Academy Teachers | Programs | Institute for Educational Advancement

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

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. Ellen believes that every child deserves individualized instruction, and that incorporating values into each lesson is key to fostering the whole child. Ms. Brown studied at UCLA and CSUN and went to graduate school at UC Riverside. She also went to film school at L.A. Valley College. Ellen plays guitar and writes, and loves horseback riding, traveling, and movies! True to her own passions, she has taught a wide range of topics, including poetry and drama, history of cinema, and political and cultural histories. Classes such as Study of Star Wars: The Hero’s Journey and Buy Me That! A Kid’s Guide to Surviving Commercials continue to be favorite offerings at IEA. Above all, Ellen can’t wait to teach her new class, King George: What Was His Problem? to students this summer!


Nicole Endacott

Nicole is a South Pasadena native who has always loved to learn and be outdoors. She received her degree in Biology with an Ecology emphasis from Azusa Pacific University. She has had the opportunity to study on safari 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 educational capacities for both math and science. She has also worked as an outdoor education naturalist in the Santa Cruz redwoods, as a classroom science teacher, and currently is on staff at IEA. Nicole spends her free time hiking, reading, going to museums, and finding new places to eat while enjoying quality time with her friends, family, and dog.


Caitlin Epsteen

Caitie’s passion for working with children stems from her desire to help others the way that her youngest brother was helped after undergoing a hemispherectomy. Caitie received her BA in linguistics and psychology from UCLA, spending most of her time working in a research lab, focusing on child language acquisition in children 3 to 6 months of age. Currently, Caitie is a math and science 4th and 5th grade teacher at Bridges Academy, where she found that students do their best work when they are in an environment that focuses on their strengths. She believes that students can do anything when they are happy, comfortable, and challenged in their environment.  When not teaching, Caitie spends her time leading spin classes and hanging out with her dog, Theodore Roosevelt. She is very excited to teach many of our science classes this summer!


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 teach at IEA.


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.


Tessa Lamb

Tessa has been a teacher for over 15 years. Originally from Vancouver, BC, Canada, Tessa graduated from the University of British Columbia, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Education. She has worked in many roles from classroom to specialist teacher. Most recently since her move to Los Angeles, she has taught at an art-based public charter school and has developed an independent practice supporting children identified as twice exceptional through reading and writing. Tessa loves to spend her free time walking on the beach and cooking with her family.


Tristan Murphy

A recent graduate of California Institute of Technology, Tristan has a deep love for teaching and all forms of education. He is driven to reconstruct the way that students look at school and its impact on learning, providing students with the tools to learn how to create new knowledge as opposed to rote memorization. After entering college as a mechanical engineering major, Tristan moved on to complete his BS in Geology and History. Though he began by teaching engineering and robotics to elementary and middle school students four years ago, Tristan has since taught people of all ages in rock climbing, Geology, and sword fighting. He believes in well-rounded education that will provide insight into the multi-facetted nature of science, engineering, humanities, and social sciences. He is currently pursuing further studies in history, philosophy, and language in preparation for PhD studies in History.


Michael Newton Rivkin

By age 7, Michael had decided he wanted to be an actor. Three years later, he landed his first professional job working with The Wooster Group, an experimental theatre company in NYC whose members at the time included Willem Dafoe, Spalding Gray, and Ron Vawter. Upon graduating high school, Michael went on to earn his degree in Theater from UCLA and began working with Tim Robbins’ theatre company, The Actors’ Gang. Michael’s first play, co-written and co-produced with Jack Black was Bert See’s the Light, performed at The Intersection of the Arts theatre in San Francisco’s Mission district. 25 years later, Michael has never looked back, and continues to produce, direct and act in film, TV, and theater. Michael discovered his love for working with young people two years ago when he began teaching improvisation at The Walden School in Pasadena and for the East Side Gifted community. Michael’s favorite job is taking care of his 9-year-old daughter Lily and his 2 cats and 2 dogs with his wife of 19 years, Leslie. Michael is thrilled to be teaching And Then What? Improv101!


Anita Russell

Anita is a third-generation Californian and self-confessed bookaholic. She graduated from CSUN with a B.A. in communication studies, and earned her teaching credential in history from National University. Anita also attended film school at L.A. Valley College. While at Fairfield School, where she taught for fourteen years, Anita created a class called Global Awareness, which combined geography, current events and history after a student told her that his family drove to Cuba for the weekend. Upon joining Community Charter Early College High School in 2004, Anita created a Humanities course incorporating state standards in English, history, drama and art to help her students understand how other cultures can be very different from their own. In addition to books and reading poetry out loud, Anita loves road trips and learning to see life through the camera lens.


Alessandra Santucci

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 the 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.


Melissa Sondej

Melissa is a multi-disciplinary biochemist with an extensive background in the fields of microbiology, biochemistry, molecular biology and analytical analysis. She has a BS in biochemistry from Alma College (a small liberal arts college in Michigan) and a MA and PhD in microbiology from the University of Buffalo.  She went on to do a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and then at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UCLA.  Some of her research includes studying sugar transport across the cell membrane of the E. coli (bacteria), cell-death in a soil bacterium called M. xanthus and making a catalog of the proteins from human salvia so it can be used in biomarker discovery. Melissa is actively involved in assisting the management of two South Pasadena Destination Imagination (DI) teams.  DI “fosters students’ creativity, courage, and curiosity through open-ended academic challenges in the fields of STEM, fine arts and service learning.” She has a passion for teaching and has been teaching/tutoring for most of her life. To her, the world is one big classroom.  Melissa has strong love for nature and can be found hiking, camping, and kayaking with her family any chance she can get.

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