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The Founders


Rachel Kirshenbaum

Founder, Executive Director

Rachel grew up in Boston with a family of therapists and educators who were passionate about the issues of economic disparity. She later took this activist mentality to Southern California, where she started her career in producing, with the dream of creating social justice documentaries. In 2015, her son was diagnosed with ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. After working in film & television for over 20 years, Rachel decided to shift careers so she could be more present in her son’s life. She transitioned to running a summer day- camp by the beach, giving her the chance to get to know hundreds of kids & their families each summer. Under the camp's self-directed philosophy, she learned how unique kids were in the ways they learned and communicated. This inspired her to create an accessible, inclusive tutoring program for children who need a little extra help. Rachel loves to spend time with her friends and family and has a regular yoga and meditation practice.  She is also passionate about educating people on the benefits of being mindful.  


Annie Gense

Co-Founder, CCO

Annie, a California native, graduated from the University of Wisconsin—Madison with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Gender & Women's Studies. She has been passionate about working with children since she was a teenager, with years of experience as a nanny, mentor, and camp counselor.  When Rachel reached out to her with the proposition to apply her knowledge of developmental psychology to a good cause, she was immediately all-in. Annie hopes that through Exceptional Mindset Tutors, she can play a part in creating an education system suited for children of all backgrounds and needs. When she's not working, Annie loves to read, write, and cook for friends & family!


Hannah Kirshenbaum


Hannah has spent the last 20 years as a business and accounting manager for a variety of companies. She ran a women’s health research center where she wore multiple hats in operations, accounting, marketing, and IT support.  She started the in-house accounting department for an IT services company. She was Assistant Controller for a green in-city homebuilding company. She has been running the accounting department for a consulting firm that specializes in risk management. She has always been interested in working in the nonprofit sector so she could use her business skills to help people. So, when Rachel first told her about EMT and asked her to join the team, she jumped at the chance. Having a nephew with ADHD and anxiety has opened her eyes to the challenges faced by parents with children who have special needs. Hannah lives in Seattle and spends her free time walking and hiking the many green shady trails in her area with her beloved dogs.

Our Board of Directors


Dr. Charles Foster, Ph.D.

Chairman of the Board

Dr. Charles Foster has a BA in Economics from the City College of New York, an MS from the London School of Economics, an MSW and MBA from Boston College, and a PhD from Brandeis University.  For forty years he’s consulted with the leadership of profit and not-for-profit organizations on strategic planning and implementation.  His economics and mental health backgrounds have given him a focus on people and families struggling with special challenges. Charles has been the Chairman of the Board of On the Ground in Burundi, an initiative providing education for girls in the poor areas of central Africa.  


Jennifer Swanson

Vice Chairwoman of the Board & COO

Jennifer Swanson has over 25 years of experience in Global Sourcing and Production Management for some of the top fashion brands in the world, including Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor, Theory, and Elie Tahari. For the last 5 years she has been instrumental in helping build the start-up brand Kobi Halperin. Her business related travel includes work in Italy, India, Vietnam, Korea, Philippines, China, and Peru.  She enjoys mentoring and developing new talent in the industry. Jennifer is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she recently served on their Knitwear Advisory board.  She also currently sits on the advisory board of The Black  For the last 5 years Jennifer has been a Top 100 individual fundraiser for the NYC MS Walk, a cause very close to her heart.  When not pursuing her passion for fashion, Jennifer loves to ski, ride bikes, and spend time with her mother, two sons, and husband in NYC.

Our Advisory Board


Heather Merritt, MS

Social Skills Program, Supervisor

Heather began her work in the pediatric mental health field over twenty years ago.  With a master’s degree in counseling, Heather has served the special needs community in a variety of settings, including direct therapeutic services and parent support and training. Her graduate research and work focused on the importance of the importance of parent-child attachment and its effects on overall healthy development. She is trained to utilize Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s Floortime model. Currently, Heather is the supervisor of a social skills program on the Westside that implements a social awareness curriculum. In addition to her professional life, Heather is a dedicated mother of two amazing boys, ages 14 years and 11 years. She is an active volunteer in the competitive youth soccer community and her local school district. Heather enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time at the beach with her family.


Dr. Nasrine Shah Abushakra, Ph.D.

Dr. Nasrin Shah Abushakra holds a Master of Science in Information Systems and a Ph.D. in Technology and Education. She held a professorship at the University of Michigan and served as the Director of the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Orientation Program at the U.S. Department of State. She has had her research presented at the MIT LINC Project, World Bank, and the U.S. Department of Education. She is also the Happy Post Project Ambassador to the Middle East, and represented the project at TEDxDubai. Nasrine's family has been serving in the arena of international education for close to a century, currently owning and operating over a dozen schools in five unique countries. She earned her Meditation Teacher Certification via Harvard's Body Mind Institute has since been implementing the ancient practices of mindfulness and yoga in classrooms all over the world. Nasrine lives between Dubai and Washington D.C. with her husband of more than a decade years and their resilient daughter. 

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Carolyn L. Russo, MS. Ed

Special Education Teacher

Carolyn Russo has over 30 years of experience as a special education teacher.  She has worked in a variety of roles in both public and private special education schools.  She has worked as a classroom teacher, case manager, and ABA therapist.  Her knowledge of the Special Education Referral Process as well as parent’s rights and school’s role and responsibilities are an asset to the Exceptional Mindset Team.  She is currently working as a Special Education teacher for Boston Public Schools in an Early Childhood Inclusion classroom. Mrs. Russo approaches her teaching style from a behavioral mindset, utilizing the principals of Applied Behavioral Analysis to help reduce anxiety and provide each child with the individualized tools he/she may need so that they can learn in their current educational setting and reach their fullest potential.  When Mrs. Russo is not teaching, she enjoys boating, taking hikes with her dog, and spending time with her husband, two children, and large extended family.  

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Tamara Horton

Founder, Studio Samuel

Tamara Horton, FIT graduate, Women’s Campaign International Global Ambassador to Ethiopia and Board Member of Ethiopia Healthcare Network, founded Studio Samuel following the international adoption of her son, Samuel. Tamara saw firsthand that safe options were stripped from a girl when she was born into poverty, seeing a need for an educational platform that would disrupt this pathway.

After 13 years in operations and event planning at Sony Music Entertainment, Tamara transitioned full-time to Studio Samuel and has successfully developed and implemented programming welcomed by the local communities in which Studio Samuel works. A demonstrated history of strategic planning and management, Tamara has organically built a team dedicated to the advancement of girls. Tamara is certified in Global Poverty from Massachusetts Institute of Technology | edX. She lives in NYC.

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