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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Board on Children Youth and  Families
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

BCYF Staff:

Natacha Blain Photo

Natacha Blain, JD, PhD,
serves as the Director of the Board on Children, Youth and Families (BCYF) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Dr. Blain has over 15 years of experience working with policymakers and senior legislative officials on a variety of social justice issues and campaigns including serving as a Supreme Court Fellow, Chief Counsel to Senator Dick Durbin on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Lead Strategic Advisor for the Children’s Defense Fund’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign. Prior to joining the National Academies, Dr. Blain served as Associate Director/Acting Executive Director of Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families (GCYF). There she played a critical role in helping convene and engage diverse constituencies, fostering leadership, collaboration and innovation-sharing through a network of funders committed to the enduring well-being of children, youth and families. Dr. Blain earned her Master of Science and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Allegheny University of Health Sciences and MCP – Hahnemann University (now Drexel University) respectively, and her Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Villanova School of Law.


Pamella Atayi Photo2

Pamella Atayi 
serves as a Program Coordinator on BCYF, supporting the members of the Board, the board director, staff and various board activities. She has been serving on BCYF since 2009. Pamella was awarded the Sandra H. Matthews Cecil Award by the Institute of Medicine (now HMD) in 2013, and the DBASSE Espirit de Corps Award in 2017. She has over 20 years’ experience providing administrative support and has worked at various nonprofit organizations in the Washington, DC area, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the America’s Public Policy Office, Catholic University of America, and World Education Services. She earned her B.A. in English from the University of Maryland University College and holds a diploma in Computer Information Systems from Strayer University.


Emily Backes Photo2

Emily Backes
 serves as a Program Officer on BCYF. She is currently the study director for the Committee on the Neurobiological and Socio-behavioral Science of Adolescent Development and Its Applications. Previously, she served as co-study director for the report Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education. In her time at the Academies, she has provided analytical and editorial support to projects covering a range of topics, including law and justice; children, youth, and families; education and literacy; science communication; and science and human rights issues. She received an M.A. and B.A. in history from the University of Missouri, and she is currently pursuing a J.D. at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law.

Mary Ghitelman Photo2

Mary Ghitelman serves as a Senior Program Assistant on BCYF, and on  the Committee on Population in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. She has been with the Academies since April of 2015, working on reports such as The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide, and Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education. She received her B.A. in psychology from Beloit College and studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark with a focus in cross-cultural psychology. 



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Rebekah Hutton, M.Ed., 
serves as a Program Officer on BCYF. She is currently the study director of the Committee on Summertime Experiences and Child and Adolescent Education, Health, and Safety. Previously, she was an education management and information technology consultant working on projects in the United States as well as Haiti, Equatorial Guinea, and Djibouti. She has also worked as a program manager and researcher at the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University, studying whether teacher pay for performance has measurable impact on student outcomes, and as an English language lecturer in Tourcoing, France. During her time with the Board on Children, Youth, and Families, she has worked on projects focused on fostering the educational success of children and youth learning English, reducing child poverty, and promoting the mental, emotional and behavioral health of children and youths. She received her M.Ed. degree from Vanderbilt University in international education policy and management and a B.A. degree from the University of Tennessee in French language and literature.

Wendy Keenan Photo2

Wendy Keenan
 serves as a Program Officer on BCYF. She is the director of the Forum for Children’s Well-Being: Promoting Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Health for Children and Youth, which brings together leaders from government agencies, academic institutions, professional societies, and advocacy organizations to connect the prevention, treatment, and implementation sciences with settings where children are seen and cared for. Ms. Keenan has been on The National Academies’ staff for over 15 years and has worked on studies for both the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education and the Health and Medicine Division (formerly the Institute of Medicine). She has also worked on studies with the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences. Prior to joining The National Academies, she taught English as a second language for Washington, DC, public schools. She received a B.A. in sociology from The Pennsylvania State University and took graduate courses in social and public policy at Georgetown University.

Margie Kelly Photo2

Margaret Kelly
serves as a Senior Program Assistant on BCYF. Margaret has more than 20 years of experience working in the administrative field. She has worked for the private sector, federal government and non-profit organizations to include American University, Catholic University, the Census Bureau, International Franchise Association, the Department of Defense and the University of the District of Columbia. Margaret has received numerous professional honors and awards throughout her career to include a Superior Performance of Customer Service Award; Sustained Superior Performance Cash Awards; Air Force Organizational Excellence Awards and Certificates of Appreciations.


Suzanne Le Menestrel Photo2

Suzanne Le Menestrel, PhD,
is a Senior Program Officer with the Board on Children, Youth, and Families at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and a developmental psychologist with expertise in child and youth development, senior-level leadership, research and program evaluation, partnership building, and developing and leading collaborative initiatives. At the National Academies, Suzanne’s responsibilities have included directing four consensus studies focused on children and adolescents birth to age 21. Reports from these studies include: Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice and Promoting the Educational Success of Children and Youth Learning English: Promising Futures. Prior to her tenure with the National Academies, she was founding national program leader for youth development research at 4-H National Headquarters. Before that, she served as research director in the Academy for Educational Development’s Center for Youth Development and Policy Research and was a research associate at Child Trends. She was a founder of the Journal of Youth Development: Bridging Research and Practice and chaired its Publications Committee. Dr. Le Menestrel has published in numerous refereed journals, and is an invited member of several advisory groups including a research advisory group for the American Camp Association, a Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital STEM Strategy advisory group, and the Cooperative Extension System-Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Initiative National Leadership Steering committee. She received the 2012 Outstanding Leadership and Service to the Extension Evaluation Profession award from the American Evaluation Association. She holds an M.S. and a Ph.D. in human development and family studies from the Pennsylvania State University, a B.S. in psychology from St. Lawrence University, and a nonprofit management executive certificate from Georgetown University.


