Creating the future...one frame at a time.

Administrative Staff

Barbara Bruno, Development

With extensive experience in proposal writing, reporting management, and funding research, Ms. Bruno has provided grant writing, funding research, grants management, event planning assistance, funder communication and management, and other development services both remotely and in-office since 2007.

Barbara has also written commentary/analysis about the National Football League, most recently for The Huffington Post and Bleacher Report. She has been a guest NFL expert on numerous radio and online panels: including CBS News Radio, WGN Chicago, and HuffPo.

A double Bachelor's Degree graduate of The College of William & Mary in Virginia (English Literature and Psychology), Barbara also holds a M.A. in Theatre Arts. Her prior professional life was as a film industry professional. Ms. Bruno captained major studio film/television sets, including stunt and special effects units. She co-produced the independent film Vino Veritas—currently in release with Gravitas on multiple VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and most On Demand services.

Her motto is “You can't scare me; I sunk the Red October!”

Kat Cutright, Academic Dean

Kat holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, and she has 15 years of professional practice as a scenic artist and sculptor. She started working at Exceptional Minds in 2013 as an Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Animate teacher and in 2017 she became Principal. She has a great appreciation for the dedication and hard work that the staff and students of the Exceptional Minds community continually invest into this amazing organization.

Jill Davis, Office Manager

Everything I've done in my life has led me to Exceptional Minds. From college where I majored in art history and education to raising my two daughters and being of service in my community. The opportunity and responsibility I have been given here is extraordinary. I take great pride in our students and what we accomplish daily at Exceptional Minds.

E-Mail: jill@exceptionalmindsstudio.org

Tayah Howard, Director of Operations

Tayah Howard joined the Exceptional Minds team in 2016. She has a wide range of job experiences including working internationally as the Team Manager for The Westminster Society for People with Learning Disabilities, where she administrated and directed hands on services for children and young people with disabilities, aided in the development of service policies, procedures, and records, and managed the team of play workers. Her background includes a variety of positions within the film and theatre industries, working as a Production Coordinator on several animation productions, and a Theatre Practitioner for children and young adults in California, Italy, and England. When she discovered Exceptional Minds, she instantly knew she wanted to become a part of the team!

E-Mail: tayah@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


Benjamin Maixner, Director of Programs

Benjamin has been providing behavioral services for both typically developing, those on the autism spectrum as well as other special needs children for the last decade. In addition to behavioral consulting, he has worked with children in a number of other capacities including: grade school teacher, academic tutor, sports coach, theatre instructor and camp counselor.


Suzette Encarnacion Major, Director of Finance and Benefits

Suzette has an extensive record of accomplishment as a finance and accounting professional supporting the business efforts of companies in diverse industries, including real estate, film production, and financial services makes her a strong leader in her field. With extensive expertise in financial management, cost containment, internal controls, and process automation, Major founded The Lambert Paul Group, a successful consulting practice to help her clients establish and maintain effective operations.

Major completed her Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles. She resides in Glendale, California with her husband and two sons. Major was inspired to work at Exceptional Minds because her oldest son, Asher, has high-functioning autism.

E-Mail: suzette@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


Elizabeth Meshes, MA, BCBA

Elizabeth has worked in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) for over a decade and has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) since 2011. She began working 1:1 with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and expanded to working with individuals across the lifespan with various diagnoses. She has provided educational and organizational training, oversight, and quality assurance in professional and academic environments. She is proficient in instructional design, curriculum development, systems analysis, and performance improvement.

E-Mail: elizabeth@exceptionalmindsstudio.org

Ronalis Naveo, Head of Outreach

Coming soon...

E-Mail: ronalis@exceptionalmindsstudio.org

Jeffrey Shapiro, Executive Director
M.A. HD, PhD,

A leader in education and a champion of inclusion for those with disabilities, Dr. Shapiro brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Exceptional Minds.

Previously, Dr. Shapiro was the CEO of Albert Einstein Academies, growing it from a single school in Santa Clarita to a nationwide network of charter schools that exceeded all expectations as one of the more effective educational establishments in the country. He also brings to Exceptional Minds his experiences as the Executive Director for Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer and for CalArts Alumni Association. Dr. Shapiro formerly served as Director of the Western Region for Johns Hopkins University and Hospital.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology/Women Studies with Honors from Brandeis University and a Master’s degree from Northeastern University as well as two doctoral level degrees from Curentur University. He has served on five boards and is a published author and speaker.

