Meet the CELF Team!
Tara Stafford Ocansey (she/her)— Executive Director
Tara joined CELF in January 2022 after a decade with the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, where she facilitated teams across the globe to identify, advocate for, and implement strategic approaches for creating a more sustainable future through increased access to lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Tara has led global education programs across the lifelong learning spectrum, collaborating with diverse stakeholders from government, non-profit, corporate, academic, and grassroots sectors. Achievements include launching the Eco Ambassador program that has engaged 500+ teachers and students in identifying and researching sustainable development challenges in their communities, digital storytelling, and community-based advocacy for solutions; implementing a new social emotional learning curriculum in 300+ schools in conflict-affected Northeast Nigerian schools; supporting the enrollment of over 1,300 girls on multi-year secondary school scholarships in rural areas of 10 sub-Saharan African countries and Myanmar; and equipping low-resourced schools across 10 countries with technology tools and teacher professional development for integrating technology in teaching practice, reaching 80,000+ teachers and students.
Prior to joining the Earth Institute, Tara worked as a community organizer in California with CALPIRG and Arts for LA, working with students, educators, and community leaders to advocate for clean energy policy solutions and K-12 arts education curriculum. Tara holds a Master of Arts degree in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Katie Isaak Ginsberg (she/her)— Founder
Ms. Ginsberg launched CELF in 2003 after she saw the need to educate young people about the links between human health, poverty, consumption, conflict and the environment.
With twenty years of experience in program design and management, marketing and business development, Ginsberg works with leading experts from around the world to bring best practices in sustainability education to K-12 educators and schools. Under Ms. Ginsberg’s directorship, CELF’s client base has grown from a start-up organization to over 4,000 schools nationwide. Today CELF programs have reached more than 13,000 teachers and over 1 million students.
Ms. Ginsberg presents at a broad range of seminars, conferences and courses on sustainability and on re-orienting education through place-based and project-based education. She was a featured presenter at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. She served as Chair of the County Executive’s Westchester Climate Change Task Force for the education sector, which developed a blueprint to integrate sustainability across the campuses, curriculum and communities of Westchester, NY schools. Ginsberg has a BA in Psychology from Northwestern University.
Victoria Garufi (she/her)— Director of Education
As Director of Education, Vicky is responsible for guiding CELF’s educator team in the planning and implementing all professional development programs. Prior to joining CELF, Vicky spent 12 years at the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB) in Yonkers. There she designed, implemented and oversaw all K-12 environmental education programs focused on the Hudson River. She provided outreach to connect school districts, community groups and Hudson River organizations to develop partnerships with CURB.
Vicky is most passionate about teaching and learning through connecting children and teachers to the environment. She has collaborated on several educational initiatives which include: the development of the Three Rivers of Yonkers curriculum designed for 4th and 5th graders in the classroom, creation of a climate change resiliency program for high school students focused on coastal implications, and support of a research grant on student assessment titled the Importance of Field trips and Cultural Awareness in Education.
Vicky holds a BS in Psychobiology from Long Island University’s Southampton College and a Master of Science in the Art of Teaching from Sarah Lawrence College. She is the subject area representative for environmental science through the Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS) and serves on the advisory board for the Regional Environmental Educators Forum. She also enjoys being a mentor to graduate students in the field of science and education.
Lisa Mechaley (she/her)— Educator and Professional Development Facilitator
As a CELF educator, Lisa collaborates with other education staff on the design, implementation and delivery of professional development programs. Prior to joining CELF, Lisa spent more than fifteen years teaching middle school science, served as education director for the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, worked as a staff developer through Bank Street College, and developed and conducted environmental programs for Hudson Valley conservation and educational organizations.
Most recently, Lisa worked for the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, developing and presenting the River of Words program — mixing poetry, art and watershed science — in the region’s schools. Through personal experience, she has come to appreciate how creative writing and drawing have deepened her connection with the natural world.
Lisa holds a B.A. in Biology with an Environmental Specialization from Central Connecticut State University and an M.S. from Southern Connecticut State University in Elementary Science Education, as well as an Advanced Certificate in Education for Sustainability from Manhattanville College. She is on the education advisory board of Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary and a board member of the Putnam Highlands Audubon Society. Lisa is also a certified yoga instructor.
Lisa Gianukos (she/her)— Program Director – Houston
As Program Director for the Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF), Lisa cultivates partnerships and stakeholder relationships to ensure teachers and students across Texas have equitable access and resources to Education for Sustainability and Civic Science programming.
