Our Team

Abraham Fofanah, Manager of High School Programs (Boston Campus)

M.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota 

Abraham joined the Breakthrough team in 2023. As the Manager of High School Programs for the Boston Campus, he supports early high school development and college access. Before joining Breakthrough, Abraham worked as a high school advisor in Providence, Rhode Island. In this role, he prepared first-generation students to attend and complete college.

Abraham likes to listen to podcasts, learn about history, and watch movies in his free time.

Email: Afofanah@btgbmail.org

Angela DiPesa, Senior Director of Student Services

B.A in Spanish and History, Syracuse University


M.Ed in Educational Administration, University of Massachusetts Boston


Angela (she/her) joined the Breakthrough Greater Boston team in early 2022 as the Senior Director of Student Services. She oversees all aspects of student and family services in our Middle School program to ensure that all students receive the support and resources needed to help them apply for Breakthrough and stay engaged. Before Breakthrough, Angela primarily worked as a after school program leader with the education nonprofit Citizen Schools in the communities of Boston, Chelsea, and Somerville. 


Outside of work, Angela enjoys spending time with family and friends, ballroom dancing, cooking elaborate meals with their friends, and hiking all over New England.


Email: adipesa@btgbmail.org

Emma Samler

Emma Samler, Managing Director of Development and Partnerships

B.S. in Communications from Ithaca College

Emma (she/her) joined Breakthrough Greater Boston in 2018. As Director of Development and Partnerships, Emma oversees Breakthrough’s fundraising efforts, as well as manages communications and events. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Emma was the Director of Public Engagement for Facing History and Ourselves, where she worked for over nine years.

Her favorite Breakthrough moment so far, was the attending the 2018 Breakthrough Gala and watching the students on stage sharing their own Breakthrough stories with over 400 guests!

Email: esamler@btgbmail.org

Jesenia Gervacio, Senior Director of College Access

B.A. in Psychology & Spanish, Bryn Mawr College

M.Ed. in Higher Education Student Affairs Administration, The University of Vermont

Jesenia (she/her) joined Breakthrough Greater Boston team in 2022. As the Senior Director of College Access, Jesenia works closely with the Managers of Early High School and Directors of College Access across all three campuses ensuring high school students and families feel supported as they transition to high school and navigate the college application process. Before joining Breakthrough, Jesenia has worked in a variety of educational settings providing support to students and families as well as training and hiring staff to support students seeking a college degree. She is excited to bring her skills and passion to Breakthrough and make new memories here. Outside of Breakthrough, Jesenia enjoys regular videocalls with her family in Florida, spending time with her friends, binge watching shows, listening to music, traveling, and trying to stay on top of her ever-growing list of books to read.

email: jgervacio@btgbmail.org

Paola Martin, Director of Operations

B.S. in Labor Relations, University of Puerto Rico

Paola (she/her) joined the Breakthrough Greater Boston team in 2022 as the Director of Operations with a focus in Human Resources. Before joining Breakthrough, Paola worked at Initiative for a Competitive Inner City as an Office Manager providing staff operations and human resource support. Originally from Puerto Rico, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Labor Relations from the University of Puerto Rico. In her free time, she volunteers with MA HOBY, a nonprofit organization dedicated to youth leadership and volunteer service throughout Massachusetts. She enjoys traveling and spending time with friends and family.

Email: pmartin@btgbmail.org

Shannon Farrell, Development Associate

B.A in Writing Arts and Radio, Television & Film from Rowan University 

Shannon Farrell (she/her) joined the Breakthrough Greater Boston team in 2021. As the Development Associate, Shannon supports Breakthrough’s fundraising efforts through grant writing and management, database management, communications, and donor stewardship. 

Prior to joining Breakthrough, Shannon was the Development Associate for New Repertory Theatre and the Development and Communications Coordinator for the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence. After minoring in Biology during college, Shannon also spent some time as a zookeeper and environmental educator at the Cape May County Zoo in New Jersey and the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, MA. In her free time, she enjoys baking, playing Dungeons & Dragons, and reading the ever-growing number of books on her bookshelf. 

Email: sfarrell@btgbmail.org


Aimee Heckman, Director of Curriculum and Instruction (Somerville Campus)

M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction & B.S in Secondary Social Studies Education from the Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut 

Aimee (she/her) first became involved with Breakthrough Collaborative during the summer of 2016 as an ELA Instructional Coach in the Bay Area. She continued to return to Breakthrough each summer as it always brought her a renewed sense of joy and purpose as she re-entered the classroom every fall as a middle school Humanities teacher in San Francisco.

