about his Mexican heritage after discovering the local latino art and food culture. When not in the classroom, he enjoys rock climbing, eating vegan pastries, and visiting pop-art galleries.
Diane Sagredo-Zelaya

Diane Sagredo-Zelaya earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and minor in Gender Studies in spring 2016. While studying at UCLA she took a Gender Studies Disability in Sports course where she became interested in physical and mental disabilities and wanted to learn more on how students can thrive despite having disabilities and/or social differences.

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She has worked as an ESL teacher on the 51 talk platform, program leader at the YMCA and ARC program.  She has over seven years of experience working as a teacher’s assistant with elementary students and elementary students on the spectrum.

She looks forward to improving students’ skills and abilities by bringing her personal knowledge, skill, and ability to reach a variety of students from different backgrounds.

Megan Mittelberg

Megan graduated from Santa Clara University with a bachelor's degree in Psychology. She developed a passion for neurodiversity early on in college and joined a developmental psychology research lab which studied reading with preschoolers on the spectrum. Megan has also independently studied autism, learning disabilities, and gifted students.

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She tutored special education students in reading and reading comprehension for two years. Her aim is to help students with learning differences realize their full potential.

Catherine Lee

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.

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Her passions include group therapy, team-building, baking, and reading.

Gisoo Mohandesi

Gisoo has always had passion working with children and adolescents. Gisoo earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Child and Adolescent Development from California State University Northridge. After working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder for four years, she went back to graduate school and earned her Master’s Degree in Psychology from Phillips Graduate University.

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Gisoo is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who uses more system focused approaches and believes in working collaboratively with students and their families.

Sarah Akin

Sarah first started working with children and youth as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster youth in Riverside County. Through this experience, Sarah developed a passion for mentoring and advocating for vulnerable populations, and empowering individuals to advocate for themselves.

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Sarah worked for two years as a Youth Partner in a residential treatment program before returning to school and earning a Master of Social Work degree from California State University, San Bernardino. She has experience working with children and families in academic and residential settings, and loves helping her clients use their strengths to thrive in their daily lives. Sarah loves books, baking, hiking, and spending time with family!

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.

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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.

Culver City
Larry Ross
Principal

Larry Ross joined us last year as the Principal at STEM³ Academy Culver City. Larry graduated from The University of Georgia with his bachelor’s degree in Special Education. After earning his degree, Larry relocated to Los Angeles, where he began his career with The Help Group. He taught CORE Elementary and Elementary Sunrise while at the Culver City campus. Larry continued his career by becoming the Assistant Principal for Village Glen K-8 at the Sherman Oaks campus.

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He has many years of experience working with students with autism and related challenges. Larry’s passion as the STEM3 Principal is to continue to enrich the program in Culver City to best meet the needs of its very talented, curious and engaged students.

Teresa Castellon

Teresa Castellon graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a double bachelor’s degree in Latin American and Latino Studies and Sociology. While earning her degrees, she worked as an academic coach for the Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) for middle school and high school students in the Bay Area. After finishing school in 2005 she returned to Los Angeles and began working as a teacher’s aide at Village Glen West.

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It was then that she found her true passion for teaching and decided to go back to school in order to earn her teaching credential and master’s degree in Mild to Moderate Special Education with an emphasis in Autism Spectrum Disorders at the California State University, Los Angeles.

Teresa Castellon enjoys helping students reach their full potential and is excited to bring this enthusiasm to her work at the STEM3 West Academy.

Mary Ellen O’Donnell

Mary Ellen comes to The Help Group with Master’s Degrees in both Education and in Computer Science and Engineering. She has taught at several K-12 schools in both Los Angeles and Boston, community colleges and universities. Mary Ellen has been a FIRST Robotics mentor for 8 years at an inner city school and she also founded and coached an all-girl team, which won the FIRST Highest Rookie Seed Award for the Los Angeles Division.