Prior to joining CELF, she spent eighteen years in the classroom teaching higher education and secondary students. Lisa taught in the Middle East for 7-years as an adult-language instructor for the petrochemical industry and government sector within the country of Kuwait. Upon moving to Houston, Lisa taught at the University of Houston-Downtown, Lone Star Community College, and within the Houston Independent School District. As a secondary teacher, she had her students collaborate with state and national organizations such as Air Alliance Houston, Texas Wildlife Association, the University of Texas at Austin, Houston City Council, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, Houston Public Media, and the University of Houston. Lisa has written curricula and implemented Project-Based Lessons (PBL) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for secondary urban school populations.
Lisa holds an MLS from Rice University’s Glasscock School, an MA in Education Leadership from the University of St. Thomas, and she holds an active Texas Administration/Principal certificate.
Pallavi Mehta (she/her)—Finance and Business Manager
As the Finance and Business Manager, Pallavi is responsible for all the financial operations of the organization including financial reporting, budgeting, compliance and risk management. Prior to joining CELF, Pallavi has spent over ten years working at investment banking firms with a focus on asset management and equity research. Most recently, she was an Equity Analyst at Citigroup covering small-mid capitalization companies within the consumer sector. She also taught finance to Chartered Financial Analyst candidates in New York City. Pallavi is a long-time community volunteer including seven years as a member of the Junior League of Central Westchester where she served as the Finance Chair.
Pallavi’s educational background includes an MBA in Finance from the NYU Stern School of Business, a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, and a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Rutgers University.
Laura Steinberger (she/her)— Chief Operating Officer
As Director of Operations, Laura believes that an organization that promotes environmental sustainability should itself be sustainably engineered, with smooth and efficient operations and strategies modeled for the long-term. This approach values teamwork, partnerships and innovation in the pursuit of CELF’s mission of educational transformation.
Laura joined CELF from Neuberger Berman, an investment management firm with a record of leadership in environmental, social and governance (ESG) integration. She played a key role in increasing the prevalence of ESG in the investment process, as well as the prominence of ESG in corporate messaging. The satisfaction of driving positive change in the corporate arena inspired Laura to re-direct her career into the nonprofit world.
Laura holds two degrees from Columbia University: a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Business Administration.
Ken Williams (he/him) — Outreach Consultant
Ken Williams is an equity strategist experienced in workforce development, legislative research, and civic engagement. For the last 12 years Ken has worked with mission-driven organizations to maximize their impact by investing in their greatest resource: people. He has launched initiatives for city and local government, facilitated learning dialogues that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, advised higher education institutions on community engagement, and strengthened organizational capacity of nonprofit organizations. Noteworthy clients include the City of Houston Mayor’s Office, University of Texas at Austin, Houston Housing Authority, SEIU, and Houston Community College.
Ken sits on the board of the Minority Freedom Community Fund and is the founder of GROW (Green Resources & Opportunities Workforce) both aimed at improving the lives of under-resourced and underserved communities of color. Ken is a recipient of the Houston Mayor’s Volunteer Award with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston.
Isabel Câmara (she/her) — Sustainability Operations Intern
As a Sustainability Operations Intern, Isabel is responsible for marketing, data analytics and website development, and operational tasks for the Summer 2022 Institutes. With a technical background in environmental studies, she is looking forward to providing her skills to support CELF in promoting environmental awareness in education and also further developing her understanding of the nonprofit space.
Isabel is a rising second-year student at Cornell University, where she is majoring in Environmental Engineering and minoring in Public Policy in the College of Engineering.
Hana Epstein (she/her) — Sustainability Education Intern
As the Sustainability Education Intern, Hana will be assisting with the promotional and educational materials for the CELF Summer Institutes, as well as creating social media content and conducting outreach. With a background in education and a passion for environmental justice, she is looking forward to gaining hands-on experience in the non-profit sector and is excited to enhance her interest for equitable learning.
Hana recently graduated from McGill University with a double major in Environment and Development, and Anthropology. She is currently a graduate student at the Climate School at Columbia University where she is focusing on how climate change impacts vulnerable societies around the world.
Emily Vasquez (she/her)— Sustainability Communications Intern
Emily Vasquez is CELF’s Sustainability Communications Intern for the Summer of 2022. With her communication background, she hopes to grow CELF’s mission in bringing sustainability teaching into classrooms K-12. She will be assisting to create engaging content through CELF’s social media platforms, website development, and help organize for Houston’s first Summer Institute that will be held in person.
Emily is currently a student at the University of Texas majoring in Public Relations and earning a certificate in Business and Public Policy.