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 is a somewhat 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 Art and Design with all students. She particularly enjoys combining art and design with other disciplines to create interesting, well-rounded courses. Alessandra is a dedicated proponent of polymathic study, and 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 and Web Design, Alessandra is a certified yoga instructor through Yoga Alliance and teaches group and private yoga lessons. She also teaches dance and Italian language lessons, and is working on improving her Mandarin Chinese and Korean. She also adores darkroom photography, reading, cooking, linguistics, and travel.
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 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 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.
Mary Hong has nearly 20 years of experience teaching children and adults. She has taught English and American literature and creative writing at universities in the U.S. and the Netherlands, performed with opera and ballet companies, and taught ballet to all ages. She has a B.A. from Pomona College, a Ph.D. in English Literature from the Johns Hopkins University, and is a published writer. After living in the Netherlands for nine years, she recently moved back to Los Angeles with her family.
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 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 as an outdoor education naturalist in the Santa Cruz redwoods, as a classroom science teacher, and on staff at IEA. Nicole spends her free time hiking, tidepooling, reading, going to museums, and finding new places to eat while enjoying quality time with her friends, family, and dog.
Shangita received her B.S. in Physics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Following her undergraduate experience, Shangita had a 5-year-long career as an electrical engineer, focusing on hardware and design of consumer audio electronics. In addition to being a self-proclaimed “nerd”, Shangita is a dedicated musician and athlete. She loves to communicate science in a way that is culturally relevant to students; Shangita’s passion for educating in STEM has led her to pursue a master’s degree in Education at the University of Southern California, where she hopes to implement her engineering and real-world experiences to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, and all passionate learners alike.
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.