Susan Finley is the Creator and Director of Changing Minds at Concord High School, a documentary about a science and mindfulness program she developed for an at risk school on Staten Island. Inspired by new research on the brain’s ability to change, the students learned strategies to better regulate their attention and emotion. As co-founder and director of the nonprofit, The Producers’ Project for nine years, Susan integrated video-production programs into alternative schools to make learning more engaging and relevant. The resulting youth-made films screened at many venues including Tribeca Film Festival. Susan’s film credits as a screenwriter, script consultant and producer include: The First Time, New Line Cinema, Wall Street, 20th Century Fox, Iron And Silk, Miramax Interstellar Pig, Paramount and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, New Line Cinema. Susan created, wrote and designed Lizzy and Gordon Visit The Sculpture Garden, an original animated web feature for the National Gallery of Art’s Education Department that was featured on CNN and in USA Today and awarded Best Site 2000 by Education World. She wrote Ocean Voyager, an adventure game for the Smithsonian’s Ocean Planet Exhibit and Hi, It’s Me, AT&T Lab’s interactive exhibit at the Tech Museum. Susan holds a Master of Professional Studies degree in Interactive Telecommunications from New York University.
Peter Barton (Producer) is a veteran documentary filmmaker with three Emmy nominations and three CINE Golden Eagle awards to his credit. He received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Names Can Really Hurt Us, a CBS-TV special still used in the classroom to combat prejudice. Hatebusters, his WNET-TV PSAs aimed at a young audience, were syndicated in 31 cities nationwide. Love/Hate/Prejudice/Peace, also produced for Channel 13 was an hour-long “town meeting” of young people to promote understanding and reduce discrimination. He collaborated on Janie’s Janie, a landmark movie of the women’s liberation movement that was honored with a screening at Lincoln Center; along with another Barton film, Eddie, it has been placed in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. His work has also appeared on HBO and Showtime. In 1978, he formed the nonprofit, Groundswell, Inc., “to amplify the voices of the disadvantaged using cutting-edge media.” Peter recently produced Changing Minds at Concord High School and was awarded an NEA development grant for a documentary about women of the 60’s. He has taught film production and screenwriting at New York University, Bennington College, Columbia University and in devastated areas of the South Bronx and Newark. He holds an M.F.A. in playwriting and directing from Yale School of Drama, and served in the Peace Corps in Chile.
(Lead Scientist) Dr. Tracy Dennis (Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University) is a Professor in the Psychology Department at Hunter College, The City University of New York (CUNY) and member of the CUNY faculty for the Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience and Health and Clinical Psychology Science doctoral programs. Trained in clinical psychology from a developmental psychopathology perspective, she has received support from the NIH, the NSF, and other granting agencies to examine the fundamental role of emotions in promoting mental health. She has over fifty publications on the following topics: the development of emotion regulation, emotional and cognitive risk for mood and anxiety disorders, interventions that promote emotional resilience, such as mindfulness and attention bias modification, and the neurophysiological biomarkers for these processes with an eye towards improving early detection and treatment of emotional disorders. Current research projects integrate measurement of brain, behavior, and environment to examine school-based mindfulness training for at-risk youth, the development of emotion regulation, and the use of cognitive bias modification to ameliorate stress and anxiety. New research also examines the use of mobile applications or “apps” to administer empirically validated interventions for problems with stress, anxiety, and depression and the impact of social media on social-emotional well-being. Recent publications are in the journals Biological Psychology, Emotion, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, and Psychophysiology.
David Vago, PhD. (Science Consultant) is an instructor of psychology in the Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory (FNL), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Harvard Medical School. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the department of Psychiatry at BWH, the Stuart T. Hauser Research Training Program in Biological and Social Psychiatry (HMS), and at the Utah Center for Mind-Body Interactions within the University of Utah Medical School. David has previously held the position of Senior Research Coordinator for the Mind & Life Institute and is currently a Mind and Life Fellow. Broadly speaking, David’s research is intended to clarify adaptive mind-brain-body interactions and their therapeutic relevance across the neuropsychiatric spectrum of disorders. By revealing the neural circuitry and further identifying endophenotypes for pathophysiology, David hopes to better predict outcomes and potential targets for the development of biologically-based diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for those suffering with mental illness. Within this context, David specifically investigates neural systems and associated networks supporting contemplative practices and the bio-psycho-social processes underlying Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, and Self-Transcendence (S-ART). David leads a number of research initiatives that explore wisdom-based traditions of contemplative practice which may strengthen S-ART systems and the basic neuroscientific mechanisms by which these practices function.
Robert W. Roeser, PhD. (Science Consultant) is a Professor of Psychology and Human Development in the Department of Psychology at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. He received his BA with honors in Psychology from Cornell University (1989) and his Ph.D. from the Combined Program in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan (1996). From 1999-2004 he was a William T. Grant Foundation Faculty Scholar, and in 2005 he was a United States Fulbright Scholar in India. Dr. Roeser’s research focuses on school as a primary cultural context of adolescent development, and on the professional development of teachers. His current research is focused on how mindfulness training can be used to cultivate the positive development of adolescents and teachers alike.
Ephraim Weisstein (Educational Coordinator) From 1992-August 2007, Ephraim built the Commonwealth Corporation’s youth development and education division into a nationally recognized leader in alternative education, community partnerships, and combining work and learning. Ephraim is most known for inventing Diploma Plus, a nationally acclaimed alternative high school model operating 30 schools in eight states and serving 4,000 formerly disconnected youth. He recently served as the Chair of the Diploma Plus Board of Directors In 2008, Ephraim wrote three papers on multiple pathways to college and career and disconnected older youth for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and he is continuing to assist them in delivering a multiple pathways strategy in New England. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation are contracting with Ephraim to develop a new alternative high school model that blends affective and cognitive strategies and uses the latest in educational technologies. Named Schools for the Future, the first pilot opened in August 2011. Ephraim also recently worked on national and state policy and strategies that improve the outcomes for disconnected youth as the Vice Chair of the National Youth Employment and an advisor to foundations and federal agencies.
Amy Gross (MBSR PD Instructor) is the former Editor in Chief of O, The Oprah Magazine and is now teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, (MBSR), a program designed by microbiologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. and introduced at UMass Medical Center in l979. Over three decades of research have proven the course’s efficacy in teaching people how to transform their stress reactions in ways that benefit both their physical and emotional health. Amy had a long career in women’s magazines, editing Mirabella and Elle as well as O, serving as features editor of Vogue, and writing dozens of articles and essays for various publications. A long-time advocate of empowering individuals to participate in their own health care, she co-authored two books on women’s health: Women Talk About Breast Surgery, from Diagnosis to Recovery and Women Talk About Gynecological Surgery. She is a contributing editor at Tricycle, The Buddhist Review, and is on the Advisory Board of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society in Worcester, MA.
Asher Novek (Production Assistant) is in the final year of his Master’s program at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. His program, “International Communications and Accessibility” studies the cross section of policy, design, and technology. His Thesis, which will officially begin in the Fall of 2013, will look at ways technology can be used for community development around the world, starting with a pilot in New York City. He has worked in a variety of capacities, serving as a deputy director in the NYC Comptroller’s office for 3 years, worked on the production of an independent feature film and various commercials, several years as a bartender, and 3 days on an assembly line for a candy packing factory. He lives in Brooklyn, writes screenplays in his spare time, serves on the executive committee for his local political club, and tweets @ashernovek.