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She also teaches AP Physics to inner city students in USC’s NAI program to help prepare them for college. Before becoming a teacher, Mary Ellen worked for 25 years as a software engineer and developed software for several defensive missile systems, including the ones defending the U.S., Japan and South Korea. She also developed software for NASA. Mary Ellen’s passion is showing under-served students how interesting, rewarding and exciting careers are in the science, math and engineering fields.​

Robin Thompson

Robin joins the Help Group this year as the ELA/Government teacher at STEM^3 Academy West. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education with Autism Certification and has taught students with learning differences in a variety of settings ranging from an inner-city charter school to a therapeutic-based private school.

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 Robin’s goal is to create a safe learning environment where our bright and curious students are comfortable taking risks and stepping outside their comfort zones. She wants to help students embrace their mistakes and use them to further their learning while instilling in them a love of literature.

Outside of school, Robin enjoys hikes with her husband and sons as well as cooking new and creative dishes.

Aida Duran

Aida Duran graduated from UC Merced with a major in sociology and an emphasis in Spanish. During her transition to college, she collaborated with Pepperdine University to evaluate Khan Academy videos to see how effective they were to student learning. She then became involved in a Mentor program in college where they guided students with academic and moral support.

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When she returned back to Los Angeles, she did an internship with Los Angeles County Probation where she helped minors stay on track to finish their probation period. Right after that internship she became part of the The Help Group family by becoming an instructional aide at Village Glen West. Now she is on her second year of teaching at STEM³ Academy Culver City.

Feisal Khoushab

Feisal has earned degrees in computer science, bioengineering, natural resources, biology, and is currently working towards his education degree. He has two patents, has published articles in international journals, and has presented at international conferences. While doing scientific research, Feisal found that he was interested in teaching and so shifted his focus to education.

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While studying, he also realized how the different sciences are all connected to each other, so in the classroom he tries to make as many connections as possible between the different fields. In this way, students develop an understanding of the inter-relatedness of things, and are able to develop a sense of the ‘bigger picture’ of things.

Zaneta Wrona

Zaneta Wrona graduated from University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology. While studying biology, Zaneta took an interest in child psychology and education. She took courses related to both and began volunteering at a nursery for children in crisis. Upon moving to Los Angeles immediately after graduation, Zaneta joined The Help Group West in Culver City. Since then, she has gone back to school for a master’s degree in education and has spent time teaching children of all ages.

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Zaneta currently enjoys teaching ​math and science classes to middle and high school students for STEM3 Academy. She loves finding interdisciplinary hands-on projects to incorporate into her curriculum and make learning fun for staff and students alike.

Alicia Lopez

Alicia Lopez has been working as an instructional assistant for The Help Group – THG-West for the past 10 years. Ms. Lopez has been a part of the STEM3 program since its inception in the Culver City campus. She has been an integral team player in the development and delivery of instruction and guidance in Spanish Language and Social Science classes.

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She is very excited to work daily with students who are highly motivated and have a hunger to learn.

Linda Fox

Linda Fox has been working as an instructional assistant at The Help Group- West for the past 17 years. She received her B.S. in Kinesiology at UCLA and prior to working at The Help Group, she coached high school track and cross country for 2 years. Linda competed in the Olympic Trials and enjoys hiking now.
Elba Fuentes

Elba graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She developed a passion for working with children through her volunteer work. After graduating she wanted to continue working with children and joined The Help Group as an instructional aid. Working here she has become interested in teaching and plans on going back to school to obtain her teaching credentials.
Sherman Oaks
Megan Davis

Since 2006, Megan Davis has been working with The Help Group in a variety of roles and programs. She is currently the Principal at Village Glen School, overseeing the Elementary and Middle School Core, Climb, and Beacon programs, and the new STEM³ Academy school. Megan has been working in education since 2006 and holds a Bachelors in Psychology from UCLA, Mild Moderate teaching credential with Autism Spectrum Certification, and a Master’s in Special Education from CSUN.

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Previous to administration, she taught at Village Glen in the Core, Beacon, and Pace programs in grades 3-8. She is excited to be launching STEM³ Academy at the Sherman Oaks campus and looks forward to the unique opportunities it brings to the students.