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VSA 2019 Instructors

Emma Banks


Dr. Emma Banks recently earned her PhD from Vanderbilt’s Anthropology Department. Her research and activism center on the impacts of coal mining in rural communities in La Guajira, Colombia. She remains deeply involved and committed to her research site, working in solidarity with displaced communities to improve their living conditions.  In Tennessee, she keeps a small hobby farm with her husband.

William Barbour


Will Barbour is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Institute for Software Integrated Systems. His interdisciplinary research is focused on transportation, big data, sensing, and artificial intelligence. He is passionate about the sustainability and public policy implications of his research. In his free time, Will enjoys woodworking, cycling, kayaking, and hiking with his dog. He is also an Eisenhower Transportation Fellow and an Eno Leadership Fellow. He graduated with an M.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Corey Brady


Corey Brady is an Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences at Vanderbilt. His research focuses on computational modeling and the collective learning of classroom groups. Prior to entering academia he worked in industry, leading the design and development of Texas Instruments’ TI-Navigator system (2001-2006) and running two education technology startups.  He has also been a classroom teacher, at middle school, high school, and community college levels.  He holds degrees in Pure Mathematics (MS), English Literature (MA), and Mathematics Education (PhD).

Jason Brasel


Jason Brasel is a math teacher and math education researcher at the University of Michigan. He is interested in the interplay between teachers’ mathematical knowledge and teaching practice. He lives in Nashville with his wife, three daughters, and catahoula.

Blake Dunshee


Blake Dunshee is a Ph.D. student in the Mathematics department at Vanderbilt University. His wide-ranging interests span any subject that can be mathematically analyzed and those that he wishes could be. These include (but are definitely not limited to) graph theory, investing, behavioral economics, sabermetrics, bioethics, and theology. Blake is a sports fanatic as well as a board, card, and lawn game enthusiast. He considers himself living proof that sound strategy can marginally make up for an otherwise mediocre skill set. If he got to choose his own sponsors they would be Investopedia, Spikeball, Dominion, and Les Misérables.  

Walt Ecton


Walt Ecton is Ph.D. student in the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at Vanderbilt University. His research focuses on the role of public opinion and politics in education, and on the policies affecting students’ transitions from high school into college and the workforce. Prior to his doctoral studies, Walt taught high school history in Atlanta, GA, and worked in student success technology and consulting with the Education Advisory Board in Washington, DC. In his free time, Walt loves running, listening to podcasts (usually while running!) and checking out all the great art, theater, and music that Nashville has to offer!

Dawson Gray


Dawson Gray is in his fourteenth year with Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth and his eleventh year as an instructor. He currently teaches at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, Tennessee, where he serves as the mathematics department chair for grades 5–12 and teaches AP statistics, AP calculus AB, and college preparatory calculus. He graduated from Vanderbilt University with a double major in piano performance and mathematics, and he completed a master’s degree in secondary education with an emphasis on mathematics at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College.

Bonnie Griffin


Bonnie Griffin is a 4th-year Ph.D. student studying French Literature at Vanderbilt University. For her dissertation research, she studies allegorical and physical voyages to utopia in 17th and 18th century French voyage literature. She investigates how such voyages to imagined places provide insight into the articulation of dominant cultural institutions, and give clues about how such literature both upholds and subverts social norms. When she isn’t reading or writing, Bonnie enjoys rock climbing, hiking, and travelling.

Erika Grundstrom


Erika Grundstrom loves sharing the wonder of the universe with everyone young and old and has done so for 10 years with Programs for Talented Youth.  She is the director of astronomy labs and outreach in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University, and her research combines interests in massive stars, spectroscopy, and astronomy education. She received a Ph.D. from Georgia State University in 2007. Education and outreach have brought her (and often an inflatable planetarium) into schools throughout the Nashville region as well as provided opportunities to develop and teach curriculum for fifth-, sixth-, and ninth-grade students. Outside the classroom she loves to play with her husband and toddler, partner dance, play sand volleyball, and travel.

Jan Harris


Dr. Jan Elaine Harris is an Associate Professor of English and Writing at Lipscomb University. Jan earned her PhD from the University of Alabama in 2008. Six poems from her collection in progress, Voyager, were featured in Waxing and Waning’s Fall 2017 Issue. She has given readings of her work at SCMLA (2017), PCA/ACA (2018), and RMMLA (2018). One of her poems was featured on Spokane’s Public Radio in February 2018. Other poems have appeared in Anthology, Event, and Exposition. When Jan is not teaching or writing, she probably hanging out with her GSPs, Malloy and Astrid.

Lara Jasien


Lara Jasien is a Ph.D student in the department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University. Her dissertation research centralizes the role of aesthetic experiences in learning mathematics and in learning to love mathematics. In particular, her research looks at the role of mathematical aesthetics in problem-finding, an aspect of mathematical practice largely missing from schools but fundamental to the work of mathematicians. As a prior high school math teacher and math major in her undergraduate studies, she is invested in studying and designing learning ecologies that support mathematical wonder and rigorous pursuit of interesting mathematical questions. 

