Academy Teachers

Every IEA Academy class is taught by a content area specialist who is trained in teaching gifted youth.

Academy teachers are enthusiastic experts in their subject matter – they are academics, researchers, and gifted individuals themselves with a passion for learning, driven to support the gifted community. Each teacher’s expertise and commitment enables students to explore topics in greater depth with authorities on the subject. Take a look at their passions, their interests, and why they love teaching Academy students.

Academy Teachers

Alka Kumar

Alka Kumar is a nature lover and compassionate educator who loves to work with kids. As a highly motivated and energetic teacher, she believes that every student deserves to be challenged so they can reach their highest potential. She holds an MS in Life Science (Botany) and MPhil Degree in Microbiology. She has been a Project Learning Tree facilitator for over 20 years and is associated with the Classroom Connection program of Caltech for teachers in LA County. In 2016, Alka co-presented “Preschool to Tree School” at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, drawing over 125 attendees. In her spare time, Alka likes to spend time with family, including her two daughters, one in elementary school, the other at university. She is also passionate about fundraising and planning events for her non-profit organization, Anugraha Drishtidaan, USA, which creates Eye health awareness camps for senior citizens and underserved communities.


Alessandra Santucci

Alessandra is a relatively recent transplant from Chicago, IL, where she received her BA from Northwestern University in Italian Studies and Visual Arts. With over 10 years of instructional experience, including her time as a 4th/5th grade teacher at Walden School in Pasadena, Alessandra loves to share her passion for the Arts with students of all ages. As a product of a progressive education and environment, she believes that the most effective educational communities nurture creativity and curiosity, celebrate individuality, and foster a sense of responsibility for self, environment, and both local and global communities. In addition to freelance work in Graphic Design, Alessandra has been a certified yoga instructor through Yoga Alliance and teaches group and private yoga lessons. Perhaps more Renaissance in nature, Alessandra also teaches dance and Italian language lessons, and is working on improving her French and Portuguese. She also adores darkroom photography, reading, cooking, linguistics, and travel.


Alex Romero

Alex is a New Mexico native with an insatiable curiosity that led him to become a scientist.  After graduating from Duke University with degrees in biology and chemistry, Alex attended Caltech for graduate school where he did research in biology and applied physics.  Since graduating from Caltech, he has worked both as a scientist and a teacher, working with students at all levels from kindergarten through college.  In addition to his love of science and teaching, he enjoys writing, playing music, riding bicycles, rollerblading, making art, and cooking.


Chris Bradfield

Chris has been working in the technology business for over 20 years, building internet startups and online game companies.  He currently works as a consultant, helping game companies to manage their engineering needs.  He began teaching computer programming to kids 3 years ago after discovering a passion for teaching.  He is a strong believer in the benefits of early computer science education and thinks that every child should learn to code.  He also volunteers with Girl Scouts and local schools to assist in STEM initiatives.  In his scarce free time Chris enjoys making things – tinkering with 3D printers, electronics, and computers.


Ellen Brown

Ellen Brown comes to us from the Mirman School for Highly Gifted, where she taught second grade for twenty years. Ms. Brown studied at UCLA and CSUN and went to graduate school at UCR. She also went to film school at L.A. Valley College. Ellen plays guitar and writes. She loves horseback riding, traveling, and movies! She brings her special Star Wars class to IEA.  This class focuses on the connection between the Star Wars movies and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. Students watch and analyze movies IV-VI, examining the stages of the hero’s journey and tracking character development and themes about life.


Grayson Kent

Grayson is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara, where he earned his BS in Paleobiology. He has worked with a wide variety of animals from everyday household pets to sign language-using chimpanzees to venomous snakes, and has over 25 years of experience owning and handling exotic reptiles. He has also participated in several zoological/paleontological studies and is an officer of the Southwestern Herpetologist Society. Grayson has been employed as the Animal Curator of a children’s museum, the Reptile Specialist of a major chain pet store, and as an assistant/technician in a veterinary clinic. In 2012, Grayson started his own mobile natural history museum, Rock & Roll Reptiles, to bring his passion for animals and fossils to children everywhere (and adults, too!). He is thrilled and honored to be teaching for IEA.


John Kneedler

John Kneedler is a UCLA-Certified Mindfulness Facilitator who has taught mindfulness practices and meditation throughout Southern California to people of all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels. He received his B.A. in Psychology from Duke University. John’s experience includes extensive work with children, both privately and in the classroom, having received training from the Mindful Schools Curriculum Training Program. He has shared these practices with students ranging from kindergarten through high schoolers in public, private, and charter school settings as well as through student enrichment programs, including the LAPD-created Operation Progress in Watts and the Culinary Arts Kids Eat program through the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles and Santee Educational Complex. He has also been a Teacher’s Assistant for several years for the UCLA undergraduate summer course, PSY 175: Mindfulness Practice and Theory. First and foremost, John is a dedicated practitioner who strongly values the continuing development of his own personal practice, including participation in annual residential silent retreats.


Mamadou S. Diallo

Mamadou Diallo is currently a Visiting Faculty in Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. Prior to his current appointment at Caltech, he served as Associate Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Advanced Materials and Systems for Water Purification of the Graduate School of EEWS (Energy, Environment, Water and Sustainability) at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). Dr. Diallo comes to IEA with a passion for sustainability education to advance diversity, social relevance and student engagement in STEM curricula, from environmental and earth system sciences to chemistry, materials science, and engineering.


Nathalie Blume

Nathalie Blume got the unusual spelling of her first name (that silent ‘h’!) from her French mother, and didn’t think much about it until she moved from France to the States as a teenager. Nathalie studied computer science, psychology and sociology at Oregon State University and Wellesley College and received her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from UCLA. She has worked as a research psychologist and data scientist for over 15 years, focusing on pathological memory impairment, expertise formation, and bringing Big Data tools to public healthcare agencies. She is currently on a work break to care for her 6 year-old son who, though gifted, has struggled in school, and her inquisitive 3 year old daughter. Together, she and her family enjoy watching bugs in the garden and putting on shows at home.


Nicole Endacott

Nicole is a South Pasadena native who has always loved to learn and be outdoors. She received her B.S. in Biology with an Ecology emphasis from Azusa Pacific University. While in school, she had the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa, take Marine Biology field courses on Whidbey Island in Washington state, research and present on local fire ecology, and work in various supplemental instruction and tutoring capacities for both math and science. Since graduating, she has worked seasonally as an outdoor education naturalist – taking groups of students on hikes through the redwood forest in Santa Cruz while teaching them science using creative, hands-on methods. Nicole spends her free time hiking, tidepooling, reading, going to museums, and eating tacos while enjoying quality time with her friends, family, and dog.


Toby Jacobrown

Toby has worked from Seattle to Switzerland to the Myanmar border, teaching biology, writing, movement theater, and massage therapy. He has managed a farm-based education program in Washington, and lead outdoor classes on wild-edibles in upstate New York. He has worked as a commercial filmmaker and created documentaries for non-profit groups. Currently he works as a writer, with several stories published and several plays produced. When he has free time, Toby enjoys ventures into Griffith Park, seeing local theater, composing music, and, of course, learning new things.


Yesenia Vargas

Yesenia is currently a second-year student in the Master of Public Diplomacy program at USC. Her research focuses on cultural and musical diplomacy, particularly in the context of U.S.-Latin American interactions. Before coming to USC, she earned a B.A. in Political Science and B.A. in French at Centenary College of Louisiana. She has previously worked with Volunteers for Youth Justice, Hope Medical Center for Women, and the Cape Town Refugee Centre.

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