“Exceptional Minds is the very definition of what parents can accomplish with determination and passion. I am honored to be entrusted with that legacy and to be able to use my professional and personal experiences to bring Exceptional Minds to the next level as we continue our mission to create better opportunities for all people with autism.”

E-Mail: jeffrey@exceptionalmindsstudio.org

Lupe Ramos-Silva, Director of Development

A versatile development professional who has served in multiple nonprofit organizations. Lupe comes to EM with 20 years of experience. Her nonprofit career began with ALSAC/St. Jude Children’Hospital, where she served as Associate Director for the Pacific Region. As second in command to the Regional Director she managed a two office region staff and volunteers fundraising within 10 western states and overseeing an administrative budget of 4.5 million dollars that produced 7 million dollars of fundraising revenues a year.

Most recently, she was the Development Director for SAJE (Strategic Actions For a Just Economy) a social justice non-profit in South LA. She also functioned as the Marketing and Development Director for the Specialty Family Foundation (SFF) in support of inner-city Catholic schools. Prior to SFF she served as the first Corporate Director of Development for Streetlights Production Assistant Program, a job-training program for at-risk youth that promotes diversity and serves the Entertainment Industry. In addition, Lupe served as the Director of Corporate Events for the American Heart Association, managing a number of special events, where she successfully created cause-related corporate partnerships.

Before her entry into the nonprofit arena, Lupe had a successful career in sales and marketing with the AVON Corporation. She also launched and pioneered the idea of marketing films to the Latino marketplace with Direct Impact, her own marketing and promotions company that serviced the Entertainment Industry. Lupe and her husband live in Tarzana with pets “Max” and “Tails”.

E-Mail: lupe@exceptionalmindsstudio.org

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Eddie Sotomayor, IT, Web Administrator

Eddie has always been actively involved in the arts. At the young age of seven, one of his paintings was featured in a Los Angeles-based print publication. He has had a passion for art and design since he was a child and has become rather successful in the creative community. He has earned an Associate's degree in Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Eddie has worked as a graphic and web designer for over 15 years and is also involved in the music industry. As a self-taught DJ, he has had the privilege of playing with artists like Paul Oakenfold, Mark Lewis, and Groove Radio's Swedish Eagle. As a jack-of-all-trades, Eddie also has a Degree in Electronic Engineering, an ear for music, and a love of design. He has recently joined Exceptional Minds as an Instructor that is bound to encourage and inspire the students.



  • Adobe Photoshop CS
  • Adobe Dreamweaver CS

E-Mail: eddie@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


Roxanne Tinimbang, Systems Administrator

Roxanne graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in Psychology in December 2016. She interned for Exceptional Minds in Fall 2016 under Benjamin Maxiner, Program Director. She started working at Exceptional Minds in January 2017.

E-Mail: roxanne@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


Susan Zwerman, Studio Executive Producer of Animation and VFX Studio / Job Developer

Susan Zwerman is the heart and soul of the Exceptional Minds Studio, known for her work on Black Panther (2018), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), War for the Planet of the Apes (2017, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Doctor Strange (2016), Captain America: Civil War (2016), X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Ant-Man (2015), and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015), while working as the VFX Studio Executive Producer at Exceptional Minds, a non-profit vocational school and studio that prepares young adults on the Autism Spectrum for careers in digital animation and visual effects. She has provided these artists opportunities to work on high-profile features films as well as various televisions shows.
Her credit has appeared on a succession of high-profile motion pictures including Broken Arrow, Alien Resurrection, Men of Honor, Around the World in 80 Days, and The Guardian.

She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the Directors Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, and the Visual Effects Society. She is the recipient of the 2013 Frank Capra Achievement Award in recognition of career achievement and service to the industry and to the Directors Guild of America.

A special highlight in Ms. Zwerman's career was winning the Grammy Award for "Best Concept Music Video" in 1988 for producing I'm Fat, the music video starring Weird Al Yankovic.

In addition, Ms. Zwerman is a well-known seminar leader at many universities, teaching visual effects techniques in the entertainment field. Ms. Zwerman is a co-author of the seminal book on producing visual effects, The Visual Effects Producer: Understanding the Art and Business of VFX.

