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Our Team

Our Founders



Dr. Mariam El-Kalay

Mariam El-Kalay, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) since 2010, received a B.S. in Cognitive Science from the University of California San Diego (UCSD). After completing her undergraduate studies, Mariam worked as a behavior therapist providing in-home ABA services to infants and children with developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Committed to finding where and how she could most influence and impact the lives of children with ASD, Mariam pursued her graduate studies and earned a Master’s in Special Education with an emphasis in ABA from the University of Washington, Seattle. During her graduate studies, Mariam worked with children and adolescents in several programs, schools, and districts, including the Experimental Education Unit (EEU) and the Monroe Public School District, developing and implementing home and school based programs.


From 2009-2011, Mariam worked as a behavior supervisor and a BCBA supervisor at AIM, Inc., overseeing in-home, community, and school-based ABA programs.  In 2012, Mariam served as an adjunct faculty professor at National University teaching BACB approved courses to graduate students. From 2011-2016, Mariam worked as the ABA program coordinator at Sunny Days of CA, Inc., managing and directing their ABA program in their San Diego and El Centro offices.

In 2022, Mariam earned a doctorate in behavioral health from Arizona State University. 

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Sabrina Avants

Sabrina Avants, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), began her career working with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2001. She received a dual Bachelor’s degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Elementary Education and Special Education, a Master’s degree in Education with a specialization in teaching students with special needs, and completed her BCBA coursework at Florida Institute of Technology. Additionally, Sabrina completed the Organizational Behavior Management Certificate in 2018. 

Sabrina started her career as a special education teacher for mild-moderate and moderate-severe students. She became a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) in 2012 and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in 2013. In 2009, Sabrina dedicated her career to the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. She has supervised in-home, community, and school-based ABA programs and provided behavior support to a wide age range of individuals with developmental delays and ASD, ages 0-22.


In 2010, Sabrina worked at AIM, Inc., as a behavior interventionist providing 1:1 services to children with ASD and a senior behavior interventionist providing new staff training. She worked at Sunny Days of CA, Inc., as a behavior specialist and ABA supervisor. From 2013-2016, Sabrina worked as the ABA Program Director at Pioneer Day School & Learning Center providing support services in the school, home, and community settings. 

Board Certified Behavior Analysts



Clinical Director

Jessica Hertel

Jessica Hertel, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), began working with children on with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2003. She received a B.A. in Psychology from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) in 2007. She completed her M.A. in Education from San Diego State University (SDSU), as well as her BCBA coursework in 2013. She obtained her BCBA in 2013. 

 Jessica started her career as a paraprofessional in a special day class that served preschool aged children with ASD and other developmental disorders. It was there she realized her passion and commitment in wanting to help the autism community. In 2009, she was introduced to the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and knew this was the career path for her. 


Since 2009, Jessica has provided in-home and community based ABA programs across San Diego County, for infants and children with ASD and other development disorders. Most recently, she has been in a supervisory role where she developed ABA programs and trained new staff to implement ABA programs. Jessica has also worked closely with school districts, providing input on IEP teams, developing behavior support plans (BSP), and training class room staff in ABA methodologies.






BCBA Program Manager

Rodrigo Estrella

Rodrigo Estrella, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), began working with children with developmental disabilities in 2019. He received a B.A. in Psychology from San Diego State University in 2018. He completed his M.A. in Special Education (ABA) as well as his BCBA coursework from Arizona State University In 2021. Rodrigo obtained his board certification that same year. 

Rodrigo had always wanted to work with children with disabilities since the start of his educational career and at the conclusion of his Bachelor's degree he applied to EDC. While working with EDC he discovered his interest in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and how this could be used to help children live more independent lives and how it helped families connect and assist their children the best that they can. This passion for family led him to enroll at ASU’s special education (ABA) program with the goal of becoming a BCBA to better assist children and their families better understand and address developmental disabilities. Since 2019, Rodrigo has continued to provide in-home and community based ABA therapy to children with ASD and other developmental disabilities across southern California, whilst completing coursework to become a BCBA. 