Aimee’s family relocated to the Greater Boston Area in 2021 and she is excited to join the Breakthrough Greater Boston team as the Director of Curriculum & Instruction for the Somerville Campus. In this role, Aimee oversees all aspects of teaching and learning for our Somerville middle school students. She works closely with Teaching Fellows and Instructional Coaches to ensure that students receive high-quality curriculum and classroom instruction.

In her free time Aimee enjoys traveling, attending concerts, drinking coffee, and spending time with family, friends, and her dog, Riley.

Email: aheckman@btgbmail.org

Carrah Olive-Hall, Director of Curriculum and Instruction (Cambridge Campus)

B.A. from the University of Georgia in Political ScienceMAT in General and Special Education from Relay Graduate School of Education in NYC M.Ed. from Harvard Graduate School of Education in the Learning and Teaching Program
Carrah (she/her) first joined Breakthrough as a Teaching Fellow at Breakthrough Atlanta teaching social studies and fell in love with the program. Before joining Breakthrough Greater Boston for Summer 2022, she worked for Americorps at Covenant House, a shelter for unhoused youth, did a teaching fellowship in NYC in the Bronx where she taught k-8 students with disabilities, and then taught at KIPP NYC in Washington Heights. She also taught in Atlanta and coached JV volleyball and this past year worked for Teach for America Massachusetts as a coach, working with 30 teachers across Greater Boston.
In her free time, Carrah enjoys boxing class, reading, and going on fun adventures with her friends and family!

email: colivehall@btgbmail.org

Jahmali Matthews, FAO Schwarz Fellow

Jahmali (she/her) joined the Breakthrough Greater Boston team in 2022. As the Communications and Marketing FOA Schwarz Fellow, Jahmali divides her time between direct-service, serving as an aid for a caseload of students in the college success program, as well as clarifying BTGB’s social media outreach goals and executing them. Before Breakthrough, as an undergrad at Hamilton, she served as the editor-in-chief for Culture Magazine, a publication that highlights underrepresented voices on campus.

Outside of work, Jahmali enjoys studying astrology, spending time with her family, and thrifting.

email: jmatthews@btgbmail.org

Juan Mojica, FAO Schwarz Fellow

B.A. in Anthropology with a minor in Race and Ethnicity Studies from Southwestern University. 

Juan (he/him) joined Breakthrough in 2022 through the FAO Schwarz Fellowship Program after graduating from college. Before joining the team, he held multiple student worker positions alongside his studies, including being Head Resident Assistant and an Orientation Leader. His interest in Breakthrough was sparked by his senior capstone entitled “Hasta la Raíz: Reproduction of Whiteness in Higher Education.” After taking a close look at the education system in the United States and the inequalities present within them, he sought to continue his work by pursuing a position at Breakthrough Greater Boston. Juan relocated to Boston after living in Texas all his life and is very excited to begin his position at Breakthrough as the Alumni Coordinator to assist in managing alumni events, committees, and services. 

In his free time Juan enjoys photography, running, hiking, reading, and binge-watching movies and tv shows. 

email: jmojica@btgbmail.org

Paola Cisneros Lau, Director of Curriculum and Instruction (Cambridge)

B.A. in Sociology from Boston College and M.A. in Science Education from Relay Graduate School of Education

Paola (she/her) joined the Breakthrough Greater Boston team in 2021 as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at the Cambridge campus. As the DCI, Paola works with our Teaching Fellows and Instructional Coaches to ensure that we are providing our students with high-quality academic instruction. Before Breakthrough, Paola primarily worked as a science teacher in Brooklyn, New York and the greater Boston area.

Outside of work, Paola enjoys spending time with family and friends, caring for her new puppy, reading, and cooking.

Email: pcisneroslau@btgbmail.org 

Wynther Gedeon, Manager of Student Services (Cambridge Campus)

B.A in Public Health, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Wynther (she/her) started her journey with Breakthrough as a student in 2007. Over her six years as a student, she’s grown an immense love for learning and memories to last her a lifetime. Now she is Manager od Student services helping students foster their own amazing and unique experiences with Breakthrough. Prior to working with Breakthrough, Wynther worked as an OST Coordinator at Framingham Public Schools, running after school programming.

