The leaders of Girls Garage are talented, tenacious and full of fire. They are experts in their fields and exemplify the love, grit and all-around know-how we nurture in our girls.

Our Staff

  • Bio

    Emily Pilloton

    Founder / Executive Director

    Emily Pilloton is a designer, builder, educator, and founder of the nonprofit Project H Design and Girls Garage. Using architecture and design as a vehicle to transform communities and classroom pedagogy, she works alongside youth ages 9-18 to co-design and build public architecture projects. She has built a farmers market with high school students, a playhouse with girls whose mothers have experienced domestic violence, a school library designed by its own middle school students, and microhomes for a homeless housing agency. Her work seeks to change the authorship of our built environment and cultivate power in underestimated communities, specifically young girls, undocumented youth, and communities of color. With an educational philosophy rooted in creativity, design thinking, and project-based learning, Emily also works with educators and schools to reinvent teaching and learning in more hands-on and community-focused ways. Emily holds a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of California Berkeley, and a Master of Fine Arts in Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is currently a Lecturer in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California Berkeley, and is the author of three books, Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People, Tell Them I Built This: Transforming Schools, Communities, and Lives With Design-Based Education, and a forthcoming book about tools and building for young women. Her work is documented in the full-length film If You Build It, and has been featured on the TED Stage, The New York Times, The Colbert Report and presented to the Obama Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy at The White House.

  • Bio

    Kristy Higares

    Director of Development

    Kristy Higares is an educator, writer, and arts administrator who’s worked for over twenty years serving schools and communities in Oakland. She’s inspired by the intersection of arts, education, community, and impact. Her passion and vision have been motivated by her work with Bay Area teens at The Crucible, an industrial art school in West Oakland, where she worked for twelve years.

    In 2010, Kristy was honored with a Jefferson Award in Public Service, for her work at The Crucible, which included managing educational programs, teambuilding, volunteer and workforce development programs, studio operations, public art, and events.

    She was an YBCA Equity Fellow in 2016, and created a photojournalism exhibit, interviewing and documenting residents in Oakland, along International Boulevard. Kristy enjoys working with her fellow artists, educators, and activists, to bring relevant and innovative new programs to the greater Bay Area. In 2017, Kristy was selected as a fellow through the University of Pennsylvania, Executive Leadership Program to explore Arts and Culture Strategy.

    Kristy was born at Highland Hospital, and returned back to Oakland, nineteen years later to go to UC Berkeley. She’s proud of her deep knowledge of taco trucks, thrift stores, and Oakland’s musical history.

  • Bio

    Maya Vilaplana

    Program Assistant

    Maya Vilaplana is an artist, educator and organizer raised in NYC and proudly based in Oakland. Drawing inspiration from the labor and love of her family and community, Maya writes and performs music, assists various extraordinary artists, and supports programs at Girls Garage and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Through her work, Maya is focused on empowering young people to hone confidence and creativity in imagining and instigating social change. Maya co-teaches our Pop-Up Shop classes on Wednesdays and our Tuesday welding classes.

  • Bio

    Allison Oropallo

    Carpentry and Woodworking Instructor

    Allison Oropallo is a high school shop and technology educator with over 15 years of building experience. She was featured (and voted Fan Favorite!) on HGTV’s All American Handyman. She currently teaches at the Marin School of Environmental Leadership and the Regional Occupational Program Construction Technology Class at Terra Linda High School in Marin County, California. Allison co-teaches our Advanced Design/Build classes on Mondays.

  • Bio

    Augusta Sitney

    Welding Instructor

    Augusta Sitney is a skilled welder and sculptor who runs her own metal fabrication business in Oakland. She has made all kinds of cool things out of metal, from furniture for commercial clients to kinetic sculptures. Augusta also works in the fabrication shop at the California College of the Arts.

  • Bio

    Amanda N. Simons

    Carpentry and Wood Instructor

    Amanda N. Simons is an artist, writer, and educator who lives in Oakland, California by way of Flint, Michigan. Amanda has been a mural painter, a middle school teacher, an ice cream scooper, a college professor, and a teacher of welding and woodworking to 5 through 65 year olds. Amanda holds an MFA/MA in Studio and Art and Visual and Critical Studies and is the Studio Operations Manager for First Year and Sculpture at California College of the Arts. As a shop boss, Amanda’s specialities include training complex woodshop practices to nervous novices, designing shop environments to provide non-literal tool use information to its users, and teaching ripcuts on the tablesaw as by means of yoga metaphors. In the few free hours of the day, Amanda makes sauces and sculptures, sews t-shirts and zipper pouches, and tinkers with tools and machines.

  • Bio

    Hallie Chen

    Architecture Instructor

    Born and raised in the Bay Area, Hallie attended UC Berkeley where she began examining the relationship between human beings and the environment through the study of sustainable agriculture, urban planning, critical urban theory and the visual arts. This line of inquiry led her to public space design projects in Kibera, Kenya and rebuilding abandoned houses into cultural spaces on Chicago’s south side while getting her Masters in Architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. She spent 2 years teaching Design and Building to east bay middle school students with Project H Design. Now in the process of becoming a licensed architect, Hallie is the principal and co-founder of CAHA DESIGN GROUP, an inter-disciplinary design practice in Oakland,CA. She spends her free time working with youth at Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, drawing, cooking, pizza eating, surfing, playing with her niece and volunteering with Floss Editions. She believes deeply in the power of design to empower communities and is excited to continue working with Emily at Girls Garage.