Rodrigo loves talking about and teaching ABA while continuing to educate himself to provide the most successful and ethical ABA therapy that he can. As a BCBA his utmost goal is to educate and support families and fellow staff to provide the best possible practices to help those that may not be able to help themselves. 

Office Administrators


Director of Human Services

Samantha Jones

Samantha Jones, has over 30 years experience in the law enforcement field. She was responsible for the day to day operations serving as Supervisor over Communication Officers and Records Section, Property Room Custodian, Accreditation Manager, as well as overseeing Personnel Files, the hiring process and other administrative duties. Samantha holds multiple certifications in the Administrative and Human Resources field and has held supervisory positions for over 15 years in the Law Enforcement field.

Samantha was very involved with the community by helping with fundraisers, job fairs, mentoring at a local elementary school, was an Assessor for the Commission of Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation (CFA) and was appointed as a Commissioner for the State of Florida for the Florida Telecommunication Accreditation Commission (FLA-TAC). In this role she was on the task force to get this program up and running for the police, fire and rescue sectors for the Public Safety Departments in Florida.  


In 2017, Samantha retired from the law enforcement field and joined the EDC team where she utilizes her administrative and supervisory skills.


Office Coordinator

Alexandra Russell

After graduating from (CSUSM) she started her career as a

human resources representative for a healthcare company that offered ABA/Autism Services. During her time as a human resource representative, she found her passion of enhancing the quality of life within her community and creating a difference in Early Childhood Intervention. She combined her passion of administrative work and ABA

services and joined the EDC team as Office Coordinator in 2022.

Alexandra Russell received her B.A in Human

and Behavioral Sciences from California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) in 2020.

Prior to starting at Explorer Development

Center, Alexandra worked in the Hospitality

industry for 8 years and worked her way up

to management. Within this management role,

she maintained a strong reputation of

efficiency and accuracy within her community

and applied communication skills to promote

long-term loyalty with clients.

Board of Directors



Jane Nelson

Jane Nelson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) since 1986, graduated with a Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) from Southwest Missouri State in 1974, and a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) in 1983. In 2012, she completed her certification in infant-preschool-family mental health (IPFMH) at Alliant University in San Diego. In addition, she is a Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI).

Jane began her social service career in Missouri working in the 1970’s to implement the newly passed law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Working with adolescent residents of a State School, many of whom had been institutionalized since they were young children, Jane assisted their transition to public school for the first time in their lives. This experience created a passion to see all children receive appropriate educational opportunities, beginning as early in life as possible.

After obtaining her MSW, Jane began a 24-year career at San Diego Regional Center (SDRC) for Developmental Disabilities. During her time at SDRC, she was a Service Coordinator, Early Start Specialist and Program Manager. In 2007, Jane took her passion for early intervention to build a successful program of evaluation and services at Sunny Days Early Childhood, Inc. Her love of mentoring young professionals in the field was realized in 2012 as a reflective supervisor for the YMCA behavioral program, which targeted children 0-5 who were at risk.

After retirement from paid employment in 2015, Jane continues to believe in embracing and supporting those who are creating new and important services to support families and children with developmental delays and disabilities.



Katelyn Palomo

Katelyn Palomo received her B.A. in Political Science from California State University, Fullerton in 2011. Before jumping into the field of ABA and Early Childhood Intervention, Katelyn worked in management at a law firm in Orange County and as an Executive Assistant to the President and CEO of a non-profit in Washington D.C.

Katelyn has approximately four years of experience on the administrative side of ABA and Early Childhood Intervention. She combined her love of administration and passion for helping children to the field of ABA and Early Childhood Intervention in January 2015.

In her free time, Katelyn volunteers with The Junior League of San Diego. Additionally, she coaches youth soccer.


Katelyn transitioned from the role as Office Manager where she handled the day-to-day administrative operations of Explorer Development Center to the Board of Directors in 2018.

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