Anna Kasdan


Anna Kasdan is a first year graduate student in the Neuroscience program. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience, with a minor in Piano Performance, at Boston University and then worked as a research assistant at NYU studying music aesthetics, music perception, and neuroeducation. At Vanderbilt, her research broadly focuses on the brain basis of music processing abilities in clinical populations, such as individuals with developmental language disorder, aphasia, and William’s Syndrome. Committed to STEM outreach and education, Anna is involved with research projects at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville. Anna enjoys hiking, biking, and cheering on the Boston Red Sox.

John Koch


Dr. John P. Koch is a Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of Debate in the Department of Communication Studies. He has a Ph.D. in Communication Studies, with an emphasis in rhetoric, from Wayne State University. His primary research interests include argumentation and debate, citizenship, democratic theory, and presidential rhetoric. Other areas of interest are public memory and the intersection of political culture, rhetoric, and sports.

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. 

Kelsay Neely


Kelsay Neely is a NASA Space Grant Fellow in Mechanical Engineering department at Vanderbilt. Her Ph.D. work focuses on energetic material architectures and in-space manufacturing. In her free time, Kelsay enjoys watching cooking shows, playing racquetball, and trivia.

Sarah O’Brien


Sarah loves sharing her passion for discussing the big questions of life with everyone, and empowering them to turn thought into action. Sarah is a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophical and Theological Studies at Drew University with concentrations in Women’s and Gender Studies and Ecology. A 2013 graduate of Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science, Sarah completed her Master of Theological Studies at Iliff School of Theology. Her research interests center around questions of ontology, justice, and power as they relate to gender-based violence and the environment. She does this at the intersections of legal studies, 20th Century continental Philosophy, feminism, posthumanism, environmental philosophy, and ethics. Sarah has taught philosophy of law at Kean University and is excited to bring this course to Programs for Talented Youth. When she is not teaching and researching, Sarah enjoys climbing mountains, experimenting with flavors in the kitchen, and challenging her assumptions through foreign travel.

Andrea Perreault


Andrea Perreault is a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Chemical and Physical Biology program at Vanderbilt University. She earned a B.A. in Mathematics and a B.S. in Biology from High Point University. Her dissertation research investigates gene regulation in erythroid cell differentiation, focusing on chromatin interactions and modeling transcriptional dynamics. In her free time, Andrea enjoys running, cooking with friends, and listening to all the live music in Nashville.

Katherine Schneeberger McGugan


Katherine Schneeberger McGugan is a Ph.D student in the department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests lie at the intersection of mathematics teacher learning and curriculum design. Prior to her time at Vanderbilt, she worked as a middle school math teacher and mathematics coach, roles that fostered a love for the classroom and an investment in celebrating students’ mathematical intuition.

Gregory Smith


Greg is a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt, and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching. His research is in the field of paleoecology, which uses the fossil record as a tool to extend the natural environment back in time. He is interested in the ecological interactions between extinct relatives of African and Asian elephants, and hopes to use insight into how past organisms responded to climatic and environmental change to make predictions about how modern elephants might respond to similar changes today. In his free time, Greg enjoys backpacking, rock climbing, kayaking, and yoga with his wife, Lauren. Greg loves teaching and hopes to help inspire future generations of ecologists, geologists, and paleontologists to follow their dreams!

Darren Tinker


Darren Tinker is a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow at the Mechanical Engineering Department at Vanderbilt. He is a Kentucky native, and spent his childhood launching (or rapidly disassembling) model rockets. Presently, he is working on his Ph.D. on compact augmented spark igniters.

Courtney Travers


Dr. Courtney Travers is a Senior Lecturer in Communication Studies at Vanderbilt University. Her research and teaching focus on American political and popular culture, particularly during the early Cold War era. Her current project examines Jacqueline Kennedy’s visual rhetorical influence on the Kennedy administration. She teaches public speaking and history of speechmaking courses for Vanderbilt University.

Danyelle Valentine


Danyelle Valentine is completing her Atlantic-World History Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University.  She is interested in the forced and voluntary migration for enslaved peoples from the United States to islands in the British West Indies from the late 18th through the early 19th centuries. Her dissertation, “Embarking on Revolutionary Migrations: The Black Loyalists’ Southern Campaign for Freedom during the Revolutionary Era, 1775-1862,” explores the relocation and settlement experiences of “Black Loyalists” in Jamaica and other islands throughout the British Caribbean. In addition to her dissertation research, Danyelle investigates the intersections between race, gender, and capitalism within Creole societies in the British Caribbean.

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).

Greg Walker


Greg Walker is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, holding several appointments at Vanderbilt, including in the Interdisciplinary Materials Science Program, the Thermal Engineering Lab, the Advanced Computing Center for Research and Education, and the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. His research interests include the modeling and simulation of nonequilibrium, coupled energy transport in electronics, and energy conversion materials.