  • Bio

    HyeYoon Song

    Printmaking Instructor

    HyeYoon Song is an interdisciplinary artist with a primary focus on printmaking, painting and sculpture. She explores landscape, identity and narrative in her work by exploring the vocabularies of print and the multiple in an unconventional and multi-disciplinary context. HyeYoon obtained a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a MFA at the California College of the Arts. She has recently exhibited at Embark Gallery, Minnesota Street Projects, CCA, Acción Latina Gallery, Adobe Books and more. HyeYoon has taught at various institutions like CCA, Berkeley Art Museum, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Youth Art Exchange and continues to be an arts educator in the greater Bay Area.

  • Bio

    Meghann Harris

    Graphic Design and Visual Arts Instructor

    Meghann Harris is a graphic designer and middle school educator based in Baltimore. After working as a web designer, she earned her teaching credential from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She currently teaches Design Thinking and Graphic Design at the Baltimore Design School and is the Co-Sponsor of the National Junior Arts Honor Society. Meghann teaches digital and graphic design at Girls Garage’s summer camp.

Board of Directors

  • Bio

    Emily Pilloton

    Founder and Executive Director

    Emily Pilloton is a designer, builder, educator, and founder of the nonprofit Project H Design and Girls Garage. Using architecture and design as a vehicle to transform communities and classroom pedagogy, she works alongside youth ages 9-18 to co-design and build public architecture projects. She has built a farmers market with high school students, a playhouse with girls whose mothers have experienced domestic violence, a school library designed by its own middle school students, and microhomes for a homeless housing agency. Her work seeks to change the authorship of our built environment and cultivate power in underestimated communities, specifically young girls, undocumented youth, and communities of color. With an educational philosophy rooted in creativity, design thinking, and project-based learning, Emily also works with educators and schools to reinvent teaching and learning in more hands-on and community-focused ways. Emily holds a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of California Berkeley, and a Master of Fine Arts in Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is currently a Lecturer in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California Berkeley, and is the author of three books, Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People, Tell Them I Built This: Transforming Schools, Communities, and Lives With Design-Based Education, and a forthcoming book about tools and building for young women. Her work is documented in the full-length film If You Build It, and has been featured on the TED Stage, The New York Times, The Colbert Report and presented to the Obama Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy at The White House.

  • Bio

    Sarah Rich

    Global Editorial Director of IDEO

    Sarah Rich is a the Global Editorial Director of IDEO, a global design firm based in San Francisco. During her career as a writer and editor, she has run a variety of culture, business, and design publication; authored and edited four books, and published articles in numerous media outlets. She graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Cultural and Social Anthropology. Sarah has proudly served on the board of Girls Garage since the organization’s inception in January 2008. She lives with her husband and two young children in Oakland.

  • Bio

    Stephanie Mechura

    Documentary film editor

    Stephanie Mechura has been editing documentary films for nearly 25 years. A staff editor with Lucasfilm, Ltd. in the earlier part of her career, Stephanie has been freelance ever since, editing documentaries that have premiered at Sundance, Full Frame, San Francisco International Film Festival, Telluride, and Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Her films have received many of journalism’s highest awards, including the duPont Columbia Award, the Nestor Almendros Award for Courage in Filmmaking, and the Daniel Pearl Award for Excellence in Journalism.

    Stephanie’s work ultimately means teaming up with directors, producers and journalists who share a simple belief: powerful stories open minds, and can change our world for the better.

    Girls Garage embraces that ideal hands-on: empowering girls and young women with the skills and the courage necessary to affect real social change, to trust their voices, and to believe that they can build the world in which they want to live. As the mom of a Girls Garage alum, Stephanie has seen the power of the Girls Garage program glowing in her daughter, and feels humbled, privileged and inspired to be serving on this Board.

    Stephanie holds B.A. Degrees in Economics and Political Science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She lives with her teenage daughter in Oakland, California.

  • Bio

    Veleta Allen

    Nonprofit financial advisor

    Veleta Allen is a strategic, facts-focused and well-connected CFO with 14+ years’ experience in business development, corporate strategy, nonprofit management, financial reporting and finance. She has held senior leadership roles at a variety of nonprofit and public service organizations in the Bay Area. Veleta holds a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in Accounting from Golden Gate University, San Francisco. Her personal mission is to serve as a voice for the underserved, empower young girls to become great leaders and to educate communities on financial literacy. Her childhood passion for building and technology has led her to Girls Garage to live out her dream of helping young girls build more.

Girls Advisory Board

We assemble a rotating group of our teen participants to help advise the organization on programming, priorities, and strategic planning. The input of girls has helped shaped many of our existing offerings, including our Protest + Print class, and our no-cost Young Women's Design and Building Institute.