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PTY Online Academy Instructor Bios


Melissa Browning

Melissa Browning holds a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics from Loyola University Chicago and is a theologian, ethicist, and activist who studies community-based responses to injustice. Melissa teaches seminary students at Columbia Theological Seminary where she is the Interim Director of Contextual Education and International Partnerships.

For the past 20 years Melissa’s study and fieldwork has been tied to East Africa. Her first book, Risky Marriage: HIV and Intimate Relationships in Tanzania, builds on a year of fieldwork completed in Mwanza, Tanzania where women were asked to re-imagine Christian marriage as a space of safety and health for women. She often takes students on immersion trips to East Africa and works with congregations and non-profits in the region. Melissa’s forthcoming book with Fortress Press is entitled Navigating Dystopia: How to understand injustice, and then start changing the world.

Pietra Bruni

Pietra is a 4th year Clinical Psychological Science PhD student at Vanderbilt University. She completed her Master’s degree earlier this year—her thesis explored the relationship between individuals’ social emotional ability and how aware they are of their internal bodily state. Her clinical work centers on trauma, PTSD, and neurodevelopment in all life stages.

Pietra received a Certificate in College Teaching from Vanderbilt and has assisted in teaching numerous college-level courses (she’s even won awards for finding creative ways to teach science). Pietra has previously taught Biology of the Brain to gifted 3rd and 4th graders through PTY—she is passionate about learning and finding creative ways to explain complex topics. In her free time, Pietra enjoys hiking, gardening, and exploring the Nashville coffee scene.

PTY Online Courses: Biology of the Brain (3rd/4th), Neuroscience 101 (5th/6th)


Margaret Calhoun

Margaret Calhoun graduated from the University of North Texas in 2016 with a B.S. in Chemistry with a Certificate in Forensic Science. She is currently a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in the department of chemistry at Vanderbilt University. Her thesis work is focused on sensor development for proteins, specifically focusing on MMP-3 for the study of pre-term birth and IL-6 for early sepsis detection. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and annoying her 16-year-old cat, Tiger, that she has had since childhood.

PTY Online Courses: The Chemistry of Medicine (5th/6th, 7th/8th, and 9th/10th), Biosensors (9th/10th)


Brittany Hollister

Dr. Hollister currently works as an Academic Program Specialist for the Genetics & Genomics PhD program at the University of Florida Genetics Institute. She earned her PhD in Human Genetics at Vanderbilt University and completed her postdoctoral training at the National Human Genome Research Institute in the National Institutes of Health. Her research has focused on how genes and environment interact to affect common diseases like high blood pressure as well as how genetic information impacts and is used by groups such as parents and medical students. She is incredibly passionate about genetics education and has taught numerous courses to all different levels of students as well as contributed to community events focused on promoting genetics education.

PTY Online Courses: Genetic Epidemiology (5th/6th)


Jennifer Holt

Jennifer Holt has been an instructor at various times for SAVY/Programs for Talented Youths since the program’s beginning in 2008. Jennifer holds degrees from both Duke University (B.A. 1997) and Vanderbilt’s Peabody College (M.Ed. 1999). She is current in her twenty-second year of teaching in Williamson County Schools, with the last nineteen of those spent teaching gifted students. She adores writing curriculum and teaching gifted learners. She has won several awards in her teaching career, including the TAG curriculum award in 2014, the SENG Honor Roll, and Elementary School Teacher of the Year at both school and county level (2015). When she isn’t teaching or writing, you can usually find Jennifer at the theater, listening to music, reading, napping, or spending time on the lake with her husband and teenage son.

PTY Online Courses: Environmental Explorers (3rd/4th)


Nicholas Hortance

Nicholas Hortance received his Bachelors degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Miami, and is now a 2nd year graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Materials Science (IMS) program at Vanderbilt University. His research focuses on implementing solid-state electrolytes for electrochemical ammonia synthesis.