E-Mail: Susan@exceptionalmindsstudio.org




Teaching Staff

Hayz Cruz, Instructor

Mister Hayz is a 20-year animation industry veteran, working for shows like King of the Hill, The Simpsons, and Mission Hill. He also has over 12 years of experience teaching and coaching young people. His hobbies include fatherhood, Dungeons and Dragons, and making Halloween pumpkins.

Josh Dagg, Head of VFX / VFX Apprenticeship
Josh is a visual effects artist and supervisor, graphic artist, digital multimedia creator, and video editor, who has done effects work and supervised student artists’ work for feature films like Golden Globe winner “American Hustle”. Perhaps his best training came from his youngest brother, who was diagnosed with ASD and has shown him the potential for learning, growth, and artistic expression that people with ASD can possess.




  • Adobe Photoshop CS5 & CS6
  • Adobe Flash Professional CS5 & CS6
  • Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 & CS6
  • Adobe Dreamweaver CS5 & CS6
  • Adobe Illustrator
Email: josh@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


Randi Derakhshani, Head of 3D

Randi teaches 3D and visual effects at various colleges. Randi has worked as a digital artist and technical director for games and movie projects with Gizmo Games, RJB Enterprises and Sony Imageworks. Along with production work Randi is also a published author for the 3ds Max and Autodesk training manuals and works closely with Autodesk as an Autodesk Certified Instructor.

Tawd B. Dorenfeld, Instructor

Tawd B. Dorenfeld is a highly accomplished Animator, Writer and Director who has innovated visually eye-popping Film and Music Video work for many leading artists in the music industry, including The Offspring, Good Charlotte, George Clinton, SerjTankian (SOAD), and Zap Mama. Tawd recently finished “Stories of the Baal Shem Tov” a Stop-Motion Feature Film, starring Roseanne Barr, Mayim Bailik, and Dudu Fisher.

Alineh Garbellini - Ghazarian, Instructor

Alineh learned Adobe Flash at age 11 and started learning Maya at 12. Alineh's younger brother is moderately impacted with autism and has caused her to become very involved with the autism community at an early age. Parents of children with ASD would ask her to babysit because they trusted her ability to effectively deal with behavioral issues due to the ones her brother had and due to her involvement with other kids with ASD during community events.

Through a parent, she found out about Media Enrichment Academy. She started volunteering at Media Enrichment Academy at age 13. Volunteering there had a lot of meaning to her because it gave her hope that people like her brother could find an outlet for their feelings through artistic expression and that they could learn something that enriched their lives in some way. She volunteered at EM for two summers in 2012 and was hired as an Instructor 2013. She became proficient in Premiere, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and Animate. Currently, Alineh is studying Film and Digital Media at University of California, Santa Cruz.



Jessica "Jess" Jerome, Head of Animation / Animation Apprenticeship

"Jess" is an animator, illustrator and visual artist with over 9 years of experience. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Media Arts in Animation at the Art Institute of California, Orange County and got her start in the game industry. She worked on game titles such as "Hunted: The Demon's Forge" and "Wasteland 2." She currently has an art wall at "The Hive Gallery" in downtown LA and joins in their art shows quite frequently.

E-Mail: jessica@exceptionalmindsstudio.org


Kristin Kucia, Head of Vocational Curriculum & Instruction

Kristin is a published author, a former university writing professor, and faculty in the Vocational Program. Kristin brings her extensive experience, expertise, and knowledge in curriculum development, teaching special populations, and issues related to young adults with Autism to the EM community. She is inspired by her son, Thaddeus Stauder, an animator with Autism.

E-Mail: kristin@exceptionalmindsstudio.org

Tabansi Kufahamu, Instructor
Bio coming soon...


William Payer, Instructor

William is a 2015 Graduate from California State University, Long Beach with a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Art with an emphasis in Animation/Illustration and a Minor in Marketing. Since the age of 12, he has been educating himself in the field of computer graphics and video game design. He has attended various art-intensive workshop at Pepperdine University (2D Video Game Design), UCLA (3D Video Game), and Digipen University (3D Computer Animation). Has extensive knowledge in programs like Adobe's Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, and Autodesk's Maya. He has been a Screen Actors Guild Member since 2003 and has extensive experience working in the professional production pipelines. William spends his spare time as an advocate and programs director for the Arthritis Foundation.

E-Mail: william@exceptionalmindsstudio.org