Meet the Faculty


Janaki Natarajan, Founder

Janaki Natarajan is the founder of the Spark Teacher Education Institute. She has a Doctorate in Sociology of Education from Harvard. Janaki is also the Director of Bapagrama Educational Center in Bangalore, India which was founded by her parents and has primarily served the Dalit community since 1949. 

Mikaela Simms, Co-Director

Mikaela Simms is the co-director of the Spark Teacher Education Institute. She is a social justice educator in Southern Vermont. Mikaela also works with Indigo Radio and co-hosts In The Company of Black Women. She has been in education for over two decades and has worked in schools in East Palo Alto, California and Guinea, West Africa.

Maresa Nielson, Co-Director

Maresa Nielson is a second-grade public school teacher in Springfield, Vermont.  She has over ten years of teaching experience in pre-K through fourth-grade classrooms, including eight years as a lead classroom teacher.  Maresa has a Masters in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management from the School for International Training, as well as a Masters in Teaching for Social Justice, K-12.  Included in her educational experiences are teaching first grade in Kampala, Uganda, as well as studying culture and society in Botswana.  She is also a community organizer in Springfield, Vermont.  Maresa teaches mainly in the Human Development, Organizational Structures, and Elementary Methods modules of the Spark Teacher Education Program.

Nicole Awwad

Nicole Awwad is a high school Academic Resource teacher. She is a graduate of the Spark program and holds an MA in Sustainable Development from the School of International Training. She has four years of experience working with local NGOs as a grant writer and communications manager. As a teacher, critical analysis of the world informs her practice. By inviting student experience into the classroom she works to elicit meaningful connection and build content knowledge and understanding.

Kelly Junno

Kelly Junno is a third-grade public school teacher in Northampton, Massachusetts. She has worked in schools for eight years including five years as a classroom teacher. She has a bachelor’s degree in literary studies from Beloit College and a Masters in Teaching for Social Justice, K-12 from Marlboro College. She teaches Human Development and Elementary Methods.

Nina Kunimoto

Nina Kunimoto is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston – Urban Education, Leadership and Policy Studies Program. She is faculty and chair of sociology and diversity studies at Edmonds College in Seattle, Washington. Her areas of research are teacher education, decolonial/abolitionist pedagogy, social justice, and dialectical materialism.  She collectively hosts the Indigo Radio podcast, a project of the Spark Teacher Education Institute, aiming to deepen understanding and make connections about global issues and with classrooms. 

Becca Polk

Becca Polk currently lives in Morocco working on ecological community education projects. She is a Spark alum and has a Masters in Conflict Transformation and a Masters in Teaching for Social Justice, K-12 from Marlboro Graduate School. Becca taught middle school social studies teacher in Springfield, VT for 8 years. She was active in equity work, community organizing, and community gardens. She collectively hosts the Indigo Radio podcast, a project of the Spark Teacher Education Institute, aiming to deepen understanding and make connections about global issues and with classrooms. 

Anna Mullany

Anna Mullany is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences at Emory University, Rollins School of Public Health. Anna has a PhD in Public Health from UMass Amherst and has taught at both UMass Amherst and Clark University in Worcester, MA. The focus of her work is the political economy of health, rural poverty within the U.S., non-profits, and gender violence. Anna’s current postdoctoral research work focuses on reproductive justice, particularly with pregnant and postpartum women who use drugs in Georgia.   She collectively hosts the Indigo Radio podcast, a project of the Spark Teacher Education Institute, aiming to deepen understanding and make connections about global issues and with classrooms. 

Olivia Bregani

Olivia Bregani is a public educator teaching English/language arts in Claremont, New Hampshire. She studied English and education at Alfred University. In 2016, Olivia earned a Masters in Teaching for Social Justice, from Marlboro Graduate School in collaboration with the Spark Program. Before working in secondary schools she worked as an early childhood educator. She is also a union representative in her school district.