Meet the Team
Interim Executive Director
Peg Sprague, Wheelock Alumna, former Senior Vice President at the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, and current Senior Advisor consultant to children and family serving nonprofits, joined the Aspire Institute as its Interim Executive Director beginning in October 2015. She brings over 35 years of experience as a teacher, administrator and consultant and served as an adjunct faculty member at Wheelock for twelve years. She has held positions on numerous state level task forces and advisory committees. Currently she serves on the boards of the Children's Trust and Children's Investment Fund and the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center Advisory. She graduated with distinction from Simmons College with a B.A. degree in education and she holds a Master of Science degree in Organizational Leadership from Wheelock College.
Mary Watson Avery
Senior Program Director
Mary Watson Avery, M.S, is the Aspire Institute Senior Program Director, in addition to leading the Connected Beginnings Training Institute. Her career has focused on babies, young children and their families. Her special interests include the professional development of individuals working with families; the play of typical and traumatized children; therapeutic parent education; and the mentoring of early childhood trainers. She has been a teacher, administrator and consultant in several urban early childhood programs in New York City and the greater Boston area. Mary has also served on the faculty at Harvard Graduate School of Education and was the Director of Family Connections, a community mental health outreach program based at Children's Hospital Boston. Mary earned an MS in Infant and Toddler Studies from Wheelock College and a BFA from Manhattanville College in Studio Art. She also authored a variety of articles, curricula, and co-authored and illustrated the children's book, What Is Beautiful? (1995, Tricycle Press) with her husband David M. Avery.
Connected Beginnings Training Institute and Aspire Institute
Eric Burkes received his Master of Arts in Professional Writing from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He has experience with several aspects of writing, including grant writing, technical writing and proofreading, as well as writing for internal and external communications. Following his graduate studies, he served for three years as a Lead Teacher in an Afterschool program where he promoted the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of children in grades K-8. Eric also has previous early childhood experience serving as an Administrative Assistant at Somerville Early Head Start. He completed his Bachelor of Science in Communication with a concentration in Public Relations at Boston University.
Emily Callejas, Ed.M.
Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Content Manager
Connected Beginnings Training Institute
Emily Potts Callejas is the Connected Beginnings Training Institute Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Content Manager. In this role, Emily supports the development, adaptation, and delivery of the Institute's trainings across early childhood and family service settings. Emily's career has focused on working with administrators, parents, and children in culturally and geographically diverse educational environments to improve educational opportunities. Emily holds an Ed.M. in Risk and Prevention from Harvard University Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in History from Barnard College. Prior to her work at Connected Beginnings, Emily served as a mental health consultant and materials development coordinator for Family Connections at Boston Children's Hospital. In this role she worked with both children and adults to address depression and related adversities in Head Start programs. Emily is the co-author of several publications including the Tell Me A Story Materials for Working with Families (Callejas, Beardslee, Ayoub, and Avery) and the Tell Me A Story Materials (Avery, Beardslee, Ayoub, Callejas & Watts).
Emily has also worked at the Florida Charter School Resource Center in Tampa, Florida, as an advisor to families and school officials on the strategies and challenges involved in starting up charter schools. Emily's experiences in education reform began with Advantage Schools in Boston, where she wrote and oversaw implementation for special programs under Titles I, II, IV, and VI of the Improving America's Schools Act for sixteen charter schools.
Barbara Joseph joined Aspire in December 2010 as STEP Project Manager for a NASA-funded grant. She successfully managed the development and rollout of high-quality online math and science courses to in-service elementary teachers. Her role as Learning Solutions Program Manager allows her to push the envelope in innovative ways for delivering professional development to teachers with an eye always towards process improvement. As a two-time recipient of the Silvia Earl Award, Barbara has co-developed and rolled out the STEM Activity App to over 2500 users (and counting!). The STEM Activity App is a website application that provides STEM activities to families, teachers, and students in grades three to five. Barbara is currently working on her third year of managing the development and rollout of competency-based hybrid professional development for teachers.
Prior to joining Aspire, she spent over 20 years of her career in high technology, specifically software localization. She has held various positions from software engineer, director of technical services, vice president of operations. She has a strong interest in math and has tutored math in multiple grade levels. As an early advisor to TenMarks Education, an online supplemental math program, Joseph was involved in consulting on the design and content of the program and website.
She earned her Bachelor's degree with a double major in Computer Science and French and a minor in Mathematics from Boston College. She also earned her Entrepreneurial Management Certificate from Babson College.
Grants and Contracts Accountant
Tulika Lahiry started her career as Grants and Contracts Accountant at Wheelock College Aspire Institute in January, 2015. She does Payroll, budgeting, reporting, and billing for Aspire Institute and CBTI grants and contracts.
Tulika started her career as a Project Manager in India. She then moved to Canada and started her career as an accountant. After moving to the USA, she took some time off and stayed home with her daughter. In May 2005, Tulika started her first job in the USA as Financial Analyst at UMASS Medical School where she learned about MA state Contracts. She then went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute where she worked as a Research (Grant) Accountant. At WPI, she worked with hundreds of Federal and Corporate Grants, and State Contracts. Tulika then joined Worcester Community Action Council, Inc. as Senior Accountant.
Tulika has a Bachelor of Arts with Honors degree in History. She also acquired a Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Applications.
Training and Technology Specialist
Connected Beginnings Training Institute and Aspire Institute
Catherine Wakely is the Training and Technology Specialist at Connected Beginnings Training Institute, where she joined the staff in 2011. Catherine specializes in coordinating all registration, database use, training participant data gathering and reporting for CBTI, Aspire, and the Department of Government, External Affairs & Community Impact at Wheelock College. She earned her B.S. in Animal Studies from the The University of Maine where she also worked for several years as an IT support consultant. Catherine has also served as an operations coordinator at Sun Life Financial.