About us

Our mission

Here at Brain Education Strategies & Technology (BEST), our mission is to develop, research, implement and disseminate the best practices for apps and training for the benefit of people with conditions that affect the brain.

BEST is a nonprofit corporation which has been designated by the IRS as a 501(c)3 tax exempt charitable organization, EIN 81-4352961. Your support is vital.

Our team

Michelle Ranae Wild

Michelle Ranae Wild, M.A.

A nationally acclaimed professor in Coastline Community College’s Acquired Brain Injury Program who has worked in the field for more than two decades, Michelle Ranae Wild surveyed the available tools to help her students, found those resources wanting, and decided to revolutionize the field and transform the lives of those with brain conditions by creating apps with input from her students.

Michelle was named the 2000 Orange County Community College Teacher of the Year and received Microsoft’s national David R. Pierce Faculty Technology Award in 2001. With a background in staff development and instructional design, Michelle has trained over 300 professionals who treat people with TBI and created online trainings for several apps for individuals with cognitive challenges and for the professionals who work with them.

Michelle authored the popular workbook series Making Cognitive Connections on the use of Apple-based, Android-based, and Windows-based smart devices as cognitive prosthetics, which is now being used in over 35 states and two continents. She also authored the Technology in Rehabilitation section in the Essential Brain Injury Guide used for professionals seeking certification from Brain Injury Association of America. In addition, Michelle established a website for people with brain disorders and professionals to share their own app reviews.

Stacey Hunter Schwartz

Stacey Hunter Schwartz, Ph.D.
Vice President/COO

Stacey Hunter Schwartz is the former dean and director of the Acquired Brain Injury Program at Coastline Community College, where she once also served in the roles of professor, counselor and neuropsychometrist. Under her leadership, the college’s ABI Program was awarded the California Community College Chancellor’s Office Exemplary Program Award. She authored a textbook chapter on TBI used in over 80 graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling (co-authoring subsequent editions with Michelle) and also co-authored the first book in the Making Cognitive Connections series.

For over 20 years Stacey has written and administered private, state, and federal grants totaling several millions of dollars. She served as executive director for an independent living center serving people with disabilities in Kansas. Most recently, she collaborated with employers to design and deliver customized vocational training programs for veterans, the formerly incarcerated and others at Goodwill Industries of Arkansas.

Kristi Pero

Kristi Pero
Co-Curriculum Designer/Trainer

Kristi Pero is a retired substitute teacher and works as a co-curriculum designer and trainer for BEST. Following a brain injury herself, she enrolled in Coastline Community College’s Acquired Brain Injury Program. Although not tech-savvy before her accident, Kristi soon saw how the strategies she mastered in Michelle’s class were vital to her maximizing her own independence, and she found her passion for helping others living with brain injury to use technology in their everyday lives.

Laurie Ehlhardt Powell

Laurie Ehlhardt Powell, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Board President

Laurie Ehlhardt Powell is Research Associate Professor at the Center on Brain Injury Research and Training, University of Oregon, Eugene. For the past several years, she has directed federally-funded research projects in the area of evidence-based instruction applied to assistive technology for cognition (ATC) for individuals with brain injury. She is also a certified speech-language pathologist with over 25 years of experience specializing in cognitive rehabilitation.

Lisa Winger

Lisa Winger
Board Secretary/Treasurer

Lisa Winger has been the Staff Assistant, Sr. for Coastline Community College’s Acquired Brain Injury Program for 12 years. She coordinates many program-related events, including fundraising events in support of the ABI Program’s Foundation such as the Annual Walk for Brain Injury Awareness. Lisa has also served on several non-profit boards such as the Assistance League of Huntington Beach, Huntington Beach High School’s Model United Nations Boosters, Huntington Beach High School’s Cross Country Boosters, Dwyer Middle School’s PTA, and Seacliff Elementary School’s PTA and Cub Scout Pack 101.

Rhonda Mahacek

Rhonda Mahacek, B.A., M.E.
Board Member

Rhonda Mahacek was a Member of the Congressionally Mandated Commission on Orphan Diseases. The Commission, after holding nationwide hearings, proposed recommendations for governmental policies regarding research into recognized Orphan Diseases. She also served as a representative for the U.S. Army Medical Research program for 5 years evaluating medical research grants recommending projects with the best chance of success and wide application.

Mrs. Mahacek served on the Board of Directors of a national health foundation based in New York City; then co-founded a new health foundation based in Bethesda, Maryland which emphasized patient and family support. She also formed a California corporation to promote awareness of health issues and had significant contacts with the media in print, television and radio as well as chairing regional support meetings.

Ciro Visone

Ciro Visone, M.A.
Board Member

Ciro is completing his Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University (2017), where he also received his M.A. in Clinical Psychology (2015). He is an officer in the United States Army (Captain) completing his Clinical Psychology Internship and Residency at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center.

Previously, he completed an extensive practicum at the Coastline Community College Acquired Brain Injury Program in Newport Beach, CA, where he served in a supervisory role. He received his M.A. degree in forensic psychology from Argosy University (2010). In addition, he is an 8-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps (2001-2009). His primary areas of study include health psychology and neuropsychology, with research concentrations in traumatic brain injury and sports concussions.