PTY Online Courses: Energy5: Electrochemical Devices for Energy Applications (7th/8th and 9th/10th)


David Lee

David Ian Lee currently serves as full-time faculty for the Theatre and Dance Program at Tennessee State University and as Co-Producing Artistic Director for Nashville’s Pipeline-Collective, an organization that creates guerilla-style theatre, with emphasis on the craft of the actor, dynamic storytelling, and theatrical magic on a shoestring budget. He is a freelance actor and director, having worked in New York for companies including Pearl Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Source, Boomerang, Gideon, and Flux Ensemble; for regional theatres including Actors Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Rep., Arizona Rep., Tennessee Rep.; and classical companies including New York Classical Theatre, Arkansas Shakespeare, Illinois Shakespeare, Sedona Shakespeare, Utah Shakespeare, and Nashville Shakespeare. He is an internationally produced playwright, with recent productions of his work in Canada, South Africa, Scotland, and Greece. He has presented at conferences including Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) and Mid-America Theatre Conference (MATC), and will present again at MATC 2019. A graduate of the William Esper Studio, He received his M.F.A in Directing in 2015 from Illinois State University, where he was honored with an Outstanding Teaching Award. He has proudly taught with Vanderbilt’s Programs for Talented Youth since 2016. Favorite credit: his son, Beckett Harrison Lee.

PTY Online Courses: Debate and Rhetoric: The Art of Argument (5th/6th and 7th/8th)


Katie Minyard

Katie Minyard holds a master’s degree in business administration and is a first-year PhD student studying Leadership Studies. With nearly ten years of experience in higher education administration, Katie has been part of both east coast and west coast university administrations and enjoys engaging with leaders at every level. Katie’s personal leadership philosophy was inspired by her grandfather who was a former university president and was appointed by US President Jimmy Carter as Under Secretary of the Army. Katie resides in Riverside, California with her husband, Mike, and their two rescue dogs Murphy and Ollie.

PTY Online Courses: Business School 101 (9th/10th and 11th/12th)


Adriana Norris

Adriana Norris is a Ph.D. student in Vanderbilt University’s Biological Sciences program. During her undergraduate education, she took pedagogy courses to learn about active learning strategies and was able to implement them in classrooms as a learning assistant for several college biology courses. Adriana is now performing biomedical research at Vanderbilt. She is creating a new mouse model of type 2 diabetes to try and replicate the disease in humans. She hopes the findings from her research will be used to inform the design of type 2 diabetes therapeutics.

PTY Online Courses: The Science of Disease: Type 2 Diabetes (11th/12th)


Zach Richards

Zach Richards is a 2014 graduate of Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science and a 2018 graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., where he was a member of the Georgetown Law Journal, a 1L tutor for the Black Law Students Association, and a student law clerk in the United States Senate. Zach most recently worked as an associate at a major law firm in Washington, D.C., where he primarily focused on complex commercial litigation. Prior to that, Zach served as a law clerk for a federal judge near his home town in Kentucky. In his free time, Zach enjoys painting and spending time with his Australian Shepherd/Lab mix, Geoffrey.

PTY Online Courses: Law School 101: Think Like a Lawyer (5th/6th and 7th/8th) Law School 101: Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research (9th/10th and 11th/12th)


Caoimhe Stack

Dr. Caoimhe Harrington Stack recently received her PhD from Vanderbilt University in Cognitive Psychology. Her research is in psycholinguistics, the investigation of how the mind represents and organizes language. Most recently, her research explored how listeners utilize prosody to structure the language they hear. She is currently a Teaching Fellow at Harding Academy. A huge animal lover, Caoimhe’s free time is most often spent at the horse barn or at home surrounded by her pack of three dogs and a cat.

PTY Online Courses: Intro to Cognitive Science (7th/8th, 9th/10th, and 11th/12th)


Zach Stuckelman

Zachary Stuckelman is a 4th year Developmental Psychology graduate student at Vanderbilt University. His line of research primarily focuses on how children’s learning interacts with different kinds of digital media. Additionally, Zach is interested in making rich language experiences convenient for families from different backgrounds through technology and digital media. He is very excited at the opportunity to teach PTY students.

PTY Online Courses: Media Mania (3rd/4th) and Psychology in Action (5th/6th and 9th/10th)


Lauren Tetz

Dr. Lauren Tetz has a PhD in Environmental Toxicology from the University of Michigan, School of Public Health where she researched the effects of plastic chemicals on pregnancy and human placental cells and tissues. Dr. Tetz is passionate about environmental science, how chemicals affect the health of humans and wildlife, and how public perception and public policy around environmental chemicals changes throughout history. After working as a scientist for 12 years, shenow teaches life science classes at The Columbus School, a bilingual school in Medellin, Colombia. When she isn’t teaching or researching, she loves to hike in the mountains around the city, go camping, and practice yoga and meditation.

