Meet the BIRCh Staff
The BIRCh Center is led by leading scholars in the field of school psychology who are faculty members and program directors of nationally accredited doctoral-level training programs in colleges of education at UMass Boston and UMass Amherst. These colleges house approved licensing programs in school counseling, teacher education, and education leadership, and UMass Boston has approved online programs in school counseling and mental health counseling. BIRCh is also staffed with three doctoral students in school psychology.
Melissa Pearrow and Sara Whitcomb have fostered working partnerships with numerous school districts and community organizations across the commonwealth. They oversee the coordination of practicum and internship placements for school psychology graduate students and facilitate site visits with area districts. They also coordinate an annual professional development training for field supervisors and collaborate with state organizations to support capacity building of school mental health professionals.
Melissa M. Pearrow, PhD,
Melissa serves as the executive director of the BIRCh Project and has been an professor in the School Psychology PhD Program at UMass Boston for 15 years. As the program director over the last seven years, she has managed courses for the program of study, overseen admissions, secured field placements for practicum students and interns, and obtained program approval to meet state and national credentialing standards. Prior to joining the faculty, she spent ten years as a school psychologist, in which she coordinated the program for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Her training in inpatient, outpatient, and community mental health settings informs her research on school-based mental health, including her partnership with the Boston Public Schools and Boston Children’s Hospital in the development of the Comprehensive Behavioral Health Model. She is a past president of the Massachusetts School Psychologists Association and serves as cochair of the Ethics Committee of the National Association of School Psychologists. She is the author of Identifying, assessing, and treating early onset schizophrenia at school and serves on the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission.
Sara has fostered working partnerships with numerous school districts and community organizations across the commonwealth. They oversee the coordination of practicum and internship placements for school psychology graduate students and facilitate site visits with area districts. They also coordinate an annual professional development training for field supervisors and collaborate with state organizations to support capacity building of school mental health professionals.
Kathryn Doherty Kurtz, PhD, NCSP
Kathryn serves as the Project Director of the BIRCh Project. She recently completed her doctorate in school psychology at UMass Boston, where she trained with the Boston Public Schools' Comprehensive Behavioral Health Model, the Home for Little Wanderers, and Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. Kurtz's prior work as a school psychologist in the Minneapolis Public Schools informs her research in the areas of cross-system collaboration, the cultural and contextual adaptation of interventions for implementation in urban communities, Tier 2 interventions targeting internalizing problems, and effective and efficient training practices
Christopher Overtree, PhD
Christopher is the Operations Director for the BIRCh Project and is currently a Senior Lecturer and research fellow in the College of Education at UMass Amherst, where he was also previously on the faculty in Clinical Psychology and Director of the UMass Psychological Services Center. He is a well-known teacher and public speaker with extensive experience supporting public schools as they implement best practices for fostering student well-being. In addition, his work in school climate assessment and intervention has taken him across the country to support districts using data-driven approaches to school improvement. As a child clinical psychologist, he supports children and families systemically by working beyond symptoms and inside the educational, family, and environmental challenges that create a child’s social/emotional ecosystem. Amidst this ongoing work, he has served as the stepped Executive Director for a large non-profit organization that developed outdoor educational programming for families and youth and is also the President of the Board of Trustees for Empty Arms Bereavement Services, an organization that supports families who have experienced the loss of an infant. His experience in non-profit administration, fundraising and finance has proved to be extremely valuable in his consulting with organizations who seek to grow their impact.
Whitney Walker, Ph.D.
Whitney is the Comprehensive Behavioral Health Model Data and Research Coordinator for the Boston Public Schools. In 2021, she earned her doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston in School Psychology. In 2011 she earned her Master’s from the University of Colorado Denver in Sociology, going on to continue work in public and charter schools in the Denver metro area. Her experience working with urban youth and the systems in which they interact with prompted the pursuit for her doctorate degree. Through her research she is aspiring to influence systemic change towards equitable practices for all students.
Talia is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research interests include support for students returning to school after medical/psychiatric crises and alignment of screening, referral, and intervention processes within a multi-tiered framework.
Bryce Scottron, L.M.H.C.,
Bryce is a fourth-year graduate student in the School Psychology PhD program at UMass Boston. In 2013 he earned his master’s degree in mental health counseling from William James College, going on to continue work as an adjustment counselor at Boston College High School. His experience working with adolescents and the impact of assessments on school outcomes prompted the pursuit for his doctorate degree. Through his research he is aspiring to generate greater understanding and knowledge to the field as it relates to adolescent resilience and academic achievement.