In her free time Wynther loves being a freelance digital artist, a foodie and reader!

bio coming soon 

Amee Naik, Managing Director of Programs

B.A. in Psychology, Washington University in St. Louis, M.A. in Child and Adolescent Development, Tufts University

Amee (she/her) joined Breakthrough Greater Boston in 2009. As the Senior Director of High School Programs, Amee oversees all aspects of BTGB’s 9th-12th grade work at our Cambridge and Dorchester campuses to ensure that all students receive the support and resources needed to help them apply for — and be ready for — college. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Amee was an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Washington University in St. Louis.

Amee has amassed quite a few favorite memories during her time at Breakthrough — everything from seeing student alums return to Breakthrough as Teaching Fellows to indulging her love for trivia by playing Jeopardy after school with Breakthrough high school students (and staff).Email: anaik@btgbmail.org

Elissa Spelman

Elissa Spelman, Executive Director

B.S. in Elementary and Special Education, Boston College; M.Ed., Harvard Graduate School of Education

Elissa (she/her) first joined Breakthrough Greater Boston as a Board Member, working actively on the Strategic Planning and Program Committees. She became the Executive Director in 2009 and has since set the vision and guided Breakthrough’s strategic growth into Boston and Somerville. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Elissa was the first Director of the Wellington Management Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting education programs for low-income youth, including some of the affiliate sites of the Breakthrough Collaborative. Elissa has broad experience in the field of education and has also worked with nonprofits focused on foster care, adoption and domestic violence. Elissa began her career as a third grade teacher at the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester, MA and has taught in a variety of settings.

When not busy at Breakthrough, Elissa spends time with family and friends, enjoys food of all kinds, and volunteers regularly. Her favorite Breakthrough memory is watching our inaugural class of students in Boston fall in love with the Breakthrough traditions, culture, and spirit.

Email: espelman@btgbmail.org

Jennifer Stange, Managing Director of Operations

B.S. in Business Administration: Finance, Northeastern University
M.Ed. in Education Policy and Management, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Jennifer (she/her) returned to Breakthrough Greater Boston in 2020. As the Director of Operations, Jennifer supports BTGB programs and general operations by overseeing financial management, human resources, informational technology, and other administrative duties. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Jennifer was the Vice President of Shared Services at the EcoTarium (Worcester, MA) and the founding Director of Operations at Brooke Charter School East Boston.

When not at Breakthrough, Jennifer spends time with her family and dog enjoying the outdoors.


Email: jstange@btgbmail.org

Katherine Ochoa Castillo, Manager of High School (Somerville Campus)

Kat (She/Her) first joined the Breakthrough family in the summer of 2017 as a rising 9th grade Literature teacher in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She enjoyed her experience as a mentor, educator, and leader so much that she did a second summer in Somerville in the summer of 2018, where she taught an immigration narratives course to the founding class of Breakthrough’s Somerville cohort.

After graduating from Tufts University with a bachelor’s in political science and clinical psychology, she worked in Boston as a 6th grade ELA teacher. She remained connected to Breakthrough and was excited to join for her third Breakthrough summer in 2022 as the Manager of Student Services. In this role, Kat supports the amazing middle school students in Somerville with developing key academic and social emotional skills to be successful prior to their transition to high school.

In her free time, Kat enjoys spending time with her guinea pigs and watching scary movies.


Shannon Ferguson, Director of College Access, Cambridge Campus

B.A. Sociology: University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeM.A. Special Education: Fordham University

Shannon (he/him) joined Breakthrough in 2022. As the Director of College Access at the Cambridge campus, Shannon supports 11th and 12th grade students and families during the college application process. Before Breakthrough, Shannon spent the previous three years as a college counselor at a high school in Boston, and 7 years as a middle school teacher and Dean of Students in Brooklyn, NY. Outside of work, Shannon enjoys dancing and listening to music with his 20-month-old daughter, watching the Milwaukee Bucks, and cooking delicious meals for his family.

Email: sferguson@btgbmail.org

Yami Reneria, Manager of Early High School (Cambridge Campus)

B.A in Education Studies from Brown University

Yamileth (she/her) joined Breakthrough in 2021 as the Manager of Early High School. In this role, she supports 9th and 10th grade students in their transition to high school and with college-related goals. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Yami worked as a College Success Advisor, primarily supporting students attending UMass Boston and Bunker Hill Community College through their degree pathways.

Outside of Breakthrough, Yami enjoys taking Buzzfeed quizzes, browsing bookstores, and eating Hot Cheetos.

email: yrenteria@btgbmail.org