PTY Online Courses: Toxicology and Public Health (7th/8th and 9th/10th)


Karen Tyson

Karen Tyson has been an instructor for Programs for Talented Youths for nine years, and she is current in her twelfth year of teaching elementary school. She has mostly taught 3rd and 4th grade during her teaching career, and she has extensive experience teaching gifted students from spending many years teaching in a magnet school. Some of her favorite things to do outside of the classroom are reading, playing guitar, gardening, walking for miles, and writing. Her three children and grandchild live nearby so she and her husband enjoy getting together with our family.

PTY Online Courses: Games Galore! (3rd/4th), Creative Contraptions (3rd/4th), Aquatic Ecology (3rd/4th), and Spatial Smarts (3rd/4th)


Mariann VanDevere

Mariann J. VanDevere received her doctorates in English and Media and she holds an MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) and B.A. in Communications. Her dissertation focuses on stand-up comedy from contemporary comedians of color. She has taught for five years at various universities and finds joy in using pop culture to engage, interact, and connect with students. As a VSA instructor, she is looking forward to getting to know her students and collaborating with them to create meaningful projects that seek to impact and empower people. When she is not binge-watching television and movies, she can be found hiking in nature.

PTY Online Courses: Comedy as Critique (9th/10th and 11th/12th) and What’s So Funny? (5th/6th and 7th/8th)


Susan Verberne-Sutton

Dr. Susan Verberne-Sutton is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences at Vanderbilt University. She has over eight years of experience teaching courses from freshman chemistry to senior-level nano-based courses with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She draws from her experience as a synthetic chemist in Silicon Valley as well as her time as director of a nanoscience laboratory, to build a course that will showcase contemporary skill sets in the materials industry. She earned her Ph.D. at Louisiana State University where her dissertation focused on surface science, the interface between chemistry and devices, using nanotemplating technologies to develop surface architectures for polymer-based photovoltaics (plastic solar cells).

PTY Online Courses: Microscopy of Nanomaterials (5th/6th and 11th/12th)


Beth Waight

Beth Waight is a teacher of the gifted in Nashville, Tennessee. She has been teaching for eleven years, and this is her fourth year teaching gifted and talented student full time. She has received extensive training in teaching gifted students through Vanderbilt Programs for Talent Youth’s Gifted Education Institute for teachers. Her passion for teaching is rooted in her love for designing curriculum that is challenging, engaging, and inspiring. She enjoys watching students solve problems and explore the world around them! Beth has been teaching for PTY for over a year, and she is s excited for the chance to use her talents passions with SAVY for another year! Beth and her husband are originally from the Chicago suburbs and miss deep-dish pizza and good Italian beef sandwiches! However, they enjoy Nashville too. In her free time, Beth is playing with our two-year-old son Jack, being outdoors, reading, and traveling to new cities!

PTY Online Courses: Secrets of the Moli Stone (3rd/4th) and Adventures in Autobiography (3rd/4th)


Joseph Weinstein-Webb

Dr. Joseph Weinstein-Webb received his PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Vanderbilt University in 2017. His dissertation work investigated the diagnostic and therapeutic capacities of gold nanostars in both prostate and breast cancer. He received his BS in biochemistry from Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) where he researched the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) and its capabilities to operate human cellular machinery even as an exogenous player within the body. He is currently a professor of chemistry at Lipscomb University, as well as a STEM tutor at various academies in Nashville. Joseph has always had a fascination with the human body, how it operates, and its response to outside pathogens and disease. When he is not investigating human diseases, he is practicing yoga. He teaches yoga at studios around Nashville and loves being involved with the community as well as outreach.

PTY Online Courses: Biology of Cancer (9th/10th)


Colin Wheeler

Colin Wheeler is currently completing his doctoral degree in Film, Media, and Theater at Georgia State University. Spending his time reading, writing, and teaching about pop-culture, Colin specializes in scrutinizing creative practices and media production. This is appropriate considering he is a creative laborer himself, a freelance illustrator and motion media designer who has worked in the television/advertising industry since he acquired his MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta in 2014. In his free time, he directs and animates his own experimental films, some of which have screened at the Savannah Film Festival and the Center for Puppetry Arts.

PTY Online Courses: Popular Culture and Media Criticism (9th/10th and 11th/12th) and Ethics of Filmmaking (11th/12th)


Holland White

As a former high school English teacher, Holland enjoyed talking about her Hogwarts House with her former students. (She’s a Ravenclaw, for sure.) Now, as a PhD student in Teaching, Learning, and Diversity at Vanderbilt, she wishes she had a time turner so that she could keep up with both academic and young adult books.

PTY Online Courses: World Beyond the Page: Unpacking the Magic of Harry Potter (7th/8th)