Kelsey is a fifth-year graduate student in the School Psychology Ph.D. program at UMass Amherst, on internship with Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. In 2014, she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Boston College, going on to work as a mental health worker and paraprofessional in alternative education settings and residential programs. Kelsey’s research interests include advocating for culturally responsive wrap-around supports for at-risk youths and families transitioning from alternative school settings and psychiatric placements to the public-school system. She is also passionate about promoting equity in schools through the use of trauma-informed care models and multi-tiered systems of support.
Alex is from Coney Island, Brooklyn in New York City. Alec has received is BA in Forensic Psychology at CUNY, John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2017 and his MSED from CUNY, Hunter College in Mental Health Counseling. Alec is currently a Ph.D. student at UMass Boston. Alec has done a multitude of work with various populations of youth, people in the criminal justice system, people with developmental disabilities, and students in higher education. Alec has a passion for mental health services for underserved youth in schools as an alternative for punitive disciplinary practices.
Amanda Priest, M.S.,
Amanada is a first-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her previous experiences as a special education teacher and as an individual therapist for children at a therapeutic school motivated her to pursue her doctoral degree. In 2020, she completed a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Merrimack College, which aided in the development of her research interests. These interests include adverse childhood experiences and subsequent involvement in the justice system, implementation of prevention strategies targeting survivors of childhood trauma, and developing comprehensive social emotional tools/ materials that are accessible to schools, community mental health centers, and families.
Kristina Ruggeri, MS/CAGS, NCSP, is a first-year doctoral student in the School Psychology Ph.D. program at UMass Boston. In 2019, she earned her master’s degree in school psychology from Northeastern University, going on to be a school psychologist and team chair in an elementary school setting. Kristina’s research interests inspired her to pursue her doctoral degree. These research interests include facilitating school and community partnerships and advocating for individuals with cognitive impairments. She is also passionate about promoting equity in schools through systemic change including culturally sensitive evaluation and consultation practices.
Paige is a second-year doctoral student in the School Psychology program at UMass Amherst. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Roosevelt University. Paige is a McNair Scholar and worked as a research assistant focusing on mindfulness in the classroom. Paige also volunteered for Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault, a non-profit advocacy program for sexual assault victims. Paige is passionate about mental health promotion in the classroom as well as improving students' social and emotional well-being. Her research interests include social-emotional learning, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), mindfulness, and positive psychology.
Myriam Stiven is a first-year graduate student in the School Psychology MEd/EdS program at UMass Boston. In 2020, she earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology and Public Health at UMass Amherst. Myriam has worked with school-aged youth and families in schools during her time as a mentor, paraprofessional, and family liaison. Her research interests include family-school engagement, multicultural competence, and advancing equity in classrooms through SEL practices.
Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, Cleary McKenzie, B.A., is a doctoral student in the School Psychology program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She completed her undergraduate degree at the UMass Amherst, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology as well as a minor in Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies. After graduating, she gained experience working with adult populations with varying mental health and behavioral needs in therapeutic, group home settings. During her graduate school experience, Cleary has been involved with projects exploring factors that hinder and enhance academic engagement in racially diverse students as well as centering marginalized graduate students voices and experiences in behavioral health sciences. She has collaborated on projects investigating the relationship between teachers’ written, qualitative feedback on academic and career success by student identity. Cleary’s professional interests include exploring how to address and eliminate racial and ethnic disciplinary disproportionality within schools, promoting SEL practices for marginalized students, and growing the diversity of the population of practitioners in behavioral health sciences. Cleary is interested in investigating systems-level, multi-disciplinary efforts to achieve these goals.
Diana Laenen, B.A., is a first-year school psychology doctoral student in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She completed her BA in Psychology at Boston University, and previously worked at the BU Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders contributing to clinical and research activities. Her research interests include multi-tiered intervention for emotional challenges in schools and school-based parent coaching initiatives.
Jacqueline Osborn, B.S., is a first-year doctoral student in the School Psychology Ph.D. program at UMass Boston. Her past experiences working in an alternative school setting and research motivated her to pursue a doctoral degree. Jacqueline’s research interest include the implementation of culturally competent trauma-informed care, MTSS interventions in school and how to create an equitable school environment.
Kerstin Schnopp, M.Ed., a third-year doctoral student in the School Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and minor in Education. Kerstin’s research interests center around cultivating culturally relevant teaching practices to promote equitable opportunities across student populations. Her research interests include integrating cultural responsiveness into prevention and intervention frameworks to best support student outcomes.
Patrick Robinson-Link, MA is a school psychology PhD student at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. He received his MA in School Psychology from Bowie State University in 2020. He has worked within school settings as a middle school science teacher, a high school small-group math instructor, and as a regional site coordinator for Reading Partners. Additionally, he served as Site Operations Manager for Urban Teachers, an alternative certification program for urban educators. His research interests include addressing racial disproportionalities in school discipline through effective implementation of school-based restorative justice and psychometrics, especially regarding universal social, emotional, and behavioral screeners.