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Tara Lynn Mainero, MSW,
is a research and policy analyst with over ten years of experience working to create opportunities for all of America’s children and youth to reach their full potential. She has deep content knowledge of child development, behavioral health, and how the environments in which children live influence outcomes throughout the life course. Since joining the National Academies Board on Children, Youth, and Families in 2012, Ms. Mainero has led a range of activities, including a dissemination strategy for a consensus study on preventing child maltreatment; a workshop on opportunities to support development during the summer months; a forum collaborative on depression prevention; and a youth advisory group on bullying prevention. Currently, Ms. Mainero directs a consensus study on fostering healthy emotional and behavioral development in children and youth. Prior to joining the National Academies, Ms. Mainero worked with federal staff at the Children’s Bureau in the US Department of Health and Human Services to develop funding announcements and review grant applications; provided clinical case management services to youth involved with the DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services; and supported executive leadership and advocacy efforts at the Children’s Defense Fund. She has been invited to speak at national conferences and to diverse stakeholder groups about science-based recommendations to strengthen research, policy, and practice. Ms. Mainero earned a Master of Social Work with a concentration in Social Policy and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.


Priyanka Nalamada is an Associate Program Officer on BCYF. She joined the National Academies in 2014 after a short term congressional internship. She has worked over the past few years with the Health and Medicine Division’s Board on Global Health. Her work included research and project management around the topic of public-private partnerships for health in low- and middle-income countries, looking at the issues around the formation, engagement, operations, and management of PPPs for global health and the role of industry as a key partner. While at the Academies she has also worked on other issues from a global health perspective such as the threat of antimicrobial resistance, the sustainability of medical device donations in low resource settings, and the role of multinational companies in health literacy. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College with a degree in Political Science.

Dara Shefska serves as a Research Associate on BCYF, supporting the Committee on the Neurobiological and Socio-behavioral Science of Adolescent Development and its Applications and the Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years. Dara joined the National Academies in 2015 as a research assistant on the Food and Nutrition Board, staffing the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions. In this role, she focused on publications, communications, and coordinating the Early Care and Education Innovation Collaborative. She was awarded the Health and Medicine Division’s Fineberg Impact Award in 2016 for her efforts to increase the visibility of Roundtable workshops and publications. Prior to the Academies, Dara studied urban geography at McGill University in Montreal, QC, where she conducted research on the neighborhood influences on gestational diabetes and practiced her French. Outside of work, she enjoys running and spending time with her dog.


Stacey Smit Photo2

Stacey Smit serves as a Senior Program Assistant on BCYF, supporting consensus studies on the board. She has more than 10 years’ experience providing administrative and event planning and has worked at various organizations in the area. In the past, she has supported the DBASSE Executive Office, the Decadal Survey of Social and Behavioral Sciences for Applications to National Security, the Committee on the Use of Economic Evidence to Inform Investments in Children, Youth, and Families, the Committee on Supporting the Parents of Young Children, the Forum on Children’s Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Health, and the Committee on Increasing Capacity for Reducing Bullying and Its Impact on the Lifecourse of Youth Involved. She received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Maryland, College Park.


Liz Townsend Photo2

Elizabeth Townsend, MPH,
 serves as an Associate Program Officer on BCYF, supporting the Committee on the Neurobiological and Socio-behavioral Science of Adolescent Development and its Applications, and the Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years. Prior to joining these studies, Liz was the Research Associate for the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences’ Decadal Survey on Social and Behavioral Sciences for Applications to National Security. Other BCYF studies that Liz has worked on include Ethical Considerations for Research on Housing-Related Health Hazards Involving Children; Children’s Health, the Nation’s Wealth: Assessing and Improving Child Health; and Working Families and Growing Kids: Caring for Children and Adolescents. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from Radford University and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where she interned for UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and volunteered with the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic and 1917 Clinic.

Lesley Webb Photo2

Lesley Webb
 serves as a Program Assistant on the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive and Sensory Sciences supporting the Analytic Frameworks project funded by ODNI and the Board on Children, Youth and Families supporting the Early Childhood Education Financing committee. Lesley graduated from Lynchburg College (LC) in Lynchburg, Virginia where she earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies. While in college, Lesley assisted with creating and maintaining the Lynchburg College Community Garden. Lesley was also active as the LC Vice President of the Environmental Sustainability Society. In 2016, Lesley worked as an intern with the Chesapeake Conservancy. She assisted the Project Manager with the letters of support for the FY 2018 Land and Water Conservation Collaborative Funding Proposal, to protect significant habitat and historical sites in Virginia and Maryland. Lesley grew up in Virginia Beach, VA.

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