Our Team

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

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

Jennie McDonald-Brown, Managing Director of Major Gifts

B.A.in African-American Studies and English, Rollins College; M.S.W., Boston College Graduate School of Social Work;M.Ed., Harvard Graduate School of Education

Jennie (she/her) originally joined Breakthrough Greater Boston in 2007 as a Program Intern. She spent four years at Breakthrough before leaving for graduate school. After completing the School Leadership Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, she became the Founding Assistant Principal at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury. After four years at Dudley Street, Jennie transitioned to the Taylor Elementary School in Mattapan where she continued in the role of Assistant Principal. She rejoined the BTGB team in 2017 to lead the expansion into Somerville. As the Somerville Site Director, Jennie oversaw all aspects of Breakthrough’s third campus. One of Jennie’s favorite Breakthrough memories is watching the 6th graders her team recruited back in 2008 and 2009 stand in front of the classroom as Teaching Fellows in 2017.

Outside of Breakthrough, Jennie spends time cooking and mastering nuanced character voices during story time with her son.Email: jmcdonaldbrown@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 

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


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

Yami (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

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

Deja Monroe, Director of Student Services (Boston Campus)

bio coming soon

Erick Martinez Camacho, Operations Associate

bio coming soon 

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

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 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: sferugson@btgbmail.org

Wynther Gedeon, Manager of Student Services (Cambridge Campus)

bio coming soon 

Angela DiPesa, Senior Director of Student Services

bio coming soon

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

Jay Enciso, Director of Early High School (Somerville Campus)

B.S. in Astrophysics, Suffolk University

Jay (he/him) joined the Breakthrough Greater Boston team in 2021. As Director of Early High School, Jay oversees programming, supports, and services for 9th and 10th grade students and their families at our Somerville campus. Before joining Breakthrough, Jay worked as Director of High School Programs for Cambridge School Volunteers and led high school programming at the Museum of Science, Boston.

Outside of the office Jay works as a freelance Stage Manager in the Boston area, enjoys digital drawing, and is trying to eat at every restaurant in the city.

email: jenciso@btgbmail.org

Kat Ochoa, Manager of Student Services (Somerville Campus)

bio coming soon 

Serena Salgado, FAO Schwarz Fellow

B.A. in Anthropology and Global Health, Northwestern University

Serena (she/her) joined Breakthrough Greater Boston in 2020 as a FAO Schwarz Fellow. As the College Success and Alumni Support Fellow Serena works with recent graduates to provide support at the college level and promote engagement amongst the student and teacher alumni community. Before she came to Breakthrough she supported college leaders from 40 schools across the country as a Leadership Development Intern at QuestBridge and supported college freshman as a Peer Adviser at Northwestern.

Outside of work, Serena spends her time reading celebrity memoirs and trying to cook through her newest cookbook.

Email: ssalgado@btgbmail.org

Tiye Cort

Tiye Cort Odima, Director of Curriculum and Instruction (Boston)

M.A.T. in Secondary Education, Emmanuel College, M. Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, The University of Texas at Austin

Tiye (she/her) first became involved with the Breakthrough Collaborative as a university field supervisor at Breakthrough Austin in the summer of 2018. Tiye has taught high school and university-level English and literacy courses in Boston, MA, Dublin, NH, and Austin, TX. There, she mentored, advised, and assessed teaching fellows during their first classroom experiences working with middle school students. Following that summer and after completing her graduate coursework, Tiye relocated home to Boston as an adjunct professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College and Emmanuel College. As the Boston campus Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Tiye oversees all aspects of teaching and learning for our middle school students over the summer and throughout the school year. She works closely with Teaching Fellows and Instructional Coaches to ensure that students receive high-quality curriculum and classroom instruction. Outside of the office, Tiye is the founder and global editor-in-chief of Feminessay, the premier writing, storytelling, and creative destination for Black women to share their literary works with a global audience. Tiye also serves on the Young Professionals Board for Scholar Athletes. Her free time is spent playing with her dog (Arthur), writing, reading, painting, and traveling to different places around the world.Email: tcort@btgbmail.org